UG Lands is an interesting deck. Arguably the newest version of Lands, it plays somewhat similar to a hybrid between classic Lands lists, and the UG Amulet Titan deck from modern. With the printing of Dryad of the Ilysian Grove, but more importantly Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath (both from the ”Theros, Beyond Death” expansion) the two decks have become rather similar, with a primary gameplan of ramping into Field of the Dead triggers while hedging upon Uro as a secondary engine independent of Loam as a way to close out the game. These lists often eschew removal and the Dark Depths combo (often unsatisfactory when Swords to Plowshares and Karakas run rampant) and seek to create an endless stream of Zombies, while using Uro as ”pseudo removal” by preventing attacks. The deck is very focused, and viability usually hinges upon a very specific metagame.
Card choices for UG are similar to that of BUG, but whereas BUG employs a very controlling and reactive gameplan, seeking to lock opposing decks out of the game before providing a kill, UG simply attempts to steamroll over opponents through continous ramp provided by Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and zombie tokens from Field of the Dead.
The deck was primarily developed by long-time Lands master Casey Lancaster as a reaction to the Companion metagame. At that time, 3-color Delver decks that played Swords to Plowshares and Karakas alongside Lurrus of the Dream-Den were by far the dominant force in the metagame. Swords and Karakas made the Dark Depths plan very weak, but were far less effective against a deck that just wanted to ramp into zombies repeatedly. Since the banning of Lurrus, UG has fallen a bit out of favor because it lacks strong interactive tools and instead relies on forceably enacting its own primary gameplan. That said, it can be a powerful option in the right scenario, and we’d be amiss not to mention it in our Primer. Below we go over the various card choices for the maindeck and sideboard.
Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
Uro, as already mentioned before, is a very powerful engine in Lands, allowing us to stabilize against aggressive fast decks thanks to its lifegain, provide extra ramp into Field of the Dead triggers, and draw/dredge every turn. Its escape cost becomes easy to meet thanks to Loam, and the ability to be cast from the graveyard ensures that we can dredge freely, although we do end up being slightly more susceptible to graveyard hate in games two and three. Uro provides a kind of virtual removal by gaining life and being a very large body that stonewalls opposing creatures such as Dreadhorde Arcanist, Elks and Gurmag Angler/Tarmogoyf. It also allows us to clock opponents in the absence of Loam or Marit Lage, providing another win condition that synergizes with the deck. But, perhaps most importantly, its Escape ability allowing it to be cast from the graveyard and thus makes it resilient to countermagic, rendering opposing Force of Wills and Force of Negations rather useless.
UG lists, more than any other version of Lands, aim to leverage the power of Uro as a primary part of their gameplan. Some take this as far as running a couple copies of Cavern of Souls to ensure that the Titan resolves (and also to help meet the steep color requirements of its escape clause). You’ll also often see several Field of the Dead – a card that requires the card draw and ramp that Uro provides in order to maximize its strength. For that reason, a full playset of Uro is recommended.
Verdict: Play 2-4; 4 is recommended.
Cavern of Souls
Cavern of Souls represents the third card innovation played alongside Primeval Titan and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. As a land it is an obvious include, helping fix mana for Uro (Cavern taps for escape mana!) and Titan (by some great stroke of luck both are Giants!) and making them uncounterable, ensuring we hit our land drops through countermagic via Uro and churn through our deck. Not producing green mana for non creature spells can be awkward, but is rarely, if ever, relevant. Depending on how relevant Uro and Titan are in the metagame, copies oscillate between singletons all the way up to the full playset, according to the pilot’s preference.
Verdict: Play 1-4, according to your preference and playstyle.
While often played in traditional Lands sideboards, here, in conjunction with increased ramp offered by Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, it becomes far more relevant for ramping into Field of the Dead triggers, as well as tutoring Field itself, just as in the Amulet Titan deck from modern. Rather mana-intensive, it is generally played in 2-3 copies, but can be very powerful when played alongside Uro and Cavern of Souls. Usually Primeval Titan shines in the Snowko matchups, as well as against other slower decks, however reaching sufficient mana to cast it can be difficult in the face of Wasteland.
Verdict: Play 2-3
Chalice of the Void
An omnipresent staple of legacy, it is a worthy, though not essential consideration in the deck. Traditionally, Lands avoids such cards, as Gamble and Crop Rotation are generally more powerful than a Chalice on 1 in the deck. However, the move towards UG builds obsoletes the use of Gamble (at times substituted for Intuition in UG) and the lack of Dark Depths and Thespian’s Stage makes Crop Rotation far worse (and hence Chalice far more relevant), therefore pushing Lands pilots to revisit the classic prison card. Mainly dependant on taste; playing 4 copies (or even no copies!) is at personal discretion.
Verdict: Play 0-4
Green Sun’s Zenith
There is some debate regarding the viability of GSZ in Lands. Playing it would push us towards being a creature-heavy deck, but traditionally, Lands has always foregone creatures in the maindeck as a means of blanking opposing removal and contributing to the mass of dead cards present in their hands. Naturally, the inclusion of GSZ nullifies such a tactic, but at the same time creatures such as Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath are essential to the UG deck’s primary gameplan. GSZ allows us more consistency in finding relevant Uros and Primeval Titans as well as playing extra turn one ramp via Dryad Arbor and a small utility creature package composed of cards such as Knight of the Reliquary, Leovold, Emissary of Trest, Collector Ouphe, Elvish Reclaimer and Ramunap Excavator. Adding GSZ to the mix is definitely worthy of consideration, even considering the drawbacks of making creature removal more relevant in game one. Below are some creatures that one might include in a GSZ package:
Verdict: Play 0-2
The lack of removal in the form of Punishing Fire, Molten Vortex and Abrupt Decay entail that UG Lands is even softer to creature based combo (like Elves) or aggressive decks (like Taxes) than more traditional builds, as it has no way of dealing with small creatures, relying on stonewalling them with with Uro and eventually zombies. This makes fair creature heavy matchups slightly worse, but trades off such weakeness with a faster and more focused gameplan, especially relevant against metagames teeming with Delver and Snowko decks. Despite the absence of removal, Uro and Field are often enough against creature decks, so sideboard space continues to be dedicated to beating combo, especially in certain metas.
Mindbreak Trap has become necessary with the extra presence of combo decks such as Urza Echo and TES. Exiling is key, as it gets around uncounterability offered by cards like Cavern of Souls and ensures we don’t die turn 1 on the draw after sideboarding. You always want at least one copy in your opening hand in certain matchups, so playing four copies in the board is essential.
Null Rod, a vintage staple used to combat Moxen, was adopted by UG as an accompanying card played alongside Mindbreak Trap to fight off new combo strategies present in the format. Mindbreak Trap ensures we do not lose the game by being on the draw; but Null Rod allowed us to put the screws in vs both Gyruda and Zirda, which rely on mana producing artifacts like Lion’s Eye Diamond and Lotus Petal to combo as fast as possible. Playing Null Rod is always a powerful choice in a combo-heavy meta, though with the nerfing of Companions other options such as Chalice might be stronger. Substituting Spheres for Null Rods makes our other classic combo matchups like Sneak and Show and Reanimator much worse. Like Mindbreak Trap however, you want to see the card in opening hands as much as possible, so playing at least 3 was highly recommended.
Other sideboard choices are pretty standard. Some lists prefer to play an extra copy or two of Primeval Titan, some rely on Drop of Honey as a buffer against creature matchups, and some play Oko, Thief of Crown for the grindier matchups. The plethora of tools available to the Lands player allows a certain amount of customization in deckbuilding according to personal preferences and needs.
Sample UG Deck and Hands
As mentioned above, the UG lists have generally fallen out of favor since the disappearance of Lurrus, since they were in many ways a reaction to that archetype’s dominance. What we present below is a version of the deck that would be typical of that time. We discuss some potential changes to modernize the deck below.
This deck deviates greatly from the traditional Lands builds in having no Thespian’s Stage or Dark Depths, and thus relies entirely on its haymaker threats like Field and the Titans to win the game. Note the three copies of Field and the full playset of Cavern of Souls; these are to ensure that our haymakers resolve. Three Sylvan Library is also typical of non-red lists, as without Gamble we need more ways to find our key cards. The maindeck also plays a set of Ghost Quarter in place of the usual Rishadan Port. Against the Lurrus Delver decks of the Companion meta, which played no basics, this allowed us to run an effective 8 Wastelands, and games were often won simply by locking opponents out. The sideboard has the full set of Null Rod and some additional tools against creature decks in the form of Drop of Honey and Oko, Thief of Crowns.
If one were to modernize this version of the deck, one could swap Ghost Quarters for Ports and lean less heavily on Caverns, perhaps cutting down their number and finding room for a small combo package (2-3 Stage and a single Depths would be fine; Stage is strong with Field and the single Depths allows us to combo with Crop Rotation should a good opportunity present itself). The sideboard would have to be reworked as well, with Spheres likely taking the place of Null Rods.
This hand is wonderful; we have our primary engine in Uro, Exploration as a turn 1 play to ramp, Sylvan Library as an auxiliary gameplan, and a Field of the Dead to start making Zombies as soon as possible. An easy keep, lead on Exploration into Uro (for Delver matchups) or Sylvan Library (better against Snowko).
This hand is also good, though quite slow. If there were a green source present, we could have a turn 3 Titan, but without it, we have to wait until turn 6 to do anything meaningful in teh game. Having our only payoff be Primeval Titan (even though it can be uncounterable) makes this a sketchy hand, and while probably a keep against a slower deck, there are better sixes, so let’s take a mulligan.
A far better hand, as we have both Uro and Loam, and acceleration via Mox Diamond. Putting back Tabernacle is correct here, as Uro already insulates us against creature strategies; play out Mox Diamond on turn one, pitching Field, and then Loam it back. This segues into Uro on turn two.
Reminiscient of a classic Lands hand, this is a solid keep, as we have acceleration in Exploration and two different engines in Loam and Sylvan Library. Once again, an easy keep, leading on Exploration is obviously correct here, followed by Sylvan Library if playing against a slower deck, or Loam to start digging for Uro if playing against a faster one.
This concludes the UG part of the primer. UG Lands is an interesting choice with a unique playstyle among Lands builds. It would be ideal for players coming from Modern who want a taste of Legacy but already know that they enjoy the play patterns of Amulet Titan. Like that deck, this version of Lands gives up disruption in favor of a focused and powerful gameplan, and is capable of simply steamrolling opponents with Zombies and Giants if left unchecked. It is however quite weak to a well-placed answer and can sometimes find itself with hands that are very all-in on a single payoff. All that aside, there is no feeling quite like attacking with casting an uncounterable Prime Time and having him enter the battlefield alongside 6 zombies. For raw brute force, UG can’t be matched among Lands variants.