“All the world’s a Stage… And one land in its time plays many parts” – William Shakespeare, sorta
Thespian’s Stage is a truly wacky Magic card in the Legacy format. For 2 mana and a tap, you open up a Pandora’s box of bizarre rules interactions, unusual sequencing, game-saving mana fixing, win conditions, and so much more. I have foolishly tasked myself with teaching you all of the ins and outs of utilizing Thespian’s Stage to the best of its abilities in Legacy. This article is heavily slanted towards Lands players and how to use Stage with the other pieces of the Lands deck, but many of the lessons here are also applicable to other Thespian’s Stage/Dark Depths decks. Even if you have not dedicated yourself to the shadowy cabal of Lage, you might learn a thing or two about how we plan to dismantle your deck piece by piece with this powerful utility land. Without further ado, let’s start the show!
The Basic “Gotchas”
These are the essential tools in a Stage player’s playbook. Welcome to Theater 101.
Stage copy Dark Depths
This is the bread and butter interaction that powers the Legacy format’s most brutal and efficient Avatar. Despite how likely one is to play against Dark Depths/Thespian’s Stage in a Legacy tournament, many players have not familiarized themselves with the exact mechanics of summoning Marit Lage. When you tap your Stage to copy Dark Depths, here is precisely what happens:
- Stage becomes a copy of Depths. Because the Stage copy did not enter the battlefield, it will not have any counters on it.
- You now have 2 legendary permanents named Dark Depths, and are forced to put one of them into the graveyard due to the legend rule. Pro tip: get rid of the one with ten ice counters on it!
- Your quick-thawed copy of Dark Depths sees that it has no counters on it and triggers, hoping to sacrifice itself once the trigger resolves and bring out Marit Lage. If nobody responds with that trigger on the stack, ta-da! A shiny new Avatar to lay waste to your enemies.
Now because you are playing against a real person and not a goldfish, there are some things to note about the Stage/Depths interaction that can either work in your favor or ruin your fun:
- Opponents who are playing Stifle can interact with the combo at 2 times: they can Stifle the activated ability where Stage tries to copy Dark Depths, or they can Stifle the triggered ability of Dark Depths with no counters trying to sacrifice itself. I say “can,” not “should,” on the second option. See, Dark Depths will always be checking itself for ice counters and trying to sacrifice itself when there are none left. If they Stifle the first Dark Depths sacrifice trigger, it will immediately trigger again! Therefore don’t scoop to a Stifle targeting your triggering, counter-free Depths… but also don’t intentionally mislead your opponent to make them Stifle the combo incorrectly. Always maintain integrity and call a judge if an opponent has a question about the interaction.
- Opponents who are playing Wasteland/Ghost Quarter can interact with the combo at both of those times as well, but here the optimal timing is reversed. An opponent who targets Stage or Depths with Wasteland in response to the target has *technically* kept Lage at bay for now, but they could have done better. By letting the Stage copy Depths, and waiting for you to sacrifice your icy Dark Depths to the legend rule, the opponent can Wasteland/Ghost Quarter with that “no ice counters” trigger on the stack. By killing the thawed Dark Depths before the trigger resolves, they will have stopped your Lage and taken out both lands. It’s a painful 2-for-1 interaction, so be mindful and play cautiously to avoid it.
Remember that you can copy your opponent’s Dark Depths as well, if they’re foolish enough to play one against you. In that case, you don’t have to sacrifice anything to the legend rule, so you’ll just a smooth and quick Avatar, no state-based-effects required!
Stage copy Basic Land (Wasteland)
If you find yourself the fortunate fellow to teach a fledgling Legacy player about this interaction, cherish it. Life is all about soaking up these sweet moments. To set the scene: your opponent has just sacrificed a Wasteland, targeting your Thespian’s Stage. But Wasteland has a fatal flaw- it cannot destroy Basic lands. So naturally, we will use 2 mana and tap our Stage to copy a Basic land in play, either our own or our opponent’s. Stage copies the Basic supertype (as well as Legendary and Snow supertypes- more on that later), and becomes an invalid target for the Wasteland’s ability. Wasteland’s ability fizzles and, just like that, our Stage lives to copy another day. Close one!
Stage copy Anything (Pithing Needle)
One of the most troublesome cards for Stage to overcome is Pithing Needle or her older brother, Sorcerous Spyglass. However, you can make it harder for your opponent to truly lock you out of your Stage activations with a simple trick. When your opponent casts Needle/Spyglass, use your Stage to copy another land on the battlefield before the artifact resolves. Once it resolves, your opponent must choose: do they name the card that Thespian’s Stage has copied, in order to neutralize that 1 copy of Stage? Or do they name the card Thespian’s Stage, to neutralize copies you draw later? The answer is not always clear, and at the very least, you’ve saved 1 copy of Stage for later use in the game. Protect it carefully if it will be crucial to achieving a win.
Stage/Glacial Chasm Loop
Ah, the infamous Chasm Loop. Many a Burn player has told horror stories about a sadistic Lands player who stabilized with a Glacial Chasm right before a lethal Fireblast would kill them, and proceeded to Ghost Quarter every land out of the Burn player’s deck while safely standing on the other side of the icy crevasse. If you’ve ever wanted to see the light in your opponent’s eyes turn to drool dripping from their mouth, Stage and Chasm will make that happen. Here’s how it works:
- You will assemble Chasm, 1 Stage on the board, 1 Stage in hand or graveyard, and Life from the Loam or Crucible of Worlds. Bonus points for Exploration, because unless you have a way to deploy multiple lands in a turn, you will not be able to increase the number of lands you have in play (or play new ones – all your land drops will be Stages from here on out).
- With Chasm on the board, you are required to pay Cumulative Upkeep of 2 life each turn. You will instead use Stage to copy Chasm with Cumulative Upkeep on the stack, resulting in controlling 2 Glacial Chasms. Note that the Stage copy of Chasm did not enter the battlefield, so you do not sacrifice a land when you copy Chasm. It also was not a Chasm at the beginning of the upkeep, so you won’t have to pay life to keep it around this turn.
- Now that you are safe behind 2 Chasms, you can let the original Chasm die to avoid paying the Cumulative Upkeep of 2 life.
- Your land drop for the turn *must* be the other Thespian’s Stage, which you will need in our next upkeep. On next upkeep, you will have a Stage copy of Chasm and another Thespian’s Stage.
- Now during your upkeep, the Chasm copy’s Cumulative Upkeep goes on the stack. Again, use the other Stage to become a copy of the Chasm copy, and sacrifice the first copy without paying the Cumulative Upkeep cost.
- Finally, use your Loam or Crucible to bring the Thespian’s Stage you sacrificed back to the battlefield. Repeat until your opponent concedes. If you can play multiple lands per turn, use a Ghost Quarter to destroy every land in their deck just to be safe.
This method of winning is immensely satisfying, boring for your opponent, and skill-testing for you. A perfect combo! Always remember that the goal is to NEVER have a moment where you do not have a Chasm on the field. Also, be mindful of the clock and the number of cards in your deck. Dredge 3 adds up in a hurry when utilizing this combo.
Building on the copying techniques above, we move into some advanced plays for the distinguished thespian.
Wasteland their Wasteland, Stage copy Basic
This comes up a lot, and it’s good to come out on top of this interaction. If your opponent has a Wasteland while you control a non-Basic Thespian’s Stage, they are likely to blow up the Stage or the land it targets as soon as you spend mana to activate Stage’s ability. Luckily, most Stage decks pack their own Wastelands, so you can force the opponent’s hand. Once you have the mana to activate Stage, use your Wasteland to target the opposing Wasteland. They will be forced to activate their Wasteland or let it be destroyed with no effect, so they will most often target your Stage or another non-Basic land. If they target the Stage, we can use our “Stage copy Basic Land” trick from earlier to save it. If they target something else that you wanted to keep around, simply copy that card before it is destroyed with Stage instead.
As you sequence your early land drops, try to avoid sticky situations where you leave your Stage vulnerable to a Wasteland due to not having enough mana to copy a Basic land. I lost a particularly painful win-and-in against Eldrazi at a GP due to simply activating a fetchland at a bad time. As I cracked the fetch and picked up my deck to find my Basic Forest, my opponent responded by Wastelanding my Stage when only 1 mana was available on my battlefield. Instead of correctly setting up the Wasteland line from above on my next turn, I lost my only Stage (and shortly thereafter, the match). Do as I say, not as I do.
Stage copy Basic Land (haymaker protection)
This move is Basically the same as the original basic land “Gotcha” from above, but concerns some of the haymaker spells that make Lands decks grind to a halt. In response to the casting of a Back to Basics, Blood Moon, Price of Progress, or From the Ashes, you should attempt to turn as many of your Stages as you can into Basic lands. If you suspect that your opponent has access to one of these cards, try to play conservatively enough to respect their haymaker and keep your Thespian’s Stages tapping for colored mana.
Stage copy crucial land (playing around Surgical/Wasteland, making duplicate Ghost Quarters/Mazes/Ports/mana sources/etc)
Another frequent sequencing trick to know is when and how to play around Wasteland or Surgical Extraction. If your opponent tries to destroy an important land you control and you believe they have a Surgical Extraction ready to purge it from your deck, you should often use your Stage to copy that land in response and use further Stages to continue copying the copy for as long as it’s needed. For example, Surgical on our Wastelands can brutally disrupt the game plan of removing all of our opponent’s mana sources. Before you activate a Wasteland, consider copying it with Stage so that you retain a copy in case of a Surgical. You should also leave up a Stage activation as often as possible when you have a Glacial Chasm or Tabernacle that is crucial to your survival.
Stage can also proactively copy lands that are a crucial part of whatever line you have taken in a particular game. If Rishadan Port is stopping the opponent from getting to 4 mana to play a Jace or From the Ashes, you should likely be making all the extra Ports you can make to keep up with their land drops. If you are going to burn the opponent out with Punishing Fires, start turning your Stages into Groves or Taigas to build up your red mana and increase your number of Fire loops.
As a personal highlight, I once played Turbo Depths vs ANT, my list containing just one Ghost Quarter as land interaction. I deployed 2 Sphere of Resistance and realized that my opponent would never be able to play another spell if I could remove their lands and Surgical their Lotus Petals. So, painstakingly slowly, I proceeded to tutor out my Stages one by one. Each one copied Ghost Quarter or a Stage copying Ghost Quarter as I destroyed all of my opponent’s lands. I Surgicaled the Petals, Ghost Quartered 5 of their lands, and won with Sylvan Safekeeper attacks. Stick to your lines, and never underestimate Thespian’s Stage!
Stage copy Opponent’s Fetchland (fixing mana/making opponent fetch prematurely)
This interaction looks a bit like a mind game, but it can provide valuable information about your opponent’s cards and fix your colors. If you are short on colored mana and your opponent has a fetchland that could grab a land from your deck, you can use Stage to copy that fetchland. Your opponent has the option to respond by cracking the fetch, which will remove your Stage’s target and fizzle the activation. If they do, you have removed one more mana source from their deck- nice work! If they do not, consider what that means. They could be saving the fetch for a needed Brainstorm shuffle, or are trying to protect their mana sources from your Wastelands and Ghost Quarters. Whatever it means, you now have a fetchland. Remember that Stage never loses its ability to copy other lands, so you are under no pressure to use the fetchland right away if you find other colored mana. You can always save the fetch to become a copy of another land if you need it.
The tippy-top of bohemian Legacy gameplay. As with all high art, it ranges from head-scratching to awe-inspiring.
Stage copy Legendary Lands
Many decks with Stage utilize cards like Barbarian Ring or Elvish Reclaimer, which require certain numbers of cards in your graveyard to unlock their full power. In a pinch, your Thespian’s Stage can copy a Legendary land on your side of the field to invoke the legend rule and force you to put one of the lands into the graveyard.
Stage copy Blast Zone
Blast Zone is an incredible tool in the Lands toolbox, offering any color combination a passable Engineered Explosives on a much more accessible land card. However, Blast Zone entering the battlefield with a charge counter stops it from destroying pesky permanents like Moxen, Chalice of the Voids, and swarms of Storm-drenched Goblin tokens. When Stage copies Blast Zone, it becomes a copy without entering the battlefield and therefore without the charge counter (just like the Dark Depths interaction). In Chalice matchups, getting a Stage copy of Blast Zone early can save you from the game-breaking Chalice for X=2, so plan ahead. BOOM!
Stage copy Field of the Dead (tracking your unique land names carefully)
Field of the Dead has been instrumental in pushing long, drawn out control matchups ridiculously in our favor. It is always important to review your current board state prior to making a land drop when you control your Field, and especially so when you start copying Field with your Stages. If you sacrificed a land on a previous turn, had a land destroyed by an opponent’s effect, or otherwise changed the lands on your field, you may have dropped below the seven unique land threshold required for your Fields to trigger. Likewise, if you only have one Stage on the battlefield, turning it into a Field to make extra tokens drops your unique land count by one, which could stop you from making Zombies. As a victim of this miscount on a few occasions, I always like to double count my unique land names before playing a land. If you pass the 7 unique land threshold when playing a grindy game, consider turning your Stages copying other lands into Fields to make additional Zombie tokens. Extra bodies means easier work, even if they’re dead ones!
Stage copy Snow Forest (Field of the Dead)
Stage decks with Field of the Dead have a unique bonus advantage in this current Legacy climate, namely the presence of Snow-Covered Basic lands. If you are running Lands, you should run a Basic Forest, not a Snow Basic, due to the presence of UGx Snow decks all over the format. When Thespian’s Stage copies a Snow-Covered Forest, it counts as another unique land for your Field of the Dead. Small margins matter in a deck like ours, so don’t leave home without a nice Basic Forest.
Song of the Dryads
Some Lands lists have opted to play Song of the Dryads as a sideboard card in the past. This card has a unique interaction with Stage’s copying ability: When Stage’s ability targets the “Forest” (aka the enchanted permanent), Stage will actually become a copy of the printed card! If you enchanted a Griselbrand, your Stage is now a Griselbrand! Remember that this will not work how you want it to with Planeswalkers, however. Once you copy the Forest-’walker with Stage, you will have a copy of that ‘walker with no loyalty counters on it, and your Stage will die faster than Dack Fayden on a WotC promo video. And no, this is not me giving you permission to run Vesuva (But send a picture if you do pull this ‘walker cloning off)!
Stage copy Stage
The Judge in me is legally obligated to inform you that you can use Stage’s ability to copy itself. Each time you do this, your Stage will gain a new instance of the copying ability. Until there is a card printed which cares about the number of activated abilities on a permanent you control, this will be about as useful as your opponents attacking you over a Glacial Chasm. But seeing as it’s 2020, I wouldn’t put it past Wizards to print something like that.
End Step, Copy Dark Depths
Let me know in the comments if you found this guide helpful, and if you would like to see similar card-by-card breakdowns in the future. It was a lot of fun for me to re-examine everything you can do with a Thespian’s Stage; I hope you learned a few new tricks and had fun too!
May your opponents always Stifle the wrong trigger.