1800 or Bust!: This Great Land Of Ours

An analysis of the various types of Type II-legal lands, and how (and when) to use them.

After a number of articles on my pet deck Good Spells, I’d like to bring you something a little different this week. This week’s article covers a topic that’s very important as far as playing Magic cards is concerned: Land. Without the right land, you can’t cast the spells that are so necessary to beating your opponent. I thought I’d take a detailed look at the different non-basic colour-producing lands that people are using at the moment and give you my thoughts on their advantages, disadvantages, and the types of decks they’re ideal for. I’ve also added in the kinds of prices you should be paying for these things right now.

Invasion and Planeshift have brought something back to Magic that a lot of us really missed: Multi-colour decks. Mono decks are still around and can still be Tier I, but on the whole decks are now at least two, aligned colours. This leads to lots of people trying to get their two-, three-, four- and even five-colour decks working. In some cases they do but in many the land won’t support the spells in the deck – and, more importantly, they pick the wrong type of land for their deck.

I read a number of newsgroups and mailing lists and see of decks posted where the author has worked a lot on the spells in the deck and seems to have thrown the land together at the last minute. Often they’re asking for the deck to be tuned up, saying that "it doesn’t seem to work" and trying to change the spells for some others. Before doing that, I’d see if the spells work at all! So let’s take a look at the land out there.

Starting with the oldest, there’s City of Brass:

City of Brass
Whenever City of Brass becomes tapped, it deals 1 damage to you.
TAP: Add one mana of a color of your choice to your mana pool.

The City produces all five colours but if it’s tapped you have to take a point of damage – a very dangerous state of affairs with all the Rishadan Ports in the game. On the other hand Cities can give you anything you need. They’re often used in decks that have opposing colours in, and decks that require three or more colours regularly. Cities don’t slow down your mana at all as you can use them straight away but, as with every land I’m going to talk about, Dust Bowl can eat them up for lunch.

Cities are rare and available from Sixth edition, Fifth edition, Chronicles, and Arabian Nights. They have been printed in a lot of sets and so their price has become quite stable. Here at StarCity, they sell for $7, which is about what you can expect to find them going for in the UK.

Right at the moment if you need to use cities that badly, I’d try to fit in some Tsabo’s Webs; they’ll shut down Ports and Dust Bowls and have the secondary effect of helping speed you through your deck (making it as if you effectively had 56 cards). Opinion is divided on whether you can safely play Cities at the moment, but I’d ask you to make your own mind up: How many of your opponents will play Rishadan Port against you, and how many times do you win buy just one of two life? If the answers to these questions are "Most of them" and "Quite a lot," the City is not for you.

Next on the list are the Ice Age painlands. Here’s one that a lot of people are playing right now:

Adarkar Wastes
TAP: Add one colorless mana to your mana pool.
TAP: Add W or U to your mana pool. Adarkar Wastes deals 1 damage to you.

There are five of these, one for each pair of aligned colours. These too can hurt, but only if you’re tapping for coloured mana. Once you have other sources of coloured mana, you can quite happily use them to produce any colourless mana you need.

This positions them perfectly to be played in decks that absolutely need two aligned colours of mana early on. They smooth out the colour supply for a cost of only a few points of life, and if your opponent taps them with their Port, you don’t have to take damage. The Ice Age painlands don’t slow your mana production and you’ll see people using Karplusan Forest being used instead of Shivan Oasis for just that reason.

Ice Age pain lands have now been printed in three major sets (Ice Age, Fifth and Sixth) as rares and so their price has stabilised. They go at StarCity for about $8 apiece, which is slightly on the high side, but on the other hand they generally manage to keep them in stock.

Invasion bought us another five two-colour producing lands, commonly now called the New Dual Lands. Here’s one you’ve probably seen:

Coastal Tower
Coastal Tower comes into play tapped. Tap: Add W or U to your mana pool.

Unlike the previous two lands, there’s no extra cost to producing the mana except that the land comes into play tapped. This can slow your mana production down a little, but if used in the right deck it’s not so much of a problem. If you have no one casting cost spells in you opening hand and one of these there is no disadvantage at all, and so you often see these used to smooth out the mana production is slightly slower decks like U/W control or Nether-Go.

These lands are ideal, most of the time, for some of the same decks as the Ice Age pain lands. They smooth the mana out in a two-colour deck early on. They do slow your mana production down though, but only for a turn, e.g.

Turn one: Lay basic land, one mana available.
Turn two: Lay basic land, two mana available.
Turn three: Lay new dual land, TWO MANA AVAILABLE.
Turn four: Lay basic land, four mana available.

As this shows you still have four mana on turn four, but only two on turn three. This means that decks like Fires often avoid these lands, as they try to maximise the amount of mana available (from land, Birds of Paradise and Elves) each turn, and a one-turn slowdown like this really hits them where it hurts. If you check out the better performing Fires decks from Chicago, Karplusan Forest was almost always chosen over Shivan Oasis for just this reason.

One of the most common mistakes I see with these land is the player who plays a basic land on their first turn, draws a two casting-cost spell, and then plays one of these new land. These lands, more than any of the other lands, should start to get you thinking about the order that lands are played in. What colours of mana do you need? When do you need them? If you need two white mana on turn four to cast a Wrath of God, you’d better not be keeping one of these in your hand on turn three and playing another land instead!

Unlike the other lands mentioned so far, these lands are only uncommons and so they’re cheaper than most at about $1.75 apiece here, which is reasonable. If you open a box of Invasion, you should come across quite a few of these. On the other hand, they’ve only been printed in Invasion so far, and if you only have a small group of test players with a little money, you may find them hard to come by.

Next up to bat is one of the more interesting groups of land we’ve seen in a while: the Lairs from Planeshift. Here’s one as an example.

Treva’s Ruins
Treva’s Ruins is a Lair in addition to its land type. When Treva’s Ruins comes into play, sacrifice it unless you return a non-Lair land you control to its owner’s hand. T: Add G, W, or U to your mana pool.

These land produce three mana – which is unusual, to say the least. The last set of land to do that was printed in Homelands (An-Havva Township, Aysen Abbey, Castle Sengir, Koskun Keep and Wizards’ School). Here’s An-Havva township for comparison:

An-Havva Township
TAP: Add one colorless mana to your mana pool.
1, TAP: Add G to your mana pool.
2, TAP: Add W to your mana pool.
2, TAP: Add R to your mana pool.

As you can see these Homelands lands just wash mana, really. To produce a point of red mana from this, you have to tap three lands total. So, at the very least, I reckon the new Lairs are MUCH better than this. They don’t come into play tapped and they don’t have a cost to produce coloured mana.

There is one important drawback of the Lairs: Bouncing a non-Lair land. Let’s look at it in a little more detail.

Firstly, it restricts the number of Lairs you can play. If you play too many, you’re in danger of not drawing a non-lair land and you won’t be able to play your Lair without sacrificing it. This leads me on to two important points: With the current wording of the Lairs you can put it into play with a basic land in play and you don’t have to bounce a non-Lair land. You can actively choose to sacrifice the Lair! The second point is that this is a coming into play effect, not an additional cost to play the card, so it goes on the stack. That means you can do the following:

Play a Lair.
Put CIP ability on the stack.
Tap Lair for a mana of a colour of your choice.
Resolve CIP ability, sacrificing the Lair.

This is something that a number of lands (notably Lotus Vale) have had their wording changed to stop, but R & D obviously thought it’d be okay with these land. It is worth remembering though, for that odd occasion when you need an extra mana and you have no other land in play.

The Lairs slow your mana down, but in a different way from the new dual lands. You have to bounce a land you already had in play, so they slow you down in the turn AFTER you play them, e.g.

Turn one: Lay a basic land, one mana available.
Turn two: Lay a basic land. two mana available.
Turn three: Lay a Lair, three mana available.
Turn four: Lay a basic land, three mana available.

I must add that to get the three mana on turn three you do a simple trick that a lot of players seem to forget: Tap a land, placing a mana into your pool, then put the Lair down and return the tapped land, allowing you to get mana from BOTH lands that turn. Again, easy enough when you think about it but well worth making a mental note of.

Now Planeshift isn’t in Type II at the moment, but can we guess the types of decks these lands will be used in? I’m better they won’t get played so much in fast decks like Fires, because of the same reasons that the new dual lands aren’t being used at the moment: They reduce the amount of mana available on the first four turns. Also, most Fires decks with three colours in are just splashing for a third and can get the mana from their Birds of Paradise or one or two basic lands of the splash colour in their deck.

How about three-, four- and five-colour decks? If the decks are a little slower, as five-colour decks tend to be, then yes. A small hiccup in the amount of mana produced is not going to affect the overall outcome – colour screw will, and these cards alleviate that problem.

The other decks that may use these new land are decks with opposing colours in, like Counter Burn. Counter Burn is, traditionally, a slower control deck. They need mana on the first few turns for Shocks, Seals and the odd Counterspell, but after turn 4 they could quite happily live with a hiccup in the mana production to smooth out the colours they need (maybe to give the third red mana for Hammer of Bogardan).

All in all, for what we’ve got, I think they’re very balanced. They obviously couldn’t have had no drawback at all, and making them not untap for a turn after they’re used would have made the land strictly superior to the delay lands from the Tempest block (Thalakos Lowlands, Vec Townships, etc).

The new lands are just that: New. Again, Wizards has done the right thing (in my view anyway) of making them uncommon and so you should be able to pick them up here at Star City for about a dollar apiece. More than that and you should consider clubbing together with some friends and buying a box of Planeshift, because then you’ll have LOADS of them!

I have deliberately not mentioned how many of such lands you might want to play in a certain type of deck; that sort of an article could go on forever. (And in fact, it WAS very long – the best article on figuring land-to-spell ratios ever was Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar "Five Rules For Avoiding Mana-Screw" at http://www.starcitygames.com/php/news/
The Ferrett) I also haven’t mentioned the Diamonds (from Mirage and reprinted in Sixth edition) which can help just as much to smooth mana problems, and mana producing creatures or spells. A comparison of those and their advantages and disadvantages could go on for just as long, as there are so many – a future article, perhaps?

All in all I hope you view this as a primer to basic, multi-coloured deck building and I hope it stops people from playing four Shivan Oases instead of Karplusan Forests "because Oasis doesn’t hurt you."

Cheers, Jim.
Team PhatBeats.