Principally developed after the release of Oko, Thief of Crowns, BUG Lands seeks to push the envelope even further, by completely eschewing the age old splash for red (and thus Gamble and Punishing Fire) for Abrupt Decay, Oko, Thief of Crowns and strong sideboard cards. The deck seeks to take an even more controlling role in most matchups, by leveraging the powerful removal BUG colours have access to, while losing a little of the red builds’ consistency and explosiveness because of the lack of Gamble.
It makes up for this by playing a higher density of individually strong cards, allowing it to accrue more card quality on a card by card basis and have answers to all the troublesome cards thrown at it. In particular, Oko provides not merely an additional answer, but an additional threat that can overtax opposing countermagic and win games single-handedly. And in addition to Oko in the maindeck, the access to blue opens up a number of strong sideboard options as well.
In addition to core cards mentioned previously in the Core Spells section, and a reworking of the manabase to accomodate our colour intense spells, we have access to the following cards maindeck:
Oko, Thief of Crowns
Oko singlehandedly makes the blue splash more than worth any potential downsides stemming from mana instability. The card does amazing amounts of work in every UGx colour combination. If in doubt, try some copies yourself! We can even play it as early as turn 1, thanks toMox Diamond!
But why is this little elk-maker broken, you say? And what does this have to do with Lands? Let’s take a closer look at its abilities, see how it could fit in a Lands deck, and then look at the evolutions and changes it brought to the archetype.
+2: Create a food token
On its own, “Create a food token” is nothing particularly overpowered. A food token is merely an artifact which reads “Pay 2 colourless mana, sacrifice this artifact: Gain 3 life.” Decent for stabilizing, it helps stave off life loss or creature pressure. But this is hardly impressive until you consider the second ability of Oko, Thief of Crowns:
+1: Target artifact or creature loses all abilities and becomes a green Elk creature with base power and toughness 3/3.
This is possibly the most powerful non-ultimate effect to ever be printed on a 3 mana planeswalker, and it is an ability that increases loyalty. The applications of this ability are limitless. The first and most obvious example is turning a food token into a 3/3 elk, and creating a 3/3 elk every other turn thereafter. But using Oko’s second + ability on opposing creatures and artifacts is where it really starts to show it’s strength. Consider all of those pesky creatures that have activated abilities, or high power/toughness that make them hard to deal with in a Lands shell. Knight of the Reliquary, Tarmogoyf, Emrakul, Grislebrand, Sanctum Prelate, Aether Vial, Chalice of the Void, flying blockers for Marit Lage… the list goes on. Oko serves as an answer to all of them.
And that isn’t even considering its third (ultimate) ability, which it can use after one +2 activation and still stay on board. This third ability reads as follows:
Ability N°3 (Ultimate):
-5: Exchange control of target artifact or creature you control and target creature an opponent controls with power 3 or less.
This ability lets you trade your almost useless food artifacts for your opponent’s best creature, to name a simple application. Trading a food artifact for a Monastery Mentor? Absolutely.
How about a small Knight of the Reliquary? Definitely.
Once again, the uses of Oko’s 3 abilities are only limited by your imagination. The card is a staple in every format it is legal in, and it is hard not to see why. While Oko Thief of Crowns is at home in several decks, it is notably in harmony with a series of cards Lands already plays; those being Sylvan Library (thanks to the lifegain offsetting card draw) and Maze of Ith (it can stonewall opposing elks and “reduce the herd”), as well as providing a maindeck answer to troublesome creatures or artifacts together with a win condition that is independent of the graveyard. Thus Lands stands to gain a lot from playing Oko, and it is unexpectedly right at home in what is essentially, a control deck.
However, as good as Oko is, it still suffers in the fast combo matchups, as all planeswalkers generally do. Still, playing 3 is generally the accepted norm.
Verdict: Play 3
Not much more can be said about this card that has not already been said. In BUG it serves as our primary removal of choice, and subsequently more copies are ideal. Even though Wrenn and Six no longer is present in the format, there are still many permanents with converted mana cost 3 and less that we want gone as soon as possible, and Abrupt Decay is almost always surefire answer to all of them (big ones being Dreadhorde Arcanist and Oko, Thief of Crowns). We play at least 2, though 3 is preferred, and 4 would not be amiss if there was room.
Verdict: Play 2-3
Drown in the Loch
Another powerful card that has seen widespread play across several formats, Drown in the Loch is a useful tool for dealing with permanents as well as fighting on the stack. It is great in certain situations, and can easily catch opponents by surprise, as well as act as a catch-all removal for creatures provided its conditions are met. However, its conditions are sometimes steep, and it requires some planning to play optimally. Generally played as a 2 of, it can have a higher ceiling but also a lower floor in comparison to Abrupt Decay.
Verdict: Play 2-3
Entomb is a very powerful one mana tutor and a longstanding staple of graveyard decks such as Reanimator. Given the lack of Gamble in BUG lists, attempts were made to find a suitable alternative, and Entomb was a prime can- didate. The ability to tutor at instant speed makes for a very powerful option in black, even more so with lists moving towards Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. However, it is unable to get cards like Exploration, as one has no way of returning them in BUG colours.
Verdict: Play 1-2
Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
Yet another powerful 2019/2020 card making waves in older formats, Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath synergizes marvelously with our deck. While somewhat difficult to cast, the ability to make an extra land drop, gain 3 life and draw a card are very powerful at 3 mana, giving us a powerful engine all in one card. A hard to remove card thanks to its recursion, it cannot be countered by Force of Negation, and its resilience to removal makes it a powerful threat. Playing wonderfully with Manabond, as one can discard it turn 1 to escape it later turns, Uro is quite the addition to any UGx build. Life from the Loam feeds its escape ability quite well too, leveraged also by decks such as 4C Loam. Played at least as a singleton copy maindeck, its inclusion has a very low floor and a very high ceiling.
Verdict: Play 1-3
While often played in Delver decks as a way to counter activated abilities (especially those of fetchlands), it occupies a similar role here, providing great ”gotcha” moments in addition to an extra source of mana denial. It’s worthy of some consideration depending on meta, but it has not really a necessary staple in any particular build. Worth experimenting with if one so desires, it is more often than not a bit cute, and slots are better used elsewhere.
Verdict: Play according to personal taste and based on experimentation.
The blue splash really shines when it comes to sideboard options. Among the commonly played green cards traditionally played as well as sideboard cards permitted by the black splash, the following cards are also played in various amounts:
An excellent and flexible choice against combo decks, like ANT/Storm, Reanimator and Sneak and Show/Omnitell, it is a great way to fight on the stack in the matchups where Lands often suffers. In addition to that, it can be a great way of taxing opponent’s mana when used in conjunction with the classic mana denial elements Lands offers. Great also against countermagic like Force of Will, it however loses equity in the face of planeswalkers. A decent inclusion in combo heavy metas, however typically Lands prefers permanent based hate, as it is relatively incapable of fighting on the stack, and seeking to fight on such an axis is a losing prospect. When played, it is generally played in 2-3 copies.
While occupying a similar role to Flusterstorm in several matchups, its upside is being able to also counter troublesome planeswalkers and fight on the stack against the myriad of combo decks Legacy has to offer. Good also against countermagic, just as Flusterstorm is, choosing either is valid depending on meta. Usually played in 2-3 copies.
The final of the three counterspells typically played (the others being Spell Pierce and Flusterstorm) in BUG builds, it has the highest upside of the three, while also having the lowest floor. It is great in counter wars and against spell heavy combo decks, as it is able to exile any number of spells. The exile clause is especially important in a Veil of Summer world, as Mindbreak Trap cares little for the ”cannot be countered” clause on Veil of Summer. A great choice, especially during the Jeskai Breach era, it has fallen somewhat out of use, as meeting the ”three spell” clause can be somewhat difficult. Still, a great choice, dependant on personal preference. Usually played in 2-3 copies.
Ashiok, Dream Render
Not much more can be said about this card, as it has already been talked about in the Jund part of the primer. Regardless, in BUG builds, seeing as there is a lack of library manipulation in the form of Gamble, it gains some upside as we can mill ourselves to search for Loam and look for silver bullet lands. Usually played as a 1-2 of.
Sample BUG Deck and Hands
On the following page we will take a look at a sample decklist and some potential hands, to determine what can be kept and what should be mulliganed.
This deck runs the usual 3 Oko and 3 Abrupt Decay in the maindeck, and uses black for Leyline and Ashiok in the sideboard. Reclaimer in the board is a strong choice in these colors as well, since it allows us both to block troublesome creatures like Arcanist out of Delver and to produce a clock against combo. Where red-based versions of Lands might have Pyroblast in its place, BUG uses Reclaimer to great effect. Note also that here, as is often the case, BUG Lands pays 3 Sylvan Library. This is because without access to Gamble, we are more dependent on non-Loam sources of card advantage. Library also has excellent synergy with Oko’s food tokens.
With that, let’s turn to some sample hands.
This hand presents a turn one Sylvan Library, and has tools to find the combo or utility lands as needed thanks to Crop Rotation. There are probably stronger sixes, but generally this hand is perfectly fine. The obvious play is to play Library turn 1, unless against a combo deck, in which case holding up Crop Rotation may be the better play.
This hand may seem very good at first glance, and if we draw a fetchland it would be possibly be keepable. However upon closer inspection we see that this hand is very slow, and cannot cast anything besides Crop Rotation. A faster deck like Delver could easily put us on the back foot, and having our Crop Rotation countered most likely results in a loss. This hand has to go back, as we’re also missing acceleration.
This hand is very strong. We have our premier engine in Loam, an answer to any problematic non-land permanent played the first couple turns in Abrupt Decay, half of the Dark Depths combo and mana to cast all our spells. Hand is definitely a keep, and we either put back Karakas, Dark Depths or Rishadan Port depending on the matchup. Here I’d probably put back Karakas.
As BUG Lands developed after the printing of Oko, it became apparent that it was in many ways quite different from the classic red-based lists. Without Gamble and Punishing Fire, the deck’s play patterns ended up being quite different, though still quite strong. In BUG, each individual card is more powerful, as Oko serves as a stand-alone threat. The trade-off for this was diminished access to Life from the Loam. Thus BUG Lands is a strong option for those who want to access to Lands’ powerful engines without depending as heavily on the graveyard. Indeed, it is likely the most popular option next to Jund due to its flexibility. With that, we conclude the BUG section of the primer.