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You Don't Run Enough Lands Part 2: Your Lands Should Matter

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Readers!

Join me as I resort to a sequel!

Earlier this year, I wrote an article called "You Don't Run Enough Lands" because you probably weren't. I know I wasn't, despite running a lot of landfall decks and fawning over cards like Knight of the Reliquary and 75% of the cards currently named Omnath (that's not where 75% comes from). If I'm not going to run enough lands and set a positive example, who will? I feel like I made a persuasive case for looking at "40" as your target for lands rather than the 35 most people run and even if I didn't, I feel like I demonstrated that there are decks where you'll want to do that.

Is writing about lands in a Simic lands-matters deck boring? Didn't I already write this article? Well, let me pretend to ask a question of the reader I'm pretending asked those questions of me - didn't they already make this card?

Gretchen Titchwillow

It's not exactly Thrasios, but she isn't far off, either. One problem with insisting on jamming 45 legendary creatures into every set is that you eventually run out of ideas. I called dibs on writing about Gretchen because she is exactly my kind of card and I gave up on trying to do something novel with her last week and called an audible. I struggled to come up with something novel to do with this card but the truth is, there is nothing novel about the way she is designed. Even if there weren't a card exactly like this, she'd still be pretty uninspired. There's Zimone. There's Kianne. There's Aesi, Tatyova, my Locus of the Roil deck with 4 Red cards in it. Simic decks drawing cards and putting lands into play isn't terribly novel. In fact, I hid it better then, but the Kianne article was me struggling to do something truly novel with that card. Compared to Gretchen, Kianne is a dual-faced sorcery Maro tried and failed to get into an Un-Set. That's the problem as I see it both with this card and with the fact that I have to write an article where I tell you something to justify the time you invested in reading it. Taking a week off to think about it some more made me realize that following up the Kianne article about how many lands to run with an article about how to run those lands isn't admitting defeat, it's providing value in the only way I know how. I can't show you how to do something with Gretchen that you haven't been able to do for years already. Instead, I want to talk about running lands that matter in our lands matter deck.

Burgeoning
Exploration

For a few years now, I have built my decks in a way that makes me more excited to see Burgeoning in your opening hand than Exploration. This may not be news to everyone, but part of my growth as a deck-builder was coming to see just how far apart these two cards are in potential, and running enough lands in my decks helped solidify the lesson. A 2-lander can be keepable in some decks and a 2 land, Exploration hand is pretty solid since you can dump your lands on turn one and hit a land drop, signet, mana dork or some other followup play on turn two to really pull ahead. I routinely keep 4 land hands, now, and Burgeoning makes a 4-lander very hard to beat. Playing a land is one of the safest ways to advance your board state, and it's one of the reasons I have switched from Llanowar Elves to Sakura-Tribe Scout as well. If a Llanowar Elves dies, you are down a mana resource, but if Scout dies, you likely put a few extra lands into play, putting you ahead of where you'd be with an Elf. Mana rocks get blown up and stolen, mana dorks die, but real estate is an investment that pays dividends forever. I want everyone on the same page going forward and the heading at the top of that page is "We're a Burgeoning deck" because even if we never draw Burgeoning, which happens, we are a Burgeoning deck. Everything else is optimized for that attitude - play 40 lands (maybe even more, an unthinkable thought for me until recently) get a lot of extra lands into play and get ahead that way.

But what does being a Burgeoning deck mean? A 6 land, Burgeoning hand is keepable with a Gretchen deck, and while that is true for just about every Landfall commander in Simic, I want us all to think of this deck in this way. If we can keep a 6-lander, we basically can't be flooded. It wasn't Roil Elemental or Rampaging Baloths that made me understand what landfall was truly trying to accomplish; it was Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. Anyone who has ever gotten an opponent to 2 life with a burn deck only to watch them stabilize as you brick two lands off the top knows the pain of useless land draws late in the game. Valakut, as I assume it was intended to be played, would help mitigate that by turning late land rips into Bolts. Yes, landfall is about getting value for your land drops, but it's more than that - landfall ensures you never don't want to draw a land. Every land rip is a live draw - you can't be flooded. We're glad to rip lands off the top, no matter what they are.

Sakura-Tribe Scout
Walking Atlas

Running enough lands and planning for a land-rich draw with cards like Burgeoning and Walking Atlas is good, but it's only part of the story. The Kianne article covered the need for enough lands and I don't need to rehash that too much, the rest of the story is that we need to run lands that are worth running.

What if you were only allowed one of each basic land? Karn, Silver Golem players encountered this issue before the printing of Wastes and it resulted in them playing basically any and all lands that tapped for colorless mana. The first 20 or so are easy, but you rapidly find yourself running out of ideas. At that point, you can either go with obvious cards or get really creative, and a lot of Karn players got creative, running lands like Blinktmoth Well and Deserted Temple. We have access to all the Forests and Islands we want, but if you think about the utility lands you would run if you were forced to come up with 40 unique lands, you may find some you want to run. I have a few ideas.

If you have landfall cards (and you should in a Gretchen deck) then you should think about ways to get lands back into your hand. It's good when your cards do that for you, and one way to break parity is to include cards like Mana Breach and Storm Cauldron to take advantage of your ability to get lands back into play, but you can also play lands that return themselves. You can run a very good bounce land in Simic Growth Chamber and 2 medium ones in Coral Atoll and Jungle Basin, but are you running Ghost Town in any of your decks? We're a Burgeoning deck, and Ghost Town can buy you a ton of landfall triggers when your opponents are playing lands. I love using Ghost Town to get a gain 4 life trigger on every other player's turn in Locus of Creation, but it isn't like getting a trigger with Retreat to Coralhelm or Tireless Tracker is anything to sneeze at. Make sure you never miss an opportunity to return a land so you always have a land for Burgeoning or some other ability. I basically never let a Simic Growth Chamber stay in play because it's too useful to bounce it to its own ETB, ensuring you never turn out of landfall enablers.

Halimar Depths
Lands that are good at leaving play are useful, but so are lands that do something when they enter play. Halimar Depths is criminally underplayed and it's hardly the only land with a good ETB. I wrote an entire article about Mystic Sanctuary, for example, and there are quite a few lands that Scry when you play them, perfect for making sure you hit with Coiling Oracle. I think Field of the Dead is a bit boring, but I won't deny the value can win games. I can't sit here and advocate for Khalni Garden then turn around and ignore a card that was banned from multiple formats, can I?

It can be tempting to jam a handful of Simic duals and some basics into the deck and call it a day, but planning to ramp mostly by playing extra lands and having a lot of utility lands, especially ones with abilities that trigger when they enter play can help us turn the simple act of developing our board into a way to stack value. This isn't exactly a revolutionary concept - most of the creatures that see play in the format have abilities that relate to creatures entering or leaving the battlefield. However, we're doing the same thing - creatures with ETB abilities are going to factor heavily into this deck because Ashaya, Soul of the Wild turns every Mana Breach or Meloku ability into a chance to bounce a your Coiling Oracle or Reclamation Sage. Does that mean we're getting twice as much value as them? Well, no, but it means we're doing better than people who don't put much thought into the lands they run.

There isn't a ton that's original that we can do with Gretchen, true, but what we can do is build the deck to be a Burgeoning deck rather than an Exploration deck and we can make sure we get some value messing with our lands. Here's what I think it should look like.

Gretchen Titchweiners Says That's So Fetchland | Commander | Jason Alt


Scute Swarm
This is an excellent place to start but I wouldn't necessarily stop here. The deck needs one or two more win conditions, probably, and I think you should add the ones you prefer, possibly at the expense of something cute. I am currently engaged in a crusade against Rampaging Baloths because I think it's a bad Magic card but I'm having a really hard time articulating why exactly I think it's so clunky and awful. I like Scute Swarm, possibly because I like how hard it scales out of control, but I have never liked Baloths and the more they jam it in precons, the more I feel validated in my belief that it sucks. You can add it, I'm getting pushback about it on Twitter, which is fine, but I also think that I'm at the point in my career as a writer where I can just categorically say I think things are bad and most people will either find it persuasive or will at least not argue with me. I don't know if that ultimately makes me better or worse at evaluating cards but I do know that I can't physically stop you from putting a slow, 6-mana creature that makes a reasonable number of tokens that have no haste or evasion in your deck. It's possible I forced your hand by not suggesting a better win con than "value" but you've always been free to add your own favorite win con - this is just the first time I've made it your problem instead of your privilege.

Here's another problem - this deck lends itself VERY easily to making infinite mana, which translates into infinite card draw. This could use Jace, Oracle and Lab Man and I just don't like to run those cards. You should if you don't hate that, they're good here. Arguably what I have done by adding Capsize and Roil Elemental for the event of infinite landfall triggers could be construed as worse. I'm not here to beat you over the head with my personal biases, I want you to feel free to add whatever you want to my shell here - what's important to me with this deck is that I convey that I want you to see how a deck looks when it is built with Burgeoning in mind.

I spent a lot more time than normal on the lands package, because obviously, but I also feel like I didn't get it exactly right. There are a lot of lands I think should get played more and I don't have the room to highlight all of them without making the land base a complete mess. I wish more people played Boseiju, Who Shelters All, for example. Does Arch of Orazca deserve a shot? Throne of the High City? Bonder's Enclave? I think a lot of the "draw a card" lands are underplayed, especially when you have mana to spare right before your turn, but I also don't know how much I want to add lands that only tap for colorless into this specific deck because we can draw cards just fine with our commander. Arch of Orazca is good for this week's theme but not this week's deck. Spend some time looking at lands online and you'll likely find some gems that fit your playstyle.

This is my kind of deck and while I was initially bored by how samey Gretchen is, I think we managed to make good use of our time together this week and I thank you for sticking through it with me. I'll be back next week with a new take on a new commander, but until then, play more Sakura-Tribe Scout and less Sakura-Tribe Elder and you'll be falling lands like no one's business before you know it. Until next time!

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