Conquer. Annex. Vedalken Plotter. All three of these cards see play in Commander. Lands, usually a pretty big deal in Magic, are often considered a core component to the entire Commander format. There’s certainly some truth to that, but what’s actually important about lands and Commander is much more complex.
In this week’s Commander Cube installment, I hope to shed a little light on both the depth of staple lands and the flexibility in building a mana base that isn’t always apparent. There’s a lot of land in Magic, but you don’t need very much to make Commander work for you.
Since lands are universal—you play the appropriate color-producers for your Commander—I’ll instead highlight the sets of lands that are staples, do more than meets the eye, or work well with a specific Commander or strategy.
Captain Obvious Is Obvious
First, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: dual lands. The term dual land generally applies to any land that can give you two different colors. Originating from the first cycle of rare duals included with the release, variations and tweaks on this cycle have continued through today. I won’t bore you with the specifics of what makes these cycles different, but they’re all the core of singleton multicolored mana bases.
The Original Duals
New or M10 and Innistrad Duals
New Man Lands
Some of these lands work better given a specific purpose, but for the most part, you can’t go wrong dropping all of the appropriate color-producers into a deck. There are many more cycles of “duals” that aren’t listed above (such as Shivan Oasis and friends from Invasion, Akoum Refuge and friends from Zendikar, and more).
While there is an argument to be made in differentiating between duals with basic land subtypes (the original and shock lands) and those without (every other set), it’s only in relation to using fetch lands.
These sets of fetches can grab any card with the appropriate subtype (even Dryad Arbor), and put them into play untapped. While this immediacy of having the right mana is less important in Commander than competitive formats, the ability to cast the spells you have is just as important. Fetch lands, in conjunction with the right dual and basic lands, help you to just play Magic.
Decks that aren’t heavily multicolored, or aren’t using the more expensive duals with basic subtypes, still have access to fantastic fixing. Using basic lands, or Snow basic lands, comes with some advantages as well, turning off Wasteland (and its variants) as well as Ruination and other nonbasic land hate.
Value for Value’s Sake
Bounce Lands or Karoos
Azorius Chancery, Dimir Aqueduct, Rakdos Carnarium, Gruul Turf, Selesnya Sanctuary, Orzhov Basilica, Golgari Rot Farm, Simic Growth Chamber, Izzet Boilerworks, Boros Garrison, Coral Atoll, Dormant Volcano, Everglades, Jungle Basin, Karoo
While Visions introduced them, Ravnica demonstrated just how powerful mana-fixing attached to mana-value can be. Bounce lands were an incredible powerhouse in Limited, smoothed out mana curves by providing a consistent 3 mana on turn three, and allowed incredibly colorful decks to flourish across casual and competitive formats alike.
The simple way they work is still useful in Commander, but they come with small tricks that can put them over the edge: having a way to play multiple lands a turn, such as Oracle of Mul Daya, lets you use a more powerful land, such as Gaea's Cradle, multiple times in a turn. (The Visions versions don’t allow this due to the basic rider, but smooths curves all the same.)
The original cycle of tri-lands also function as bounce lands. These are criminally underplayed in three-colored Commander decks, and I’m extremely pleased with how well these work.
The lands from Shards of Alara are not Lair lands, but they are fantastic budget mana-fixing, even for five-colored decks. I’m looking forward to a day when they are reprinted, or the “enemy wedge” tri-lands come into existence. The exception is Murmuring Bosk (Doran, the Siege Tower’s land): a basic land type tacked into an enemy pain land both weird and wonderful. Getting the “rest of the cycle” would take a very special set, so I don’t expect it anytime soon.
While discussion of lands that produce any color should include Vivid lands, it’s the interaction with Reflecting Pool and Exotic Orchard that’s important. The Lorwyn/Shards of Alara Standard a few years ago leveraged this for competitive five-colored decks. If you plan to cast many double- and triple-colored spells, I would recommend these; as counters come off, your mana will be more developed and need the counters less.
The best lands for producing mana of any color are best reserved for decks that require three or more colors. If you have a colorful Commander playgroup, Exotic Orchard is one way to play off other decks’ mana-fixing. Also, Mirrodin's Core in foil looks absolutely awesome.
One of the most efficient ways for a card to feel more powerful is for it to be printed with Cycling. If you want to load up on land but fear having too many (a topic for another time), these will serve you well. These also “combo” with bounce lands: Play one early when you need the mana, then down the road, you can bounce it back to your hand to be cycled. Chocolate, meet peanut butter.
Here we get into the really spicy stuff: unique effects and powers that can radically change how your games feel, can change how Commanders and themes perform, and can generate significant advantage over opponents.
Some of these are really brutal to fight against. While Green and Red pack a mighty anti-land punch, having colorless ways to handle very powerful lands (such as Gaea's Cradle and Maze of Ith) is a sharp idea. Yes, these types of lands can be used to lock other players out of almost all of their spells, but the goal should be modest preservation above anything else. Cradle and Maze deserve to be nipped on sight.
Mazes, derived from the original Maze of Ith, are often conflated with control strategies. “Keep your dude back!” can be an annoying but solvable situation, but making the most of the Maze is awesome: You can untap your creature that attacked and already damaged something. A classic trick in Legacy is to do this with Knight of the Reliquary: Attack with your big Knight, then untap and get to use the ability to tutor a land and make the Knight bigger. Commanders with activated abilities, such as Arcum Dagsson, can be used here as well.
Artifacts have premium ways to convert creatures into other permanents, but lands are usually much sticker than our rusty cohorts. When Blue decks run every Control Magic variant, Red decks play Grab the Reins and Insurrection, and even Black shows up with Enslave on a regular basic, dumping creatures away is excellent. And these also work in reverse; if you spent time stealing a creature, you will be able to kill it before it returns whence it came.
Colorless Man Lands
On-Color Man Lands
While the allied man lands can work similarly, the generally cheaper activation costs for these let us use them well: Equipment. Even if you’re paying 5 or 6 mana to attack with a Sword of Feast and Famine, it’s worth it. Umezawa's Jitte, Sword of Light and Shadow, or even a lowly Trepanation Blade all enjoy an extra hit or two. Since creature lands generally hide from mass removal, waking up to an empty board is a common occurrence.
I love tokens. Many of the fellow Commander players I know love tokens. Commander players in general seem to enjoy and love tokens. I ran Rhys the Redeemed into a hypertuned machine of value, explosive power, and degenerate interactions. These lands can contribute well to decks of all levels, and I’ve found land-based token-generation to be very useful on numerous occasions for a much simpler reason: more warm bodies faster after a Wrath of God.
Commander is a recursion format. I don’t mean that recursion is simply useful, but something far more serious. Players who want to win will abuse the graveyard, specifically target punishing other players’ graveyards, and intentionally construct their decks to maximize access to the entire history of graveyard interactions. These land-based ways to rebuy things are among the most powerful abusers of the graveyard, simply because land destruction isn’t as common and is easier to resist (see Crucible of Worlds).
Power overwhelming is an attractive concept, as you simply do what you want regardless of opponents. Flash, protection from being countered, and generating very large amounts of mana (to play multiple threats and overload any defensive position) all work as you’d imagine in Commander. And sometimes you’ll really want power overwhelming when other players bring control all-encompassing; I follow the quid pro quo mentality of fighting with equal (or slightly superior) firepower, but only when it’s necessary.
While the latter is common, the former is underplayed in groups that neither abuse nor target lands. With any land destruction running around, nailing a Scorched Ruins is almost always too juicy to let pass. That said, both are some of the only lands that can hit play and be tapped for more than usual for a land.
I love lands that can give me choices in a game. Despite not relishing having to choose every time (We all don’t always want to run down potentials to make “the right” choice!), letting me scale my power relative to opponents is a powerful feint in multiplayer. Deserted Temple can empower a Gaea's Cradle or Cabal Coffers, get double duty in one shot from Volrath's Stronghold or Academy Ruins, or simply function similarly to Unstable Frontier. Arena is “fair” but repeatable removal. Vesuva can copy a color-producing land desired, or work the “Legend rule” over on someone else’s powerhouse. Choices, man.
The End of the Road
There are just a few more notable mentions for lands that I feel I’d like to point out.
Kessig Wolf Run and Skarrg, the Rage Pits both let you hit home harder with attack-oriented Commanders. Uril, the Miststalker, Kresh the Bloodbraided, Stonebrow, Krosan Hero, and more all desire to hit harder, and reward you for doing so. Letting you close the game out simply by using land avoids most of the potential complications.
Soldevi Excavations and Tolaria West best exemplify why many consider Blue to be the most powerful color in Commander. A land that can tutor a land, broken artifact (Mana Crypt), counterspell (Pact of Negation), equipment (Sigil of Distinction), board-wipe (Living End), and numerous other powerful things is silly. And Blue doesn’t need Snow lands and Scrying Sheets to have a land that digs for you. Oh, and it’s almost a bounce land, too.
Shizo, Death's Storehouse is a card I was very excited to find in foil, as I genuinely love granting fear to an oversized Kresh the Bloodbraided. A way to grant evasion repeatedly, instead of relying on Equipment or removal, is wonderful.
Svogthos, the Restless Tomb is a land I point to when I hear players complain that “the enemy colors don’t get man lands.” While the other pairs indeed don’t have man lands, the one that does has a very-hard-to-kill Lhurgoyf in colors that excel in graveyard-filling.
Yavimaya Hollow may seem strange given that older removal spells often carry the “can’t-be-regenerated” clause, but I’ve found it to be more than useful in games. Avoiding trades, making opponents work harder to kill something if they really want to kill it, and being able to regenerate from your own mass removal all make the Hollow a very rich card.
And that’s all I wrote about the over two hundred lands I added to my Commander Box document. Join us next week when we go artificial!