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“Spell Lands” of the New Standard


Whenever a new set comes out, I try to acquire all of the nonbasic lands. While it doesn’t take a genius to see that dual lands are useful, you can often get a lot of value by playing the utility lands. Way back in the day, playing “spell lands” had a hefty cost: They usually didn’t tap for mana, meaning you couldn’t play them early without significantly hurting your development. As a further kick in the junk, under the mulligan rules of the time, if you had a spell land and no mana-producing lands, you were stuck with the hand.

These days, it’s pretty rare for a land not to tap for mana, so the risk of playing them is much lower. It’s usually the case that the benefit provided more than makes up for the cost, which is why you see their widespread adoption.

Looking at the Innistrad spell lands, they all enter the battlefield untapped, so the only real cost to play them is a slight decrease in the consistency of your deck. For some decks, this is a net gain, but for others, it’s a net loss.

Take a deck like Solar Flare, for instance. A deck that has few creatures probably doesn’t have much use for Moorland Haunt, but what about Nephalia Drownyard? It seems like a no-brainer to put a few of them in your Solar Flare deck, but is it really? A deck that needs Blue mana early to play counterspells and/or card-selection spells and bb to play Liliana of the Veil and ww by turn four in order to not die to swarm decks probably can’t afford to play too many colorless lands. In this case, the cost of playing the land outweighs the benefit it provides.

Does this mean that you should never play Nephalia Drownyard in Solar Flare? Not necessarily. Playing a couple in your sideboard isn’t a bad idea if you treat them as spells and not lands. The matchups in which you want to side them in are going to be instances in which you want more lands, anyway.

I’m particularly impressed by the inclusion of Nephalia Drownyard in Jeremy Neeman’s GP: AucklandBrisbane–winning deck. It does double duty by stocking his graveyard early and by serving as inevitability for drawn-out games.

Kessig Wolf Run is all the rage these days, teaming up with another colorless land: Inkmoth Nexus. The combination of the two is scary to play against. You can’t ever tap out when the opponent has a Nexus in play, for fear that he drops the Wolf Run and kills you out of nowhere. It’s threatening enough that people have started using Ghost Quarter, though I think that’s somewhat extreme unless you can tutor for it with something like Primeval Titan. Geistflame is a good way to fight against opposing Inkmoths. My friend wrecked me pretty hard in the Wolf Run Ramp mirror with this card, and playing it in mono-Red as well has shown me that it’s deceptively good. Ancient Grudge is another option that’s less good against this particular deck, but is at least good in other matchups. Basically, what you want is a card that either gives you value or is tutorable when you need it. If you don’t have access something like that, there’s always Dismember.

There’s not much to say when it comes to Moorland Haunt and Gavony Township. It’s pretty obvious what kinds of decks these work well in, so I won’t go into too much detail. It’s important to learn the lessons from the previous examples in order to determine whether your deck can support playing these nonbasics. The runt of the litter is Stensia Bloodhall. Honestly, I haven’t been able to think of a deck where this card might be good. The effect is so marginal that it’s only worth playing in the grindiest of grindfests. I would imagine that any deck that gets itself into that kind of situation has access to better cards and isn’t interested in hurting its mana base for it. Time may prove me wrong about this, but if there’s a home for Stensia Bloodhall, I don’t see it.

The last thing I’ll go over is the idea of splashing the Innistrad spell lands. So far, I’ve only really talked about decks that naturally play the two colors of these respective lands. People figured out very early on that some of these lands are insane enough to splash for. Whether that’s correct remains to be seen. In my opinion, mana bases are nearly good enough to start playing colorless lands that don’t do anything when circumstances aren’t ideal.

Monocolored decks splashing spell lands is something I can get behind, though. I never thought I’d see the day when losing Terramorphic Expanse was a big deal, but now that it’s gone, you don’t have much choice, other than to hope you draw the right lands when you need them. Blue and Green have the best way of mitigating this problem, with their card-draw and mana-fixing, respectively. What I’m getting at here is that even when you’re monocolored, you need to know what you’re getting into if you decide to splash a spell land. Yes, you have eight dual lands for allied colors, but those lands aren’t free—they have drawbacks. If you jam a bunch of dual lands into your deck, guess what’s going to happen? Your lands will enter the battlefield tapped a lot more often. You need to take these things into account when building decks.

I hope I’ve helped you to evaluate whether to play the new cycle of spell lands in your decks. On another topic, I’m hoping to get some drafts up for you guys soon. I’ve only managed to draft the set twice so far, so I think I want to become a little more comfortable with the format before I show my picks (or mispicks, as the case may be) to the world. Innistrad Limited is somewhat weird for me, in that my only interest in it is learning the format for its own sake. I can’t attend PT: Honolulu, so I’m skipping the PTQs in my area. I still have a strong incentive to become good at the format—otherwise, Magic Online would cost more than I’d like.

Until next time, may your packs contain Liliana of the Veils.

Nassim Ketita

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