Mana makes the world go round
- Dr. Hans Joachim Höh
How can we leverage game theoretical insights for our financial success?
What does the new 5-colour mana base mean for the value of various Standard cards for the next 6 months?
Every game of Magic can be looked at as two competing resource management systems. It is extremely relevant, when exactly you use your resources and for which effects. Aggro decks generally try to optimize their early resource use to maximize their damage output, while control decks try to maximize their long term resource use, aiming for an “automatic” win by defending effectively (which creates card advantage, and card quality) until the opponent runs out of options that can keep up with its late game plays. Independent of strategy every deck every deck prefers to have their options available “on curve”, whether that means Zurgo Bellstriker on turn one, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy / Jace, Telepath Unbound on turn two, or Siege Rhino on turn four. That is why the original dual lands from the early base sets are so great. They make it easy to fulfil your mana requirements without dealing you damage, coming into play tapped or having any other disadvantages.
Looking at Magic this way makes it easy to see why mana bases have a huge influence on determining the dominant strategies in any format. Not being able to cast your spells on time will lose you a lot of games. By implication this means that the most powerful strategies, which still have stable mana bases, will become the most successful archetypes, especially in Standard, where the available mana bases change all the time. So how can we leverage this game theoretical insight for our financial success?
For the next six months the tag-team of battle lands and fetchlands will make cards with single colour commitments more valuable than cards with serious colour commitments. That is one of the reasons why Jace and Hangarback Walker show up in so many decks and consequently cost a small fortune. They are very powerful while being easy to cast on curve - even in 5-colour decks!
Compare this to the following cards from Magic Origins and Dragons of Tarkir, which had potential, but were thwarted by the battle lands helping the multi-colour decks:
These cards are strong as well, but you would need to cut a lot of splash colours (and therefore a lot of powerful Khans cards) from your deck to be able to play those cards on curve reliably. Doing so does not seem to be the dominant strategy at the moment though.
Keep this in mind when you are evaluating any current Standard speculation target or any future cards from Oath of the Gatewatch. I expect most cards with high commitments to a single colour to bottom out before rotation. These cards could rise like a phoenix from the ashes though, depending on the land situation in the next Standard format. Without fetchlands battle lands are only great in 2-colour decks and we will lose tri-lands and the powerful multi-colour incentives from Khans as well. Maybe we will get even more great lands in Oath of the Gatewatch and the set after that, but if we don't, we could be back to using 1- and 2-colour decks again. In that case picking up cards like Archangel of Tithes or Drana, Liberator of Malakir cheaply before rotation could earn you a small fortune.