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Pain Lands Are Better than Duals

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Underground River

Pain lands are better than dual lands in multiplayer Commander. Don’t believe me? You just might by the end of this article.

In isolation, the duals would be the clear choices every time. Not only do they not deal damage, but they can also be searched for with fetch lands. Underground River seems shallow next to the U/B dual’s power.

Child of Alara
Commander isn’t a game of power, but politics. In other formats, we’d expect the player who made use of the strongest cards to win. However, in multiplayer, it’s often the gamer who has the best start who loses first. A display of mastery and dominance encourages everyone else to form an alliance of opposition. And in Magic, few things show power like dual lands.

Losing 2 to 4 life from a pain land over the course of the game will probably not decide victory. Playing a painless dual might just kill you if it sways that maniac to attack with Skullbriar, the Walking Grave. A dual land suggests you’ve spent more time and resources on your deck, honing it into a fun-slaying powerhouse. It only makes good sense to take out the Child of Alara player with the thousand-dollar mana base. Who knows how many combos those sleek lands enable? That power-gamer came to win.

Whereas those poor waifs with the pain lands, you have to feel sorry from them. They’ve already taken damage. They’re off the throne. Best to leave them be while you slay the greater threat. By sacrificing a few points of the least valuable resource in Commander, life, those players have bought themselves far more in politics.

This sort of political thinking can go on a subconscious level in a game of Commander, but I bring it to the fore. I say, “Ouch,” when I tap those lands. I may even bemoan my terrible resources. They do so much for me.

That said, I do play one dual land. It’s a Collector’s Edition version of Taiga. When I started playing Magic umpteen years ago, this was my favorite dual, in my favorite decks. It may not pack the same political margin as Karplusan Forest, but playing this dual makes me happy. That’s always reason enough to include a card in casual.

Fun as an element is less measurable and universal than raw power and too often left out of discussions of Commander. What’s a delight for me may disinterest you. In my last week’s article, I go over how to refocus on fun. Remember, this is casual. Playing silly cards that entertain you will not only lead to a more enjoyable experience, but they also can bring more wins.

Everything I mentioned above about the political power of pain lands also holds true for playing bad cards in general. Jason Alt recommends the 75% method for Commander, meaning that you back off the power level from the max by 25%. By not going for the throat, we can position ourselves politically to nab the prize.

Some cards are powerful enough that any Commander deck should play them, in a sense. And yet, we all know these cards are strong. We’ve seen them swing enough games that we’ve become allergic. We may have even lost to them in other formats. More so than duals, the strength of these cards may lose you the game.

Rhystic Study
Sensei's Divining Top

If someone plays annoyances like these, I’ll attack that player on principle. In Commander, we have to think of a card’s perceived power. Multiplayer is a game of politics that just happens to use Magic cards. And that’s great.

Because the best cards don’t always win, we’re free to experiment, go crazy, and bust out our old favorites. Did you win that one Draft tournament with Akoum Hellkite? Play it with Daretti, Scrap Savant for no reason except nostalgia. Always wanted to cast Brimstone Dragon? Just do it with a sheepish grin on your face. These bad cards just may win you the game, if you play your politics right.

Of course, I consider the brute-force power of a card before putting it in my deck. But it’s not my highest priority.

My Card-Selection Guidelines for Multiplayer Casual:

  1. Fun Factor
  2. Strategic Synergy
  3. Raw Power

I haven’t talked about the second element yet. When I construct a Commander deck, I write out my game plan. Then, I’ll choose cards that enable it and augment each other. These cards may appear weak in isolation. They may even be laughable. That makes them perfect in terms of politics.

Volcano Hellion

These cards aren’t exactly table staples. They still meet the strategic goals of my Xenagod deck, to disrupt and bash face. When I sling strange spells like these, other players want to see what weirdness I’ll summon next. They won’t be as incentivized to slaughter me at first opportunity. Because of political and strategic concerns, one of the better cards in my deck may be Volcano Hellion.

To bring it back to lands, my friend told me he was working on his Slivers Commander deck, but he was having a hard time acquiring all the fetch and dual lands. I told him not to sweat ’em. Sure, if collecting the duals is fun for him, fine, but I doubt they’ll win him any more games. They may even hurt his chances, being just another reason for everyone to join forces against the hive. They’d be right to do so because Sliver players are evil.

Sliver Legion

And I’m one of them. I love the sinuous synergy, but it’s obvious. Sliver Legion may be the hardest Commander to win with because it’s so clearly strong. Even a beginner can do that math. Still, I win the majority of my four-person games with Slivers. I won’t say what my strategy is because it’s beyond the pale, but I will talk politics and mana bases.

I could fetch out shock lands. They’re harder to leverage politically, but I still say they’re better than duals.

Godless Shrine
Scrubland

Shock lands are a step in the right direction, but we can go so much further. Search ManaBaseCrafter.com for the least threatening pieces of real estate that still serve your purposes. Guildgates, get in there! In my Slivers deck, I play some true gems.

Rainbow Vale

This card is fun (the number-one deck-building guideline) and fixes my mana needs. It also has synergy (the number-two guideline) with the deck’s several Karoo lands, such as Rakdos Carnarium. I can bounce Rainbow Vale and avoid the downside.

Yes, I play pain lands, but they’ve recently gone up in price (due to a deck in Modern that shan’t be named). I expect them to plunge back soon. In the meantime, I’m exploring places I never thought I’d go. I’ll leave you with two lands I had in play today. I won the game, in more ways than one.

Thalakos Lowlands
Pinecrest Ridge


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