History and Overview

Lands is a unique toolbox prison-control based deck centered in green that seeks to eek out incremental value out of its, you guessed it, lands, and ultimately run down opponents on resources while presenting inevitability. It employs powerful one mana tutors like Crop Rotation and Gamble to find the land necessary to answer any potential problem or find the engine, Life from the Loam, while seeking to abuse additional land drops/mana acceleration via Exploration, Manabond and Mox Diamond to obtain an advantage over opponents. The deck is capable of winning as early as turn two while at the same time able to play a long game with its several card advantage engines.

In terms of its prison elements, while similar strategies (Red Prison, Eldrazi Stompy, etc.) mainly employ a lockpiece (Blood Moon, Chalice of the Void) to disable large swathes of opposing decks, Lands instead opts for a similar strategy but employs different means and methods. Red Prison for example often sacrifices card quality (Chrome Mox, Simian Spirit Guide) to play a “bomb,” while Lands uniquely cycles through its deck via Life from the Loam (aka Landcestral Recall), its principal engine. The various utility lands it pitches to the graveyard such as Wasteland, The Tabernacle at the Pendrell Vale, or Rishadan Port, allow for a slow but inexorable stranglehold against many decks before closing the game out via one of several cards such as Dark Depths – Thespian’s Stage, lands that become creatures, aptly called Man-lands, or the newly arrived Field of the Dead.

Its control element instead stems from its ability to gain card advantage via Life from the Loam, ignoring 1-1 trades and countermagic, coupled with gaining an advantage by making multiple land drops each turn while stalling opponents via cards like Rishadan Port or Wasteland. Given the “uncounterability” of making simple land drops and dredging Life from the Loam, effectively making countermagic a losing prospect, it quickly buries opponents in card advantage, while slowing down their ability to play Magic by attacking their mana. Against creature decks, recursive removal like Punishing Fire is another source of card advantage.

1. Origins and First Developments

Lands has long been a staple of the legacy metagame/scene, tracing its roots back to the appearance of one of the most infamous mechanics ever, long a point of contention: Dredge. Life from the Loam, appearing in the 36th expansion titled Ravnica: City of Guilds released on October 7th, 2005, birthed the Lands archetype as a whole, allowing for repeated usage and cycling of unique lands, (Wasteland, Tabernacle, and Rishadan Port, to name a few) and land drops to gain incremental advantage.

In this period Lands was very much a control deck, using the aforementioned lands to gain an edge, while relying on artifacts such as Engineered Explosives as a general answer to troublesome permanents that could arise. Explosives and other artifacts could be reused via Academy Ruins, while cards like Barbarian Ring, Man-Lands like Mishra’s Factory or Nantuko Monastery, and even Mindslaver functioned as win conditions once a position of dominance had been established over the opponent.

However, the main pitfall of the deck was the length of time most games required, as a fast means of winning was simply non-existent. This would eventually change, thanks to a technicality.

2. The First Evolution: the Transition to a More Focused Combo Deck

On July 19th 2013, the archetype would be forever changed, as an update to the game rules rules was enacted, in particular a revision of the so called “Legend Rule,” which reads as follows:

Rule 704.5j: If a player controls two or more legendary permanents with the same name, that player chooses one of them,and the rest are put into their owners’ graveyards. This is called the “legend rule.”

This allowed players to choose which legendary permanent would be kept in play should two appear on the battlefield at any given time; a choice that would occur as a state-based action.

Thus, together with the printing of Thespian’s Stage in the 2013 expansion titled “Gatecrash,” it became possible to copy Dark Depths to quickly and easily create a 20/20 flying, indestructible Marit Lage token. This combo element required only 2 mana along with Dark Depths and Thespian’s Stage to be present on the battlefield. At that point, the controller of Thespian’s Stage could copy Dark Depths, resulting in a Depths with no ice counters and thus triggering its sacrifice clause, resulting in the creation of the token.

Not to mention the inherent power of playing a potential 8 copies of any land, the printing of Thespian’s Stage and the modification of the Legend rule previously mentioned gave a much needed burst of speed to the deck, permitting it to close out games far faster than before. Let’s take a closer look at how exactly the combo works:

The Combo:
1) Designate Dark Depths as the target of the copy ability of Thespian’s Stage.
2) Thespian’s Stage copy ability resolves. At this point there are typically now two Dark Depths on the battlefield under our control, one with 10 ice counters and one (the copy) with
3) As part of the ”Legend Rule”, we are required to choose which Dark Depths we want to keep, and naturally we choose the one with no counters on it.
4) Dark Depths’ sacrifice clause triggers, and we sacrifice it to make a 20/20 indestructible Marit Lage Token.

This can be done as early as turn 1, with the following sample hand : Thespian’s Stage, Dark Depths, Riftstone Portal, Mox Diamond, Mox Diamond, Exploration, any land. The combo is often presented on turn 2 or later however, depending on the matchup.

The raw power of this combo caused the archetype to move away from its older RUG version, which relied on artifact recursion and man-lands to win, to a more combo-focused one, eschewing some of the controlling elements to make the Depths-Stage interaction more consistent and easier to assemble. This new deck would come to be known as RG Combo Lands.

This list is what could be considered standard, stock. It is the tried and true formula, and the most well-known form of Lands known today. However, as time went on, Legacy and Magic as a whole underwent serious upheavals due to changes in design philosophy, and the tried and true core was shown to be lacklustre in certain areas, requiring supplemental cards to shore up its weak points.

3. Legacy After 2015

During the period between the beginning of 2016 and the Spring of 2017, Legacy enjoyed a stable, if arguably somewhat stagnant, metagame. Lands was positioned as one of the top decks, given its ability to prey on control decks like UW Miracles, which was in turn generally accepted as one of the premier decks of the format during this time period. Miracles’ relatively useless creature removal in the form of Terminus and Swords to Plowshares coupled with the inefficiency of its countermagic in the face of the Loam engine would ensure that Lands enjoyed a privileged position in the matchup.

Add to this the power of Tabernacle and the ability to deal with fair creature decks, Lands’ position as one of the better decks in the format was all but assured.

Many matchups presented little to no problems, outside of the matchups that are notoriously hard (fast combo mainly in the form of Storm and Sneak and Show/Omnitell)

However, in April 2017 Miracles saw the banning of Sensei’s Divining Top, due to time constraints during matches. This meant Miracles losing what used to be a central element of the deck’s strategy since it could no longer set up Counterbalance and the various ”miracle” cards like Terminus and Entreat the Angels as easily and reliably as before.

With the fall of Miracles came the rise of 3 and 4 colour decks (called ”piles”, as they played piles of good cards), powered by Deathrite Shaman. This went on for a while, to the detriment of Lands, as the ”one mana planeswalker” could exile both our engine Life from the Loam and the plethora of singleton Lands played as a toolbox.

Deathrite Shaman was a dominant force in the metagame until both it and Gitaxian Probe were found to be ”too good” in Grixis (UBR) Delver. Deathrite Shaman allowed for turn 2 True Name Nemesis, fixed mana and made splashes trivial thanks to the power of fetchlands, all the while presenting a clock, while Probe, being a free spell a vast majority of the time, made churning through one’s deck far too easy.

Hence both cards left the format, and Lands was once again positioned to prey on the various decks in the format, now that its ”Enemy N°1”, had been eliminated from the format.

Then 2019 happened, and Legacy was changed forever.

4. Legacy after 2019

Undoubtedly, the year 2019 ushered in more changes for Legacy (and for other formats as well), and Magic as whole, than any other year hitherto. In the period between January 2019 and January 2020, many archetypes were revolutionized, many rendered obsolete. New decks sprung up, and other decks fell into darkness. The format was irrevocably transformed, as set after set presented a flood of cards that completely reshaped the Legacy landscape, redefining Magic as a game and shaking it to its very foundations. (To highlight this shift in design, I have indicated which cards have been restricted or banned in one format or another).

In chronological order the main sets that have come out since Jan 2019 are:
-Ravnica Allegiance
-War of the Spark
-Modern Horizons
-Core 2020
-Throne of Eldraine
-Theros Beyond Death

Among these, there are a slew of cards that have entered the meta and affected it to varying degrees, in chronological order (based on set) these are:

  • Ravnica Allegiance
    • Cindervines
    • Lavinia, Azorius Renegade
  • War of the Spark
    • Dreadhorde Arcanist
    • Narset, Parter of Veils (Restricted in Vintage)
    • Teferi, Time Raveler
    • Karn the Great Creator (Restricted in Vintage)
    • Ashiok, Dream Render
    • Tomik, Distinguished Advokist
    • Ugin, the Ineffable
    • Blast Zone
  • Modern Horizons
    • Wrenn and Six (Banned in Legacy)
    • Force of Negation
    • Force of Vigor
    • Arcum’s Astrolabe
    • Plague Engineer
    • Collector Ouphe
    • Ice-Fang Coatl
    • Urza, Lord High Artificer
    • Echo of Eons
    • Hexdrinker
    • Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis (Banned in Modern)
    • Canopy Land Cycle (Sunbaked Canyon, Waterlogged Grove, Silent Clearing,
    • Nurturing Peatland, Fiery Islet)
    • Prismatic Vista
    • Dead of Winter
  • Core 2020
    • Veil of Summer (Banned in Standard and Pioneer)
    • Elvish Reclaimer
    • Field of the Dead (Banned in Standard and Pioneer)
    • Golos, Tireless Pilgrim
    • Chandra, Awakened Inferno
  • Throne of Eldraine
    • Oko, Thief of Crowns (Banned in Standard, Pioneer and Modern)
    • Once Upon a Time (Banned in Standard and Pioneer)
    • Wishclaw Talisman
    • Brazen Borrower
    • Mystic Sanctuary
    • Emry, Lurker of the Loch
  • Theros Beyond Death
    • Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
    • Thassa’s Oracle
    • Underworld Breach (Banned in Legacy)
    • Dryad of the Ilysian Grove
    • Klothys, God of Destiny

While many of these cards stop certain archetypes in their tracks (Plague En- gineer vs Tribal Decks, Teferi, Time Raveler in control matchups), of particular note for Lands are the following, which can be divided into two groups:

Cards that improved Lands or spawned new lists:

  • Wrenn and Six
  • Blast Zone
  • Field of the Dead
  • Force of Vigor
  • Veil of Summer
  • Elvish Reclaimer
  • Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
  • Oko, Thief of Crowns

Cards that improved other decks’ matchups against Lands:

  • Wrenn and Six
  • Force of Negation
  • Arcum’s Astrolabe
  • Dreadhorde Arcanist
  • Brazen Borrower
  • Mystic Sanctuary
  • Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
  • Underworld Breach

Some of these, like Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, Oko, Thief of Crowns, Field of the Dead, Force of Vigor, and Elvish Reclaimer, have become stock in Lands lists, both in the main 60 and in the sideboard. Others have been banned, and still others present now-common elements of opposing strategies that one must be ready for.

To learn more about Lands, explore the different archetypes, from the classic RG build and its close relative Jund Lands to the more unique blue-based lists like BUG and RUG.