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You Win with Lands


Lands are not sexy. Most of us would rather trade for a God than a Temple. Wouldn’t you rather crack Ephara, God of the Polis than Temple of Enlightenment (even if they were the same price)? Lands are not sexy.

Temple of Enlightenment
I regularly see people bringing their homebrews to play at Friday Night Magic or at casual tables. Occasionally, I have an opportunity to look through deck after deck built by casual folks. Because I happen to write a bunch of articles, people invariably ask me to look through their decks.

My discovery often has a common theme. You either don‘t have enough lands or you don’t have the right lands.

I know this is difficult. I know this is not a sexy article or idea. I know that you’d rather read about the latest combo deck or a cool card suggestion or a Commander deck.

But the problem is that you never win with those cards and ideas. You don’t win with Foster and Fated Return. You don’t win with Edric, Spymaster of Trest or with Oona, Queen of the Fae.

You win with lands.

You can only win in Magic when you actually get to play. When you don’t have enough lands in your deck, you often don’t even get to play. You are mana-hosed, and you lose. You only make it to three lands and are unable to drop the better stuff. You can’t find the right color. Therefore, you don’t get to play.

And you don’t win.

So how do you win?

Here’s a start:

You Need Enough Lands in Your Deck to Play the Game

Sol Ring
How many is that? In a sixty-card deck, never, ever, ever play just twenty lands. Unless you have an aggro deck that is finely-tuned with the perfect set of cards, you shouldn’t even think about twenty lands. Virtually every sixty-card deck I build has twenty-four or twenty-six lands. The basic guideline, when you don’t know, is that 40% of your deck should be lands.

I know why we don’t like that rule. Forty percent of our deck is now boring! Ho hum, silly little lands. I get that. But in order to actually play the game, you need to have the right mana base. That starts with 40%, roughly, of your deck being boring ol’ lands.

That means that in Commander, your deck should be 60/40. That’s an issue we see a lot. I see decks at 70/30 or something, and it wounds me. I think you can drop down below 60/40 in many decks, and I often do, too—with a lot of land-fetching or mana rocks. Sure. But the deck also needs to be well-tuned, and often, I see a 65/35 deck with nothing but Sol Ring for mana assistance. Folks, that’s why you often run out of lands before your big guns are going online.

One excuse I’ve heard is that everyone is allowed to mulligan until he or she has enough lands. So having a 70/30 mix is fine. That might work for the first few turns, but after that, you are not drawing enough lands. You don’t want to stall when you have three or four lands. Play more lands.

Play Lands

Sky Diamond
Sometimes, people will add in nonland sources of mana and consider them lands. A copy of Llanowar Elves is not a Forest. A Lotus Petal is not a Swamp. A Sky Diamond is not an Island. Don’t drop your deck’s lands by playing too much of this stuff.

This is particularly egregious when I see temporary mana-making in a land slot. Countless times, I’ve seen Dark Ritual in a land slot. Folks, it’s not a Swamp. It’s a temporary boost of mana to help give you a fast hit, but in Casual Land, these aren’t needed as much. Sometimes, a deck might need a Lotus Petal or Dark Ritual, sure. But don’t reduce the land counts because of their inclusion.

The same is true for artifact- and creature-based acceleration. I love cards like Birds of Paradise, Noble Hierarch, and Silver Myr. I understand why you want to run them. But they are easily killed, and they are not reliable as your land drop. If you yank out six Forests from a deck for three each of Elvish Mystic and Llanowar Elves, you have usually weakened your deck.

Noncreature artifacts are a bit sturdier, but I wouldn’t pull out lands for mana rocks on a strictly one-to-one basis. You could do on a two-to-one ratio. The addition of Sol Ring, Everflowing Chalice, Mind Stone, and Darksteel Ingot in a Commander deck could warrant removing two lands. But I wouldn’t push it past that.

Don’t Play Twenty-Four Plains

Polluted Mire
Or twelve Swamps and twelve Mountains I suppose. Spend time finding the right lands for your deck. I know. Lands are not sexy. You don’t like trading for lands; I get it. (Neither is buying them.) I In order to squeeze value out of them, you have to diversify that mana base.

Many decks out there require a lot of one or two land types because of their themes. Decks built around cards like Emeria, the Sky Ruin, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, or Cabal Coffers often want Plains, Mountains, or Swamps, respectively. We know about those sorts of decks.

Assuming you are not running one of those decks, it’s best to enhance your deck by adding in some nonbasic lands. It’s doesn’t have to be sexy to be right.

One great example is the cycling lands, like Polluted Mire and Secluded Steppe. These lands are brilliant because you can cycle them later when you need a card and you have enough lands. That added value is more than worth the tempo drop by playing them. Their value is enhanced in decks with little or no card-draw effects. So in colors like white and red, where your options are a bit Spartan, these are great adjuncts to your strategy. Trust me: Four Secluded Steppe and twenty Plains is almost always better than twenty-four Plains.

Lavaclaw Reaches
There are many other options out there, too. Do you have a control deck with few creatures? Then man lands like Mishra's Factory, Lavaclaw Reaches, and Faerie Conclave would be useful . Squeeze some additional creatures into that deck!

There’s also a great place for utilities. While cards such as Bojuka Bog are well-known for their utility, even a humble Khalni Garden will produce a chump-blocker. The lands from Zendikar block gave us a lot of options for deck-building!

Set aside Maze of Ith, and welcome the many lands that can also to protect you. Some are well known, such as Kor Haven. Mystifying Maze is decent, but expensive. One of my favorites is secretly Prahv, Spires of Order. While most of these lands protect you from an attacking creature, you’ll note that Prahv prevents all damage a source would deal. I know it’s expensive to use, but that is a powerful ability. You can tap it to prevent damage that would kill one of your guys, such as damage from a Lightning Bolt. It can even prevent all damage from a source, such as an Earthquake, basically neutering the whole card. Because it protects you and your minions from damage-based removal of any sort, it’s extremely flexible.

Even if you just run stuff like Desert and Quicksand, you are helping to keep creatures off your back.

I particularly love the rare cycle of lands from Innistrad block that have two-colored activations. Many of them are downright ubiquitous. Any Boros deck will love Slayers' Stronghold, for example. The activation is cheap, and the effect is insane. Other creature-pumpers include Gavony Township, Kessig Wolf Run, and Vault of the Archangel.

Gavony Township
Now, some don’t always make the cut. Outside of a dedicated milling deck, Nephalia Drownyard is hard to grant a home. Moorland Haunt can sometimes hurt a graveyard-based strategy. Even Stensia Bloodhall might be too expensive to activate to be included in many Rakdos decks. So those three have some questions. But Alchemist's Refuge is downright insane, as a cheaper Winding Canyons for more than just creatures. Another amazing tool is Grim Backwoods, which will sacrifice a creature for a card—something you’ll often want to do in Golgari decks. Even Desolate Lighthouse is a perfectly acceptable tool. That cycle really impressed me.

There are an amazing number of great options for the mana base for your deck. The fact that some might be expensive (Volrath's Stronghold, Underground Sea, Misty Rainforest) doesn’t give you an excuse to finding some of the billions of cheap lands out there that will make your deck better.

Failing to diversify your mana base is a missed opportunity. I actively pick up great lands every time a new set is released, so when they go up in value, I have a stock that I grabbed for cheap. For example, I own a bunch of the Worldwake man lands like Celestial Colonnade. But if you don’t, that’s fine. Run Sejiri Refuge instead!

Find the great cards that cost very little, and add them to your mana base. Then, when you build your deck, you won’t have an excuse to run less than 40% lands, a bunch of Llanowar Elves, or just twenty-four Plains.

Because at the end of the day, Magic is about playing things other than lands. In order to do that, you have to spend time on your lands. That’s enables the fun stuff you want to do! You win with lands.

See you next week,

Abe Sargent

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