Greetings fellow Lands aficionados! My name is Michael Warme, and I’ve been slinging Lands since Life from the Loam was a standard-legal card. Many of you might recognize me by my tag for all things magic, amalek0, from either various discords, the MTG Salvation days, or The Source. I’m writing this because I made a meta call the day 2022 Eternal Weekend was announced to play a white-splash build of 8-mulch in the main event. Last weekend, I carried the Lands torch to 38th place at EW with what is, as far as I can find, a unique version of Lands and one which I feel is particularly suited to the current metagame. I suspect this will be the second most widely-read tournament report from my carpool up to EW, as my good friend and only passenger Jay decided to keep me trapped in Philly for as long as humanly possible by taking down the whole thing.
First off, the list:
There’s a couple of things that led me to start messing around with 8-Mulch back in August. For starters, manabases in Legacy have been getting incredibly greedy; Delver plays a singular basic, and many fair piles are also playing only one or two basics. While traditional Lands builds are generally well positioned to disrupt those manabases in a long game, Delver has pushed everything into building and mulliganing towards explosive plays early in the game (e.g. Minsc and Boo). The corresponding options for Lands are to reorient toward a combo build in the classic RG Gamble build sense, play more explosive early permanents ourselves (Minsc and Boo, Sylvan Library, or even some innovative builds with mainboard Spheres), or to play more Manabond copies to increase our turn one hands that really accelerate on-board advantage. Unfortunately, these options have some significant corresponding problems; the RG Gamble builds have been overcome by the long-term trends of the format (increased answers to an early Marit Lage). The builds with more explosive permanents are kind of the next obvious step, fighting fire with fire. I don’t think that’s always a bad thing, but in the current metagame that’s largely a concession to just be a worse version of the 4c control decks. More on this later. Finally, Lands just can’t max out on more manabonds. There’s a limit to how many accelerants you can play without compromising the core structure of the deck, and Exploration + Manabond + Mox Diamond is too many slots to maintain a cohesive deck resembling anything like current Lands gameplans (I’m not a Depths player, but I imagine a Manabond + Mox Diamond flavor of Turbo Depths might be similarly viable).
When I started looking for compromises to mitigate one of those problems, I basically found two options, like the rest of the community: play a multicolor Lands build to add necessary protection and interaction spells to go with the “big” spells/tools, or play the newfangled turbo Field of the Dead build with 8 copies of Mulch. Significantly, I don’t think anyone has cracked the code for a return to the Gamble builds of years past; that metagame space is probably the exclusive domain of Turbo Depths at this point. Unlike most of the community, I think that coming in from a couple years of life obligations crowding out my legacy-playing time helped me approach 8-Mulch with a little more of an open mind.
Returning to the multi-color Lands builds and their “big” permanents, I found they seemed to fall into two categories: those built around 3-4 copies of Urza’s Saga with multiple tutor targets, and those built around mainboarded Minsc and Boo, Endurance, and/or Sylvan Libraries. It didn’t take me very long to realize that the Saga-heavy builds are just a trap–the number of slots required just torpedos the core of the deck, and the repeated trading off of land drops for tutored artifacts works against all the fundamental strategic tools in the Lands arsenal; I think such builds are better off just trying to be a depths deck with Sagas. The more color intensive “big spells” variants of Lands, on the other hand, were a bit more intriguing. Ultimately though, they all seemed to suffer from the same problem as the Saga builds–instead of extra slots taken up by 0/1 mana artifacts, they were instead chock full of 3-4 dual lands, spells that didn’t interact with the graveyard or accelerate land drops, and a sideboard full of generic 1 for 1’s that didn’t exploit the asymmetric advantage of actually putting more lands into play than the opponent.
I was kind of at a loss and flirting with the Wafo-Tapa builds of Jeskai Control (which would have been disastrously bad with the rise of initiative) when I saw someone post a list with a league result of a mono-green 8-Mulch build. I unfortunately don’t have the exact list or remember who to credit, but whoever it was stripped out all the extra techy stuff in the existing 8-Mulch builds and tried a fairly honest all-in build on Mulch and Field. The deck and the league report hinted at the absolutely explosive turn twos available to the deck (turn one Manabond into turn two Mulch for four lands, trigger Manabond with a triple-Field seven card dump for 21 zombies on turn 2), but the brave soul who tried it struggled against some classic favorable matchups and the list I think went too far to maximizing Field and gave up too much of the disruption and leverage available to Lands. It was enough for me to start messing around with it and seeing what I could do to improve the shell.
It was around this time that I started jamming a lot of Lands games against Jay Wojciechowski’s Delver between rounds at weekend events at our LGS (Games and Comics Pair ‘o’ Dice in Fairfax, VA–some of you might have heard of our sponsored team crushing it at the Oko-Toberfest CEDH event a month or two ago, or from the buzz about our weekly old school gatherings every Sunday morning). Jay was talking to me about how tight the mana is in almost every matchup and how it contributed to how high he was on mainboard Brazen Borrowers, and it made me realize that most of the decks in the format really were tied tightly to their curves and were perhaps more susceptible to repeated Wasteland effects than was usual for the format. I immediately adjusted up to trim my Rishadan Ports for two more Ghost Quarters, to see how it felt. It took a week or two for me to realize that while the traditional Lands build was still rough against a lot of the meta, that 4 Wasteland + 3 Ghost Quarter package was a pretty incredible weapon against the format as a whole.
Armed with that knowledge, and having recently seen some of the 8-Mulch experiments, I set about acquiring the random old commons and getting a serious feel for the deck. I knew I wanted that 7 Strip Mine package, but I hadn’t played with more than a single Maze of Ith in years and I was completely unversed in all of the nuances of sideboarding in 8-Mulch. I started my testing (mostly against Jay on Delver, but with some marathon sessions against D&T and midrange Jeskai piles of various flavors) and started quickly iterating on the deck. Ultimately, I didn’t stray too far from established builds of Mulch in mainboard structure, but by streamlining down the colors I freed up more space for the utility and heavy mana disruption packages, which gave me the opportunity to give the deck an angle of attack that most published builds of 8-Mulch lack, or are significantly less likely to assemble.
Let’s talk about the mainboard:
4 Crop Rotation
These are sort of the core of the deck, and in my opinion define what is really different between Lands and 8-Mulch. Lands plays Mox Diamond and can do fancy two mana plays on turn one. 8 Mulch does not, and so is very much a Force-check/Daze-check deck in a way that probably feels anathema to most Lands players. Getting comfortable throwing my accelerant into a Daze on turn one took a while to get used to, but it really is absolutely correct. If a hand doesn’t have one of these accelerants or multiple Crop Rotations in game one, I’m very unlikely to keep it. I routinely go to five looking for something potentially explosive with these spells.
4 Winding Way
4 Life from the Loam
If the enchantments and Crop Rotations are the gas, these spells are the engine. The core strength of 8-Mulch is twofold: it can generate significantly more lands in play than the opponent (often more lands in play than the opponent has total cards available), and it can power this engine without having to rely entirely on Life from the Loam/the graveyard. As we’ll see later, while I played three utility lands that protect Loam from surgical, I am largely willing to toss my Loam into an expected surgical as long as I’m going to get a solid 4 for 1 out of the deal.
3 Ghost Quarter
I’ve said a lot about this already, but I think that the mana disruption here is really key against most of the format at the moment, and it’s augmented by access to Boseiju for even more Ghost Quarter-esque effects.
3 Thespian’s Stage
3 Field of the Dead
2 Dark Depths
This is the package of ways available to kill the opponent, and I think three is the minimum for Stage and the absolute number for Field. I can absolutely see Depths and Stage going as high as 4 copies apiece; I think it all depends on what happens with initiative.
1 Windswept Heath
1 Wooded Foothills
1 Verdant Catacombs
1 Snow-Covered Forest
1 Horizon Canopy
2 Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth
2 Boseiju, Who Endures
I consider this to be the package of green sources (11) and as you can see, there’s a lot of utility crammed in here. Part of the benefit for cutting all the splashes is that these utility effects can cover my color needs, without also requiring another fetch and 1-3 other dual lands.
3 Maze of Ith
1 The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
1 Tranquil Thicket
1 Scattered Groves
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Tower of the Magistrate
1 Hall of Heliod’s Generosity
Most of this is familiar utility to Lands players of all stripes; I think that we really only need to talk about three of them. Scattered Groves is really a fetchable cycler; my most common use case was fetching it, Ghost Wuartering it into a forest, and Loaming it back to set up a double Loam turn to just power the game completely out of reach. Tower of the Magistrate is a specific hedge against Kaldra Compleat. I intentionally chose to play it over the 4th Maze or Glacial Chasm because the decks with access to basics, Stoneforge for Kaldra, and Wasteland can basically just “get us” about 25% of the time by having the Stoneforge and drawing the Wasteland to open a hole in our Maze of Iths for a turn or two. Our spells usually resolve in such matchups so I’m unafraid to aggressively rotate into the Tower and then take some damage as I build up to cover the rest of their board. Finally, Hall of Heliod’s Generosity was really the final addition to bring the deck together. There are a lot of matchups where you can stay at parity for a really long time by loaming back and playing one land per turn to keep creatures covered and pressure on the mana, but it can often be nearly impossible to do that while also setting up to win the game. Hall solves that problem cleanly–at some point, your grind flips into the Hall, and you can pick it up and take exactly one turn off to set up the accelerant enchantment that locks the game away. This was often the flaw with my traditional Lands builds–I would have one Exploration or Manabond get answered, and I would have a game slip away while I treaded water desperately for a few turns trying to find another one. The other thing it does is enable aggressive Force-checking with your Manabonds and Explorations–you’re often able to aggressively draw out two Forces on turns one and two, and then the opponent is essentially out of gas and the Loams/Mulches resolve uncontested while you find the Hall to re-cast the third (or fourth or fifth) accelerant of the game. Finally, it really powers up sideboard games–Choke and Drop of Honey are far more powerful when you can loam into them, and then cast them every turn until they stick.
My sideboard, on the other hand, is a good bit different from the usual mix of Lands and 8-Mulch sideboards:
4 Force of Vigor
2 Stony Silence
1 Drop of Honey
1 Glacial Chasm
1 Maze of Ith
Most of these cards are not unusual to see in a Lands or depths sideboard (except maybe Stony Silence), but I think the mix says a lot about where this deck sits in relation to other builds of Lands at the moment. The Chokes and Drop of Honey/Endurances speak to the more traditional Lands gameplan of running out the opponent’s mana base with Tabernacle and Wastelands, stressing their fundamental resources. On the other hand, the explosiveness of the deck demands the heavy suite of Forces and high impact utility lands that would just be mainboarded in traditional Lands or disregarded entirely. The only unique thing going on here is Stony Silence, and the choice to play them followed (and was contingent on) the decision to play Hall of Heliod’s generosity. These were specifically for Doomsday, Storm, 8-Cast, and the initiative matchup, and I was rewarded in the main event with a takedown of Doomsday that involved double game wins after my opponent resolved a discard spell to see my hand and then piled with Doomsday, one of which was directly attributable to having the Stony available to buy back with Hall.
Round 1: BR goblins 2-0. Opponent kept a one lander without vial and got Waste/Tabby’d, game 2 he mulled to 4 looking for more than one land.
In: Maze, Drop, Chasm
Out: karakas, Bojuka Bog, Tower
Round 2: Cephalid Breakfast 0-2. This is the guy who went undefeated day 1; he just had the Nomads combo both games. This is a match where we only win with a fast combo, there is no reasonable line for mana disruption so we just min-max disruption and exolosiveness.
In: Choke, Drop, Stony, Force, Endurance
Out: Karakas, Mazes, Tabby, Wasteland, Ghost Quarter
Round 3: 4-color Yorion Zenith 0-2. This guy dropped a couple rounds later, played super slow, and picked up at least two draws. I had 15 mins for a game 2 and 3 and sideboarded for the clock, not to win, so not much to say. Player was not great but infinite basics, mainboard land recursion, and Primeval Titan is unbeatable.
Round 4: Delver 2-1. I win game 1, make a speculative keep game 2 because I’m up and opponent draws well, but no way was Delver getting two games off this list in a single round.
In: Drop, Choke, Maze
Out: Karakas, Tower, one Stage/one Depths
Round 5: Doomsday 2-1. I win game 1 and game 3, both after opponent has Duressed me and then Doomsday piled. Game 1 they didn’t pile mana sources correctly and triple Ghost Quarter over the following turn cycle broke their pile. In G3, they missed that my Ghost Quarter forcing a pass of the turn also let me recur the Ghost Quarter and Hall back Stony, so the double turn-pass turned into locking out the Petal they were going to use.
In: Endurance, Stony Silence
Out: Bog, Tower, Karakas, 2 Maze of Ith, Scattered Groves
Round 6: Delver 2-1. Same sideboard as before, much the same story.
Round 7: Yorion Death & Taxes 2-0. I’m scared enough of Kaldra that I mainboard the Tower. Opponent kept a double nonbasic/Vial hand game 1 and didn’t draw a second land after my double Wasteland + Boseiju until I already had double active field. Game 2, I had turn 1 Manabond, turn 2 Mulch, make like 12 zombies.
In: Drop, Maze, 1 Stony Silence (very speculative)
Out: Bog, 1 Boseiju, Scattered Groves
Round 8: Boros Initiative 2-0. Opponent keeps on 4 or 5 both games with a turn 1 play, which gets summarily Mazed while I Wasteland them into oblivion.
In: Maze, Drop, 1 Stony.
Out: Tower, Bog, Karakas
Round 9: White Initiative 1-2. All three games were nut draws by both of us; we agreed in discussion of hands afterwards that the player on the play was 100% to win each game–nothing on the draw for them beats good Manabond hands, nothing on the draw for us beats good Chalice into threat hands. Same sb as before, but I strongly considered Force of Vigor.
Round 10: Delver 2-0. Same sb as before. Opponent attempted to Price + Volt me out with good timing but I was playing around it and survived it at three, and they lost all five red sources as a result of trying to set it up, so they scooped.
Where does Lands go from here? Honestly, as long as Iteration and initiative are here, I think Mulch is the build, Urza’s Saga is bad, and splashes will get punished. My instinct is that initiative will probably diverge into two shells: a white-based prison shell with lock bears, and a Mox Diamond and Gemstone Caverns Boros pile with 12 initiative threats and Once Upon a Time. I think we have very different gameplans against those two decks, so really testing the matchup isn’t feasible until the target is better defined.
The format as a whole has gotten more coinflippy; I’m not sure it’s good gameplay overall, but from a competitive standpoint I think being the 80-20 favorite on a per-game basis against Delver and having a literal coinflip matchup with initiative is a fine place to be. I believe there is more that can be done to optimize the GW 8-Mulch shell that I played, and I think if I had a year of reps instead of 4 months of jamming once a week, I would have finished X-2 and been on the hunt for a top 16 on breakers instead of a top 32 (which I missed anyway, and the current standings show it being nowhere close thanks to my carmate winning it all and destroying my breakers in the top 8).
A big shoutout to my airbnb folks from Games and Comics Pair ‘o’ Dice in Fairfax VA, Carson, Nathan, and Jay. It was a big boost to be there with a team versus going the trip solo, and the family style dinners were great. For those that are watching, our shop is becoming a hub for eternal play–we put a sponsored finalist and a top 16 player up in CEDH at Oko-Tober this year, Jay took down EW and I made top 64 this weekend, and we’ve got a weekly Sunday morning old school for 15+ folks firing now. Cheers to all, and may your dredges always flip gas!