Over thirteen years ago, the now-defunct Inquest Magazine ran a theme deck that was made entirely of lands. It would play cards like Kjeldoran Outpost and Island of Wak-Wak to save itself and annoy opponents. The downside of the cute deck was that it would only play one card in a turn; the upside was that one could always take an all-land mulligan! I had held that deck in my head for many years and was pleased to see it bear out in the 43 Land archetype, one of the most interesting and original decks in Legacy. It runs on a core of cards like Exploration, to cheat the one-land-per-turn rule, and Life from the Loam, to act as an Ancestral Recall. Early versions of the deck ran cards like Mulch and Gamble to see more cards and, hopefully, hit a Life from the Loam to get started. Newer versions blended with another land-heavy deck, Eternal Garden, to create a tutor-heavy deck called Blue Lands that’s seen a bit of success recently. Chris Woltereck wrote about the deck recently and this article is written to build from his excellent starter article. It is written in two parts; this week we’ll look at the composition of the deck, and next week I’ll go over in-game tactics with mulliganing decisions, sideboarding strategies, and in-game play scenarios.
Why You Should Consider Lands
There’s a theory among my fellow Meandeck teammates and I that cards and strategies which involve moving many cards from zone to zone rapidly are worthy of attention. Dredge, for example, can move a dozen or more cards into the graveyard in one turn, while Cephalid Breakfast can move an entire deck. Lands has the ability to not only move cards from the deck to the graveyard, but also from the hand into play (especially with Manabond). Lands is a deck that can outrun just about anything else when it’s firing with all cylinders. It’s easy to learn how to play and challenging to beat.
The Case For Blue
As I mentioned, many Lands decks run cards like Gamble and Burning Wish. This requires Red mana, which can also power up hitters like Barbarian Ring. The big advantage of Gamble is that it is cheap to cast; however, if you’re looking for a Manabond or Exploration, then it’s certainly risky. Burning Wish is a non-land, non-accelerating card, but it does grab another copy of Life from the Loam on the sideboard or removal spells like Hull Breach, Firespout or even Cranial Extraction. These decks are often very straightforward; they run Treetop Village, and sometimes Nantuko Monastery, and plan to win with an overwhelming number of manlands. I think these decks are fine, but they also suffer from being linear. You usually have more manlands than mana to activate them, and without direct ways to remove an opponent’s creatures you often sit there for many turns, using Maze of Ith to turn off attackers and hoping you have enough guys to ram through an opponent’s defenses.
The advantage of Blue is that you have two incredible tutors, Tolaria West and Intuition. I’ll talk about the latter first: it’s useful at every stage of the game, and is most frequently used to get a Life from the Loam and two lands. It can also snag three utility lands if you’ve already got Loam going, or three Tranquil Thickets to draw plenty of cards every turn. Tolaria West serves a dual role of getting a utility land or a zero-cost artifact, like Tormod’s Crypt or Engineered Explosives. The addition of these two cards has dramatically changed the deck, and given it a great form of inevitability; you don’t have to run a cycling engine with Tranquil Thickets to draw into more attackers, as you can simply go get them with Tolaria West! They also set up the endgame scenario of a Mindslaver lock.
Originally, I thought the Mindslaver combination with Academy Ruins was cute but unnecessary. Sure, you can hit thirteen lands, but the Legendary artifact is a dog in your opening hand and, if you’ve got thirteen mana available, you’re probably going to win anyway. After extensive testing, I found that the combination was very powerful and needed in many situations. For example, a Zoo deck can get you down to very low life totals and being able to enslave them prevents the opponent from drawing a lot of burn spells and finishing you off. Academy Ruins is also potent in combination with Engineered Explosives; without Explosives, I probably would not run either Ruins or Mindslaver, but the pack together is worthwhile. The best case for Mindslaver is that, at a certain point, you can stop reacting to what the opponent is doing and just go get the Academy Ruins and grind them down. Otherwise, Lands has to manage sweeping away the opponent’s board and then attacking into their monsters, which can take a very long time in a tournament game.
The Individual Card Choices
Lands is a simple deck to understand and put together; you ideally want at least 38 lands; any less and your Life from the Loams are less likely to return gas every turn and your accelerating enchantments are less potent. There’s a set core of the deck and then several add-on spells and lands that you can put in to customize the deck. In this section, we’ll look at the core and the optional spells and cards.
The Core Spells
Exploration, Manabond: These are absolutely critical for the deck to function; an opening hand without one is probably too slow and should be mulliganed (which I will discuss later). It can take a bit of work in a complex tournament game to remember whether you’ve played a land for the turn, so I suggest making a prop card or token that you can shift around to remind yourself when you’ve used your land drop. I put pennies on my Explorations to remember that I have used its land drop, and I usually use Exploration land drops before my land for the turn to get full value in case my Exploration is destroyed during my turn. Regarding Manabond, remember that it is an optional ability. Further, it requires playing all of your lands, so think about whether you want to deploy tapped Tolaria West or Tranquil Thickets. Finally, you have time in the end-step to use any lands you have played. This is important when you are looking at Wastelands or fetchlands to use.
Mox Diamond: It’s less powerful than the enchantments, but the Mox does provide good acceleration and can let you get the deck churning faster. You need at least three; I have been experimenting with cutting a fourth, but I haven’t determined whether it’s a good idea to cut it or not.
Intuition: I sang its praises earlier; you’ll need four before sideboarding because they are never dead and you always want to see them.
Life from the Loam: Since you know it’s an obvious card, I’ll talk about its in-game uses instead. One of the most important interactions in the deck is between cycling Tranquil Thicket and dredging back Loam with the resultant draw. With Manabond in play, this is often a great idea, since you can end each turn with five or more lands in your hand. With Exploration, it’s not worth it unless you are digging for a specific card; you’re better served using that Thicket to draw a card in the hopes of seeing an Intuition or Tolaria West. At the beginning of each draw step, you should consider whether you want to see lands or draw a card. This analysis requires looking at your board position and what kind of pressure you’re under. If you need something like a Maze of Ith, it’s better to dredge; if you’re under less pressure and can stand to wait for an Intuition, I like to draw off the top. It’s a bit more complex than that, but I bring it up to point out that you can’t just assume that you’ll want to dredge every turn.
Wasteland, Rishadan Port: With these two lands, you have excellent ways of slowing an opponent down to your speed. They work well against a deck like CounterTop, which has many sorcery-speed spells and effects and is packed with nonbasic lands. The decision of whether to Port someone or not depends greatly on whether they have cards that they can cast in their upkeep to use that mana anyway and whether they have creatures in play that you cannot currently stop. It’s often better to advance your board position against Zoo if you’re facing down attackers, for example. On the other hand, a deck like Reanimator can be tremendously slowed, since all of their reanimation spells are sorcery-speed. A midgame plan of returning Wastelands with Life from the Loam is practical and many decks cannot beat the recursion when coupled with Rishadan Port.
Mishra’s Factory: Not only a good attacker when you have things under control, a Factory can jump valiantly in the way of an attacker to save your life (I’m not sure what the assembly workers’ union thinks of that, though). With Life from the Loam, it can manage attackers until you find a Maze of Ith to freeze things down.
Maze of Ith, The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale: These two cards solidify an anti-creature strategy that can deal with most opposing monsters. The deck has a problem with Shroud creatures and sometimes, the Tabernacle can eliminate them if you have Wastelands bouncing around. Maze is one of the most frustrating cards for an opponent and its presence, coupled with the church, means that an opponent has to play many creatures to get an attack in and then has to pay to keep them around each turn.
Tolaria West: The chief downside of the transmuting land is that you’ll sometimes lack the two Blue mana to cycle it away. Instead of playing my land, I usually hold onto it because it’s much better to transmute later than play now. Without a set target, getting a Tranquil Thicket is a fine use of the card, but Maze of Ith is my most-tutored-for card. Getting these back with Loam is great, but make sure that you don’t have them in your hand at the end of the turn if you plan on Manabonding, or else you might have to Wasteland one of them to get access to it again.
The Academy Ruins Package: This also includes Engineered Explosives, Mindslaver, and Tormod’s Crypt. Since Legacy has a lot of decks that can gain control of a board through recursion, you might as well do it yourself as well.
Optional Lands and Spells
Glacial Chasm: I have very mixed feelings about this card. It has the upside of saving you for about three turns from lethal damage, but just about every deck can counter your eventual Life from the Loam to get it back into play. Otherwise, a deck like Zoo can just burn you out when you have to recur the Chasm. In the meantime, it eats a land and doesn’t make mana on its own. It’s decently good against Reanimator, but that’s the best use I’ve found for it. I don’t run it currently; instead, I replaced it with…
Zuran Orb: It’s interesting how one card can make a difference in an entire matchup with Blue Lands. Zoo is a challenging matchup without the Zuran Orb, but when you have it maindecked, the game is a cake-walk. The reason is that you can get it with a Tolaria West and can feed it many lands each turn. Outside of aggressive decks, it is still useful for eating lands like Tranquil Thicket that you played earlier. With a Manabond and Life from the Loam, you can use Zuran Orb to generate mana by sacrificing three lands, playing Life from the Loam and getting three back, with one mana in your pool. In the critical match where Glacial Chasm is needed, Zuran Orb is usually just better.
Riftstone Portal: Chris didn’t run a Portal and a lot of players are going away from it, especially without Gamble. However, with Mox Diamond and Zuran Orb, there are many ways to get the Portal into the graveyard. It’s essential if you intend to use a Mindslaver lock; it makes lots of non-mana lands like Maze of Ith contribute to the lock, letting you get the Mindslaver going three or four turns earlier. One can also tap fetchlands for mana when it is active. I have also found it very useful when I want to cycle Tranquil Thicket a lot or cast Life from the Loam multiple times in a turn. I would go so far as to say that if you are not running Riftstone Portal, then you should probably replace the Mindslaver with a Smokestack, which is a faster, but less potent, lategame card.
Cephalid Coliseum: If your objective is to get a pile of lands into play every turn, you can use the Ichorid-friendly land and dredge several Life from the Loams at a time with Coliseum. You’ll put many more lands into your graveyard and be able to dig more effectively for things like an Engineered Explosives. There’s also the option of using it in conjunction with the green sorcery to draw three cards per turn, but I found that I rarely wanted to use my mana for that. I run a copy, but it’s on the chopping block if I want to put something else in.
Barbarian Ring: With only one in the deck, Lands has a hard time getting to it and doesn’t have a lot of use for it when it does find The One Ring. However, I have found it to be very useful when facing down tribal decks, and I use it more for pinpoint removal than an actual dedicated player-killer, like older Lands decks. Much like the Coliseum, it’s cutable, but I have the room for it in my list and so it has stayed around.
Nomad Stadium, Nantuko Monastery: Both of these cards have their uses, but splashing White makes the consistency of the G/u deck go down by an unacceptable amount. I don’t like them, since Mishra’s Factory and Zuran Orb can approximate them, but they’re not wholesale-bad.
Smokestack, Ghost Quarter: An opponent can beat a Tabernacle by getting several basic lands out to sustain their creatures; when those monsters have Shroud, your Mazes cannot stop them and you’ll probably lose. Ghost Quarter is incredibly slow if you’re actually trying to get rid of a deck’s basic lands, since many run at least three or four. However, it can be tutored for and Smokestack cannot. I’d run one or the other, but not both.
With that out of the way, here is my current list:
- 1 Forest
- 1 Wooded Foothills
- 4 Wasteland
- 4 Mishra's Factory
- 3 Tropical Island
- 1 Taiga
- 1 The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
- 1 Barbarian Ring
- 1 Windswept Heath
- 4 Maze of Ith
- 3 Tranquil Thicket
- 4 Rishadan Port
- 1 Cephalid Coliseum
- 1 Riftstone Portal
- 1 Ghost Quarter
- 1 Academy Ruins
- 3 Tolaria West
- 1 Misty Rainforest
- 1 Verdant Catacombs
Like I had mentioned before, the fourth Mox Diamond is currently rotating in and out, with Ghost Quarter taking its place. It’s remarkable how tight the list is; one can reasonably cut another fetchland and go down to three, especially without a Bayou to go get.
Building An Effective Sideboard
With so much tutoring power, you really can run a bunch of one-ofs on the sideboard, which is great because this deck doesn’t have a lot of room to move cards in and out. You absolutely need Krosan Grip and Tormod’s Crypt, and from there, you can add in other good cards. Your match against Reanimator is dramatically easier if you have Karakas. You’ll also want cards like Ancient Grudge, which can fight against Relic of Progenitus and such. I find that your sideboarding effort is best used by figuring out what cards your opponents are likely to bring in against you. For example, there’s graveyard hate (though Tranquil Thicket will save your Loams from all save Extirpate). You might also fight nonbasic land hate like Back to Basics. From there, you can consider how to fight combination decks and what your remaining space can be used for. I suggest the following sideboard:
3 Krosan Grip
3 Tormod’s Crypt
4 Chalice of the Void
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Ensnaring Bridge
1 Ray of Revelation
This gives you a good assortment of cards to bring in against cards you expect to face, but I also suggest that you be aware of over-sideboarding. If you expect to play against other Loam decks, you can run a Bayou and three Extirpates, since those are the most deadly card in the mirror. If you’re expecting a lot of tribal decks, then a Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale or a second Zuran Orb can be a lifesaver.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, I’ll be covering the tactical in-game plays with Blue Lands. I find that a lot of deck guides don’t take this step and I want to prepare you for playing, from the opening hand to the last point of damage. I’ll be covering the major matchups; if you have different sideboard cards that you want me to look at and evaluate or have suggestions or comments on the deck, post in the forums or send me an email or tweet and I’ll be sure to mention it.
Until next week…
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