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The Saga of Lands – Urza’s Saga in Lands FAQ

I know it’s not the card’s art but it is from Urza’s Saga and it’s a lot prettier, ok?

As a Lands player, I’m always on the lookout for cool new lands, so when Urza’s Saga was spoiled, I was very excited. Now it’s been a couple weeks since we’ve been able to play with the card, so I thought I’d do a little write-up to share some thoughts on the card and help out anyone who is still wondering how it works in Lands.

This will be organized a bit like an FAQ – click the questions below to jump to that part of the article, or just read them all! If you prefer to watch it in action, check out Jarvis Yu’s video or some of the vods on my own channel.

What is Urza’s Saga and how does it work?

Urza’s Saga is an Enchantment Land with the Urza’s and Saga subtypes. Pretty self-explanatory, right?

Wrong! This card is very strange, but here’s the basics. It is a land, so playing it takes your land drop, can’t be countered, doesn’t pass priority, all the usual land stuff. It is also an enchantment, so it can be destroyed by Naturalize. So far, it’s not much different than any of the artifact lands.

Where it gets weird is that it is a saga. This means that like every other saga, it gains lore counters – first when it enters the battlefield, and then as a trigger at the beginning of each main phase. In particular, when it first enters, the saga’s first chapter will trigger, giving it the ability to tap for mana (note that you can destroy it with this trigger on the stack, so that it never gets the chance to make mana). On your next main phase, it will trigger again, this time gaining the ability to make constructs. Then, at the beginning of your third main phase, it will trigger another time. When that trigger resolves, the land will die, but with the trigger on the stack you can sacrifice it for Crop Rotation or activate any of its abilities – none of that will stop the final trigger from resolving and giving you an artifact.

An important thing to remember is that you can only find artifacts with a literal 0 or 1 in the top right corner. Artifacts without mana costs (like artifact lands), colored mana costs, or X in their mana cost cannot be found because Urza’s Saga specifies a mana cost and not a mana value (a mana cost, not a converted mana cost, for us boomers). In other words, you can’t find Engineered Explosives but you can find Triangle of War.

What does Urza’s Saga do for Lands?

Urza’s Saga the set gave us Exploration, and Urza’s Saga the block gave us Crop Rotation, so I think it’s safe to say Urza’s Saga did a lot for Lands. Urza’s Saga the card keeps this trend going and also does a lot for our deck. Most importantly, it provides a land-based threat that is self-contained and can be deployed early. It also has obvious synergy with Life from the Loam since, as a saga, it sends itself to the graveyard. And of course, it allows us to play a toolbox of 0 and 1 mana artifacts.

Unlike Field of the Dead, Urza’s Saga can make constructs as early as turn 2. These constructs aren’t small either – if you activate it twice and search up a random artifact, you will have 2 3/3s. Throw in a Mox Diamond and they’re 4/4s and you can have 2 of them as early as turn 3. This means we can present real threats and clock opponents without needing the Lage combo or having to get to 7 different land names.

Against creature decks, Saga puts up very real blockers to gum up the board. Against control, you can spew an early Saga to put them on the back foot and force them to deal with a pair of creatures that could very well kill them, all while you keep Loaming and developing your board. Against combo, you can use Saga to actually clock opponents quickly while Sphere and Wasteland delay their win. Turn one Saga, Diamond, Sphere is a pretty great start against most combo decks in the format.

Life from the Loam and Thespian’s Stage both work to make Urza’s Saga not just a one-off but a repeatable source of board presence. Loam recycles it so you can replay it, and Stage can copy it and, thanks to some weird layers tricks (see below), can end up as a land with the permanent ability to create constructs every turn.

On top of this, there are several nice silver-bullet artifacts you can run, which I’ll explore in the next section. For now, suffice it to say that Saga provides, in addition to the threat of attacking constructs, an additional layer of selection and flexibility.

What artifacts should I search up with Urza’s Saga?

Whatever your heart desires, my friend. Get your Chimeric Coils and Dark Spheres and lets go wild on some people.

On a more serious note, here are some the artifacts I’ve heard mentioned and my own thoughts on them (by no means gospel as things are still being tested).

Mox Diamond – Well, you’re playing this already so… just go get it if you want to keep your mana up, fix your colors, or what have you. Obviously extra good if you have Loam. Play 4 in the maindeck, ya dummy.

Pyrite Spellbomb For my money this is the best artifact to search up other than Mox Diamond. It makes Saga capable of searching up removal or just drawing a new card off the top. Against matchups with Surgical, you can hold up Spellbomb to answer Surgical just like a canopy land. When you draw it naturally, you can just cast it as a Punishing Fire or cycle it, so its absolute floor is cycling for two mana. Play 1 in the maindeck.

Expedition Map – This is another way to help Saga give us redundancy and selection. Now Saga dies into a slow Crop Rotation of sorts – not a bad result. I’ve liked Map, but it is a bit slow and not everyone seems sold on it. If I had to choose two artifacts, I’d play Pyrite Spellbomb and the Map, but the Map would be cut before the Spellbomb. Play 0-1 in the maindeck.

Retrofitter Foundry – When Saga first hit the scene this card was very hyped. Having played with it for a while, I’m generally not impressed. It does enable you to gum up the board and spew artifacts to grow your constructs. But it’s also very slow and mana-intensive. Perhaps it’s worth playing if there is a lot of control in your meta, but consider that Expedition Map for Field of the Dead is probably just as good against control, while also having a lot more flexibility. Play 0-1 in the maindeck, maybe 1 in the sideboard if your meta has a lot of control.

Pithing Needle This is a great tool in a lot of matchups. Locking down Elvish Reclaimer, Knight of the Reliquary, Wishclaw Talisman, or whatever else can be very useful. Note that if your opponent lets the third chapter of Saga resolve, Needle will enter and name a card before they can respond. I say this to make you aware that you can tag their fetchlands (and so that you won’t let your fetches get tagged). Some people have played this in the main, but to me it feels like a sideboard card. Play 1 in the sideboard, maybe 1 in the maindeck if you’re feeling like you can rely on your opponents to let you hit their fetches.

Meekstone – A great card against the creature decks of the format; turns most of Delver’s threats into Lightning Bolts and keeps opposing Knights or True-Names tapped indefinitely. It has the downside of keeping our constructs tapped too, however. Play 0-1 in the sideboard.

Zuran Orb – This card is so cool and I can’t say I’ve played with it but it also doesn’t seem that good? Gaining life is fine but there are better things we can do (and if we just want life why not get Navigator’s Compass or something?). Still, I encourage you play with it and report back. Play 0-1 in the sideboard.

Soul-Guide Lantern/Relic of Progenitus/Tormod’s Crypt/Grafdigger’s Cage – I haven’t personally played with these but I also haven’t really missed them. If Uro picks up, then perhaps these can be worth playing. Play 0-1 in the sideboard.

Brainstone – I know some people have been excited about this. It has potential, but I haven’t played it myself. It does enable Saga to generate pretty solid card advantage, which is nice, and we are pretty good at clearing the top of our deck with either Loam or fetches or Crop Rotation. Worth Testing. Play 0-1 maindeck.

Triangle of War – Only mentioning this card because it’s super cool. Make Marit Lage fight their creatures! Play 0 but if you play 1 you’ll be my hero.

Mishra’s Bauble – Honestly, no one is playing this but also they shouldn’t. If you’re just trying to draw a card, you should play Pyrite Spellbomb since it can also kill things. Play 0.

What are some drawbacks of playing Urza’s Saga?

The biggest drawback of the card is the space it takes in your list. It is good in multiples and good early, so playing just one is ok but probably not optimal. So then you have to think about how many colorless lands you can really play, and what you’ll have to cut. Different answers have been given to that question – see the decklist section for more discussion.

The other drawbacks are that (1) it sends itself to the graveyard; (2) it is an enchantment; and (3) it is somewhat mana intensive. Sending itself to the graveyard means that it puts you down a land when it dies. You can often find Mox Diamond with it so that you don’t lose mana, but that’s not always an option and you don’t always have Loam to get it back. As an enchantment, it is a prime target for opposing Force of Vigors, which can be a bit back-breaking when they tag your Mox and your Saga. It also enables your opponents to turn things like Disenchant into land destruction (though does anyone play Disenchant anymore?).

The card is also quite mana-hungry. To get the full two constructs, you need to spend effectively 6 mana over two turns. Six mana over two turns for a pair of constructs and a 1 mana artifact isn’t a bad deal, but it can be clunky when you want to cast other spells and have to choose between constructs or Sylvan Library, for example. In the early turns when you want to drop lock pieces or be porting your opponent, your mana can be somewhat strained.

These drawbacks are far from making the card unplayable, but they’re things to keep in mind.

How does Urza’s Saga interact with Thespian’s Stage?

When Saga was spoiled, I was blowing up my judge friend’s phone with questions. Every interaction was more confusing than the last, but to answer the main question – yes, you can end up with a land that can create constructs forever and will not die to being a saga.

To explain how this works, imagine Thespian’s Stage as a troupe of actors, and the play they’re learning is the story of Urza’s Saga.

When Stage first copies Saga, the actors have just started learning and can’t actually do anything except be actors. In real magic terms, this means that you will have an Urza’s Saga with 0 chapters and thus with no abilities (except the Thespian’s Stage ability). At this point, the actors can’t even figure out how to tap for mana. Note that this is true no matter how many chapters are on the Saga you’re copying. Stage copies only the text printed on the card, not any abilities the card may have gained. Thus it will always be a blank saga to start out with – your actors don’t have any clifnotes.

Then, when you hit the first main phase of your turn, the actors learn the first chapter of the Saga. At this point, your land will gain a lore counter and, in the process, gain the ability to tap for mana. Good job, actors!

In the next first main phase, your actors are really getting into it and now they can build constructs just like Urza used to! Like the original Saga, the Stage-Saga will gain another lore counter at the start of the main phase and thus gain the ability to make constructs just like a normal Saga could.

But now here comes the tricky part. When your Stage-Saga hits your first main phase for the third time, your actors are so engrossed in the Saga that they are willing to die to stay true to the story. In the game, this means that if you don’t copy a new land, the Stage-Saga will get its third counter and go the graveyard just like a normal Saga would.

But you don’t have to do this. Instead, while the third chapter trigger is on the stack (or at any point before it resolves), you can use Stage’s copy ability to copy another land that is not a saga. If you do this, you will now have a land that has (1) all the abilities of the land you copy; (2) the usual Stage ability to copy other lands; and (3) the abilities Stage gained while it was a Saga. Because of how layers work, Stage will have ‘gained’ abilities, not just copied them, and thus it will keep those abilities as it turns into other lands. Your actors are now a traveling troupe, playing Urza’s Saga at different locations. If you choose to copy a fresh land with the third chapter trigger on the stack, you will even get to search up an artifact for your troubles, all without sacrificing your Stage (since it will not be a saga when the third chapter ability resolves). The result is that you could well have a basic forest that can make constructs. Kinda neat!

Does Urza’s Saga replace Field of the Dead?

Urza’s Saga could replace Field of the Dead if you want it to. Because of the interaction with Stage, Saga can be used to create a creature every turn and thus provide the same kind of threatening inevitability that Field does, all while being available a lot earlier and asking much less in the way of setup. Plus Saga’s creatures are just bigger – 4/4s and 5/5s vs 2/2s. For more arguments in favor of cutting Field for Saga, watch Jarvis Yu’s stream.

That said, I’m not personally 100% sold on the idea of cutting Field. Unlike Saga, Field can create multiple creatures in a single turn, which can often be the difference in bailing you out of a bad board position. Field also has the potential to make zombies the turn you draw it, requires no mana investment, and does not ask you to have a free Stage for it to be effective. Copying Saga with Stage and then copying a fresh land means taking several turns and a minimum of 6 mana to get a permanent source of constructs; that’s a lot of mana in the early game and a lot of time in the late game where every top-deck can matter. So while I would probably play 3 Sagas before the first Field, I think the potential upside of one Field is worth not playing the 4th Saga.

How does Urza’s Saga interact with Blood Moon?

Urza’s Saga has an odd interaction with Blood Moon, Spreading Seas, and other effects that turn a land into a completely different land. When these effects hit Saga, it turns into an Enchantment Land – Saga Mountain (or Island, or what have you). But it also loses all its other relevant saga abilities. This means that its max chapter is no longer determined by the text of the card, but instead defaults to zero. Then, since its number of lore counters is greater than or equal to the max chapter number, it goes to the graveyard as a state-based effect.

The details may be a bit tricky, but the bottom line is – Blood Moon destroys Urza’s Saga upon resolution.

What does a list with Urza’s Saga look like?

Ok, so maybe you’re sold on the card, maybe you’re not, but at the very least you’ve heard enough to need some actual lists. The crucial question for these lists is: what do we cut for Saga? To this there are more or less 2 different answers. You can cut Rishadan Port, since it is another colorless land. Or you can cut nonland threats like Sylvan Library/Valakut Exploration since Urza’s Saga increases your threat density and thus makes those kinds of threats less necessary. Below are a series of decklists to give you a sense of what people are trying (apologies for the differing formats, but people like to post their lists in different places). If necessary, open the images in a new tab to make them bigger.

Here are some examples of the first school of thought, where we shave a few Valakut Exploration but ultimately still play a decent suite of value enchantments alongside Sagas:

from the 5-0 deck dump, vod here
thanks to Neoshinji for this list
Image
thanks to alli for this list

The common theme in these lists is that you don’t really get to play Port. Some are playing a single extra Ghost Quarter instead, which is an interesting alternative.

Next we also have the Library-less lists like the semi-experimental one Jarvis Yu played on his stream:

Image
thanks to Jarvis Yu for this decklist

And this other option from Monroe on the Lands discord:

thanks to heymonroe of Turn Zero Games for this decklist

These lists are going harder on Saga (playing the full set) and leaning on it together with the traditional Lands package to carry them. They don’t have value enchantment engines, but the thinking is that with Saga, you don’t need them.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention another super cool piece of technology due to alli – BUG Saga Lands, a list that leans heavily on artifact synergies and Academy Ruins along with Urza’s Saga!

thanks to alli for this list

The interaction between Academy Ruins and Baleful Strix is pretty great, and Saga can find Nihil Spellbomb here for what is likely the best 1cmc graveyard-hate artifact there is.

Wrapping up – where does Urza’s Saga fit?

Of course, none of these lists are definitive or set in stone. What is clear is that Urza’s Saga is a powerful effect and one that Lands is uniquely suited to take advantage of. That said, I’ve played maybe 30 or so matches with the card, so I can hardly claim to know all of its ins and outs.

I do expect that it will eventually be staple of our deck, but whether it settles as a 4-of or just a 1-of or gets cut completely will depend a lot on future testing and the way the metagame shapes up. For now, let’s keep trying to do cool stuff with it see where the saga of Lands takes us!

aslidsiksoraksi – 5th with RG Lands in the Insight Esports Legacy 2k – 5/29

In case you missed it, yesterday we revealed a lot of new and exciting  cards from Ixalan. The most exciting of course… | Mtg art, Creature concept  art, Dinosaur art
Pictured: my dinosaur about to crush my insectile opponents

So I found out about this event literally the day before it began. The event was double elimination, meaning that you played until you hit two losses. I liked this format but it also led to weird things (when the field came down to three players one of them essentially got scooped into the finals and $250).

But whatever the structure, it’s not like I had any question in my mind about what deck I’d bring. I haven’t seriously played anything other than Lands for over a year, so… let’s do this!

Decklist

A couple notes on some choices. In the maindeck, I chose to play a 2 copies of Lightning Bolt. These were a concession to Ethereal Forager and just the general need to have fast removal against Delver. As it would turn out, Delver was by far the most popular deck in the tournament, so it worked out pretty well. I also chose to play a Glacial Chasm over what would likely have been a second Field; this was mostly because I like Chasm but also because I had heard people were playing Price of Progress, which is just cruel and something clearly no one should ever do. Progress should be free.

In the sideboard is where the spice is. Shifting Ceratops, a great find by fmessina and alli in the Lands discord, is just a massive hammer for smashing Delver decks. Uncounterable means they can’t fight it on the stack, 4 toughness means burn spells have a hard time with it, protection from blue and the ability to gain reach means it can block virtually everything in their deck, and 5 power means it can often outrace opposing threats and just end the game. The card was great and won me more games than it should have. If I had known I’d be paired against this much Delver I would have played 3.

Speaking of pairings, let’s get to it!

Jurassic Park Hold Onto Your Butts GIF

Tournament

ROUND 1 – No Show

This was an online tournament and I guess my opponent overslept. Not the most honorable victory, but I’ll take it.

1-0

ROUND 2 – UR Delver

I hope you like hearing about this matchup because I played it 5 times in this event. Game one I usually just aim to make Lage fast, and then the other two are often grindier with more back and forth. Open decklists were a big help in showing me what my opponent’s outs were and none of them had g1 outs to Lage.

G1

I’m on the play with a turn one Library. Follow it up with Exploration and I start wasting their lands and Loaming. My opponent can’t seem to put up much in the way of threats and eventually I get Ghost Quarter for their basics. I play Chasm and make a ton of zombies before saccing it to kill them in one turn.

G2

I again have Diamond and Exploration in my opener, and draw a second Diamond for a pretty busted start. Loam adds fuel to the fire and I make Lage through a Wasteland pretty soon thereafter.

Sideboard Plan

+3 Choke, +3 Pyroblast, +2 Shifting Ceratops
-2 Crop Rotation, -1 Karakas, -1 Chasm, -1 Sylvan Library/VE, -1 Field of the Dead, -1 Bojuka Bog, -1 Life from the Loam

I shaved a Library/VE depending on play/draw. I think I may have a couple too many cards for this matchup since ideally I wouldn’t be cutting those. Chasm seems bad here because it’s hard to enact the lock through their Wastelands and Forces, and I knew my opponent didn’t have Price. Still, could see keeping it.

2-0

ROUND 3 – UR Delver

More UR Delver. My opponent had the coolest basics I’ve seen in a long time, all black with some kind of ethereal figures on them, looked almost like an alter? Can you do that on MTGO?

G1

I’m on the play. They don’t play any threats, just cantrip and counter a few things, and then I make Lage on turn 5 and they die.

G2

This game was eternal. My opener is two blasts, Diamond, and Choke. I sequence a little wrong but still go for Choke with blast backup and mana for Daze. They have double Force. I then proceed to draw virtually no action (though a good deal of removal) for something like 15 turns. My opponent also draws nothing and floods out very hard, though they have several Wastelands that are stopping me from making Lage. This is a game where I was slightly punished for cutting Field since it would have been great in this spot.

Eventually, they draw actual spells, have the Submerge for Lage when I finally make it, and I die.

G3

My opener has the dino – snap keep. They play a little early pressure and we do a little mana denial dance but their one Delver cannot beat my Dino. They attack for 3 and I attack for 5, eventually killing their creature with Punishing Fire and that’s all she wrote.

shocked jurassic park GIF
My opponent when they realize they could have just played an uncounterable 5/4 instead of cantrips

Sideboard Plan

+3 Choke, +3 Pyroblast, +2 Shifting Ceratops
-2 Crop Rotation, -1 Karakas, -1 Chasm, -1 Sylvan Library/VE, -1 Field of the Dead, -1 Bojuka Bog, -1 Life from the Loam

3-0

ROUND 4 – UR Delver

There are worse matchups to play three times in a row, so… ok!

G1

My opening hand has only Diamond as a mana source but also has Exploration, Crop Rotation, and Depths. Let’s see if we can get there. Exploration gets forced and I draw Stage. It gets wasted. I still make Lage thanks to Crop Rotation, but my opponent at this point has several elementals, a Delver, and a Whale. Luckily, Maze of Ith gives my monster vigilance so she can play defense as well as offense. They chump for a few turns and I think I would have lost to double Bolt, but I keep them off double red and eventually they run out of blockers.

G2

Solid opening hand with Exploration, Punishing Fire, Grove, and some Diamonds. However, they waste my Grove and surgical my Fire. Having spewed my hand, I pray for a Stage go with the Depths I’m holding. I do find a dino, but they have Stomp plus Bolt to kill it and I die shortly thereafter.

Jurassic Park' Turns 25: 21 Things You Probably Didn't Know (Photos)
Look what they did to my boy

G3

Opener threatens a turn 3 dino and has Crop Rotation plus Dark Depths, so I’m feeling pretty good. I land the Ceratops and they don’t have double burn spell. Maze again gives my boy vigilance and I keep up green to help him reach the the flying whales and bugs. Port and Waste keep my opponent off double red and they die to dino beats. Vengeance is mine.

Sideboard Plan

+3 Choke, +3 Pyroblast, +2 Shifting Ceratops
-2 Crop Rotation, -1 Karakas, -1 Chasm, -1 Sylvan Library/VE, -1 Field of the Dead, -1 Bojuka Bog, -1 Life from the Loam

4-0

ROUND 5 – GW Depths

Lands is usually a favorite against depths, but GW depths flips that on its head. They run the full playset of Knights and Reclaimers, both of which are very obnoxious cards for us to deal with. Usually the games don’t even involve Lage, but just end up being about mana denial and their creatures vs our Field/Valakut Exploration. What’s more, all land-based matchups are massively complicated since everyone is playing a ton of tutors and one wrong step can basically cost you the game. Not only that, but I knew my opponent was a very good player (they literally run a podcast with Depths in the name) and they wouldn’t throw away any obvious edges.

G1

I waste their first land (a wasteland itself), loam back my waste, and waste their second land. They don’t have another and scoop a few turns later. I’m overjoyed at the free win; they mentioned they kept a hand with a lot of good cards in the matchup but that folded to exactly Wastelands, so I guess we got a little lucky.

G2

Knight of the Reliquary is a very good card. I try to defend myself for a bit, but Knight + Reclaimer beats get me in the end.

G3

This game was very close. I have some solid engines with Exploration + Sylvan Library in the first couple turns, but they also land a t2 Knight. I take a decent amount from my Library and get maybe a little bit too greedy at one point, falling to 8 life. Still, I land a Valakut Exploration, and that, together Exploration and Library in play, plus Loam and two Crop Rotations in my hand, should mean that I can take over the game in short order, provided I survive.

That said, I’m at 8 and my opponent has a Knight and a Reclaimer. They play a second elf and swing in so that I fall to 3 life after blocking with Maze. Next turn I have to Ghost Quarter my own Bog to get enough green sources to do anything worthwhile, but I missequence my lands a little so that after loaming I can’t play the Bog again to shrink his creatures. The result is that any elf that hits me is lethal. My opponent has Knight to find Wasteland and kill my Maze, and while I have Crop Rotation to replace it, one Maze doesn’t stop 2 Elves.

My opponent, however, misses the fact that I have two Mazes in my deck. They do find Wasteland with Knight, but they declare attackers before using it. This means that I can Maze one elf, then Port their Waste to make them use it, rotate the land they aim for, and get a second Maze to stay alive. Thanks to that, I live to see another turn. Next turn I do the whole landstorm thing with VE and two Explorations in play. Ultimately I rotate a land for a Field, make a ton of zombies, and the game is essentially over. Like I said, complicated matchup.

Sideboard Plan

+2 force of vigor, +2 shifting ceratops
-1 glacial chasm, -3 dark depths

(I’m pretty sure this is wrong, Chasm is fine against them and cutting all the Depths is not ideal; having a single Depths likely would have let me steal game 3 a lot more easily)

5-0

ROUND 6 – UR Delver

Being 3-0 vs Delver so far made me feel pretty confident going into this. Reading my opponent’s name, however, did not make me confident, since I knew they were one of the famed Delver masters. Still, I figured I’d do my best. And hey, they don’t have outs to Lage in the maindeck so maybe my faith in Our Dark Lady of the Ice would be repaid and she’d work a miracle for me.

G1

My opener has Exploration and Loam – snap keep. Exploration resolves (always dicey on the draw) and I just start dumping lands, including a Port, Waste and Tabernacle. My opponent does land some threats in the form of Dragon and Delver, and things are looking a little tense, especially since Loam isn’t finding me much of anything.

Another Delver joins the fray and they both flip. I find a Crop Rotation and with no combo pieces in sight, I rotate for Ghost Quarter. My opponent has fetched all their basics so Ghost Quarter plus Loam kills two of their lands this turn, taking them to one mana and, thanks to Tabernacle, one threat. I take the hit and fall to 4. Next turn I ghost their last land, play Field, and the game is essentially over from there – I’m at 4 life so even a Bolt won’t save them.

G2

My opener is slow, but I have Ceratops, Choke, and Punishing Fire. I fire their t2 threat, and then find another for their Dragon, though that gets forced. They also have Force for my Choke, but at the end of the day Dragons can’t beat Dinos. And while Dino vs Dragon is a bit of a stalemate, I’m lucky enough to find a second one. There’s a little back and forth as their other threats stop me from comfortably attacking, but eventually I get Grove online, kill their smaller creatures, and attack with one dino while leaving the other back to block the Dragon.

Life Finds a Way

Sideboard Plan

+3 Choke, +3 Pyroblast, +2 Shifting Ceratops
-2 Crop Rotation, -1 Karakas, -1 Chasm, -1 Sylvan Library/VE, -1 Field of the Dead, -1 Bojuka Bog, -1 Life from the Loam

6-0

ROUND 7 – Doomsday

Doomsday is one of the worst matchups for Lands. Combo in general is not great, but this one is particularly resilient to mana denial since it runs a couple basics and only needs to get to 3 mana. Once it’s gone off, a good a player can play through wastelands and ports pretty easily.

G1

My hand can’t make Lage but it can slow them down a lot, so that’s what I do. They go off and thanks to open decklists I can tell they made a very slow pile of just lands, Oracle, Petal, and a Street Wraith. I have a Bolt for Oracle so if they try it too early maybe I can steal this? I port and waste and see what happens, but with a Petal it’s easy to just go land, Petal, Oracle. They do that with one card in their library. I bolt it, they cycle Street Wraith, I lose.

G2

I bring in a ton of cards and manage to land a Valakut Exploration and then a Ceratops before they go off. Doomsday cuts their life to 8, and thanks to a natural land drop plus Crop Rotation for a fetchland I’m able to hit 3 landfall triggers and kill them with Ceratops and VE.

G3

They counter an early Choke, and go off around turn 3 or 4. Their pile is a lot like it was in g1, but this time with a brainstorm as well. Mana denial doesn’t get there and they draw through their miniscule deck and kill me.

Sideboard Plan

+3 Choke, +3 Pyroblast, +3 Sphere of Resistance, +1 Thorn of Amethyst, +2 Shifting Ceratops
-1 Bojuka Bog, -2 Lightning Bolt, -2 Punishing Fire, -1 Karakas, -2 Maze of Ith, -1 Tabernacle, -2 Valakut Exploration, -1 Glacial Chasm 

6-1

ROUND 8- UR Delver

Only had to win two or three more matches to win the whole event, so I figured I could give up a match to Doomsday, no big deal. Shook off the loss and figured I’d do my delver-slaying thing one more time and go from there.

G1

My opponent goes wide with Young Pyromancer and has just the right Wastelands and Force of Wills to close off my outs in time. I may have scooped a little early; I think I could have rotated for Chasm to buy a few more turns. Still, a frustrating game where many opportunities were closed by them having exactly what they needed and they won with maybe 1 card in hand.

G2

There’s a bit of back and forth and they land an early Delver. They have a Relic cramping my style so I can’t loam effectively, but their own mana is pretty constricted as well. I land Exploration and Library, and kill their Delver with Punishing Fire. They play Court of Cunning to become the monarch, but I soon assemble Marit Lage with Pyroblast backup to steal the crown and the game.

G3

This game starts a lot like game 1, with my opponent playing a Young Pyromancer. They also play an Ethereal Forager and a Sprite Dragon and things are looking a little dire for our hero here. Fortunately, a big ol’ dinosaur joins the party and starts totally stone-walling their threats, while I also erect a Tabernacle to stone-wall their mana.

So it’s Young Pyromancer, Whale, and a Sprite Dragon staring down my dinosaur. I have a couple Stages and Ports, nothing too crazy, but a lot of live draws that can slam the game shut. I make bit of a misstep and blast their Forager, reasoning that even if they attack and I just eat it with my dinosaur, it’ll give them their Expressive Iteration back and draw them more cards. In retrospect, I think hitting the Dragon might have been better.

Anyway, between Blast and a Punishing Fire I whittle down their board and eventually it’s just Dragon vs Dinosaur. A bit of a precarious situation, but I’m confident my deck will give me something worthwhile as we sit at a bit of a stalemate for a few turns. Eventually my opponent plays a second dragon. At this point if either dragon gets to 13 power they can attack with both and end me.

They tap out, I draw Choke. Since they’re on four cards and I haven’t had a chance to play a spell for several turns, I’m thinking that my opponent must have countermagic. So I debate trying to draw it out with a Valakut Exploration that I also have. But I figure their dragons are close to killing me and being able to catch them with all their lands tapped vs my Tabernacle is too high upside. So I slam it. They Force. Ok, fine, still a lot of good draws left. Next turn they tap out again for some cantrips – those Dragons are getting big! I draw a second Choke and thank the gods of blue-hate. I slam it and yes, their last two cards are Force plus blue card. Oof. Fine, fine, we have about another turn, two if we’re lucky and they whiff on spells.

My next draw is Dark Depths. I make Lage. Their last card is Submerge. Marit Lage, long used to sleeping in the icy depths, apparently can’t handle being submerged in water. I lose.

Sideboard Plan

+3 Choke, +3 Pyroblast, +2 Shifting Ceratops
-2 Crop Rotation, -1 Karakas, -1 Chasm, -1 Sylvan Library/VE, -1 Field of the Dead, -1 Bojuka Bog, -1 Life from the Loam

6-2 finishing in 5th place

Was a great event and overall I’m happy with how I played. There were a couple moments that I could have made different decisions that might have led to different outcomes, and a couple sequencing errors, but no glaringly obvious mistakes as far as I could tell. Given the field, Lands was an excellent deck for the event. We may not be the 90% favorite to beat Delver we were in the past, but it definitely still feels like a good matchup – I’m personally at a 75% winrate against Delver over 15 matches since the Arcanist ban. If the field is going to continue to be 25-30% Delver like it was at this event, I’d be happy to take Lands into that. In fact, the other Lands player (Matt Brown) ended up 5-2, and based on win rate Lands was the highest performing deck in the event.

Thanks for reading! Until next time, may all your ships come safely into port.

Thomas Mechin – 3/21 Legacy Challenge Winner Tournament Report

I chose to play Lands at this event for two reasons. First, I posted a SB guide to Miracles on Twitter 2 days ago, gamers were going to be expecting me on this game so I wanted to change. Second, Lands is one of my favorite archetypes in the game, I’ve always had good results with it, and I also expected a lot of Delver, which is a matchup that Lands excels at.

Decklist

As usual, I prefer RG lists to 3-color lists; the deck is more consistent, more robust against wasteland and the mana denial plan is more efficient. Indeed, the first cut to fit the non-RG-duals is usually Rishadan Port. The black and blue splash of Lands essentially try to correct the weakness of the RG versions, in particular the combo matchup. In my experience these matchups are still very unfavorable and splashing a color makes your deck more sensitive to variance and weak against wastelands.

Thanks to Albert Lindom for the list. You will notice that it has quite a few differences from the one that allowed me to reach the legacy challenge final in December.

In recent days we have noticed that the lists are less focused on Valakut Exploration. The card in the past metagame had established itself as an excellent counterplay to Oko. Games today are faster and Valakut Exploration is often too slow, which explains the 3 MD copies.

Tournament

ROUND 1 – UWR STONEBLADE

Usually an even matchup, and you have less dead cards for this matchup than against other control decks. But the deck play a bunch of basic lands, MD answers to Marit Lage, and True Name Nemesis is a pain and pretty hard to interact with.

G1

I have a busted start, t1 Exploration + Mox, t2 Valakut Exploration + fetch into another Exploration. My opponent concedes.

G2

Despite an unchecked t2 Tireless Tracker my opponent wins some time with Teferi and takes advantage of a me being tapped out to play B2B. I lose a few turns later to a True Name Nemesis equipped with a Batterskull.

G3

Like game 1, I quickly put together the Exploration + Valakut Exploration combo, and a Field of the Dead outlasts a Batterskull in a few turns.

Sideboard Plan

+2 pryroblast, +1 red elemental blast, +1 tireless tracker, +2 force of vigor, +2 choke 
-4 crop rotation, -1 mox diamond, -1 tabernacle at pendrell vale, -1 maze of ith, -1 life from the loam (not sure about this) 

1-0

ROUND 2 – URZA ECHOES

This deck is your worst matchup, along with Reanimator and Show and Tell. They play a lot of mana rocks, you can’t interact well with their threats and their combo, and Karn shuts off your Mox Diamond and provides to them outs for graveyard/Marit Lage .

Your best way to win is to make a 20/20 pretty fast .

G1

Even with double Mox Diamond turn one, my opponent lock me turn two with Karn + Liquimetal Coating thanks to Lion’s Eye Diamond.

G2

I mulligan to 5 and my opponent kills me quickly with Hullbreacher into Echo of Eons + Sai, Master Thopterist, who made the 20/20 not reliable .

Sideboard Plan

+3 force of vigor, +2 pyroblast, +1 REB, +4 sphere of resistance, +1 thorn of amethyst
-4 loam, -2 elvish reclaimer, -1 tabernacle, -2 maze of ith, -2 sylvan library

I chose to cut Sylvan Library here because your opponent has tons of answers in the forms of Narset and Hullbreacher. I cut most of grindy cards because your opponent can overpower everything you do easily. 

1-1

ROUND 3 – BANT MIRACLES

I know people dislike the matchup, usually because the deck plays tons of basics, answers to Marit Lage, some planeswalkers, and a high number of force of negation. On top of that you also have lot of dead cards . But without any bragging, I think I’m an expert of Miracles and know the deck pretty well. The result is a good matchup comprehension and usually a win. 

My advice is to not play long games if your hand can’t. If you can go off turn t4, you should do it if you can’t play a long game.

G1

The first game is long. Teferi keeps my sylvan library outside of the game, but a few turns later I can tap the only white source from my opponent and I kill him with a 20/20.

G2

Sphere turn 1, Sphere turn 2, Choke turn 4, and two Rishadan Ports later I won when my opponent have only one plains available each turn.

Sideboard Plan

+4 sphere of resistance, +2 pyroblast, +1 REB, +2 choke, +1 tireless tracker
-4 crop rotation, -1 mox diamond, -1 tabernacle, -2 maze of ith, -1 life from the loam, -1 punishing fire

I’m still unsure about sphere. I think the cards is medium most of the time against Miracles and keeping some Crop Rotation makes sense nowadays because you have a lot more must-counters and Field of the Dead to find with it. But most others players in Lands like to side in the spheres. 

2-1

ROUND 4 – ELVES

One of your best matchups. The deck is pretty weak to all of your angles of attack; Punishing Fire , 20/20 combo, and Tabernacle are all pretty hard to deal with for them. But this is still a combo deck with some busted starts that can kill you turn two. I recommend to never keep a hand without early interaction.

G1

I find a Tabernacle quickly and destroy all of my opponent lands with Ghost quarter + Wasteland. They can’t stick a creature on board and they concede.

G2

I have Sphere + Tabernacle against my one-lander opponent; even if they keep ooze on board for 5 turns, I assemble the combo and kill him with 20/20.

Sideboard Plan

+4 sphere of resistance, +1 torpor orb
-2 valakut exploration, -2 maze of ith, -1 bog 

You can keep some Valakut Explorations if your opponent have lot of sideboard cards, and sometimes bring Force of Vigor if you see Leylines. But in the dark I prefer to keep the deck simple.

3-1

ROUND 5 – NINJAS

Ninja seems to be a slightly favored matchup, but sometimes they can put you in trouble. The deck has a robust manabase with basics, flying creatures and lot of card advantages with their ninjas. Usually their deck is pretty weak to Punishing Fire.

G1

I have slow start against lot of basic lands + some counters; I lose quickly.

G2

Me and my opponent have good starts, I kick off half of his board with a blast zone, and I kill him a few turns later with a 20/20.

G3

My opponent starts with t1 underground sea into ponder, shuffle. I waste without any hesitation, they miss 4 lands drops, and I easily win with Valakut Exploration + Exploration.

Sideboard Plan

+2 pyroblast, +2 choke
-1 bojuka bog, -2 sylvan library, -1 ghost quarter

4-1

ROUND 6 – SULTAI MIDRANGE

Sultai is as usual one of the best matchup for Lands. Their deck always has a weak manabase, no credible out to Marit Lage and not enough pressure. Usually I aggressively destroy the opponent’s manabase or make a 20/20. Be careful after sideboarding since Sultai usually has tons of grave hate.

You can see the match on the opponent’s twitch – ( https://m.twitch.tv/videos/957772615 at around 4:45)

G1

My opponent put me on miracles and kept a solid hand with lands, cantrips but 0 relevant interaction. My opponent’s deck plays 0 basic lands and they concede when I cast Loam on Tabernacle + Wasteland + Thespian Stage.

G2

The game is pretty one sided again. My opponent is forced to Surgical his Ponder after a Brainstorm lock. They draw several lands successively with his cantrips, and when they wants to cast Loam, I answer with Crop + Bog. I play a choke on my turn and will win the game a few rounds later with combination of Rishadan Port + Wastelands.

Sideboard Plan

+2 pyroblast, +1 red elemental blast, +2 choke, +1 tireless tracker
-2 maze of ith, -3 crop rotation

5-1

ROUND 7 – GRIXIS DELVER

Grixis is usually the easier delver matchup for Lands. Their manabase, like Sultai, is pretty weak to Wastelands, Young Pyromancer is a mediocre threat against both Tabernacle/Punishing Fire, and their deck has no outs to Marit Lage… The only real problematic card in their deck is Gurmag Angler who’s hard to interact with. 

G1

I mulligan to 5 for a mediocre hand. My opponent makes a slow start but draws all his 4 Wastelands. So I will lose under the onslaught of Gurmag Angler, Young Pyromancer and Delver in the late game.

G2

Like the last one, my opponent draws a lot of Wastelands. They also play Surgical on my Dark Depths. But a Maze prevents his Gurmag Angler from attacking, a Punishing Fire keeps his Bitterblossom in check, and I end up drawing Choke + Loam and win the game a few turns later.

G3

I choose to cast my Exploration on turn 2 to resolve it around Daze and Force of Will, and I have a Pyroblast in hand. My opponent counters my Exploration with Force and Dazes my Pyroblast. At this point they have Young Pyromancer + some tokens. On my turn I’m able to Crop Rotate into a Tabernacle which holds their Young Pyromancer in comfortable zone. My opponent ends up cracking under the pressure of Wasteland and Tabernacle which kills every single creatures. My opponent finally concede.

Sideboard Plan

+2 choke, + 2 pyroblast 
-1 karakas, -2 sylvan library, -1 bojuka bog 

During the tournament I sided in Tireless Tracker because my opponent had a lot of sideboard cards against me and aggressively surgicalled a Dark Depths in game two.

6-1

QUARTERFINALS – ICE STATION ZEBRA

I streamed the top 8 matches and a VOD is here – https://www.twitch.tv/mechint49170/video/958222703

One of your worst matchups, but much easier than Reanimator. Sometimes they draw the wrong part of their deck against you, like the 20/20 plan. Also their deck mulligans a lot and it is not uncommon to win because they just do nothing. Your goal is to make a 20/20 and shoot, be careful to not play Dark Depths without Stage, since your opponent can just copy it with Stage and make their own 20/20 .

G1

My opponent starts his turn 1 with swamp, Lotus Petal, Thoughtseize. So I think they’re playing Dark Depths. It’s a very good matchup and I have a very strong hand against that deck. Finally my opponent plays Entomb at the end of my turn, reanimates a Griselbrand and kills me turn 2 with a Laboratory Maniac (Children of Korlis feeding Griselbrand)

G2

My opponent mulligan to 6 and then I play a Sphere on turn 1 and turn 2, destroy the opposing lands and my opponent concedes.

G3

My opponent mulligan to 3, and I keep an average hand of 6. My opponent plays an Entomb at the end of his turn 1 and reanimates a Griselbrand in his turn 2 when they topdeck an Exhume. Fortunately my turn 1 play is Karakas, and when they discard a Griselbrand in his discard step, I can play a Bog and buy some time. Finally I play a Valakut Exploration and several fetches which allow me to inflict the last 5 life points on him.

Sideboard Plan

+4 sphere of resistance, +1 thorn of amethyst
-1 maze of ith, -1 tabernacle at pendrell vale, -3 punishing fire 

7-1

SEMIFINALS – BANT SNOW CREATURES

My opponent plays a brew which is a hybrid between Miracles and Maverick. They has access to a GSZ toolbox and disruption in the form of blue forces and white removal. 

I think this a an unfavorable matchup since, they have a robust manabase, wasteland, removal and some good threats against you. 

G1

I lose the first round pretty quickly after a misclick when I keep a bad hand at 7.

G2

I keep a very average hand of 6, but which contains a Torpor Orb. As my opponent takes the lead I draw an Elvish Reclaimer which stays unchecked for multiple turns. The elf allows me to find Karakas to bounce Uro, Tabernacle to limit the opponent’s board, and finally Field of the Dead. My opponent makes a mistake by attacking with his scavenging ooze against my 7 lands  and an elvish reclaimer with mana open and a Field of the Dead creates a surprise blocker. I will win the game a few laps later with multiple Fields of the Dead thanks to Thespian’s Stage.

G3

I had a great outing with Loam + Exploration, I outclassed the opponent’s board quite quickly and killed my opponent with a 20/20.

Sideboard Plan

+1 torpor orb, +2 pyroblast, +1 red elemental blast, +1 tireless tracker
-2 crop rotation, -1 maze of ith, -1 mox diamond, -1 wasteland

8-1

FINALS – URZA ECHOES

G1

My opponent opens with LED + some artifacts that cost 0 + Echo of Eons, which finds another LED, Echo, and Hullbreacher. They repeat this twice and I lose pretty fast.

G2

This time I have a fast start with a t3 Marit Lage and my opponent lets me untap (he forgot to add a stop on his endstep on mtgo) so that I can Pyroblast his Petty Theft on my Marit Lage.

G3

My opponent has a slow start and I have Sphere of Resistance to slow down the game. I choose to delay Marit Lage for a turn to play Force of Vigor on my opponent’s artifacts and play Bog on my turn to prevent flashback from Emry. The next turn I make a Marit Lage EOT and my opponent doesn’t have Petty Theft this time.

9-1 and Challenge Champion!

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.

Image
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.

Image
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.

Exploring Valakut Exploration

seems like a fun place to spend a lot of time just exploring, y’know?

At this point Valakut Exploration has proven itself as a solid inclusion in any red Lands deck, and in fact as a good reason to be playing red in itself. If you take a look at the card, it’s not too hard to see why.

Valakut Exploration

Valakut Exploration (VE) works exceptionally well in Lands because it plays into both of our main strengths – it both rewards land drops and fills the graveyard. Without fetchlands, most other decks can’t trigger it more than once a turn. We, however, can easily double-trigger via Exploration or Crop Rotation, and it’s not uncommon for the card it exiles to be a card that can get an additional trigger. It also puts cards in the graveyard when it’s done with them, which means we can get them back with Loam (or just happily dump Punishing Fires and Loams in the yard if we can’t cast them just then).

Here I’m going to do a bit of a deep dive on this card, looking at some common play patterns with the card, what other cards go well with it, and what matchups it excels in.

The Road Map – Play Patterns with Valakut Exploration

Ideally, when VE resolves, you will be able to immediately make another land drop. That means that, all else being equal, you want to play it on turn 4 with another land in hand (turn 2 if you have Exploration). This is extra great if you have a fetchland to drop after resolving it, because then you will immediately get two deeper and have a colored mana source to cast whatever it turns over for you.

Lands has a lot of clever ways to get additional landfall triggers. Most obvious of these is probably Exploration, which pairs nicely with VE. The fact that VE digs you towards its older 1cmc cousin is just icing on the cake.

Crop Rotation is another excellent way to get additional triggers. If you exile a Crop Rotation to VE, you’ll probably want to play it, since it essentially cycles at the same time as it tutors. Even just rotating for a fetchland to get additional triggers can be a real play, especially if you have multiple VE going at once and/or your opponent is at a low life total. Elvish Reclaimer can do a similar job, albeit slower.

One line of text on the card that we haven’t really talked about is the fact that it does damage to the opponent when it dumps the cards into the graveyard at the end of the turn. This can be a legitimate way to win in longer games or games that stall out (the kinds of games Lands tends to naturally create). It is usually pretty slow, however, unless you have some supplemental damage or multiple VE in play simultaneously. Still, even if it isn’t dealing the full 20, VE can be a nice way to nudge people below 20 life so they can be properly bite-sized for Marit Lage.

There’s also a bit of a slick niche rules case to be aware of with this card. Because it dumps exiled cards “at the beginning of your end step,” cards exiled during your opponent’s turn will remain available to you through the end of your next turn. That means that you can, for example, rotate on their turn to get a trigger and then untap and have more mana available on your turn to use whatever you exiled. It also means that if you have to rotate or fetch reactively you’ll get the card on your turn; don’t worry about losing the trigger. Note also that if VE is removed, all the cards exiled with it will remain available to play indefinitely – so crack your fetches and rotate in response to their removal!

Expedition Party – Cards that work well with Valakut Exploration

Basically all of Lands plays well with the card. Crop Rotation and Exploration give us additional land drops, while Loam and Punishing Fire don’t mind hitting the graveyard. Still, it’s worth looking at some less obvious cards.

  1. Ancient Tomb: Tomb has been a flex slot for a long time. Unfortunately Lands could never really use 2 colorless to do anything other than activate Stage. But that changes with VE, and getting VE up a full turn earlier is a nice advantage that Tomb can bring to the table.
  2. Elvish Reclaimer: Reclaimer has been a sideboard option or a 2-of to help beat Delver and Hogaak, but it works well with VE as well since it can function to get an extra trigger every turn. The fact that VE holds cards over to your turn is also nice since we can hold up Reclaimer all turn and then use it EOT if it hasn’t been needed.
  3. Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath: Uro was an all-star in the UG Lands deck that wanted to ramp into Field of the Dead triggers. Well, VE likes extra land drops too. If one wanted to lean in to the Uro ramp aspect of Lands, VE would be a nice additional payoff next to Field; one thing UG sometimes struggled with was finding its engines and payoffs, and VE can be both. The fact that it can dump Uro into the yard if it exiles it is just a nice bonus.
  4. Glacial Chasm: Chasm always had the problem of just keeping you alive while you spin your wheels. Now, if you have chasm and VE in play simultaneously, you get to dig deeper faster to close out the game. Not only that, but VE represents a real win condition. Especially against decks without wasteland, you can often sit behind a chasm lock and just let VE kill them eventually. VE also means you will get one ‘draw’ a turn even as you dredge with Loam, which means you can actually find an Exploration or whatever else you need to make the lock more secure and advantageous.
  5. Fetches/Fetchables: Many Lands builds, especially RG, can have as few as 3 fetchable lands. With VE, running out of fetchable lands isn’t just a bummer because it turns your fetchlands off – it also means fewer triggers. This raises the stock of cards like Sheltered Thicket, which play a role in the deck anyway but also can be fetched. It also means that playing more colors (or just more fetchable lands) makes more sense.
  6. Value Permanents: The worst cards to turn over with VE are narrow, reactive cards. Pyroblast when your opponent has no blue permanents, for example. The best ones to turn over are additional permanents that can generate value – things like Exploration. This means cards like Klothys and Sylvan Library get better, while cards like Pyroblast and Abrupt Decay get a little worse (Decay especially because of its color-intensive mana cost). While it has yet to be explored fully, even cards like Seal of Fire or Executioner’s Capsule could be options to make full use of Valakut’s oracular properties.
  7. Sylvan Library: While it might seem like VE should replace our old treehouse bookshop, the two actually work well together, and some split is probably the best configuration. Library lets you see three cards so that you can definitely find a land for VE, and then it lets you stack your deck so that the triggers exile exactly what you want them to. And VE in turn complements Sylvan Library by letting you burn through more cards more quickly without having to pay life or use shuffle effects to dig.
  8. Experimental Frenzy: Frenzy works a bit like Valakut Exploration in that it’s a non-graveyard value engine. But should you ever have both in play together, your exploration will truly reach a frenzied pace. Since Frenzy lets you see the top card of your deck, you will always know what your next trigger will find (unless, of course, you are playing the land off the top). But what’s extra nice is that VE also lets you clear the top of your deck so you can keep digging with Frenzy. Having both might be overkill, but it will definitely do some killing.
  9. Manabond: While usually only played as a 1-of, Manabond can send VE into overdrive, getting up to 6+ triggers in a single turn via Life from the Loam. Note that since both Manabond and VE trigger at your end step, you can choose how to stack them. This means that you can either prioritize damage (set Manabond to resolve first) or prioritize digging for next turn (set VE to resolve first). If VE resolves first, then the cards exiled via triggers from the lands Manabond puts into play will remain available until your next end step.

Looking Down from the Heights – Valakut Exploration’s matchup strengths

Valakut Exploration generates value over time. As such, it is at its best in matchups that tend to go long. In other words, it excels against control decks. It also does exceptionally well against the fair creature decks like Death & Taxes, where it represents a hard-to-answer value engine that will pull you ahead in the long term.

At 1 life, and there were no answers to Prelate in the top 50 cards of the deck. VE got there.

Against these matchups, VE functions as Lands’ version of Dreadhorde Arcanist – a must-answer threat that can run away with the game in a few turns if it isn’t answered.

Of course, most decks have answers for cards like this now. Snow runs Abrupt Decay, D&T has Skyclave Apparition, and Green Sun decks have Knight of Autumn/Reclamation Sage. But Lands has as lot of heavy-hitting enchantment engines like this; a few more helps overload their answers. Snow has 3-4 abrupt decay to our 3 Choke, 2 Library, 3 VE, 4 Exploration. Adding VE to our roster may not make these matchups into auto-wins, but it definitely helps.

Against Delver, Valakut Exploration’s high cmc makes it something of a liability. Still, if it resolves it will quickly take over the game and the most popular Delver variants have no answer to it once it is in play. If there are some number of 3cmc must-answer permanents you want to have against Delver, this is definitely in the running, though Choke might be stronger all things considered.

Against fast combo decks, it’s probably best to cut VE during sideboarding. It won’t do much against TES, for example, and tapping out for it could cost us the game.

Fiery Obsession – Final Notes on Valakut Exploration

Given all the strengths of the card, the question becomes less ‘should we play it?’ and more ‘how many?’ At the moment it seems like somewhere between 2-3 is the most usual number, alongside 2 Sylvan Library. Typically it replaces Gamble in GRx Lands builds, though Gamble can do work alongside it as well. 2-3 seems like the right number since it’s the kind of card you want to see at least one of in most matchups, especially in the D&T, Snow, Delver metagame that we seem to be in at the moment.

An extra copy can often be found in the sideboard, where it comes in as additional non-graveyard-based threat in matchups where it shines. Still, while 2-3 might be normal, one could easily imagine builds that lean more heavily into Valakut Exploration and run the full playset; perhaps a RUG build featuring Uro. After all, multiples stack well and can quickly churn through the deck to burn out the opponent.

And there you have it! If there’s anything I missed please do let me know, it would be great to have as comprehensive a guide as possible. Until then, happy exploring!

Learning the Playbill: Everything You Could Possibly Need to Know About Thespian’s Stage

“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:

  1. Stage becomes a copy of Depths. Because the Stage copy did not enter the battlefield, it will not have any counters on it.
  2. 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!
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. Now that you are safe behind 2 Chasms, you can let the original Chasm die to avoid paying the Cumulative Upkeep of 2 life. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Sequencing Considerations

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.

Level-Ups

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.

-J_Alexander 242

Fmessina 4Seasons Tournament Report – 9/9/2020

Hi all, my name is Francesco Messina (also known as f_mexins on MTGO) and I am a Lands player. There is no other deck that I like, so I wouldn’t be playing MTG without it. I like to call it my “pet deck”, since it is a very niche and complex archetype. I love lands since it is the deck of nature (I love nature, even if it has a “dark side” – just like the deck, that despite its beautiful landscapes, wins by making zombies and witches). Since it does a lot of things, I never feel bored playing Lands. I started to play it seriously during a period of problems with my ex (i.e. depression), and it has provided me a lot of satisfactions (like my GP Bologna run), motivations and good friends. So I am grateful to it.

Before starting the report that lots of people asked me for, I will analyze why I chose to play the pure RG version of lands. After a lot of playtesting and local paper tournaments along with my lands mate and friend Giacomo (JackBattle on MTGO), I had come up with the list for this tournament, but with 2 Klothys as snow-hate. Then Giacomo had the idea to cut Klothys and to put Experimental Frenzy in since Klothys is not a real card advantage engine that is independent from the yard, as Tireless Tracker was in the past (Tracker can be decayed, stolen, or elked so now it is unplayable). In short, the main reasons for Frenzy are: 1) it cannot be Decayed; 2) it provides a strong card advantage that does not depend from the yard and that is synergistic with Exploration. With Klothys, if the opponent is ahead and I’m losing, I will lose anyway.

Thanks to Urawik3, who is one of the best lands players ever, I have started to use the Grasping Dunes tech to stop Dreadhorde Arcanist, a card that gives too much consistency to the Delver archetype. In my opinion, Abrupt Decay is not sufficient to fight the Arcanist since it is not recursive. Since the Delver deck has a cantrip engine and we don’t, if they find the second Arcanist after our Decay, we are in a bad spot. With Grasping Dunes, which can be loamed and/or copied with Stage, one can deal with it without the fear of the second or third Arcanist. I also want to remind the reader that an early Tabernacle with Wasteland or Choke can block
multiple Arcanists: our mana denial plan must be very consistent and aggressive and RG is the best shell to do it. Once we kill Arcanist, and once the manascrew plan is strong (i.e. they cannot cast Oko) the Delver deck is almost the same as the pre-WAR one, but with Force of Negation (that can be played around by playing Punishing Fire in the opponent’s upkeep).

Another answer to the Arcanist is obviously Elvish Reclaimer, which is also good vs the pure graveyard decks (lands is not a graveyard-based deck) that are strong vs Oko soups/fair blue stuff, i.e. Hoogak, Reanimator and Dredge. The metagame of this event, in short, was Oko in his xerox shell (Snow, Delver, pseudo-Miracles) vs brutal graveyard decks such as Hoogak, and some tribal decks (like Elves, turbo Goblins or Dredge/Hoogak grave stuff simply outclass the Elkfest that Oko forces in every game).

Let’s now talk about the various games.

First Round: Snowko (2-0)

There is nothing much to say about this game: g1 I opened an hand with 2 Ports and I drew the third one after some turns, so the opponent was not able to cast Oko before the fifth turn. At that point Field of the Dead was online, and Uro was almost a meme (it died one time to multiple punishing fires for example).

G2 the opponent countered a Library and other stuff, so Frenzy entered into play and finished the game along with 20 zombies.

Second Round: Hogaak (2-0)

G1 I had simply wastelanded the opponent one time and then made a fast 20/20 thanks to Exploration on the play. His hand was not that fast so he conceded.

G2 the game was tricky since his clock was faster and he trophied a depths when I went for the combo. But Elvish Reclaimer took a Tabernacle to slow him down, and then the pieces of another Witch.

Third Round: Young Frankestein (2-1)

This deck is a Delver deck that can reanimate Griselbrand. Since it is not a real Delver deck and not a real Reanimator deck, in my opinion both these plans are weaker than the originals. The deck counts a lot on the surprise factor, but I was prepared for it after sideboarding.

G1, Even if I had Karakas for Griselbrand and Punishing Fire to kill the opponent’s Delvers and Pyromancers, I died from my own Elves, which where reanimated after being killed.

G2 I had spheres on the play from the sideboard, so the manascrew plan (Spheres, Wasteland, Choke) locked the opponent out of the game even if he had double surgical. Then the opp drew only nonland cards (but I had multiple ports on the table), so they were not able to do anything effective.

G3 This game was very similar to G1, but without Elves, since I cut them from the maindeck after sideboarding. In short: Karakas on Griselbrand, Punishing Fire (in his upkeep)/Dunes on his creatures and some manascrew in the meantime.

Fourth Round: Lands (ID)

The opponent now was JackBattle, my friend, so we decided to do an intentional draw to not exclude a double top8. We where confidant about ourselves, since we had done a lot of training/study for this tournament.

Fifth Round: Grixis Delver (2-0)

There is not so much to say here other than that the opponent died from fast Marit Lages and Punishing Fires on his upkeep. G2 the witch was also covered by REB.

Sixth Round: Elves (2-1)

G1 I simply kept a Loam hand that was strong vs fair blue and not vs tribal, so I scooped from turn 4 Order.

G2 I had spheres, Punishing Fire and Gamble/Tabernacle.

G3 was similar to G2, but on the draw (so a bit slower, but I had the Mox Diamond).

Seventh Round: Hogaak (1-2)

This time the Hoogak player opened very strong hands, so the game was very problematic. I think that Hoogak is one of the best legacy decks at the moment, since it does not really suffer from gravehate and can close the game turn 2 without problems. And, fundamentally, it ignores Oko, Uro, Astrolabe and Arcanist.

G1: My hand was fine, but he closed the game anyway turn 2 or 3.

G2: With spheres on the play, Tabernacle and other stuff, after a long grind I got him.

G3: I kept a hand with Loam, the combo, Tabernacle and Wasteland, but no acceleration. I have done this choice because if he had a weaker hand than his usual ones, if I drew a gamble or an acceleration, I could have won. Obviously he had the turn 2 kill.

Eighth Round: D&T (2-1)

The first game I had Exploration and Library and the Sanctum Prelate (which is the only really problematic D&T card for us) arrived too late.

G2 he had turn 3 Prelate and RiP. His clock was fast, so even with Frenzy, which ignores both Prelate and RiP, I conceded.

G3: A turn 1 Exploration and a turn 2 Frenzy gave me too much advantage. His only possible play was Cataclysm, but before it I had gambled for Force of Vigor to cut off his vials and/or an eventual RiP. So the recovery process, after a Vigor on the vial, was very easy.

TOP8: SPLIT

I finally arrived fourth, and my mate JackBattle first. We (i.e. all the top8 players) decided to split. In particular, since Milan is not that close to Bologna and we had to go to work early on Monday, me and Jack where very happy to not play anymore.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Besides the game, this day was also beautiful due to its human aspect (playing a paper tournament this big was a real relief after all the COVID paranoia of the last months). So I want to thank all my friends for their love and support. In particular Giacomo, who is really clever and rational in everything (I am more the intuitive/instinctive/aggressive player/guy here) and Lena, who traveled from a far-away city to deliver a custom ML Token (a real lucky charm I would say) that I had commissioned from her. In the company of a very good friend, or a very sweet girl, one must always do things very well to make a good impression.

JackBattle_ 4Seasons Tournament Winner Report – 9/9/2020

JackBattle_ won the 4Seasons Tournament in Italy with his take on RG Lands. His report (in Italian) can be found here.

What follows below is that report translated into English by our very own Morgormir! Here it is:

4Season Winner Report

Hello everyone, my name is Giacomo Battaglia and I’m a Legacy player belonging to DD-Team. For this edition of 4Seasons I opted to bring Lands, being the only deck I enjoy playing. During the last month or so I playtested the deck extensively with my teammate and friend Francesco Messina, and after having attempted all the flavours of Lands we came to the conclusion that no splash was necessary, but that a straight RG version metagamed for the tournament (as we expected a lot of Delver and Snowko) was perfectly satisfactory.

This is Fmessina’s deck, but the decklist is the same

In the following paragraphs I outline the games I played, unfortunately I do not remember the names of the pilots who I didn’t know.

Round 1: DnT 2-0
The matchup is very grindy, but both games I lead the matchup with the most troublesome cards for my opponent, which are Tabernacle and Punishing Fire. Opponent never sees Sanctum Prelate which could have been the only problematic card out of their deck.

Round 2: Burn 2-0
My opponent was seated at a table near mine during round 1 so I already knew the deck they were on. I know that drawn out games often result in a loss for Lands, and that mana denial is a losing proposition. I win the die roll and set up both games for a turn 2 20/20, so both games were very short.

Round 3: RUG Delver 2-1
The matchup is really close. My primary plan is to prevent them from playing Magic, and my backup is Marit Lage in case things go south.

They lead on Delver of Secrets G1, and I have Wasteland and Tabernacle in hand. I lead on Wasteland, and since they don’t have a second land, Delver dies to Tabernacle the turn after. The game ends shortly thereafter where my opponent is unable to develop their board.

G2 is very drawn out. I see very little action and my opponent too, even after a couple Arcanist attacks, which has no spells to flashback in the graveyard. Later in the match, they draw into cantrips and burn spells sending me to 0.

G3 I remove 3 Arcanists thanks to Grasping Dunes, REB on Oko and Wasteland Lock to bring the game to a close.

Round 4: UB Shadow 2-0
A favourable matchup for me, both games I find Grove of the Burnwillows which keep my opponent off their gameplan. G1 they present a fast Reanimate on Street Wraith but Elvish Reclaimer rotating for Bojuka Bog solves that problem, and the game is all downhill from there.

G2 I keep them at a high life total, keeping them off mana with Rishadan Port and close out the game with Choke backed up by REB.

Round 5: Lands (Messina) Draw/Split
I meet my friend and testing companion. We’re both doing very well and decide to not play, in order to both enter top 8. A risky decision, but seeing as the list is performing so well we’re convinced it’s possible.

Round 6: Snowko 2-0
G1 I have a very strong opener with Loam, Exploration, Stage and Depths. My opponent never found any countermagic and I assemble the token every turn in short succession. They make a couple Angels off of Entreat but it’s not enough.

G2 I play an Elvish Reclaimer very early, and my opinion plays Blood Moon, leaving them with poor mana as they don’t have any Astrolabes. Oko follows soon after, but eats a ReB; Humility is attempted as another out, so I activate Reclaimer for Depths, which has no counters thanks to Moon. Jace is their follow up play, which I remove with my second ReB; EoT I break both Humility and Moon with Force of Vigor to make the 20/20 and close the match.

Round 7: DnT 1-1
G1 takes forever. I win through Prelate thanks to Zombies. Marit Lage eating a Plow allowed me to draw many cards off Sylvan Library.

Round 8: Dragon Stompy 2-1
G1 They play a turn 1 Trinisphere with City of Traitors and SSG into Goblin Rabblemaster the turn after. Once I get to 3 mana I rotate for Tabernacle to slow them down, and win by a hair thanks to Marit Lage.

G2 2 Chalice come down t1, one on 0 and the other on 1. Karn follows suit the turn after, which gets Liquimetal Coating, keeping me at 2 mana and off the Krosan Grip I have in hand.

G3 They play a turn 1 Chandra, I Wasteland their City. Another Sol Land, two mana off Chandra and Karn follows, which gets Coating again, targeting my Taiga. I Ghost Quarter my Taiga in response to get basic Forest, and I break Liquimetal Coating EoT with FoV.
My opponent gets Sorcerous Spyglass the following turn and sees K-Grip, 2 Depths and a Stage, the last of which they name. I have 2 lands in play at this point, and the following turns my opponent makes a couple of misplays, allowing me to close out the game and match thanks to K-Grip on Blood Moon, while having Depths out with no counters.

I finish the tournament here with a score of 6-0-2 and end up first in the Swiss. Top 8 is split among us given the late hour. My friend Francesco also is in the Top 4 with the list we built together. I thank my teammates and everyone I had a chance to chat with, as well as the TOs for having organized a wonderful event in anything but easy circumstances.

State of Lands 9/2020

Over the course of the year thus far, the Lands community has gathered data on 944 matches played. Below we crunch the numbers on that data.

First a couple disclaimers –

  1. No fudging – all losses are losses, all wins are wins. While this may seem obvious, anyone who has tracked their data knows the temptation to put down a loss from a stupid misplay as a win. But stupid misplay losses are still losses, and should be counted as such. Same goes for when your opponent just ‘got super lucky.’
  2. Skill Level – relatedly, this data does not take into account what might be called the ‘skill level’ of the players, whether the opponents or the Lands pilot. It includes data from FNMs where your buddy is playing a meme deck, and it includes data from playing against pros on MTGO. As to the skill level of the pilots, I can’t speak to that to preserve anonymity. I can say however that about 2/3s of the data came from my own matches, and I picked up the deck in February and started tracking about a week or two after getting my Tabernacle. That said, there’s a certain self-selection bias here – people who track their data are probably taking their play more seriously on some level, and those willing to submit it are probably happy with their performance.
  3. This data spans the whole year (well, at least from February), so it includes information from the Breach & Companion meta. I consider that a feature, not a bug, as it is interesting to see how Lands did against those decks.

The overall idea is that all the differences in luck or skill come out in the wash when one has enough data.

With all that said, let’s get down to it! First, the question on everyone’s lips – is Lands ban-worthy??

The average winrate over these 944 matches was 56.51%.

So by WotC’s criteria, Lands is a broken deck and you should probably be playing it.

Let’s take a look at how that winrate breaks down relative to opposing archetypes. For a chart of how decks were categorized, look here. Some decisions are perhaps questionable (is Urza Echo really a Chalice deck?) and others make sense only from a Lands-player perspective (a whole category for Knight of the Reliquary decks), but at the end of the day some categorization had to be made, no system was perfect, and we did the best we could.

In the graph below, we see the winrates against different major archetypes. Archetypes are ordered by meta share, which can be found on each archetype’s label.

Because the data is ordered by meta share, we can see that Lands is favored against the top 5 decks in the meta, or roughly 60% of the meta (though of course the category of ‘Other’ varies a lot).

On the level of individual archetypes, this data more or less confirms what most Lands players already know. We are favored in fair matchups (see tribal, delver, and control) while less favored against combo (Storm, Show & Tell). The delver matchup is less favored than many might like, just about 55%. Control is more favored than some might have thought, though straight UW control is actually worse for us. The worst form of control to be paired against is combo-control (think Food Chain and Aluren) as those decks don’t need to compete with us for inevitability, and instead can simply threaten a win at any moment.

With regard to combo, the Storm and Show & Tell matchups seem less bad than many Lands pilots feared, with Storm even coming out as about 50/50. The graveyard-based combo decks (Reanimator, Dredge, Hogaak) come out as generally positive matchups. Even Doomsday turns out to be about a 50/50 matchup.

Our best matchups by far are against Big Mana decks like Post and tribal decks like Elves and Goblins. This makes sense since tribal decks rely on creatures and are thus extra vulnerable to Punishing Fire and Tabernacle. Big Mana decks are extra soft to wasteland. Both decks tend to have few answers to Marit Lage. That all combines to make for great matchups on the Lands side.

Now let’s see which version of Lands seems to perform the best.

Before discussing these results, it’s worth noting that Jund was by far the most popular variant, with almost 450 matches to its name. UG, RG, and BUG each had about 100-120. The other variants were all around 40-50.

Looking at the results, it seems like while Jund may have been very popular, BUG is secretly the best-performing archetype. One could try to explain this away by saying that Jund’s lower average is just a function of its popularity, with Jund coming down to the true average where BUG’s 121 matches didn’t normalize as much. Still, BUG seems like a good avenue to explore in the future, as does UG. Both of these overperformed, and had a decent number of matches to make their performance meaningful. BG is another point we could consider looking at – it had a 60% winrate. This was over only 43 matches, but it is still promising.

The remainder of this article looks more closely at certain opposing archetypes to see exactly what kind of Delver (for example) is the most difficult.

From the Delver breakdown we see that Death’s Shadow is a quite good matchup. This makes sense, since they run few basics and even just giving them life with Grove can impact their gameplan. Conversely, BUG, Grixis, and UR are less good. Luckily, BUG and Grixis are much more rare (and their numbers here are not high, so the data might be misleading). UR however, has the advantage because of its basics and its ability to run Blood Moon.

Let’s look at Storm next:

In the eternal battle between ANT and TES, it seems ANT has the edge in the Lands matchup. This is probably because of their stronger ability to play a long game; post-board games against Storm tend to drag on under a sphere or two. Indeed the fastest, most all-in storm deck (Belcher) is actually a favored matchup for us. This is probably because they can lose to Tabernacle when they go for goblins and have so little interaction overall. A turn 1 sphere on the play is often enough to win the game on the spot against them, for example, as is mulliganing to Mindbreak Trap on the draw. The data here also confirms what everyone already knew – Breach was a broken deck.

Next is control:

Here we find the continuation of a theme. Decks with stable mana and answers to Marit Lage are harder to beat than the decks without. UWx control decks, for example, are tough, while BUG and Stryfo Pile are relatively easier to beat. Snowko straddles the center, since some versions play fewer Swords to Plowshares.

It’s also interesting that decks like Food Chain or Aluren are quite difficult for Lands. It make sense, since these decks (especially RiP Helm, which runs Swords), can attack from two angles, and their combos can be hard for Lands to interact with.

Depths is next – this is a matchup that has traditionally been described as favored, but our overall winrate was below 50%. Let’s see why.

Well here we can see the culprit – Slow Depths. For some reason Slow Depths (which includes traditional BG as well as BUG and GW Depths) is quite a difficult matchup for us. GW depths has Knight of the Reliquary, which has always been hard for us, and in general it can be hard to fight off the combo while also answering threats like Dark Confidant. I suspect that the abysmally low winrate there is at least in part due to small sample size (9 matches), but it does show a general pattern.

Turbo Depths, on the other hand, is strongly favored, as many probably already knew. Playing against Lands is a 50/50 matchup, which may surprise you until you realize that we’re playing Lands ourselves so…

The last category we’ll look at is the Tribal decks.

Perhaps nothing too surprising here. Humans and Slivers, the most straightforward beatdown decks with the fewest card advantage engines and the most fragile manabases, are the best matchups for us. Elves is the worst tribal deck to be paired against because of it has its own combo and can pressure us pretty well. Merfolk and Goblins both have their angles of attack that make them slightly more difficult than Humans or Slivers.

Overall though, no deck in this category is below a 70% winrate, so Lands players paired against tribal decks should feel good about the matchup.

And there you have it! Thanks to everyone who shared their data and made this collection possible. If you are interested in the raw data or the methods used to manipulate it, you can find the data and the computations themselves here. I encourage anyone to work on the data and create any other graphs they find interesting; it would be a pleasure to post them here or in their own article.

Thanks for reading! – aslidsiksoraksi

Lands vs Delver – a complete guide by alli

Delver is the most popular archetype in Legacy and it is important to know how to navigate this matchup if you want to succeed in a tournament. This has historically been a very good matchup for Lands as most of our lands (Dark Depths, Wasteland, Maze of Ith) are strong and we have inevitability with Life from the Loam. However, I think that the matchup has gotten harder in 2019 / 2020 as new printings have improved the Delver side (Dreadhorde Arcanist, Force of Negation, Oko, Thief of Crowns, and Brazen Borrower to name a few). I still believe that we (can build our deck in a way so that we) are favoured but the games are often interactive and the skill level of the pilots will have a large impact on the outcome of the match. 

Playing against Delver also means that we should talk about Delver decks and their core principle. I think the German Lands Master Jon Knoll has described this well. 

Delver ALWAYS need to be ahead on the board. If they’re behind, they lost. Sometimes this can be a marginal advantage like a single creature but no lands – and if they use FoW/FoN to delay your answers for just a little bit, it might be already enough. Playing Delver is like a “resource dance” where you control your opponent and play out marginal gains because it’s not about winning by a lot but winning at all

It often feels like good Delver players always have the right card at the exact right time. This is because they are really good at valuing their resources, and they will utilize their cards optimally already from turn 1.

There are many different flavours of Delver decks and this is how I would rank them in terms of how hard they are to play against.

  1. UR Delver is hardest because they play basic lands and resilient threats such as Dreadhorde Arcanist and True-Name Nemesis. UR Delver also plays main deck answers to Marit Lage in the form of Brazen Borrower as well as sideboard bombs in Blood Moon and Price of Progress.
  2. UW Delver is also harder than the 3-color versions because they play basic lands as well as Swords to Plowshares to answer our Marit Lage. They also play annoying sideboard cards such as Back to Basics.
  3. RUG Delver has a shaky manabase but very powerful cards.
  4. Grixis Delver has a shaky manabase but resilient threats in the form of Gurmag Angler and Dreadhorde Arcanist. Bitterblossom can also be a pain to play against.
  5. Death Shadow is the easiest version as they have a shaky manabase and no card advantage. Their threats also line up poorly against both Maze of Ith and Grove of the Burnwillows.

This guide is written from the context of Dark Lands, with 2-3 Abrupt Decay in the main deck, but these concepts are also valid for the other color combinations of (Thespian Stage plus Dark Depths) Lands.

Game 1

The most important aspect of this game is to get ahead on mana. We are the clunkier deck so we want to have access to an early Mox Diamond or Exploration. It’s unlikely that we will beat a Delver deck without mana acceleration. 

The G1’s where we win typically involve either of the below scenarios.

  1. We resolve a T1 Exploration and make a 20/20 on T2 that our opponent fails to answer. I think this strategy is very good vs current iterations of RUG Delver as their only G1 answer to Marit Lage is Oko, Thief of Crowns and we can often play around that card.
  2. We disrupt the opponent’s early threats and then make a 20/20 on turn 3-5 that our opponent fails to answer.
  3. We get ahead on mana by resolving an early Exploration or Mox Diamond and then manage to Wastelock our opponent. Ideally we also find a Tabernacle along the way to wipe our opponent’s board.

I do not have any real statistics to back this up but my gut tells me that Scenario 1 and 2 happens more often than Scenario 3 in G1’s against Delver.

The G1s where we lose typically involve either of the below scenarios.

  1. Something goes horribly wrong with our plan and we fail to limit their mana and hence they take advantage of their lower curve and overrun us with threats. If you ever find yourself in the late game and your opponent has 5-6 lands in play then you will have most likely lost this game. Here are some examples of things that can go horribly wrong against Delver in G1.
    1. We have T1 Exploration but they have a Force of Negation for our Life from the Loam and we fail to find a second one.
    2. They play T1 Delver and then counter our Exploration.
    3. They have a Wasteland for our only green source and we cannot cast our spells.
    4. We have a fast Marit Lage but they have an answer (such as Oko, Thief of Crowns or Brazen Borrower // Petty Theft). 
  2. Our opponent goes fetch land into fetch land into Dreadhorde Arcanist and we do not have an immediate answer. Dreadhorde Arcanist is such an overpowered card that it will run away with most games where he gets to attack.
  3. We manage to control their mana but we stabilize the board too late (when we are below 3 life) and they top deck a Volcanic Island for the lethal Lightning Bolt. These are the games where our choices did end up mattering. I suggest that you revisit these games afterwards and look for small decisions that made you lose. Here are some examples of misplays that I have done against Delver opponents in these types of games.
    1. I chose to draw too many cards with Sylvan Library.
    2. I chose to play Wasteland instead of Rishadan Port and this ended up delaying my 20/20 one crucial turn.
    3. I tried to play around Daze instead of just killing the Delver on the spot and hence I fell too far behind.
    4. I chose to Wasteland my opponent in my main phase (instead of during my opponent’s upkeep) and my opponent had Stifle and then access to all mana on the following turn (and could cast Tarmogoyf or Oko, Thief of Crowns).
    5. I overvalued the Tabernacle + Wasteland + Loam plan against an onboard Delver (and my opponent kept drawing more lands). 
    6. I played out Grove of the Burnwillows instead of Taiga and accidentally put my opponent on 21 life and then I couldn’t kill him in 1 turn.
    7. I attacked with a low life total into an opponent at 21 life (or an opponent who was able to block) because I trusted my Maze on board to defend myself next turn against attackers. I then died to a Wasteland on the next turn. A better play would have been: Attack, deal damage, use Maze on my own Marit Lage and be immune to Wasteland next turn.

Sideboarding from our side

I tend to have 6-8 sideboard cards for the Delver matchup. In order to make room for these cards I will take out 2-3 lands (Karakas, Ancient Tomb, and the 4th Rishadan Port are lands that I often cut) and some number of Gamble and Crop Rotation. Sylvan Library can also be shaved but I prefer to keep them in (at least when I am on the play). We can also cut Field of the Dead and / or Bojuka Bog but I will not cut Field unless I bring in additional win conditions (because Surgical on Dark Depths do happen in post sideboard games) and I will not cut Bog vs Delver decks that play Dreadhorde Arcanist.  Here are the types of cards that I like to take in.

Additional Removal

I expect our opponent to bring in answers to Marit Lage so I prefer to take a control / prison role in the post sideboard games, and this means that I want to have access to additional removal in my sideboard. As a general rule I want to have 4 clean answers to Dreadhorde Arcanist in the post sideboard games. This can be a combination of Abrupt Decay, Lightning Bolt, Elvish Reclaimer, and Drop of Honey (drop is the worst of these cards to answer Arcanist but it’s very good when True-Name Nemesis is popular in your meta). 

Anti-Counterspell Cards

I really like Pyroblast as it’s a flexible card that can help us resolve a key spell but it can also kill a Delver or Oko and even protect Marit Lage from bounce. Veil of Summer is also a good anti-counterspell card that has additional upside in saving Marit Lage from bounce and protecting Life from the Loam from Surgical Extraction (because of the draw a card trigger, not because it protects Loam, be sure to dredge). I currently prefer Pyroblast over Veil but if discard spells become more popular then I can see myself switching the two. 

Prison Cards

Choke will win most games where it resolves and it’s an absolute all star in the matchup. How to optimally Choke a Delver opponent is a science in it’s own but my general recommendation is to have a bit of patience and look for the optimal spot (either when the opponent is tapped out or when you have no other good use for your mana). I also want to mention that Rishadan Port and Choke are best friends. I know that there are some Lands decks that have shaved on Rishadan Ports for more copies of Ghost Quarter. I personally don’t like to do this, as it makes us worse against control and combo decks, and I also believe that Rishadan Port is almost as good as Ghost Quarter against Delver decks if we also run Choke.  

The Japanese superstar Urawik3 has told me that he likes to bring in two Sphere of Resistance (in RG Lands) when he is on the play against Delver decks. I can see the appeal, as this can stop our opponent from casting spells and it is also a soft answer to Dreadhorde Arcanist, but it can also be dangerous as it will make our opponent’s soft counters and Wastelands better (our opponent will most likely take out some number of Daze against us but I still prefer to bring in more removal than Sphere of Resistance).

Creatures

I like to bring in creatures as they are an answer to Dreadhorde Arcanist, that cannot be countered by Force of Negation, and they can also kill our opponent if our Dark Depths would be removed by Surgical Extraction (or if our opponent presents a permanent answer to Marit Lage such as Bitterblossom). Sideboarded creatures also allow us to adopt a playstyle of mana denial plus pressure and this makes us more non-linear. I expect my Delver opponent to bring out some number of Lightning Bolts against us (but not all of them) and this makes creatures better as well. This is my personal rank on how the creatures that are commonly played in Land’s sideboards line up against Delver decks.

  1. Elvish Reclaimer is an absolute all star in. He is cheap to cast and can come down early and roadblock a Dreadhorde Arcanist (and he can even kill an attacking Tarmogoyf due to block plus Bojuka Bog). He also gives us access to a recurring Crop Rotation and this allows us to play around their Wastelands (and Submerges) it will give us an endless stream of our own Wasteland (and Tabernacle) or find the Dark Depths combo.
  2. Tasigur, the Golden Fang is a fairly new technology that is very strong against Delver decks. He is cheap and will outgrow Dreadhorde Arcanist and Hooting Mandrills (and even Tarmogoyf sometimes). His activated ability will also take over the game if it is left unchecked for a few turns and it has great synergy with both Sylvan Library and Life from the Loam.
  3. Tarmogoyf is a gigantic monster that will roadblock an opposing Dreadhorde Arcanist and Hooting Mandrills. I think this card is strong against in particular UR Delver but it is unlikely that I will play it as it has limited usage in other matchups and no real synergy with our deck.
  4. Tireless Tracker is mediocre in the Delver matchup, as she is clunky and dies to Lightning Bolt, but I will typically take in 2 copies whenever I decide to add her to my sideboard. Tireless Tracker plus Exploration is an engine that doesn’t use the graveyard and we will win most games where we get to untap with her (on an even board).

Example of a Sideboard Map

Here is an example on how I would sideboard with Dark Lands with 3 Abrupt Decay in the main deck.

-1 Karakas
-1 Tomb
-1 Field / Port / Sylvan Library
-2 Crop Rotation
-2 Gamble

+2 Pyroblast
+1 Red Elemental Blast
+2 Elvish Reclaimer
+2 Choke

Sideboarding from their side

Delver decks typically have 5-8 cards to take in against us. I have spoken to a few very good Delver players, such as Ark4n, LearnToLove6, TheStyle and mechint, and it seems like the consensus is to take out all 4 Daze on the draw and 0-4 copies on the play (it was actually not a consensus among these players on how many Daze they should take out vs Lands when they are on the play). I also expect my opponent to shave on some number of Lightning Bolts and conditional counterspells. Here are the types of cards that they typically will bring in against us.

Graveyard Hate

They will take in 3-5 cards to fight against Life from the Loam. This is my personal rank on how the commonly played graveyard hate lines up against Lands.

  1. Klothys, God of Destiny is an all star against us and I expect most RUG Delver decks to play 1-2 copies of this card (as it is also very good in the Snow matchup). Klothys is impossible to remove and she will not only turn off our Loams and Wastelands but she will also increase their clock (and eventually kill us on her own). We cannot really play around Klothys, except for adopting a heavy mana denial plan, and if she resolves then she will negate our mana denial plan as she helps produce mana for the Delver deck.
  2. Surgical Extraction is the best possible answer to the card Life from the Loam. I currently expect all Delver decks to play 2-3 copies of this card. In the olden days (when we still played Tranquil Thicket) we could do a delicate dance around Surgical Extraction in order to play around it. This is not really the case nowadays as we will at most play 1 copy of Nurturing Peatland, and Crop Rotating for Nurturing Peatland (in order to save our Life from the Loam) is not something that comes up often. However, you can play around it by maximizing the initial value of your Loam (try to be patient and ensure that you actually get 3 cards back the first time you cast Life from the Loam). If our opponent decides to target a Wasteland or Dark Depths with Surgical Extraction then we can use Elvish Reclaimer or Crop Rotation to find another copy and place it safely in play.
  3. Tormod’s Crypt or Leyline of the Void are typically played when graveyard decks are very strong (such as during the Underworld Breach era earlier this year). I do not think that it is worth it to side in answers to Leyline (even when they play it) and we already have 2-3 Abrupt Decay for the other cards (but I think most Delver decks will be forced to use their Tormod’s Crypt quite early anyways). 

Removal for Marit Lage

You should expect our opponent to bring in 2-3 answers to Marit Lage for the post sideboard games. This is how I rank the most commonly played answers to Marit Lage.

  1. Vapour Snag is the best answer to Marit Lage as it is an instant speed answer that is impossible to play around (we have already won the games where we are able to deny our Delver opponent of all mana so this doesn’t really count as playing around Vapour Snag). I think this card is less common nowadays but I still see it in some UR Delver decks.
  2. Bitterblossom is a great answer to Marit Lage and it is commonly played out of Grixis Delver. Bitterblossom is good because the Delver deck can play it proactively and it is an answer that is also a threat. We do have answers to this card in the form of Abrupt Decay, Tabernacle, Punishing Fire, and a copied Blast Zone with 0 counters, but it is a pain to play against an early Bitterblossom.
  3. Karakas is annoying as this is a permanent answer for our 20/20. I see this card in some RUG Delver sideboards (sometimes together with 1-2 Crop Rotations). Most Delver players will not play out this card (in order to save it from Wasteland) so it is possible to play around it by casting Crop Rotation for Dark Depths and making the Marit Lage in our opponent’s end step.
  4. Petty Theft (Brazen Borrower) is a good answer as it can be cast at instant speed and it often leaves a 3/1 body to put pressure on us and hence give us less time to find a Life from the Loam in order to re-summon the 20/20. Petty Theft costs 2 mana though and it will often be hard for the Delver deck to keep up this mana and also deploy their own threats. If you ever find that your (UR) Delver opponent is not playing cantrips nor playing a threat when you have the possibility to summon a Marit Lage then your Petty Theft alarm should go haywire and you should start looking for ways to play around this card. 
  5. Submerge is the most popular bounce spell right now (as it is good in the RUG Delver mirror) and this is also the worst card against us. It is fairly easy to ensure that we don’t have a Forest in play when we summon our Marit Lage. We can use Elvish Reclaimer or Crop Rotation to get rid of our Forest and we can even Wasteland ourselves.

Winter Orb

I often see my Delver opponent bringing in this card against me and I find that 60-70% of the time it wins the game for me instead of for my opponent. If we have Tabernacle, or Mox Diamond, or just a good hand with Exploration and Life from the Loam then this card will actively hurt our opponent. 

Blood Moon

This is played as a 1-of out of UR Delver and it will win 99% of the games where it resolves. We do play 2-3 copies of Abrupt Decay but I find that these don’t really line up against Blood Moon as the Delver opponent can just cast the card when we are tapped out. I typically won’t bring in dedicated answers to Blood Moon (such as Force of Vigor) as these will be dead in all games where our opponent has not drawn their single copy of Blood Moon (and this will end up costing us more losses in the long run).

Game 2 & 3

Post sideboard games differ from G1’s in the sense that.

  • Life from the Loam is worse (as a recurring engine) since our opponent has graveyard hate.
  • Marit Lage is more vulnerable (as a win codition) as our opponent has brought in answers to it.
  • Our life total will be less pressured as we have more removal spells and our opponent has taken out some number of burn spells.
  • We will have a 3 mana bomb in Choke, and they may have their own 3 mana bomb in Klothys or Blood Moon (on top of the potential Oko from G1).

Postboard games therefore slow down and they tend to be more about resource optimization and mana denial. It is unlikely that we will simply run over our opponent with recurring Life from the Loam, and likewise I will not just jam a Marit Lage in games where I am already ahead. There is no need to expose myself to something stupid like Vapour Snag + Surgical Extraction if I have the game in a state where my opponent’s board is empty and I control their mana. Patience is key in order to win these types of post sideboard games and when I find myself in these situations I will try to read what cards my opponent can have in their hand and play around these (to the extent possible). I have had games where I have resolved a Choke, with several Rishadan Ports in play, and then decided to not cast another spell for the rest of the game. I did not want to give my opponent the opportunity to Daze a spell and return one of the tapped lands to their hand. I opted to simply discard to hand size each turn and wait until I naturally drew the Thespian Stage plus Dark Depths combo (and I also destroyed all my Forests with my own Wastelands) before making the 20/20 for the win.

This does not mean that we cannot win one of the post sideboard games with a fast Marit Lage. If I have a T2 Marit Lage (ideally one that can play around Submerge) then I will jam almost every time. Also, if we are behind (say we have mulliganed and our opponent has some pressure and they have managed to remove all of our Life from the Loams with Surgical Extraction) then I will of course create a hail mary Marit Lage at first opportunity. But it is important to understand what our opponent can have and when it is appropriate to try to play around these cards. This is not easy, and it requires practice, and I still mess it up from time to time (especially when I am tired after a full day of work or if I am distracted at home with screaming kids). 

Important Cards

In this last section I have tried to highlight my thoughts on some of the most important cards in the Lands vs Delver matchup.

Wasteland (from our side)

Wasteland is one of our best cards in the matchup as their deck only runs 14-15 colored mana sources (and only 6 lands that actually tap for coloured mana) so it’s relatively common that we can wastelock them out of the game. Here are some common situations with Wasteland and my thoughts around them.

Wasteland vs T1 Delver

We are on the Draw and our opponent leads with Volcanic Island plus Delver of Secrets. A common question from the Lands player is if we should Wasteland here or lead with Exploration (into a potential Daze). I will typically lead with Exploration as it is important to get ahead on mana in this matchup and even if they Daze the Exploration we are actually ahead on mana in this game. Here are some situations where I will lead with Wasteland though.

  1. Our opponent has mulliganed. This makes it more likely that they kept a 1 land hand and the T1 Wasteland can win this game for us.
  2. If I have kept a hand with multiple Wastelands but no answer to Dreadhorde Arcanist then I am also inclined to lead with Wasteland. This is because if they Force the Exploration, and then slams Arcanist, our hand is useless and we will most likely have lost this game on the spot. 
  3. If I suspect that our opponent runs Stifle then I am also more inclined to lead with Wasteland now when our opponent is currently tapped out. 

Wasteland vs Marit Lage

Wastelanding is a symmetrical effect i.e. it puts both players down a land so it is important to understand when to not use the Wasteland. There are typically two scenarios where it is correct to not Wasteland our opponent. 

  1. We are too far behind. Say for example that we are being beaten down with 1-2 Tarmogoyfs and our opponent has a few lands in play. In this situation our only out is to assemble Thespian Stage plus Dark Depths so we should typically not Wasteland them (even if we have Loam going) as we want to get to 4 mana faster. We also want to save our Wasteland in case our opponent finds a Wasteland of their own (as this will enable us to make a Marit Lage by wasting our opponent’s Wasteland and hence forcing them to use it (and then we can copy our Dark Depths in response to their Wasteland activation).
  2. If my plan is to make a quick Marit Lage then I typically will not use my Wasteland. Say for example that my starting hand has Wasteland and Mox Diamond and Rishadan  Port and Thespian Stage and Dark Depths. In this situation it is better to lead with Mox plus Port as we can Port our opponent T1 and T2 and still summon a Marit Lage on T3. 

Wasteland (from their side)

Wasteland is also one of their best cards as it can cut us off green mana as well as stopping us from making a Marit Lage. I think many Delver opponents will try to color screw us and this is something that we can take advantage of. Say for example that we are on the play and we have an excellent starting hand like the one below.

In this situation I will lead with Taiga into Exploration into Rishadan Port, as this will indicate that I am low on green sources, and it may trick my Delver opponent into going T1 Wasteland our Taiga (and this will put us way ahead on mana which is key in this matchup). 

Daze

Daze is a very important card in the Delver matchup and all Delver decks will run 4 copies of this card in G1. I will play around Daze if it doesn’t cost me anything such as in this sequence.

Another time when it’s free to play around Daze is if my opponent has no board on T3 and we draw Choke. In this case it’s basically free to wait until T4 to slam the Choke. Speaking about Choke, I did mention this above but, if we have resolved Choke then we need to be super careful with casting new spells as Daze will allow our Delver opponent to pick up a land and then play it out again untapped. This is extra important if we are at a low life total and afraid of Lightning Bolt.

However, in many other situations playing around Daze will mean that we end up taking too much damage just to die to a Lightning Bolt or Bolt + Arcanist + Bolt at a later stage. If our opponent is pressuring our life total then I will typically not play around Daze. What we can do instead is to sequence our spells in a way so that our opponent is being hurt by the lost land drop. Here are some basic examples of this.

  • Tabernacle Level 1.  Assume that we are on the draw and our opponent starts with Volcanic Island plus Delver. Our hand is Mox Diamond and Tabernacle and Life from the Loam and some other stuff. In this scenario I will lead with Mox Diamond as if our opponent Daze it here then we can play Tabernacle and kill the Delver.
  • Tabernacle Level 2. Let’s assume that our opponent from above replay their Volcanic Island into another Delver but then miss a few land drops. In this situation our opponent will tap their Volcanic Island every turn and hit us with the Delver. There is absolutely no reason to play around Daze at this point (if our opponent uses Daze here then they will lose their Delver at the next upkeep). I will happily ensure that I am tapped out and then cast Crop Rotation or Punishing Fire in my opponent’s end step.

Stifle

If our Delver opponent is on the play and leads with “land go” then my Stifle alarm goes haywire. If the land was a Volcanic or Tropical Island then I am 99% sure that our opponent has Stifle but if it was a fetch land then it is possible that our opponent has kept a hand with 2 fetches and Dreadhorde Arcanist. Stifle is a pain to play against as it can shut us of colors by targeting our fetches and it can also counter a Wasteland activation (or god forbid a Blast Zone activation) and it can slow down Marit Lage by one crucial turn. It cannot stop the Marit Lage completely, as if our opponent stifles the Dark Depths trigger it will just retrigger, but it can slow us down by countering the Thespian Stage activation. 

I will typically try to play around Stifle as íf our opponent holds up mana every turn then we are actually slowing them down (it is similar to a “free” Rishadan Port every turn). If we have no way to play around the Stifle then we should fetch or use our Wasteland in our opponent’s upkeep. This is because in this way we are at least making them use their mana to cast Stifle and hence they cannot spend this mana on something else until next turn.

Conclusion

Overall, much of how to play against Delver is built on the premise we led with; Delver needs to stay ahead on board. If we are able to deny them this advantage, we can usually come out ahead in the matchup. Of course, doing that takes a strong understanding of how both decks play out and the various interactions between our tools and theirs. My aim in this article has been to share my own understanding of those interactions; hopefully it has been informative.

This article was written by alli; he can be found on twitter at alli_on_mtgo.