I like to look back at some of the older cards in Magic that you may not have heard of but would want to add to your Commander decks. This time around I took a look at some older lands. Lands are tricky since they end up in every deck, so finding something you haven’t seen is tough! I hope you find something new and exciting that fits perfectly into one of your decks!
Soldevi Excavations: When I analyze cards, I like to start with the downside; with Soldevi Excavations, this could take a minute. You can’t play it out unless you have an untapped Island. That can be an issue in multicolored decks. When you do play it, you sacrifice an Island and in return you get a land that taps for . If this was just another Island, you’d be in a position to get . You are also loading your mana into one permanent. If this is destroyed or bounced, there can be some real pain. Also, the next ability costs 1 mana and you tap Soldevi Excavations. In practical terms, this means three mana, not the one it initially appears to cost.
Having said that, this allows you to scry every turn! At the end of your opponent’s turn, if you have the mana available, you can scry every turn. This is a great ability, particularly on a land. Having a creature or artifact that lets you scry is nice, but those permanents are regularly destroyed. Even enchantments and planeswalkers get smashed more often than a land!
I’ve been playing the Excavations since Alliances came out. I’ve had plenty of games where I paid the price, but I reaped the benefit in every game I got it in play. For someone whose collection wasn’t loaded with powerhouse cards, it was a great way to find the few good cards in the deck. Later on, it was a great way to find land, or avoid land, depending on whether I needed it or not. Oh, and the Liz Danforth art is just awesome!
Riftstone Portal: This being a land is a bit misleading. You are rarely going to want to actually play this land. No one else is going to destroy it for you, so when you play it out, you are likely playing a land that taps for colorless mana. Realistically, you are going to want this card in your hand when you loot, or are forced to discard, or have it mill into your graveyard. The other curious part is that your initial instinct is to run it in a deck, but realistically, it is wasted there. Half of your lands will already tap for Green or White mana and some will likely tap for both. When you add Red, Black, or Blue, then the Portal really shines. Your Swamps now tap for all three colors you need!
So Riftstone Portal works best in decks that are at least three colors. When you consider that Black is a discard king, Blue loots, and Red wheels entire hands of cards into the graveyard, you are also going to be in a color that can easily get the Portal to the graveyard!
Safe Haven: This fun one from The Dark is interesting. I tend to use it in decks that have creatures with enter the battlefield triggers. My personal favorite has been an ally deck, since all the creatures come back at the same time. I like to get a handful of creatures under it and sacrifice it then.
The key to Safe Haven is understanding all the other ways you can use it. You can use it as an escape hatch when you swing with a creature only to discover the blocking isn’t what you were expecting. Spend two and tap Safe Haven. Sacrifice it on your next upkeep and back it comes. It also works in decks that steal opponent’s creatures. With Act of Treason you get to use their creature, then exile it. As long as you never sacrifice Safe Haven, your opponents will never get their creature back!
Keep in mind the big downside for the land: it doesn’t tap for mana. Playing it is giving up your land drop for the turn and that can be a problem. That is not where you really want to be in the early game.
Pendelhaven: Pendelhaven is part of a cycle of legendary lands from Legends. You may not realize it, but you probably know the White inclusion in this series: Karakas. Karakas is so good it was banned in Commander, and rightly so. At the time it was printed though, it seemed like an OK land, but this was in the day of horrible legendary creatures, and not many of them. When you look at it that way, you realize Pendelhaven was better than Karakas when they first came out!
Pendelhaven doesn’t see much play because it taps for Green mana. This means you want it in Green decks. For Green decks, more than most other decks, running nonbasic lands is a downside. Green ramps into basic lands really well, so Pendelhaven not being a Forest hurts it. The key to Pendelhaven being good is that it offers a modest upside, with virtually no downside. It is a non-basic that doesn’t enter the battlefield tapped. It essentially behaves just like a Forest, but you can also tap it to give a 1/1 creature a bonus.
So is the bonus huge? No. What it does do is completely mess up combat math regularly. A stack of 1/1 token creatures means that the one you choose to block could become a 2/3. Attacking the Pendelhaven player also means that you have to assume the worst case scenario when you swing at them. And naturally this doesn’t even take into account the Overrun effects that are likely coming too.
When I run it, I particularly like using it on opponents’ creatures that are attacking or blocking other opponents’ creatures. Getting rid of an annoying creature is great!
Rainbow Vale: With the wrong deck or the wrong group, this land is just a mistake. This land relies on your opponents to do the right thing. I’ve had games where my opponents thought it was funny to pass it all around the table, and skip me. I’ve had games where the Green player decided he didn’t need to tap it, so he just left it sitting there, preventing anyone else from using it. I’ve also had games where one mana-screwed opponent and I swapped the Vale back and forth for the entire game. I’ve had games where everyone shared it round the table!
I understand that the drawback on this card is significant. Even if you are sharing it with only one other player, you are gifting that player a mana every turn so you can have a mana of any color. This is a bad deal. This is a bad card.
I don’t care. This is so much fun! This encourages table talk and doing deals. Rainbow Vale lets you help someone out of manascrew or give them the one mana they needed to have fun with their deck. It can be a political tool once you don’t need it. Zedruu the Greathearted players love this card. Throw this in your fun three-, four-, or five-colored decks! Players will love you for it!
Hammerheim: Remember that cycle of legendary lands from Legends that I mentioned with Pendelhaven? Welcome to the second card from that cycle on this list! For most of your games, this is a nonbasic Mountain. Yes, there are drawbacks to having a nonbasic Mountain, particularly if opponents are running cards that destroy nonbasic lands. However, I just laid out every downside to Hammerheim.
On the upside? It doesn’t enter the battlefield tapped. It is a legendary land, so cards that give you a benefit for legendary permanents, or let you search for legendary permanents, can find Hammerheim. It has fun art and I guarantee your opponents will want to know what it is, then tell you that it is awesome. And they will immediately forget that it does anything other than tap for Red mana. Finally, it taps and removes all landwalking ability from a creature until the end of the turn. This means you aren’t getting victimized by someone running Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, and swampwalk. You aren’t getting mountainwalked. And if you think no one is running landwalk abilities, consider Trailblazer's Boots. You can also use the ability when someone else is getting landwalked. What a great surprise!
Urborg: So this is the third card on the list from the Legends cycle, so by now you get it. Taps for Black. No enter the battlefield tapped downside. It is legendary. However, this one removes first strike or swampwalk from a creature until the end of the turn.
Urborg itself is a thing of beauty! Lava flowing everywhere on a card that taps for Black is just awesome! You have the answer to why Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth isn’t just called Urborg! The flavor text is an Edgar Allan Poe quote! It doesn’t get better than this!
This is the real deal for actual gameplay as well. Swampwalk is the only actual landwalk ability that any of us see with regularity, and plenty of us have to deal with first strike creatures, so this ability gets used. I have used it to shut down first striking deathtouch blockers who can cause serious problems. It easily slots into any deck that runs Black and your opponents will be shaking their heads that you have a way to stop them using a crazy land!
I hope you enjoyed our walk through some of the lands long lost. And for you completionists wondering about the Blue card in the Legends cycle, check out Tolaria. Apparently Blue didn’t get the best card in every cycle after all!