Designing your manabase is one of the most overlooked elements of building commander decks. Frequently people will just rely on simply jamming a bunch of basics into the decks of their deck's colours and hoping for the best. People like Frank Karsten have done the math on how your colours should work, but let’s talk about how to accomplish a pretty generalized four colour mana base. Let’s talk about a pretty simple set of rules that I follow and how to accomplish this on a budget. Something to keep in mind is that this is operating under the rule there is no primary colour that you need early on but to try and hit all your colours with consistency.
There are cards and cycles I won’t be going through due to budget constraints such as Fetch lands (Scalding Tarn), Shock lands (Watery Grave), rainbow lands (Mana Confluence) or ABUR duals (Underground Sea). While these are all great cards to include and consider, they’re out of many players budgets.
Let’s go through some of the possible cycles that you’ll want to include as your base:
The Creature Lands (6x in any four colour combination)
While their ability may not always come into play, offering yourself more ways to kill opponents through stalled board states. They help with your overall power level by also being better than Guildgates in most decks. Creeping Tar Pit and Lavaclaw Reaches are personal favourites in terms of their power levels. Tar Pit being unblockable is the text that many forget about while Lavaclaw Reaches’ X ability allows it to be pumped enough to kill a player out of nowhere. While often a dismissed cycle of cards in this format, they offer more power than given credit for while coming on on a tight budget.
The Theros Temples (6x in any four colour combination)
These cards are often more respected than the creature lands in the format. Their scry helps with consistency in both your spells and mana while fixing. They’re solid lands that come in on a tight budget being currently printed into standard. Shame to have this many lands that come into play tapped, but when working on a budget, these will be your best friend. Bonus points that Noah Bradley’s Temple of Mystery is just jaw-dropping gorgeous, especially in foil.
The Battle for Zendikar Cycle (3x in any four colour combination)
Now for starters, these are great because of how cheap the expeditions of these are! I’m just kidding, these are fetchable lands off of cards like Farseek and friends. As well, the capacity for these to come in untapped is undeniable. If you basic land count is between eight and ten, they’re solid additions for their price.
The Cycling Duals (3x in any four colour combination)
Mana fixing early game or replaces itself late game. Include in a deck with Life from the Loam for maximum value. I value these lands highly for having played at either point in the game with a low opportunity cost. Just like the previous cycle, they also have the land types printed on it which could affect your ramp or your utility lands (see Castle Vantress and friends).
The Battlebond Cycle (3x in any four colour combination)
Untapped dual land in multiplayer games or Guildgate in dual games. Definitely depends on where and with whom you play. If you play 1v1 predominantly and need another budget alternative, consider the Shadows Over Innistrad duals. In multiplayer games, these are some of the best duals around with the only downside being that they can’t be fetched which is not much of a downside. Run in the same deck as one of the aforementioned Battle for Zendikar or Cycling duals and you’ll do fine with your Farseek or Skyshroud Claim.
The Innistrad Block Cycle (6x in any four colour combination)
You’ll have some draws where these come into play tapped, but often enough you’ll be happy to see them. After just rotating out of standard, price on these is still nice and low and you’ll be able to easily use these in your higher budget commander decks as well. Generally, you will be running enough basics and lands with their respective types to generally enable these cards especially if you have a decent amount of green ramp-like Kodama’s Reach or Rampant Growth.
After all of the cycles mentioned, you’ve now filled 27 slots for lands. You can throw in a couple of utility lands and have the rest be basics. You now have anywhere from 8-13 slots remaining for lands depending on your preference or deck type. But even after all these, you’ll want some other spells to help you hit your colours, which is why I generally recommend running the set of signets. Four colour decks can hit up to six of the ten signets printed in magic (not including Arcane Signet). I generally recommend running them due to their low opportunity cost and helping your game curve out properly. Being able to consistently cast a ramp spell on turn two will help keep your games running smoothly.
Now after all of this, you have the building blocks of a more consistent mana base on a budget. After that, you just need to decide which partner commanders you are building, and why is it Thrasios, Triton Hero and Vial Smasher the Fierce? In all seriousness, four colour bases are never particularly cheap and definitely not horribly consistent so I hope that this will help you build your next commander deck and be a little more open with the colours you select.
Are there any cycles you feel I should have included? I’d love to hear how you like to build your manabases.