Last week, I wrote about the composition of the Blue Lands deck, its strengths and weaknesses, and why it’s positioned well in the metagame. If you haven’t already read that article, you can find it here. This week, we’ll talk about mulligans, ideal hands and sideboarding considerations. I’ve written up instructions on how to fight some of the most common decks in Legacy, as well as beating specific cards that can create problems.
For reference, here’s the deck:
- 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
What Your Opening Hand Should Contain
It would be easy to say that openers are complex and vary on what opponent you’re playing, but that won’t help. The greatest thing to be aware of is that you are playing a deck that is crippled by the one-land-per-turn rule and you need to have an Exploration or a Manabond in hand to keep that grip. This changes after you’ve mulliganed down to five cards; at that point, you should probably keep the grip. If you are holding one of those enchantments but lack the green source to cast it, evaluate the rest of your hand and whether you can wait to see that card. For example, if you have a card like Maze of Ith or Rishadan Port, you can wait a few turns to find that green source. On the other hand, if you’re looking at something where your best business is Tolaria West and Mishra’s Factory, you probably cannot wait to find that source. The one notable exception is that if you have a Mox Diamond, an Intuition and enough lands to get to three mana on the second turn, you can go get Manabond with the blue tutor and be in good shape. I prefer Manabond to Exploration when tutoring at that point, since it facilitates the most explosive opening turns.
The next consideration is whether you have an Intuition or a Life from the Loam in your hand. Both cards facilitate the core Lands engine. It is fine if you do not have one of these cards if, like before, you can put up a reasonable stalling fight until you find one. A Tolaria West in the opening hand is great to see, since it stands in for many other cards; a hand lacking the Loam engine but with a Tolaria West is usually fine to keep.
Finally, there are some cards that are just plain dead in the opening hand. Mindslaver is the most obvious example, but cards like Academy Ruins or even The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale can be near-worthless in the first few turns. Mishra’s Factory can serve as a blocker, but it’s rare that you actually attack with it because you will be doing other things with your mana. When looking at “blanks,” treat them as empty cards in your hand for the purposes of whether you should mulligan. You might effectively mulligan into more cards!
Here are some sample hands with commentary:
This is a good example of what I mean by blank cards. You need only one of those enchantments, which means the other two are superfluous. The Zuran Orb might be great or it might not, and I usually prefer to tutor for it than find it during a draw step. The best action this hand has is Mishra’s Factory; it cannot even cycle the Tolaria West. It wants to draw a Life from the Loam the next turn, but it would be casting it without anything to recover. In effect, this is a very low-value hand. Let’s look at what we mulligan into:
This hand isn’t much better, but it does have a turn-2 Exploration and that critical Maze to save on life loss. I would keep this hand, since if I draw any of my blue sources, I can immediately bust out with the Intuition. Having the Ruins handy means that I can use that Intuition to get an Engineered Explosives or a Zuran Orb if I need to. In any case, this is better than the previous hand.
You’ll see that this hand enables a first-turn Manabond with a Mox Diamond, probably discarding a Ghost Quarter. The combination of Tabernacle and Port means that the opponent will probably struggle on mana for the early turns. I don’t like that you have to “live off the top” to get any action, but there’s enough to stall with in this hand. If we want to be results-oriented, the top card of the library was Intuition, but even if it were a Tranquil Thicket, we’d be fine with that.
This hand has two blanks in it, but it does have some great things going for it. The way I would play this hand would be to deploy the Manabond on the first turn and then wait until the second turn to use it. In the meantime, I would cycle Tranquil Thicket to see what I could find with it. The cyclers and transmuters are better used for their alternate effects, and I certainly don’t need all that mana for the second turn. Another blue source would let me transmute Tolaria West with Academy Ruins. With this hand, the greatest indicator of whether I would want to Manabond everything is whether I needed to use Rishadan Port on the opponent that coming turn. Sometimes, that’s the correct play, but often, one can wait.
With the combination of fast mana and engine cards, this hand is close to a God-hand. One can discard the Portal on the first turn to the Mox Diamond, then cast an Exploration to fully develop. Past that, recurring the Tolaria West is a simple matter; it would be easy, for instance, to have four Maze of Ith in play in short order with this hand. These are the sorts to look for.
Sideboarding with Blue Lands
When you’re considering what to sideboard out, note that the deck is very tight in its space for what can be removed. Identify what cards are lands and which ones are actually spells that just look like lands. For example, Maze of Ith will not reliably tap for mana without its Riftstone buddy around; if your opponent has no creatures, bring out those Mazes for something else. I often bring in a Karakas, just to have another mana source, when I need to take out Mazes but don’t have anything else to bring in for them.
Next, think about whether you want to explode onto the board or whether you need to slow down a little. One factor is whether your sideboard cards require you to have them in hand; Krosan Grip and Manabond do not play well together. I often sideboard out two or more Manabonds in slower matches for that reason. Though Intuition can be slow, I leave in at least three, as they can get sideboarded cards from the deck. Like I said before, though, it’s hard to cut or board in many cards in this deck without diluting it. I do not discuss combination decks here because they have an easy game against Lands. I suggest boarding in 4 Chalice of the Void and 4 Hope/Pray and see if they mulligan themselves to oblivion.
I posted a stock sideboard in my last article, reprinted here:
This is malleable, of course. The Ray of Revelation can become a second Smokestack. It can be a fourth Tranquil Thicket, which is surprisingly useful when you want to save your Life from the Loams from graveyard hate packed by opponents. If you expect a lot of Zoo, you can try a second Zuran Orb. Generally, you will be sideboarding in some number of Krosan Grips and then one or two other cards, so generally between 3-5 cards change places.
Sideboarding against Reanimator
In the first game against Reanimator, if you do not have Karakas in your deck, you will most likely lose because Iona will stop graveyard recursion. The general plan is to use Tolaria West to find your Tormod’s Crypt and hope that you can stall them. Speaking of stalling, Rishadan Port is amazing in this match because all of the ways that Reanimator can put guys into play happens at sorcery speed. Thus, you can Port them during their upkeep and deprive them of critical black mana for reanimation. Two Ports will buy tremendous time. Hitting enough lands to even cast Show and Tell has been problematic. But make no mistake, they will Iona you in the first game and it will not end well. Postboard, you can bring in that legendary Plains and solve the Angel problem.
Since the plan is all about resource denial and stalling, bringing in those Tormod’s Crypts can buy a heck of a lot of time. I also sideboard in a Smokestack and Ensnaring Bridge if I have one. The Smokestack joins with Tabernacle as a way to remove Shroud monsters, even when the opponent has several basic lands into play. It is a legitimate postboard strategy that you should employ. I don’t worry about bringing in Krosan Grips because most Reanimator lists are shockingly light on graveyard hate; it’s not much of a problem. If you lack an Ensnaring Bridge, then bringing in a Chalice of the Void to tutor for and set to 1 is a good plan. My sideboarding works out like this:
Zuran Orb will never gain enough life to avoid being killed by big monsters and Engineered Explosives needs red, blue, white, black, green, plaid, purple and shamrock colored mana to actually get rid of opposing creatures. Four Crypts after boarding means that the opponent has to either bounce those Crypts or cast Show and Tell, which is thankfully very slow. I don’t like cutting Manabonds, but you stand little chance of a straight-up race here, so you should bank on slowing things down instead. If you predict there will be a lot of reanimator to tangle with, play a Karakas maindeck. Otherwise, this is a match that you will likely have to win in sideboarded games.
Sideboarding Against Merfolk
Preboard, your matchup is highly in your favor because Lands was designed to beat up on these sort of Tribal decks. You can deploy more lands than they can Wasteland and your green enchantments avoid Daze. You can even play around Daze if you have an Exploration in hand and have plenty of time to set up a good board. At that point, you can get Maze of Ith shutting down their creature onslaught and Engineered Explosives smashing their team. You’re unlikely to kill many creatures with Tabernacle because they can pay for it with their infinite basic Islands, which you cannot touch.
Postboard, Merfolk will have Back to Basics and that’s their greatest threat. If I have a Ray of Revelation, I bring that in; otherwise, I board in three Krosan Grips and go from there. Since you know you will face Back to Basics, you’ll get a Forest early with a fetchland and ideally, get Engineered Explosives in hand. Smokestack is also potent against Merfolk because their threats are so small individually that a card which can threaten their army, turn after turn, is fearsome. On top of that, they will usually lack any way to remove the problematic permanent. I generally sideboard like this:
+3 Krosan Grip
You can also board in only two Grips and a Smokestack, which is a plan I’ve been having success with as well. Know that Merfolk will bring in all of their graveyard hate and all of their Back to Basics; unfortunately, you have to fight through a lot more hate. On the upside, they have to mangle their deck to get that to happen; no more Cursecatchers, Jittes or Dazes, usually, since they all come out in some number. If you see the opponent bringing in eight cards, you probably want to bring in your Smokestack (a great alternate plan) and an Ancient Grudge, to kill their Relic of Progenitus (twice!).
Sideboarding against Zoo
In the first game, the entire thing comes down to whether you have Zuran Orb maindecked. If yes, you’ll probably win, thanks to Maze of Ith being great against their attackers. Zoo is vulnerable to Wastelands on their lands. Ports are also good here, but you’ll want to focus on busting out instead of porting them for the middle turns because they have low-cost guys that can come out from the one or two un-Ported lands. If you suspect they have Price of Progress, then get your Orb handy; if they cast it, you can sacrifice lands to ameliorate it. Don’t blow all of your lands, though! This is how to do it: realize that you can sacrifice as many as you want, whenever you want. Decide how much life you need to save right now; each land sacrificed will offset another land in play. If you have nine lands and need six, then you only take six damage from the spell. Later on, you can eat those lands if you need to survive.
Postboard, Zoo will bring in a token amount of graveyard hate, but they don’t have much great stuff to bring in. I usually sideboard like:
As you can see, very sparse. If you fear Blood Moon, certainly you bring in Krosan Grips as well. If you have a lot of room, Smokestack remains great. Your plan in all games is to Mindslaver them, hurling their own burn at them. You can also bring in one Chalice of the Void to tutor for and set at 1 to cut off more burn spells and small creatures. It cuts off your own accelerants, which is the greatest downside. Against Zoo, you just want to race them with your powerful Manabonds, executing a great anti-creature gameplan.
Sideboarding against CounterTop
The number one enemy from this deck is always Counterbalance. They can float a 2-spell on top to cut off the Life from the Loams forever. You can still beat them when locked out by amassing several Mishra’s Factories and Maze of Ith. You can also use Tolaria West to find an Engineered Explosives to bust through the lock. There are certainly options, but when you’re looking to get that Explosives, you might want to get a Maze of Ith first so that Tarmogoyf can’t reliably come over and visit.
The major downfall of these decks is their low basic land count. You can punish this with Wastelands and Rishadan Port. Their Sensei’s Divining Top goes a long way to blunting Ports, and you’ll never fully deny them a mana, but there are ways to make it hurt the most. If you Port in their upkeep, they’ll spend that mana to Top. Instead, Port during their draw step. You still deprive them of a mana and they get to Top, but they won’t draw the top card that turn. It’s the best way to solve a frustrating scenario.
Some lists pack Natural Order, and that card is bad news indeed, since you cannot really stop a Progenitus. Luckily, you can mount a good campaign to keep them off of the necessary 2GG to cast the sorcery. Postboard, you have Smokestack and Ensnaring Bridge, both of which fight the CounterTop deck valiantly. I suggest the following sideboarding plans:
I’ve talked a lot about Smokestack, and it’s one of the best sideboarding plans available. CounterTop gets really grumpy when they start losing a land every turn, especially when those lands are precious basics. If you have Krosan Grip and the option of hitting a Top or Counterbalance, I usually hit the Top; you want to make your Rishadan Ports a lot better and this way, they can’t float that two-cost spell around. Postboard, they’ll also likely take out Dazes, meaning their only 2-cost spells are often Counterbalances and Tarmogoyfs. A lesser amount means lower chances of stopping your Life from the Loams.
Beating Specific Sideboard Cards
Extirpate: Lands fears this card above all others, as it rips the engine right out of the car. Your best defense is that many players do not even play this card. Since that’s an incomplete answer, consider this: most decks playing it are black-green Suicide lists that choke on two-mana spells. This is where you can bring in those Chalice of the Voids; if they have not Extirpated you, set it at one. If they have, you can set one at two, blanking most of their creatures. This should give you enough time to hit thirteen mana and create a Mindslaver lock or beat them with Factories. If you see a lot of Extirpate in your area, run Crucible of Worlds postboard (or be wacky and play Riftsweeper).
Meddling Mage: removing specific creatures can be challenging for Lands, and Mage naming a Life from the Loam is problematic. The best way to kill him is with the singleton Barbarian Ring, but Engineered Explosives can do it too.
Pithing Needle: This card will usually name your Mazes or Tranquil Thickets; the best way to play against the card is to pack Ancient Grudge, which pulls double duty. I don’t like boarding in more Grips than I have to, since they dilute the core plan and cost valuable spaces. Cards like Pithing Needle and Tormod’s Crypt are excellent reasons to pack a Grudge on the board.
Pulling It All Together
With my previous article and this one, you’re prepared to play Blue Lands against friends or enter an event with it. You know why you want certain cards in the list and why a Smokestack is potent from the sideboard. You know to race Zoo but slow Reanimator down, and you’ve got specific sideboarding plans for what to board out for those all-important Krosan Grips. If you have questions about how to board in a specific match or what the general strategy against a deck should be, send me an email or post in the forums. I’ve enjoyed writing about this deck and I want to come back to it in the future, possibly in a head-to-head matchup discussion.
Until next week…
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