RG Lands is the traditional tried and true list, which uses the extra spots primarily to make use of the following red cards:
- Punishing Fire and Grove of the Burnwillows
- Faithless Looting
- Pyroblast/Red Elemental Blast
- Molten Vortex (more rarely)
As can be seen, the coloured mana base is split into:
- 2 Taiga
- 1 Forest
- 3-4 Grove of the Burnwillows
- 3-5 Green Fetches
That, together with Mox Diamond and our choice of canopy land, gives us around 14-17 untapped green sources, which is generally plenty to play all our spells. Note that here, unlike nonred builds, 3-4 of the 6 ”untapped green sources” mentioned in the Core Lands section are occupied by Grove of the Burnwillows for the combo with Punishing Fire.
Let’s consider why the addition of red is so powerful, and also what made adding red alone unappealing (although definitely still viable) as time went on.
While once an obligatory 3-4 of, the card has lost equity given the increase in speed of legacy compared to 5 years ago. In the past, Gamble was a pseudo one-mana Demonic Tutor in our deck, as its discard clause is rarely relevant (and can be lessened with proper sequencing). Now, however, it no longer holds the privileged position it used to enjoy, given the increased density of counter magic and its weakness in games 2 and 3. After all, when one is bringing in many sideboard cards that do not have graveyard synergy, Gamble can be less effective.
Some versions of Lands even eschew Gamble altogether for Entomb or card selection via Sylvan Library. Playing at least 2 copies is ideal if you have access to red, and I wouldn’t personally go any lower. A great card, yet not as essential as before.
Verdict: Play 2-4
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Punishing Fire was once premier control card against creature strategies, while also allowing for a slow, sure wincon. Now, however, it has all but been ”power crept” out of the format. Legacy has seen a large shift to creatures and planeswalkers with higher toughness and higher loyalty abilities, making 2 damage trivial. Among the ”must kill” cards for Lands, Dreadhorde Arcanist and Oko, Thief of Crowns, have demonstrated the limitations of the 2 mana burn spell.
Add the exile clause on Force of Negation to the mix, and we can understand why Punishing Fire has lost some of the potency it once enjoyed. It is still worthy of consideration, but recent innovations such as Abrupt Decay and Oko, Thief of Crowns have made it a secondary choice in the current meta. 0-2 copies is sufficient in RGx, more in straight RG, as it is still the most synergistic removal spell available to RG Lands.
A few notes on how to play Punishing Fire are in order. First, when using Punishing Fire to deal with creatures that depend on the graveyard for their power and toughness (Knight of the Reliquary, Tarmogoyf ), it is highly recommended to play Punishing Fire on the target first, and then Crop Rotate for Bojuka Bog, as this will avoid blowouts (especially relevant with the activated ability of Knight of the Reliquary). The creature will die as a state-based effect rather than allowing opponents any window to respond. Second, be aware that since Grove of the Burnwillows is a mana ability, it can return Punishing Fire at any time even through Extirpate and split second effects.
Verdict: Play 3-4
Valakut Exploration was one of the best cards printed for Lands in 2020. For a full deep dive on the card, check the article here.
To sum the article up, Valakut Exploration serves as an excellent engine for our deck, digging us deeper and filling our graveyard for Loam. It can even sometimes kill opponents through damage, especially if you get multiple stacked. You’ll usually want to play it with another land drop available to you so that you can get value from it right away. Note also that if it is destroyed, cards exiled with it remain available, and if you trigger landfall on your opponent’s turn, those cards remain exiled and available through your next turn. Overall, the card is a powerful piece and has largely replaced Gamble in red lists.
Verdict: play 2-3
A viable alternative to Gamble, it has been played to some success in an attempt to make Lands less susceptible to discarding Gambled cards when such cards are not recurrable from the graveyard. A great way of digging through your deck and finding key pieces, the flashback is a strong upside and works very well with an active Sylvan Library. Regardless, the card lacks the explosiveness of Gamble, as well as the efficiency the latter offers. Great in slower metagames with high numbers of grindy or control decks, it is worse in faster ones with lots of combo, so inclusion will hinge upon such. Decision of how many copies to play (or even if to include it in the main 60) are wholly left up to the pilot.
Verdict: Play 0-3
Klothys, God of Destiny
A very new addition to the Lands collection of played cards, Klothys has recently seen play as a ways of presenting a win condition without being reliant on the sideboard. Given its ability to exile cards from graveyards, it works as a slow method of removing problematic cards from the aforementioned zone, in particular cards like Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath or even opposing Life from the Loams or Punishing Fires. While too slow to provide efficient graveyard hate against faster decks that rely on the zone as a method of comboing off, it provides incremental value while being a nigh-unremovable win condition in slower, grindier matchups. In particular, Klothys can be backbreaking against slow control decks such as 4C Snowko, and the lifegain it provides can be helpful against Delver.
Definitely worth of a slot in the maindeck or in the sideboard, depending on personal preference.
Verdict: play 0-2
As already mentioned, Lands has recently gotten a series of cards that have been a boon to both the maindeck and the sideboard. Cards typically played in the SB in RG (in addition to the previously mentioned green sideboard cards played across several colour combinations) include the following:
- Pyroblast/Red Elemental Blast
- Ancient Grudge
- Molten Vortex
- Chandra, Awakened Inferno
- Kozilek’s Return
Pyroblast/Red Elemental Blast
A great sideboard tool, as it helps fight through countermagic and, more importantly, destroys Oko, Thief of Crowns, as well as gets rid of Back to Basics and deals with True Name Nemesis on the stack. It can even be brought in against combo decks to disrupt their cantrips of target Echo of Eons. Arguably the main reason to be on Red currently, together with the flexibility of Gamble. Worthy of a couple sideboard spots, as it deals with many problematic cards. Usually played in 0-2 copies.
A relatively recent edition, it sees play as both a hedge against Storm based combo decks, while providing outs to pesky enchantments and artifacts that may hinder our gameplan.
Recently it has seen less play in favour of Force of Vigor. Usually played in 0-2 copies.
An old piece of tech from the past, generally is superseded by better options (mainly Force of Vigor), as its inability to destroy enchantments is a huge negative; most permanant graveyard hate pieces are enchantments. Valuable in metas with lots of 12 Post or Eldrazi Prison or any deck that plays a large amount of artifacts. Decent also against Death and Taxes for equipment, Aether Vial and Phyrexian Revoker. Usually played in 0-2 copies.
The red removal spell of choice for larger creatures in classic RG builds, its mana intensive activation works against it however, as it has a hard time killing high toughness creatures or high loyalty planeswalkers due to the few red sources the deck contains. Some lists play it maindeck, some bring it in as a flexible sideboard option against creature decks or as an additional hedge alongside Tabernacle. Usually played in 0-2 copies
Chandra, Awakened Inferno
This recent addition to the pool of sideboard choices wreaks havok on Ux/Uxx decks. Its uncounterability, together with its ability to keep the board clear via its -3 and present a very fast clock via its +2, make for a potent combination against decks that traditionally have difficulty answering planewalkers. A must in control heavy metas, it also does effective work against tribal strategies, Death & Taxes, and Esper Vial. Usually played in 0-2 copies
Another blast from the past, it is game-winning when coupled with Boseiju, Who Shelters All. Destroying all of your opponent’s islands is not to be un- derestimated in a format rife with blue mana such as Legacy is. It is a powerful tool once again in metagames in which blue decks are highly represented. Recently, however it has somewhat dropped off in favour of more impactful cards. Usually played in 0-2 copies
A great sweeper, especially against go wide strategies, its most important application is the ability to get around protection given from Mother of Runes out of Death and Taxes and Maverick/Junk style decks, thanks to the keyword Devoid. While Drop of Honey is favoured as its ability gets around power and toughness, this is a perfectly valid substitute. Usually played in 0-2 copies.
Experimental Frenzy, like Tireless Tracker and other cards of that ilk, serves as a card advantage engine that does not rely on the graveyard. With it in play we can quickly churn through our deck, especially with an Exploration in play. Compared to Tracker and Sylvan Library it has the advantage of (1) not being hit by Abrupt Decay and (2) giving access to a lot of cards quite quickly, for less mana.
Sample RG Deck and Hands
Having concluded our sideboard options (there are many others, but we have listed the most common ones) let us take a look at a sample decklist and some opening hands.
Below is a classic RG Lands list, taken from Freya Sanford’s Leaving a Legacy Open VI, 1st Place finish on 2/20/2020:
Freya’s list was unique in that she actually chose to play no Sphere’s in her sideboard, and called her build (S)phere-less Lands. Instead of leaning on Sphere to help in combo matchups, she chose to rely on simply enacting her own combo faster; hence the full 4 Dark Depths in the maindeck. Here we’ve changed the sideboard to be somewhat more typical, but Freya’s original list can be found here.
Now let’s take a look at some sample hands. For sake of simplicity, we will consider all hands as being on the play (unless indicated otherwise).
This hand is rather bad. While we have all our heavy hitters, between answers to creature decks with Punishing Fire and Tabernacle, a way to dig for combo/utility lands with Sylvan Library and Crop Rotation, and our engine Life from the Loam we have little coloured mana, no acceleration, and can’t cast anything. We have better sixes, especially with the London mulligan at our disposal.
This hand is great, a snap keep. We have our engine card, ways to cast it, and effectively the combo in hand between Crop Rotation and Dark Depths. The hand may be slightly soft to creature decks, but access to go wide or go tall strategies are rectified by Tabernacle or Maze of Ith, both which can be found off of Crop Rotation if needed. Card to put back: Forest.
An excellent hand. We have acceleration via Mox Diamond and Exploration, Life from the Loam in hand thanks to Gamble, and Maze of Ith for creature decks or Rishadan Port for combo. The hand is rather soft to fast combo, as well a counter on Gamble, but that counter can to some extent be baited out by playing Exploration.
The hand is slow, and definitely keepable in known matchups. I’d err on the side of keep, especially in a world with Force of Negation, as we have two Loams in hand as a safeguard against it. Punishing Fire, though lacking Grove, is good for the first couple turns while we dig with Loam. Rishadan Port also works in our favour against combo decks, and Misty Rainforest ensures mana stability. I would keep, even more so on the draw.
This is a classic example of a hand that looks great, but is in fact terrible. This is primarily because of 2 things. First, don’t keep hands that ramp into nothing. This seven looks great at a first glance, but at a closer look we can’t fight off creature decks adequately, as we have Grove but no Punishing Fire. In a creature matchup Crop Rotation for Tabernacle is decent, but then we throw away our ability to assemble the combo should we find either Thespian’s Stage or Dark Depths.
Second, this hand has no way of digging for Life from the Loam. We have Exploration, which is always ideal in an opener, but we can’t abuse it without Life from the Loam. In general, do not keep hands that have no way of finding Life from the Loam. It cannot be overstated how essential Life from the Loam is (at least in G1) and finding it should be a pilot’s utmost priority. This hand presents no way to assemble the engine, and as such cannot be considered in the blind. An easy mulligan.
However, if the 7 card hand had Thespian’s Stage over say, Ghost Quarter, this hand becomes very very good in certain matchups, mainly combo ones, as it allows us to assemble the combo very quickly while staving them off, which is the best the deck can do in faster matchups, where it suffers. By switching Ghost Quarter for Thespian’s Stage, the hand becomes:
We now can play out Mox Diamond pitching Grove of the Burnwillows, play Exploration with Mox, play Rishadan Port and Thespian’s Stage and threaten to combo off the next turn with Wasteland. The hand is rather all in, but such hands can be very good against fast combo decks like Reanimator and Storm, where Lands suffers, or against decks that have few answers to Combo. Indeed, this hand can even play around opposing Wastelands and Karakas with its own Wasteland and Port.
This six is decent, as we can put back a Punishing Fire, have enough mana to cast all our spells, and can dig for Loam with Sylvan Library. A bit on the slow side, but definitely a keepable hand. Tabernacle and Maze of Ith help us against creature decks, though we’ll have to make a choice between the two. Personally I’d keep Maze of Ith and discard Tabernacle, as Maze of Ith and Punishing Fire allows us to deal with 2 creatures with more ease in comparison to Tabernacle and Punishing Fire.
However, the Legacy metagame is rife with change compared to even 3 months prior to the writing of this primer. The format is in constant flux, and the appearance of Dreadhorde Arcanist, Oko, Thief of Crowns, Force of Negation and Brazen Borrower just to name a few have made straight, combo focused RG, unappealing in general. Answers were looked for, and found. Innovation, new card printings and the reworking of lists and manabases as a whole caused the archetype to splinter in different flavours/colours, which can be mainly classified in order of popularity as follows: RGb (Jund), RG, BUG (Sultai), UG, and RUG (Temur).
Make no mistake, the classic RG list is very, very good. It is perfectly capable of performing at the highest levels in the hands of a skilled pilot, and is a great choice for any tournament, and is the go to list for any Lands player. However, Lands at this time tends to be built as a three colour deck. This concludes the discussion of the classic RG builds of Lands.