Lands – a Year in Review

2020 was supposed to be the year of Marit Lage, and while maybe Lage herself wasn’t queen all year, she sure wrought some devastation. Despite all the chaos, the year saw a lot of cool innovations and additions to Lands. We got some nice new printings, got to meme people with sushi, and even got our own website to brag about it on. So now that the year has been rotated out for another, I thought it might be fun to take a look back and reminisce about all the strange times.

Uro & Theros Beyond Death

The year started off with a bang when Theros came out. A lot of Lands players were hyped on Uro – more land drops AND graveyard synergy? What’s not to like? But for a while Uro had to take a back seat to Underworld Breach. As Breach terrorized the format, us Lands kids played a lot more Null Rods and Leylines to try and fight the Breach menace. This would kind of become a theme of the year as Null Rod’s stock just went up and up as more broken artifact synergies got printed.

When Breach was finally banned, Uro did have its time to shine – in the 4-color control decks. Just kidding, it was fine in Lands too. In fact, Uro breathed a lot of new life into UG Lands, which had basically been dead until his printing. With Uro as a card advantage engine and a way to cope with threats, UG shored up one of its common weaknesses (lack of removal) by being able just go over whatever the opponent was doing. While people were working on this before Ikoria, it was the companion meta that really pushed it over the top.

Lurrus & the Companion Meta

When Lurrus was spoiled, Lands players were very excited. The card basically cost us nothing to include in our decks, and it promised to cure one of the biggest feel-bads of the deck by letting us replay Exploration after it was dredged. Pretty soon people were brewing up cool lists with Dark Confidant and other spice.

thanks to Pische10 for this list

This is actually a pretty tame sample – there were definitely Mishra’s Bauble lists and even some playing things like Entomb to use as a tutor with Lurrus.

Of course, Lurrus was also being used by everyone else. Lurrus Delver and Lurrus Miracles, Lurrus Storm and Lurrus Depths were all out there. Lands players who didn’t opt for Lurrus opted for what was, for my money, the best Lands variant at that time – UG Uro Titan Lands.

Image
thanks to Casey Lancaster for this list

These builds were almost more of a ramp deck than a Lands deck. With Uro, Exploration, and Manabond, you could easily get a lot of mana quickly. Then you’d use Cavern of Souls to jam through Uro over and over until your opponent was dead. A lot of lands in play also meant a lot of zombies – note the 3 Field of the Dead. This version of Lands went light on some of the interaction in favor of an unbeatable late game. It also eventually dropped the Stage-Depths combo entirely (as in this list) and relied on Uro and Field to win games.

Against other decks, UG Lands packed a ton of sideboard hate for combo – 3 Chalice, 4 Null Rod, and 3 Mindbreak Trap in this list. With the immense popularity of Lurrus Delver, which played no basics, Ghost Quarter became Strip Mine against a lot of the opposition. So UG went for the full 4 of both Wasteland and Ghost Quarter, with an extra Tabernacle to back it all up. Prime Time in the sideboard was conveniently a giant so that Cavern could push it through against countermagic. Once he resolved it was typically game over for opposing control decks.

Although the deck could suffer from variance when it didn’t find one of its engines, when UG Lands got going it was truly insane.

Eventually though, Companions would be banned and nerfed.

Post-Companion & Zendikar Rising

When Companions left the meta, UG Lands lost one of its best matchups in the Lurrus Delver decks of that time period. While it’s still a solid choice today (especially with the printing of Valakut Exploration as an additional engine), it’s not the obvious choice for the discerning Lands player of 2021.

Most people went back to their RG roots, sometimes splashing black for Abrupt Decay or trying out things like Experimental Frenzy in the sideboard (a build with Frenzy actually placed two in the top 8 of the 4seasons event in Italy). It was a quiet period until Zendikar Rising gave us a big new printing in Valakut Exploration.

Valakut Exploration

This card fit naturally into our deck and a little testing showed that it was truly a force to be reckoned with. If a fetchland can trigger it twice, then with Exploration two fetches can trigger it 4 times a turn. And that’s not even mentioning Crop Rotation giving us extra triggers. Lands could easily draw 2+ extra cards every turn with this in play. I could go on and on about how good the card is in our deck (and I have, here), but I’ll spare you. Suffice to say, every Lands build after Zendikar Rising would try its level best to be playing some red.

Here’s a sample of a list from shortly after Zendikar’s release.

thanks to alli for the list

Grasping Dunes was new tech against Dreadhorde Arcanist, and note also the inclusion of Lightning Bolt to beat the same card. While people started with 2 Valakut Explorations, it would soon be up to 3, often 4.

Post-Zendikar Innovations pt. 1 – Sushi Lands

Sushi Lands was a version of Lands developed by alli, a long-time Lands master and innovator. The deck uses a land aura from Urza’s Saga called Spreading Algae.

The problem with this card is that the opponent might not have swamps. But thanks to Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, they do have swamps. Now you can destroy basics whenever they foolishly tap them, and you can even force them to tap by using Port. It started as a meme, but it quickly spread all over and while it may not be the best Lands build out there it’s certainly a lot of fun to play.

Here’s a sample list.

thanks to alli for the list

The deck plays a lot like classic Lands, but can lean harder on mana denial because of the Spreading Algae.

As for the excellent name, that is due to fmessina in the Lands discord. Something like algae = fish = sushi? Or is it because seaweed is used in making sushi? Whatever it is, it stuck.

Post-Zendikar Innovations pt. 2 – Naya+ Lands

A little after Sushi Lands first hit the scene, a more, shall we say, competitively-minded innovation was made. For a long time people had been trying out white in the Lands, most often for Sevinne’s Reclamation or Hall of Heliod. But it was Japanese player Yekcat that was able to use new Zendikar printings to push the deck to the next level.

The primary synergy that this build leaned on was that between Elvish Reclaimer and Flagstones of Trokair. If you sacrifice Flagstones to Reclaimer, you get to search for not one but two lands: one plains for Flagstones, and one of anything for Reclaimer. This meant that Reclaimer became not just a tutor but a ramp and card advantage engine.

Combine this multiple landfall tool with Valakut Exploration and throw in some Skyclave Apparitions for flexible removal and you had a Lands deck with a strong engine and a lot of variety in its threats.

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thanks to fmessina for the list

White also gave us strong anti-combo tools in the sideboard. These lists tend to lean less on the Stage-Depths plan and often don’t play any Crop Rotations in the maindeck, relying instead on Reclaimer alone.

These innovations let Lands adapt to the Delver + Snow meta. Reclaimer as a blocker that kills Arcanist, and Skyclave Apparition as an answer to Okos and Uros, all were a step up compared to Crop Rotation (which is a liability against counterspells) and Abrupt Decay (which doesn’t really line up well against Uro).

As the deck developed, blue was added for a 4-color no-black build.

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thanks to SquidJPN for the list

Blue lets us play our own Uros and opens the board up to Flusterstorm and Meddling Mage. Both of those line up quite well against Doomsday, which is one of the premier combo decks of the format at the moment.

At the time of writing this article, something like Naya or Naya + blue Lands is, for my money, the most competitive build of Lands out there at the moment. Straight RG is always going to do well in the hands of a master, but these versions take advantage of a lot of new printings and are built to attack the meta, all while staying true to the Lands core. If you’re a Lands player, give them a try.

Card Choices – Biggest Winners & Losers from 2020

Regardless of archetype, Lands changed a lot over the course of the year. A few cards rose in prominence while others faded into the backdrop.

Winners

Elvish Reclaimer – Reclaimer’s ability to eat Dreadhorde Arcanist in combat, it’s synergy with Flagstones of Trokair, and the fact that you don’t have to sacrifice the land up front really showed up this years as advantages over Crop Rotation. While it’s obviously slower, it can serve as an engine all of its own and was increasingly played over the course of the year. There are even full-on GW Reclaimer decks that lean heavily on the little elf. Hopefully a new printing with better art is on its way.

Lightning Bolt – I haven’t mentioned it before, but this year was the year Lightning Bolt really took off as an inclusion in Lands. Before Dreadhorde Arcanist, Punishing Fire was favored for its recursion. But as time went on it became clear that we needed cheap efficient answers to the Arcanist, and Bolt does the job better than most.

Null Rod – With Breach and Lurrus and Lutri and Urza decks all happening this year, Null Rod had a lot of time to shine.

Losers

Rishadan Port – While we all wish it was still good, the fact is that Port is very slow. With Astrolabe in the format, Port was no longer a real way to cut a control deck’s colors. As time went on people cut more and more of them, until some builds like Naya Lands are playing 0-1. That said, in Sushi Lands you get to play the full playset so…

Crop Rotation – At several points in the meta this past year (and including the current meta we’re in now) people were cutting Crop Rotations. Crop Rotation has never lined up well against countermagic, and at this point the top decks of the format are both playing 6-12 counterspells. The ability to make a quick Lage has also been less important since combo has been less common and Doomsday plays its own counterspells. So Crop Rotation has often been cut to 2 copies or else relegated to the sideboard.

Conclusion & Personal Note

Lands may not be the tier 0 deck we all wish it was, but it’s still a lot of fun and pretty powerful in the right hands. At the moment, Naya or Naya with blue seems to be the strongest build, though Dark (Jund) Lands is still a solid choice. But who knows what Kaldheim will bring. For now, we’ll just keep on wasting people out and hitting them with tentacle monsters, though now maybe we’ll explore Valakut or smash some flagstones while we’re at it.

On a final, personal note, I just wanted to give a big shout-out to the Lands community. I’ve played Legacy for a lot of years but it was only this year that I started playing Lands and I have to say the community has been one of the most relaxed, fun, innovative, and just happy I’ve had the pleasure of joining. This website was a project to give something back to that community and I’m glad that so many people have been able to enjoy it. If you, dear reader, have any comments, suggestions, Lage tokens for the gallery, or even want to write/record something for the site, feel free to contact me. A special shout-out goes to Morgormir for writing the incredible primer that forms the backbone of this site, to alli for all his innovations and the guide on playing against delver, to cap-n-dukes for the excellent write-ups on Stage tricks and how to buy into the deck, to fmessina for his excellent 4seasons tournament report, and to every other Lands content creator and streamer and player. Lots of love and happy new year to you all.

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