Know Your Meta! (Modern Manabases)

There are quite a few Modern staples that care about the number of basic lands your opponent has access to.  In fact, for some decks, this type of information is vital in making informed decisions while operating their core engines.  Whether you’re playing Ghost Quarter in GW Valuetown, Blood Moon in Blue Moon, or Path to Exile in a control deck, keeping track of what your opponent may still have left in their deck will be quite important in running them out of their resources.


Multicolored Modern decks can be incredibly greedy with their manabase.  Take Humans for example…

Martin Juza’s Humans (GP Vegas, June 2018)

Creatures (37)
Champion of the Parish
Dark Confidant
Kessig Malcontents
Kitesail Freebooter
Mantis Rider
Meddling Mage
Noble Hierarch
Phantasmal Image
Reflector Mage
Thalia’s Lieutenant
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Artifacts (4)
Aether Vial
Lands (19)
Ancient Ziggurat
Cavern of Souls
Horizon Canopy
Seachrome Coast
Unclaimed Territory

Sideboard (15)
Dark Confidant
Auriok Champion
Gut Shot
Izzet Staticaster
Kataki, War’s Wage
Reclamation Sage
Sin Collector

This deck, by design, can pack a very aggressive punch starting very early on.  If you can survive this, going after Humans deck’s manabase with a card like Ghost Quarter can be an effective way to lock them out of the game (provided they don’t have an Aether Vial already in play).  Cards like Mantis Rider are rather color intensive, so keeping your opponent off of their Ancient Ziggurat and Unclaimed Territory can make it rather difficult to cast them.  Additionally, Path to Exile is especially strong against this deck because of the fact that it does not typically provide your opponent the upside of being able to find a basic land as a consolation prize for their most threatening creature being exiled.

In some cases, this type of approach may not be so effective…

Brock Mosley’s Scapeshift (SCG Regionals, June 2018)

Creatures (11)
Obstinate Baloth
Primeval Titan
Reclamation Sage
Sakura-Tribe Elder

Spells (18)
Lightning Bolt
Summoner’s Pact
Anger of the Gods
Primal Command
Search for Tomorrow

Enchantments (4)
Khalni Heart Expedition
Prismatic Omen
Lands (27)
Cinder Glade
Stomping Ground
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills

Sideboard (15)
Damping Sphere
Grafdigger’s Cage
Relic of Progenitus
Witchbane Orb
Obstinate Baloth
Tireless Tracker
Beast Within
Fracturing Gust
Anger of the Gods
Broken Bond

Given the 10 basic lands that this deck has access to and the mere two colors that are needed to cast its spells, going after their lands with cards like Ghost Quarter or Field of Ruin in order to limit their resources is not as effective as it is against a deck like Humans.  It may be important, however, to save these types of lands to stop an opposing Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle before it is active.  Additionally, a good understanding of this type of deck and information about the number of Mountains in the deck may make it possible to prevent the opponent from casting a Scapeshift for an instant win.

In fact, a similar situation arose at GP Vegas this year.  Travis De Silva cast an Altar of the Brood against Sung-Jin Ahn who was piloting Bring to Light Scapeshift, a three-five color version of the Scapeshift/Valakut combo deck.  While Altar of the Brood was included as a combo piece in De Silva’s artifact combo deck, it provided some collateral damage to Ahn’s plan to win the game via Valakut triggers.  The commentators at this point (30:30), Gabby Spartz and Louis Scott-Vargas, are well aware of the number of Mountains in Ahn’s deck as they have access to his list.  As cards are milled from the top of his library, his potential to find six Mountains with Scapeshift decline significantly…

Sung-Jin Ahn (Bring to Light Scapehift) vs. Travis De Silva (Thopter Sword)

Watch Grand Prix Las Vegas – Day Two

Spoiler alert: Ahn wins this game despite the inability to ‘Shift for the win as he was able to attack his opponent to death with a 3/3 land (thanks Hunting Wilds!) and out-advantage his opponent with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Search for Azcanta but De Silva’s slow start made things significantly more difficult to do.

Ahn’s understanding of the number of Mountains in his OWN deck and attention to the number that had been milled contributed to his victory in this game pointing his attention toward an alternative win condition with Hunting Wilds.

While Ahn’s list from GP Vegas was not posted, I was able to find his 75 from GP Phoenix for references…

Sung-Jin Ahn’s Bring to Light Scapeshift (GP Phoenix March 2018)

Creatures (2)
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Snapcaster Mage

Planeswalkers (2)
Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Spells (25)
Bring to Light
Cryptic Command
Hunting Wilds
Izzet Charm
Lightning Bolt
Search for Tomorrow
Supreme Verdict

Enchantments (2)
Search for Azcanta
Lands (26)
Breeding Pool
Cinder Glade
Flooded Grove
Hallowed Fountain
Misty Rainforest
Steam Vents
Stomping Ground
Temple Garden
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

Sideboard (15)
Anger of the Gods
Crumble to Dust
Destructive Revelry
Engineered Explosives
Glen Elendra Archmage
Grafdigger’s Cage
Madcap Experiment
Obstinate Baloth
Platinum Emperion

Today, we’ll look at the number of basics played in some of the most common Modern archetypes…


  • 1 Plains
  • Occasionally 1 Island

I’ve already explained this one above.  Clearly, with such a low basic land count, attacking your Humans opponent’s manabase can be very effective.  Aether Vial, however, doesn’t care much about the lands that are in play.  Be mindful of Vial and maintain awareness of the type of colors that their lands can produce.  Mantis Rider is often the most color-intensive spell in the deck and the top of the curve (unless Restoration Angel is included).

Mono Green Tron

  • 4-5 Forests

Since the Tron deck’s ‘plan A’ is the assemble the three Urza’s lands, they are no stranger to being Ghost Quartered, Field of Ruined, or Blood Mooned.  Using GQ or Field to trade an opposing Urza’s Tower for a basic Forest will often maintain the quantity of lands your opponent controls.  Eventually, they will find enough mana to cast a spell like Wurmcoil Engine or Karn Liberated the ‘fair way’.  While this type of strategy can be an effective way to slow your Tron opponent down, it is only buying you time.  Pair with Surgical Extraction for best results but remember to keep on attacking to progress the clock.  In the case of Blood Moon, or more recently, Damping Sphere, if your opponent was able to find one of their basic Forest prior to this ‘lock’, they’ll likely have a Nature’s Claim ready to deal with the hindrance.  If not, they have Chromatic Star and Chromatic Sphere to produce the G necessary to do so anyways.

Jeskai Control

  • 3 Islands
  • 1 Plains
  • 0-1 Mountain

This deck relies fairly heavily on its nonbasic mana sources. A resolved Blood Moon can do a lot of work against Jeskai Control and, if your Jeskai opponent is unable to find a basic Plains, they will have a very difficult time dealing with Moon given that their outs are Detention Sphere, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, or Celestial Purge.  An informed Jeskai player should be able to recognize a Blood Moon deck early enough to prepare in advance by finding a Plains prior to Moon’s resolution.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve lost to GR Ponza playing Jeskai Control because my opponent has played a turn one Arbor Elf followed by a turn two Blood Moon.  I need to have exactly Lightning Bolt in my opening hand to buy enough time Logic Knot the Moon.  With that in mind, winning the die roll in this match-up is vital.

In the case of Field of Ruin and Ghost Quarter, you may be tempted to attack your opponent’s manabase to limit the mana needed for Cryptic Command or similar but these types of lands will be important later in dealing with Celestial Colonnade and Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin.

Hollow One

  • 2-3 Mountain
  • 1 Swamp
  • 0 Forest
  • 0 Plains

I mentioned the lack of Forests and Plains to point out the limitations this deck has in casting two commonly played spells that don’t exclusively have black or red costs; Lingering Souls and Ancient Grudge.  When these spells are included in the deck, your Hollow One opponent will often be relying on shock lands to find the proper color fixing needed to cast them or pay their flashback costs.

Since this deck effectively mills itself quite frequently with Goblin Lore and Burning Inquiry, it is entirely possibly that its graveyard may include some of the few remaining targets for their fetch lands.  With that in mind, it may be important to know that their shock land options include the following:

Mardu Pyromancer

  • 2-3 Mountain
  • 0-1 Plains
  • 2 Swamp

Since Mardu Pyromancer is a Blood Moon deck itself, it may be effective to eliminate their basic white and black sources in order to use their Blood Moon against them.  Or, from another perspective, using a Path to Exile may require you to weigh the pros and cons given that it can allow your opponent to find the needed basic lands (hint: it’s almost always worth exiling this deck’s pesky creatures, they’re trouble).  Keep in mind that Mardu Pyromancer decks often run some number of Manamorphose in order to facilitate earlier Bedlam Revelers and extra triggers for Young Pyromancer but has the upside of being able to cast color-intensive spells through Blood Moon.


  • 3 Mountains
  • 0 Forest
  • 0 Plains

While Burn decks are often referred to as “Red Deck Wins”, there are a number of spells in the deck that require a source of white mana in order to be cast.  When the game goes long and your life total diminishes, there are quite a few situations where destroying an opponent’s Sacred Foundry can buy quite a few turns as they top deck Lightning Helix and Boros Charm.  It’s also worth noting that there are very few generic mana symbols on the spells in this deck.  Because of that, strategies like Spreading Seas can render a land functionally useless in certain situations.


  • 0-1 Island
  • 0-1 Mountain

Affinity’s source of colored mana needed to cast spells like Master of Etherium, Galvanic Blast, or Spell Pierce is typically provided by non-basic lands like Glimmervoid and Spire of Industry or artifact sources like Mox Opal and Springleaf Drum so sources of colored mana is not often a pressure point for this deck but it certainly can be.  Though you’ll often want to save your land destruction options for Blinkmoth Nexus and Inkmoth Nexus, its possible to attack the opposing manabase, especially when a Stony Silence is locking down your opponent’s Opals and Drums.

Similar to the Humans deck, the number of basics in this deck is typically one.  This makes spells like Path to Exile, which are already quite relevant in this match-up, even better.

Grixis Death’s Shadow

  • 1 Island
  • 1 Swamp

Death’s Shadow decks, in general, play very greedy manabases.  Grixis, in particular, tends to run just 18 lands total and will shock itself aggressively to find the proper combination of colors to play its spells (and lower its life total in order to increase the stats on a Death’s Shadow).  While these decks tend to avoid spells with two of the same color symbol in their cost (with the exception of sideboard Liliana, the Last Hope or Liliana of the Veil), it is definitely possible to make things difficult for your opponent by going after their lands.  Blood Moon can be especially effective against Shadow.  There is little that this deck can do to get out from under this lock if your opponent is not able to counter it initially with Stubborn Denial.

In closing, let me just reiterate how important it is to ‘know your enemy’.  Understanding the weaknesses in your opponent’s manabase can provide a great deal of percentage points that can decide quite a few games in your favor.