Here we’ll take a look at the core lands typically played in our deck. These can be divided into 4 principal groups, based on their functions: “Coloured Mana,” “Mana Denial/Control,” “Win Conditions,” and “Silver Bullets.”
Group 1: Coloured Mana
These lands let us cast our spells, and in some cases, serve as recursion enablers. The typical modern Lands manabase consists of:
- 6 Untapped green mana sources/duals (for example, in classic RG builds this is generally 2 Taiga and 3/4 Grove of the Burnwillows)
- 1 Forest
- 3-5 Green Fetchlands (Verdant Catacombs, Misty Rainforest, Windswept Heath, or Wooded Foothills)
Fetches that do not get green mana/basic forest are not worthy of consideration, as it is essential to have access to green mana for Life from the Loam. The basic forest allows us to play around Blood Moon and Back to Basics, making it essential in the deck, as well as giving us the ability to play Life from the Loam without worrying about opposing Wastelands.
Group 2: Mana Denial and Control
The deep card pool of the legacy format makes available a plethora of lands by means of which our deck can assert control in a matchup. These can be broken down into two primary angles of attack: Mana Denial and Creature Management. Our Mana Denial comes mainly from the legacy pillar Wasteland.
This card is a common sight in Legacy. Delver and Death and Taxes use it primarily as a tempo play capable of putting an opponent off a colour and weakening their mana, and in order to punish greedy manabases full of non basic lands. Lands, however, takes this card to the extreme. Where the previously mentioned decks seek to use it as a tempo play, in Lands it pairs with Life from the Loam to become a virtual win condition, as it impedes our opponent from playing Magic by cutting them off of the most fundamental of resources and often results in concessions.
Verdict: Play 4
Accompanying Wasteland is Rishadan Port for basic land hate. It is excellent for taxing our opponents mana in addition to cutting them off colours. It works especially well with The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale if the opponent is playing creatures. Anywhere between 3-4 copies is where you want to be, as it is a boon in the faster combo matchups, allowing us to slow opposing decks down in order to get to the midgame and set up our various locks.
A few notes on how to play Rishadan Port:
– The decision as to what color one should port can be complex. In general, you should port the color that enables your opponent’s most powerful sorcery-speed cards, and the color they have least of. Porting blue often seems right as blue decks play many blue spells, but remember that many blue spells are instants or even just free, and your opponent is more likely to have a blue land to play for the turn than a land of any other color.
– Always activate Rishadan Port on your opponents lands after your opponent has paid for Tabernacle triggers, not before. They pass priority in their upkeep after the Tabernacle triggers resolve, giving you a window to tax their mana further.
– Rishadan Port can also be used proactively, if one has the means of assembling the combo on the end of an opponent’s turn. Tapping down white sources is a great way to shut off potential Swords to Plowshares on our Marit Lage token, and you can also use it to force action on Wastelands or Karakas.
A complete guide focusing on Port itself can be found here.
Verdict: Play 3-4
Effectively Wasteland number 5 in a non-zero number of matchups, it is preferable to have an additional way of destroying opposing lands in the face of cards like Sorcerous Spyglass, Pithing Needle and Surgical Extraction targeting Wasteland. In those cases, Ghost Quarter allows us to continue our mana denial plan even through these hindrances. At least 1 is the suggested amount, as it still gives our opponents basics.
Ghost Quarter can also be turned into a virtual Strip Mine if one’s opponent does not have basics in their deck. To do this, it is important to know how many basics on average any deck plays. Familiarizing oneself with such gives you an edge over your opponents, as you know how many Ghost Quarter activations are required before it becomes Strip Mine. A good example of this is against Ad Nauseam Tendrils, which generally plays 2-3 basics, where cutting them off, say black mana, can mean the difference between a win and a loss. For info on basic land counts, we have set up a list of decks and their common basic land counts here.
Ghost Quarter can also be used to fix your own mana or play around Price of Progress. Be aware also that the land it brings into play comes into play untapped; use it on your opponent only when it will be ok to give them an extra mana source this turn.
Verdict: Play 1
The Tabernacle at the Pendrell Vale
This is the crown jewel of our mana denial suite, and the best land in our deck. It singlehandedly turns entire matchups and boardstates in our favour, allowing us to beat otherwise unbeatable decks, such as Goblins, Elves, and turn 1 Empty the Warrens, just to name a couple. The land also severely hampers creature focused decks such as Death and Taxes and Maverick, while weakening go wide strategies presented by Young Pyromancer and Monastery Mentor.
Because of its price, people often ask if owning a Tabernacle is necessary to play Lands. The answer is yes. The deck loses a significant amount of its power without it and is mostly unplayable otherwise. Many unwinnable situations become trivial with this land on the battlefield. In the past 1-2 were played, between the main 60 and the side 15. Nowadays only 1 is necessary, but at least 1 is required.
A few quick notes on how the card works:
– Tabernacle’s effect is worded such that the ability is given to each creature, hence the creature’s controller owns it. They are therefore required to remember it in their upkeep. In the past, if they forgot, it would be assumed that they chose not to pay. Now, should your opponent forget, it is your job to remind them as soon as possible.
– Tabernacle’s effect destroys a creature. Therefore, indestructible creatures are immune to its effect. This naturally applies to Marit Lage as well.
– Because of layers, Oko, Thief of Crowns +1 ability removes the Tabernacle effect creatures gain as they enter the battlefield. This is because Oko’s +1 ability occurs in layer 4, while Tabernacle’s ability is applied in layer 6. This can be easily circumvented by replaying Tabernacle, if necessary.
Verdict: Play 1
Maze of Ith
Where Tabernacle punishes go wide strategies, Maze of Ith punishes go tall strategies, keeping us from taking lots of damage off one large creature, the main ones being Tarmogoyf and Gurmag Angler. We generally want 1 in a list, but many play 2+, as it has synergy with Oko, Thief of Crowns. Note also that Maze can be used to give your creatures a kind of pseudo-vigilance. Simply activate it on your attacking creature after damage but still during combat. At that point it is too late for the damage to be prevented, but the creature still is untapped. In certain cases it can be better to have a Marit Lage with vigilance than to untap your opponent’s attackers.
Verdict: Play 1-2
Glacial Chasm, with its unique and powerful ability, used to be a staple in the deck as a means of preventing damage. With the increased speed of Legacy, however, “Wastelanding” oneself (in terms of the sacrifice clause on Glacial Chasm) to stave off a loss has become less than ideal, as other, arguably more powerful cards that both fill the same role and yet have other uses. The main reason for it falling out of favour is the logic that it ”keeps you from losing” rather than ”helps you win”.
That said, Glacial Chasm can still single-handedly win certain matchups, primarily against decks that lack both countermagic and ways to deal with lands (Burn, Elves, and Merfolk are examples here). In other cases it can force the opponent to find a new answer while you buy several turns of time.
Of course, Chasm costst life every turn, so naturally it cannot defend you forever. However, in tandem with other cards in the deck, Glacial Chasm can be used to execute the famous ‘Chasm Lock.’ There are a number of ways to execute this. One is to simply have Chasm, Life from the Loam, and Exploration. With these, you can sacrifice Chasm, return it to hand with Loam, and play it and an additional land to sacrifice for it every turn. This can be disrupted with countermagic and does give the opponent a window for burn spells. Another way to make the lock work is to use Thespian’s Stage to copy Chasm in your upkeep before you sacrifice it. This new Stage-Chasm has no age counters (for now), so it can stick around for longer. You will eventually need to sacrifice the new Chasm as well, but if you have Loam and two Stages you can continually copy Stage-Chasms to stay safe even without an Exploration in play. This way of creating the lock does not give your opponent a window to damage you, though it is still weak to countermagic (all versions of the lock must use Loam if they are to maintain the lock indefinitely).
Verdict: Play 0-1
Group 3: Win Conditions
As mentioned before, Lands used to win via ”Man-Lands” like Nantuko Monastery/Creeping Tar-Pit or Mishra’s Factory as well as Barbarian Ring to burn opponents out. This however made for terrible matchups against faster decks, not to mention causing many games to go to time far too often.
This all changed, when a revision to the legend rule gave us new win conditions.
Thespian’s Stage is another one of the best cards in our deck. For a meager 2 mana, it allows us to play extra copies of any land in our deck, giving us a win condition when paired with Dark Depths, extra utility with Wasteland and Rishadan Port, and general shenanigans an experienced player can leverage. We play no less than 4 copies.
Thespian’s Stage, as mentioned previously, has a number of uses a skilled player can take advantage of. Here are a few examples:
– Stage can copy any land, not just lands under your control. This is essential, for example, in the mirror or against Depths decks, since you may simply copy their Depths, something a novice player may be unaware of, causing blowouts. This is true for Karakas and other utility lands as well. Beware, however, of your own Dark Depths and opponent’s Stages!
– Thespian’s Stage can be used to fix one’s mana in the face of Wasteland. Copied basic lands retain Stage’s ability as well, and gain the ”basic” supertype, preventing opposing Wastelands until you are ready to combo.
– Thespian’s Stage has a unique interaction with Glacial Chasm. Since Chasm’s cumulative upkeep is a triggered ability and uses the stack, you may respond to the trigger by copying Chasm, and then keeping the Stage-Chasm instead of the original Chasm, resulting in no life loss and giving no window for opponents to cause instant speed damage. The same can be done when playing Chasm, as its ETB ability can be answered by copying it, and then Chasm may be sacrificed to itself, allowing you to retain a copy of it.
– If an opponent plays a Pithing Needle effect with the intention of naming Thespian’s Stage, you may simply choose to copy another land, as the copied land retains Thespian’s Stage’s ability.
If you want more insights on how to become a true master of the Stage, check out this article.
Verdict: Play 4
Dark Depths is the second and essential half to our 2 card combo as well as main win condition. It allows us, via copying with Stage, to produce at instant speed a Lovecraftian 20/20 indestructible tentacle monster. However, the fact that it does not tap for mana makes it somewhat of a liability, and in certain slower matchups its position as premier win condition has been usurped by Field of the Dead.
That said, in our harder matchups, mainly Reanimator, Sneak and Show and Storm variants, it is still the kill of choice given its speed. Play at least 3, 4 in a combo heavy meta.
For a deep dive on Dark Depths and how to play around opposing answers, check here.
Verdict: Play 3-4
Field of the Dead
Field of the Dead is one of the newest, and yet most powerful cards the archetype has received since its inception. Its ability to produce an inexorable march of Zombies makes it impossible for some decks to beat, especially in the slower, more grindy matchups. The card is very good against control (UWx Miracles/Astrolabe) and grindy (3 and 4c UBx) decks, as it completely nullifies the one for one trades these decks typically are looking to make, while pressuring opponent’s life totals and planeswalkers.
Somewhat difficult to turn on in the faster matchups, and weak against Wasteland heavy opponents, the card is still phenomenal in certain matchups, outclassing even the Depths-Stage Combo.
Verdict: Play 1-2
Group 3: Silver Bullets
A number of lands are invaluable in certain matchups and should be played as at least 1 ofs. These are, in no particular order, the following:
Engineered Explosives on a land? What’s not to like? This card is nuts, it lets us easily clear the board from troublesome permanents/threats, and can be recurred via Life from the Loam. A No Brainer. Be aware also of the fact that Blast Zone can help take care of 0 converted mana cost permanents, such as creature tokens. Simply copy it with Thespian’s Stage, and then activate the copy’s ability, as the copy will not have a charge counter on it.
Verdict: Play at least 1
Returns legendary creatures to hand. Great for opposing Marit Lages or troublesome legendary creatures like Questing Beast and Tomik, Distinguished Advokist, or even a reanimated Griselbrand or an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn put in off Show and Tell. Rather self explanatory, given the abundance of legendary creatures present in legacy. The fact that it taps for white mana is also relevant in some builds of Lands.
Verdict: Play 1
The phrase ‘Canopy Lands’ refers to a cycle of Lands beginning with Horizon Canopy in Future Sight and then completed in Modern Horizons (Waterlogged Grove and Nurturing Peatland being the most important for our purposes). These are one of 3 draw ”spells” that Lands plays. It allows us to accrue card advantage independently of Loam, together with its cousin, Tranquil Thicket, while tapping for coloured mana and entering the battlefield untapped. The life loss, however, can add up, so one copy is usually enough.
While the card advantage from recurring and sacrificing these lands is nice, an important secondary use for them is to defend Life from the Loam from Surgical Extraction. This can even be done at instant speed with Crop Rotation, and works as follows (with the Crop Rotation being optional):
⦁ Opponent targets Loam as part of Surgical Extraction’s casting.
⦁ We Crop Rotate in response for our canopy land.
⦁ We activate the draw part of the canopy land, sacrificing it to take a draw
⦁ As part of the replacement effect Dredge offers, we choose to dredge the targeted Loam instead of drawing, thus saving Loam from Surgical Extraction and causing it to fizzle, effectively countering it.
Verdict: Play 1
Tranquil Thicket is the second of our draw ”spells”, while also tapping for green. It however, has the added advantage of drawing a card immediately (and can save Life from the Loam from Surgical Extraction similarly to a canopy land, by cycling Thicket in response) rather than using up a land drop. It has the downside of only tapping for G and entering the battlefield tapped. Still, a worthy inclusion that is often included in the main 60.
Verdict: Play 0-1
While generally played in classic RG lists as both card draw and an extra mana source, it presents both upsides and downsides over one of the canopy lands or Tranquil Thicket. Among its pros, we can obviously see that, being a fetchable land, allows us to have a better coloured manabase while providing extra utility in the long game. Its cons however are the fact that it is terrible in openers as a singular coloured mana source, and fetching it via fetchlands can prove problematic if one wants to use it as a source of card advantage.
Other cycling lands were printed in Amonkhet, but these are rarely used. Canyon Slough can be an option in Jund Lands, but otherwise one will rarely see any lands of this cycle.
Verdict: Play 0-1
Bojuka Bog allows us to have game before sideboarding against Reanimator and the various Hogaak/Dredge/Graveyard based decks, as its ability occurs upon ETB, which can be potent when accompanied by Crop Rotation. It is also great against generic cards that seek to gain advantage by means of the graveyard, such as Dreadhorde Arcanist, Gurmag Angler, Tar- mogoyf, Mystic Sanctuary, and Uro, to name a few. Its ability to tap for black mana is relevant in some builds of Lands.
Verdict: Play 1
Ancient Tomb is not necessarily a mainstay of most lists, and in some cases is a relic of the past, as it does not tap for coloured mana and damages its user. However, I believe the ability to play artifacts from the sideboard such as Sphere of Resistance, Thorn of Amethyst or Chalice of the Void on turn 1 make it a excellent main deck inclusion.
It also makes it easier to copy other lands with Thespian’s Stage, and in general gives a much needed burst of speed to the deck in some cases, outweighing the life loss. Playing a copy either in the maindeck or in the sideboard is highly recommended.
Verdict: Play 0-1
Grasping Dunes is a relatively recent addition to the Lands arsenal. It is used primarily in RG Lands, but can be used in any build. Giving -1/-1 counters has a lot of applications (picking off small creatures is never bad) but the reason the card became popular is as an answer to Dreadhorde Arcanist. Turns out when the zombie wizard has 0 power it can’t flashback any meaningful spells. Compared to Abrupt Decay it has the upside of being recursive, something Lands leans heavily on.
These Lands, together with the core spells of the deck, puts us at about 50 core pieces, depending on personal preference. This gives us plenty of room to splash different colors to suit different metagames or playstyles. You can explore the different versions of Lands that are often played through the main menu above.