How I Would Have Built The Land’s Wrath Precon

Bennie Smith and the designers of the Land’s Wrath Commander preconstructed deck do not see eye to eye. See how he would rebuild it.

Obuun, Mul Daya Ancestor, illustrated by Chris Rallis

Zendikar Rising has been a bonanza of awesome legendary creatures to build Commander decks around!  I’ve covered quite a few of them in the past month or so, please check out my archives if you haven’t caught up with all the sweet new goodness.  But let’s not forget the expansion set isn’t the only source of recent new Commander goodies — there are also the Zendikar Rising Commander decksLand’s Wrath and Sneak Attack.  These two decks are quite different from the five decks offered up with the release of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths earlier this year; these two new decks are almost exclusively made up of reprints, with just three brand-new cards each.

Obuun, Mul Daya Ancestor Trove Warden Geode Rager

Anowon, the Ruin Thief Whispersteel Dagger Enigma Thief

For a deeply enfranchised player like me, the new cards are what I’m always looking for, but there’s no doubt this product is a home run as an on-ramp to Commander for brand new players or players that are still building out their collection.  The Professor at Tolarian Community College gave these decks a solid A in his review, citing excellent value and out of the box play experience, with only the poor-quality manabase we tend to expect from all the Commander preconstructed deck products as a concern.

I have to admit I’m always one to eyeball the manabases of each Commander product that comes out because I feel strongly that, for new players, few things are as frustrating as not being able to cast your spells because your manabase is junk.  I also worry about new Commander players getting into the habit of using way too few lands when they start building their own decks from scratch. 

For a long time, my default was 38 lands, but in recent years I’ve bumped that up to 39 lands because you always want to make your land drops, especially in the early part of the game. So, when I see a Commander precon deck – or anyone’s decks really – with fewer lands it makes me cringe.  Think I’m wrong?  Well, no less than Gavin Verhey with Wizards of the Coast (WotC) agrees with me: just check out the very first piece of advice he gives in his 3 Tips to Improve Your Commander Deck on his Good Morning Magic YouTube channel.

When I pulled up the Sneak Attack deck, the first thing I was pleased to see: no Temple of the False God! What’s wrong with Temple of the False God?  Let me refer you to my article Let’s Talk About Lands.  All good?  Good!  Next, what’s the land count?  38 lands are pretty close to my default, but a Rogue tribal deck is probably going to have a pretty low mana curve, right?  Let’s take a look:

Hm. Well, the good news is that there are quite a few two-mana cards, and the number is larger than for the three-mana cards, which I also like. But take a look at that four-mana spot on the curve — yikes! A few of these have the prowl ability, which means they’re generally going to cost less than four mana in practice.  And I’ve heard a lot of feedback from the community regarding this deck and it’s nearly universally positive.  I’m willing to give this deck the benefit of the doubt.

So how about the Land’s Wrath deck?  Since this is a landfall deck, I’m extremely curious how this one is put together.  If there’s any deck you don’t want to ever miss a land drop while playing, it’s got to be a landfall deck.  Since Sneak Attack has 38 lands, I have high hopes here — 40 sounds reasonable, right?  Surely no less than 39.

Narrator: the land count is in fact two less than 39.

37 lands?  The three-color landfall deck has fewer lands than the Rogue tribal deck.  What in the world is going on here?  I mean, at least they had the good sense not to include Temple of the False God in this deck either, but what is up?

I take a deep breath and take a look at the mana curve.

Yep, that’s right — just nine cards out of 100 you can cast before Turn 3, and that’s if you hit your land drops.

I was so perplexed by this I reached out to the WotC designers of these decks for an explanation on the land count.  Corey Bowen was kind enough to give me an answer:

We had too many playtests where this deck had lands in hand and nothing else to do when we had ~40+ lands. Decided to look into more ways to enhance card flow a la Keeper of Fables and Armorcraft Judge and cut a few lands. Lands were not this deck’s weakness.

Okay, so maybe the deck plays out lands a lot more smoothly than it looks like it should on paper. So, I waited until I got my hands on the deck, shuffled up and took some sample pulls. Almost all of them were clunky or needed a mulligan. Maybe that was just my shuffling, so I used an online hand simulator a few times to see what it showed.

First hand:

Forest Mountain The Mending of Dominaria Harrow Naya Panorama Return of the Wildspeaker Naya Charm

Next three cards:

Omnath, Locus of Rage Multani, Yavimaya's Avatar Selesnya Sanctuary

So, I spend my first three turns playing lands, and then I need to start ramping before I even get to cast my commander. 

Second hand:

Treacherous Terrain Command Tower Harmonize Murasa Rootgrazer Naya Charm Sporemound Selesnya Guildgate

Next three cards:

Acidic Slime Forest Krosan Verge

Thankfully I drew a Forest so I could play Murasa Rootgrazer on Turn 2 and both play Krosan Verge and drop the Forest with Rootgrazer on Turn 3 and… I guess basic landcycle Treacherous Terrain to go get a Mountain.

Both of these hands played very similarly to my real-life pulls — super-slow and clunky early trying to get enough lands to just cast my commander. Which left me wondering: wouldn’t it be nice just to draw those lands and have cheaper spells I could cast that could help me establish a presence on the battlefield?

Which led me to wondering: okay, smart guy — how would you build this deck if WotC cared what you thought? 

Challenge accepted!  With this caveat: I have no idea what restrictions are in place inside of WotC when building these decks. I imagine there are some economic restrictions when it comes to the dollar value of singles that go into it, and I can appreciate that because the value for this incredible price point ($40 total for both decks) is fantastic.  Let’s take a look at the decklist:

  • 5 mythic rares
  • 19 rares
  • 33 uncommons
  • 22 commons
  • 21 basic lands

So, my goal on the reboot is to keep the same number of mythics and rares, and keep the total value in singles within a few dollars of the original decklist (currently in the range of around $41).

After carefully reviewing each card and looking for quality replacements, here’s what I decided to change:

Rares to Remove

Together Forever Seer's Sundial Nissa's Renewal Living Twister

Together Forever just doesn’t seem to be worth holding up a mana for each creature you’re concerned will die so you get to replay them. Seer’s Sundial has landfall, but it takes two mana plus a landfall trigger to get anything from it, and in my experience it’s just not worth a slot.

I was tempted to keep Nissa’s Renewal since getting three landfall triggers in a single turn is quite nice, but ultimate when trying to whip this mana curve into shape I gave it the axe.  If you don’t happen to have one or more significant landfall payoffs already on the battlefield, six mana is way too much for this effect.  And lastly, Living Twister is incredibly hungry on colored mana for very little payoff — you are almost never going to want to use the discard a land ability.

Rares to Add

Lifecrafter's Bestiary Arch of Orazca Nahiri's Lithoforming Escape to the Wilds

Lifecrafter’s Bestiary’s scry ability helps you draw lands when you need it or gas when you don’t need the lands, and that triggered ability is a great way to utilize extra green mana to keep cards flowing. Arch of Orazca and Escape to the Wilds are two more excellent ways to sink your mana for extra cards and each of them helps with the landfall theme. I also like Nahiri’s Lithoforming as a way to transform extra lands into extra cards, and the extra land drops can get you additional landfall triggers.

Uncommons to Remove

Ground Assault Inspiring Call Banishing Light Naya Charm Circuitous Route Keeper of Fables Armorcraft Judge Struggle Sandstone Oracle Evolution Sage

All of these I judged to be too conditional and clunky, or just not enough effect for the mana cost in Commander. Banishing Light in particular seemed out of place in colors that have more permanent and just plain better removal options.

Uncommons to Add

Sejiri Shelter Khalni Ambush Kazuul's Fury Domri's Ambush Nahiri's Machinations Broken Bond Alabaster Mage Selesnya Guildmage Boros Guildmage

Surprising omissions from the precon deck were the modal double-faced cards (DFCs) that had lands on one side and spells on the other. These are just amazing in a landfall deck, especially one that uses the Karoo lands like Selesnya Sanctuary that can bounce them back to your hand when you have plenty of lands to make use of their spell side. I also like Broken Bond as a removal spell that can get you an extra land drop. Nahiri’s Machinations, Alabaster Mage, and the Guildmages are all cheap spells you can cast early that serve as excellent mana sinks later on. 

Commons to Remove

Satyr Wayfinder Far Wanderings Springbloom Druid Elvish Rejuvenator Scaretiller Kor Cartographer Sporemound

The three-mana spot on the curve was way out of control and required some deep cuts.  The rest of the cards just didn’t seem to have enough impact for their mana cost.

Commons to Add

Explore Scale the Heights Sakura-Tribe Elder Hull Breach Groundskeeper Thornscape Apprentice

Explore and Scale the Heights provide card flow while also giving extra land drops if you need it. Thornscape Apprentice is an early drop that provides some nice small effects for when you have extra mana available, and I also made room for a copy of Groundskeeper.  Between Harrow, Roiling Undergrowth, and a lot of effects that animate lands, odds are pretty good that some basic lands are going to end up in the graveyard, so if you have some extra mana lying about, you might as well snatch them back for some additional landfall triggers.

Lands to Remove

Boros Guildgate Cryptic Caves Gruul Guildgate Selesnya Guildgate

Guildgates should not be in decks that don’t care about Gates. There are so many better options even at common. I’ve never been a fan of sacrificing a land on the battlefield for as small effect as drawing a card, so I’ve also cut Cryptic Caves.

Lands to Add

Forgotten Cave Secluded Steppe Tranquil Thicket Forest Plains Mountain

I’ve replaced the Gates with lands that cycle so you can play them if you need the mana or the landfall trigger, or cycle them away if you’re digging for action. And I’ve also added one basic land for each of the deck’s colors, which brings the land total to 40 not including the uncommon DFCs that can provide extra land drops in a pinch. Now this is a respectable land count for a landfall deck!

Here’s the new decklist:

Here’s how the deck looks graphically, thanks to our friends at Archidekt:

I tweaked the basic land mix to better match the color requirements, and just check out that sweet, sweet mana curve!

On the economics side, this is the rarity breakdown for the reboot decklist:

  • 5 mythic rares
  • 19 rares
  • 30 uncommons
  • 22 commons
  • 24 basic lands

The total value in singles is around $44, which is pretty close to the current decklist value, and since the new rares I picked haven’t experienced any downward pressure from being reprinted in this precon, I imagine the reprint value requirements are pretty spot on. 

What do you think?  Are there any changes you would have made differently? 

If you’ve picked up the Land’s Wrath precon and are looking to upgrade it, please make sure you check out this excellent video by Jeremy Noell and Jonathan Suarez where they provide some excellent recommendations!

Do me a solid and follow me on Twitter!  I run polls and get conversations started about Commander all the time, so get in on the fun! I’d also love it if you followed my Twitch channel TheCompleteCommander, where I do Commander, Brawl and sometimes other Magic-related streams when I can.  If you can’t join me live, the videos are available on demand for a few weeks on Twitch, but I also upload them to my YouTube channel.

And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy. 

Visit my Decklist Database to see my decklists and the articles where they appeared!