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Draft Tips: How Many Lands? February 9, 2009

Posted by James in : all, strategy, tips, limited, draft, sealed , trackback

The most common rule of drafting or playing sealed is that you play 17 lands and 23 spells. There can be exceptions to this rule, but this ratio seems to work out pretty well.

Historically, when playing draft people would draft two colors and possibly splash a third. For a two color deck, you usually want 9 lands of one color and 8 of the other color. Splashing isn’t worth it unless:

  1. You didn’t get enough good cards, or the off-color card is very powerful, like Fireball.
  2. The format is slow or has enough mana fixing.

When you splash for a third color, you want 1-3 cards in that color and 2 or 3 ways to get the color to play those cards. You probably want “mana fixing” to help and will have two lands of the splash color. Then you will have 8 lands of the main color, 7 of the secondary color, and 2 of the splash color. I often don’t want to make my deck “inconsistent” by having a third color because there will be many games where you won’t draw the right color until late game. If the format is fast, then you might never see a late game, so splashing becomes a bad idea.

Playing two colors is usually ideal, but there are exceptions. There are some formats where you might want to play 3 to 5 colors, such as Shards of Alara block.

Shards of Alara

Let’s consider Shards of Alara. Sometimes I have used two color decks for Shards of Alara, but sometimes you will have to play three colors pretty evenly. Even if you have slightly less cards of one color, you will probably have to draw the right colors of lands early game or you will get screwed. In this case, you might want 7 of a main color, and 5 of the other colors. If you don’t get mana fixing, such as Panoramas or triple lands, you might even want to play 18 land. It is pretty important to get at least two nonbasic lands, so your land count will be something like 2 nonbasic lands, then 5 lands of each color.

Technically if you want to get “the right color of land,” you will want at least 8 lands that produce that color. This isn’t always possible in Shards of Alara, which is one reason that the set causes so much mana screw.


Conflux will often go by the same rules as Shards of Alara, but you can play a five color deck. The best reason to play five colors is cards with Domain. I have often thrown in two off-color lands just to help get domain. In other words, you might not want to actually play cards in every color. Instead, you might just want to have every basic land type. Then your lands will hopefully be something like: 2 nonbasic lands, 6 of one color, 6 of another color, and 3 off-color lands. (A three color deck without mana fixing is dangerous, but a five color deck without mana fixing is a disaster.) Two things should be noticed:

  1. It is really hard to play 3 colors when you play all five basic land types. If you get enough nonbasic lands, it can be done, but usually you will want one or two colors with just a splash in other colors.
  2. The fact that domain encourages us to play off-color land increases the odds of getting mana screwed even more. There will be games where you only draw the off-color lands rather than your on-color lands. (One more reason to play one or two colors and splash the rest.)


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