Five months ago (in September 2022) I had the Legacy format completely figured out. I knew the top decks in the online winner’s meta and I felt comfortable playing vs all of these decks with Lands. I got rewarded by a Top 8 in the online Super Qualifier on the 3rd of September and I followed this up with a Top 16 in the Showcase Challenge three weeks later. I was not the only one enjoying success with Lands at this time. In fact Lands was the most successful of the “big” decks in the Super Qualifier with a staggering non-mirror winrate of 75% in this event (compare this to UR Delver that had a non-mirror winrate of 47% in the same tournament). There was peace and harmony in the Lands discord but this was about to change.
It started with Minsc & Boo getting introduced to Magic Online. This gave control decks a real clock vs us and I was worried that this would stop my main plan vs control that is to prolong the game, with Urza’s Saga plus Thespian Stage, to the point where I would either win by damage or by simply stopping my opponent from killing me and then them eventually timing out. It turned out that the impact from Minsc in control did not change the MU dramatically and I still felt OK playing vs these decks. However, Minsc & Boo would have a huge impact on another deck (GW Depths) and this matchup went from bad to horrible. Minsc combined with Wasteland for Karakas was almost impossible to beat.
But things were about to get worse for us Lands players. Much worse in fact. In November the White Initiative cards were introduced to Magic Online and PVDH won the first challenge where they were legal. I ran into the deck in a few Leagues and it definitely felt like a bad matchup. My initial estimate was that it was something like a 40 / 60 matchup. I managed to win some games by recurring Marit Lage, and other games where they would get mana screwed, but what scared me was that their good hands were much faster than my Urza’s Saga hands. After a few weeks their lists got more tuned and my winrate vs the deck went down. I wish that I would have taken the time to do dedicated testing vs White Initiative at this time but I didn’t. It would have been great to really figure out how the games played out (both pre and post sideboard as well as play / draw). Instead of doing this my brain went into hyper-activity and I started brewing up ideas (most of them really bad) like:
- Old school Lands with Valakut Exploration and Glacial Chasm.
- Ancient Tomb, Fable of the Mirror Breaker and Anarchy.
- Bant Lands with Shark Typhoons and Hall of Heliod’s Generosity.
- Scapeshift Lands.
- Many different Lands variants with creatures with Protection from White.
I lost a lot during this time and I eventually just gave up. If you have read my article on how to compete with the best with Lands you might recall that I said that a version of the Prison-Combo-Control-Ramp Lands shell will always be competitive in Legacy, but in December 2022 I felt that this was no longer true. It was a huge issue for us to have a bad fair matchup. This is because when you play Lands you concede the combo archetype in G1 in order to be favored vs fair decks. No combo deck is usually above 5% of the field and you can build your sideboard to have a good post sideboard matchup vs two out or three combo decks and hope to dodge the rest. But now we had a fair matchup that occupied 20%-25% of the winner’s meta and that required us to dedicate 4-6 sideboard slots to Mesa Pegasus (Unchained Berserker) and narrow board wipes such as Virtue’s Ruin. I started losing more vs the non-Initiative decks and I still lost to the Initiative decks. Games vs Initiative would play out in such a way that we would trade the emblem back and forth and then they would reach the final chapter and have a board of multiple 5/5’s and 6/7’s whereas I would have a board of a single 1/1 with protection from white (often I would not even have this as they would find Walking Ballista and kill my Unchained Berserker). My board wipes wouldn’t really matter as the emblem was still there ticking down towards the ultimate.
In early December I did something that I have not done in over four years. I put my Lands cards on the shelf and decided to learn a new deck. I bought White-Plume Adventurer and Seasoned Dungeoneer, and I even contacted Philip Gallager to get coaching. Initially all went super easy. I won close to 80% of my matches in Leagues and I was really motivated. But I was about to get a reality check. December is the most busy month for a family man like myself as Christmas is around the corner. It’s also the most busy month for a Quant Developer as most software projects have milestones to be delivered before a new year. I did not have time to learn a new deck. I did cancel the coaching session as I felt that I did not have time to do it well. I should also have taken a break from magic but I did not. Instead I jammed Initiative Leagues most evenings / nights and spent my days being tired and irritated. After Christmas I was unhappy and finally decided to take a break from playing Leagues on magic online and told myself to only play Prelims and Showcases. I did horribly with Initiative in a few prelims (2-2, 1-3 and 0-4) and I gave up on the idea of learning the deck. The deck was broken but I would still lose the mirror a lot. I would also lose most non-mirror games where I did not run my opponent over. I felt uncomfortable with making decisions and often thought to myself: “If I had played Lands in this matchup I would know exactly what to do”.
I simply didn’t have enough time to really master a new deck so I sold my Initiative cards and was back on Lands. I looked at the online winner’s meta and it was interesting for Lands. As of the 31st of January 2023 the decks to beat (>5% of metashare) were UR Delver, White Initiative, Painter and Reanimator. Decks to look out for (>3% of the metashare) were 4C Control, Cephalid Breakfast, Elves and Death Shadow. Spell based combo was almost non-existent and I figured that if I cut all Sphere effects for more graveyard hate I would crush all non-Initiative decks. If I could just find a Lands build that was 50/50 vs White Initiative I would feel comfortable playing Lands.
Legacy winner’s meta from January 2023.
In the last week of January I started playing Leagues again to test some new ideas. My first idea was to main deck Leyline of the Void together with the Helm of Obedience combo. I had noticed (while playing White Initiative) that the deck doesn’t run many answers to enchantments and I hoped that the Helm + Leyline combo would be consistent enough to beat them. It wasn’t. My deck was bad and I would often have to mull very hard just to find a Leyline in the opener. After this I tested Scapeshift Lands again and it was too slow. I finally tested a few variants of Prison Painter / Lands and they felt worse then normal Painter. So came the eureka moment. I felt like Dark Depths was exceptionally well positioned vs the non-initiative decks. Delver in particular felt weak to Depths as they had cut Submerge from their sideboard and some Delver decks even shaved on Wastelands. I remembered that most of my game one wins vs White Initiative was with recurring Marit Lage so maybe I should just focus on this angle and not try to fight over the emblem at all. I added Steely Resolve to the sideboard. I figured that this would blank most of my Initiative opponent’s cards post sideboard and it’s an enchantment so they couldn’t easily remove it. Steely Resolve, Dark Depths and Thespian’s Stage is a three card combo and I did not know if it would be consistent enough. I added Commune with Spirits to increase the consistency. I went 3-1 in a Prelim and I also got a 5-0 in a League with this initial list. During these matches I had faced White Initiative several times and Steely Resolve was great.
My winrate was 50% vs White initiative while testing, and I had achieved my goal, but I wasn’t done yet. I had played two copies of Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth in these lists and I was impressed by it. It would speed up my Dark Depths lines by one turn and it would also make recurring Dark Depths much easier. I remember that the discord user Lavafrogg had been crushing their local meta, just when Urza’s Saga was printed, with a list that had three Yavimaya and three Expedition Maps. I searched in the Lands discord and found their old list for inspiration. I took their list and cut all three drops. Legacy is so fast right now that I did not want to play clunky cards. I also felt like sideboarding vs Delver was awkward as I had too many cards to side in and not that many to side out. I therefore swapped Endurance for Surgical Extraction. Surgical is better against Reanimator as it’s easier to mull for. I got a 5-0 on my first try, and the list felt great, so I registered it for the PTQ (that was the day after). If you want to see my sideboard notes you can go here and if you want to learn more about my general principles for building decks you can read this article or listen to me talk about it on this episode of the Dark Depths podcast.
Round 1 (2-0 vs DarthStone on Reanimator)
I lose the dieroll and keep a hand with two Explorations and five lands (see below). I figure that this hand can either go for a fast Marit Lage or play the long game thanks to Urza’s Saga into Expedition Map into another Saga. My opponent is on Reanimator and goes turn one Grief into Reanimate on Grief (takes both my Explorations). My hand is now pretty slow but my opponent does not have a follow up and Saga finds Soul-Guide Lantern and I also have Maze of Ith for my opponent’s Grief and the game is wrapped up.
I mull to six and keep a hand with two Life from the Loam, one Surgical and four lands including Bojuka Bog (see below).
I think for a while and decide to bottom Loam instead of Bojuka Bog. My hope is that my opponent will either have an unprotected turn one hand or a “pass the turn” hand. My opponent goes turn one Grief (takes Surgical). I top deck another Surgical and play out Bojuka Bog to exile the Grief in my opponent’s graveyard. My opponent casts Entomb, at the end of my first turn, just to get all their Griselbrand exiled by my top decked Surgical.
Round 2 (2-0 vs Runkor on Elves)
I win the dieroll and mull my first two hands that are slow and clunky. I finally keep a hand with Mox Diamond and six lands (see below).
I put Bojuka Bog and Blast Zone on the bottom, and I start with Urza’s Saga and pass. I want to get to three counters quickly to find an Expedition Map for Thespian’s Stage. My opponent goes Forest into Elvish Reclaimer. I draw Exploration and this allows me to play out Mox Diamond (pitching Wasteland), Yavimaya and Dark Depths. On the following turn I can search for an Expedition Map, activate it to find Stage and also activate Stage to summon Marit Lage. Runkor does not play main deck Karakas and they concede.
I mulligan to six and keep a hand that is very similar to the one in G1 (see below). It has Thespian’s Stage and Urza’s Saga to find Dark Depths.
I put Yavimaya on the bottom (in hindsight I should probably have put Mox Diamond on the bottom). My opponent goes fetchland pass and I smell Force of Vigor. I draw Forest and go Forest, Exploration, Taiga (not Saga to play around Force of Vigor). Runkor plays Collector’s Ouphe on their second turn and I bolt it. I draw Crop Rotation but since I have Urza’s Saga I don’t make Marit Lage instantly (playing around Karakas). The game goes on for a few turns but eventually my opponent taps out for Natural Order and I can make Marit Lage in response and win.
Round 3 (2-0 vs tarte on Death Shadow)
I win the dieroll and have a hand that is very strong vs Death Shadow / Delver (that I suspect my opponent is on). It has acceleration and Tabernacle and Maze and access to the Marit Lage combo (see below).
I start with Mox Diamond (pitch Tabernacle), Urza’s Saga and Expedition Map (gets countered by Force of Will). My opponent goes Watery Grave into Ponder. I draw Life from the Loam and cast it (this hits a Daze). Next turn I dredge Loam and find Mox Diamond with Saga’s third chapter and Loam back three lands. At this stage I am too far ahead onboard (two lands and two Moxes vs my opponent’s one land). The game drags on for a few turns but it’s effectively over.
I keep a hand with acceleration and access to Marit Lage if I can get a Crop Rotation to resolve (see below).
I choose to play it out so that I can make a Marit Lage on my opponent’s second upkeep (to play around Force of Negation on Crop Rotation). This resolves and my opponent then casts Baleful Strix. I now have two lands in play and Shadowspear in hand. If I can only top deck a land I will win on the following turn. I brick on that but instead draw Crop Rotation and win thanks to Sejiri Steppe.
Round 4 (2-1 vs sandydogmtg on White Initiative)
I reinstalled Magic Online on my computer and lost all replays so the notes from Round 4 onwards will be much more sparse and based on memory. I apologize for this.
My opponent has a turn one Elite Spellbinder with City of Traitors and Lotus Petal. They take my Exploration. I go Tabernacle pass and the game drags on for a few turns with my opponent tapping their City in upkeep and not playing more lands. I deploy Maze of Ith and other utility lands and I eventually find Yavimaya to cast Exploration from exile. This really unlocks my hand and I can start recurring Marit Lage every turn until I win.
My opponent has a fast hand with multiple initiative creatures and I die before I can assemble the three turn combo of Stage, Dark Depths and Steely Resolve.
I have the absolute nut hand of Mox Diamond, Yavimaya, Dark Depths, Steely Resolve and Crop Rotation (and another land to pitch to Mox). This is a turn two 20/20 with shroud and this is enough to win.
Round 5 (2-1 vs Martin_Dominguez on UR Delver)
It’s a normal Lands vs Delver game where I pretend to try and deny my opponent mana but in reality I just play for a turn three Marit Lage.
I believe I mull to five and keep a hand that can potentially make a semi-fast Marit Lage. I end up not getting there as I draw two Steely Resolves and three Mox Diamonds.
I win with a fast Marit Lage.
Round 6 (2-0 vs RogeDeckWins on White Initiative)
I don’t remember much of these games except my opponent kept slower hands with lots of removal. I won game one by recurring Marit Lage and in game two Steely Resolve blanked their entire hand. Look at the screenshot below. My opponent has Karakas in play and they have chosen to imprint both Solitude and Swords to Plowshares to Chrome Mox (as they were effectively dead cards).
Round 7 (1-2 vs HankTheObese on White Initiative)
They play a slightly different build than the stock version with Chancellor of the Annex and three copies of March of the Otherwordly Light. This version seems better vs my Steely Resolve tech.
I can’t manage to get Marit Lage going and lose to Initiative Creatures.
I have Exploration and Life from the Loam and the combo. I make Marit Lage at least seven or eight times before one of them finally sticks. I eventually win the game with 80 life or something similar. I guess it’s not the first Marit Lage that kills you. It’s the ninth…
This game is interesting. I mulligan and make a pretty big mistake (playing out Mox Diamond early even though I can’t use the mana). My opponent casts March on my Mox Diamond hoping to mana screw me. I instantly draw another Mox and cast Steely Resolve. My opponent gets going with Seasoned Dungeoneer and I end up losing a turn before I can kill them.
Round 8 (1-2 vs AlessioC on Cephalid Breakfast)
I have a slow hand that can’t manage to control their mana. They eventually combo kill me through my light disruption.
I have a good hand with Urza’s Saga and mana denial. I manage to attack with constructs while I build up layers of defense with Soul-Guide Lantern and removal etc.
I keep a hand with Life from the Loam and two Mox Diamonds but only one land (Urza’s Saga). I also have some disruption in Pyroblast and Surgical Extraction. I figure that if I draw a land on my first turn then my hand is absolute nuts, and if I draw a land in any of my first two turns then my hand is still good. I end up not drawing a land before turn six or seven and fall too far behind and lose.
Quarter Finals (0-2 vs AlessioC on Cephalid Breakfast)
I can’t remember but I believe I lost to a fast combo.
My head is completely wiped here after a long evening. It’s been awhile since I did well online and my head is not used to these long runs. At some point I even consider casting Crop Rotation for Dark Depths into open white mana just to get the game over (I end up not doing that and go for the long game). This game is a bit similar to our first game as I’m not able to control their mana again and they put pressure on my disruption with Stoneforge Mystic into Kaldra Compleat. I have to use Map for Maze in order to not die and I eventually lose to their combo when I am tapped out.
I was absolutely ecstatic after this Top 8 performance. So many people have told me that Lands is a dead deck and I had even given up myself for a short while. But we have shown once more that the Combo-Control-Prison-Ramp strategy can always be viable in Legacy. This time an Ancient Tomb deck is the best thing to be doing and it turns out that we should really push the Combo angle to attack it. I have tried to take this idea even further and I went 4-0 in a Prelim with my own take on RG Combo Lands. In this deck I have increased the speed even more by adding two Manabonds to the main. In order to maximize the explosiveness of Manabond I also swapped the Saga package (and Urza’s Saga) for Gamble to virtually increase my copies of Life from the Loam.
Still, it’s a fair question to ask if our good position in the meta is sustainable going forward. Steely Resolve is somewhat of a cheese strategy vs White Initiative and it can get worse if they start to play enchantment removal or if they adjust their play pattern and mulligan the slower hands with a ton of removal. But so far they have not done this and I am pretty happy playing against White Initiative. There is a Legacy Showcase Challenge at the end of this month and my plan is to get some reps in vs Cephalid Breakfast to give myself the best chances in this tournament. I really look forward to it!
Overall, I feel that my current build of Lands has no bad matchups among the top decks in Legacy. This is exactly where I want to be as I can utilize my experience and matchup training to get an edge over my opponents. I am not the only one doing well with Lands at the moment. Magic online user and streamer PunishingWaterfalls recently made Top 16 of a Challenge with my list from the PTQ and they have also done well with 8 Mulch. My latest iteration of Grandpa Lands has 2 Manabonds and I feel like it might be a good idea to merge the Lands and 8 Mulch shells into something of a middle ground.
Thanks for reading.