No Pain, No Gain

Patrick Chapin, “The Innovator,” takes a look at the seismic shifts that are now possible in Standard because of five little lands we now know are about to be released in Magic 2015. Will enemy painlands change everything?

Enemy pain lands.

Some reprints carry with them more weight than others. M15’s reprinting of the Apocalypse enemy painlands is not a trivial change to the format.

First of all, the very fact that there are enemy painlands, but not the allied ones, is interesting. The most likely reason is that Khans of Tarkir, this fall, has allied dual lands and R&D wants to makes sure that there are enough dual lands to make up for the shocklands rotating out this fall.

Of course, it’s also possible that this fall features tri-lands instead of dual lands. With all of the rumors circulating about Khans being focused on the enemy wedge color combinations, some speculate that we may see a cycle of tri-lands.

As Aaron Forsythe would remind us, the five wedges are:

  • Raka – Red, White, Blue
  • Dega – White, Black, Red
  • Junk – Black, Green, White
  • BUG – Green, Blue, Black
  • RUG – Blue, Red, Green

As tempting as the tri-lands are, I am skeptical that they would print them. The only reason they didn’t seem overpowered before was following on the tail of Vivid lands (which were also overpowered). If this is really a three-color set, I hope we’ll see a tri-land of some variety, but I wouldn’t be so sure that the Crumbling Necropolis-style lands are really the variety that would make sense in the current Standard.

Regardless of what happens this fall, enemy painlands in M15 means there will at the very least be a temporary imbalance. That’s already cool, but that it is the enemy color combinations, which are rarely boosted ahead, well that’s just freaking sweet. An imbalance of mana options means that the incentives for which colors to play are going to shift. This is going to be most loudly the case for aggressive strategies that really need untapped lands. The Temples are much, much stronger than painlands, but if you just want a dual land that comes into play untapped on turn one, painlands have what you need.

No pain, no gain.

This means that aggressive decks are generally going to skew towards the enemy color combinations:

Boros – Red, White

Orzhov – White, Black

Golgari – Black, Green

Simic – Green, Blue

Izzet – Blue, Red

Painlands definitely make three-color aggro decks more viable, too, but things start getting a little blurry there, particularly when we already have Mana Confluence and more dual lands than we could possibly play.

One of the loudest implications of painlands is just how much of a tax they are going to be on most players. I don’t mean on their wallet, as painlands won’t be all that expensive. I’m talking about their life totals. Shocklands require a resource optimization decision each time you play one, whereas painlands require one every single time you use them. People are going to take so much more damage than they should.

It’s not even just that people will tap wrong, play lands in the wrong order, and misevaluate which spells to play when. More important than any of this, people are going to play way too many painlands. There is a real limit to how much you can use your life total as a resource, and the game is much more aggressive than it was when painlands were last in Standard. People are going to play decks with eight enemy painlands and four Mana Confluence plus a dozen shocklands, and then be surprised when they get utterly destroyed by anybody remotely aggressive.

Painlands are not great.

Which is not to say they are bad, because they definitely aren’t. They are just very much on the other end of the dual land power spectrum from Temples. Temples are so strong they are often worth playing in mono-color decks. Conversely, painlands are so medium that they are often worth cutting from two-color decks. The point is, painlands are not to be used recklessly. They provide something valuable, but the cost is very high, so make sure you know what you’re signing up for if you go that road.

Obviously, aggro decks with one-drops are going to line up for these, but even slower decks are going to really appreciate them, since painlands actually work really well with more dual lands (since other dual lands reduce the odds that you’ll have to actually take pain from your painlands). That they are untapped means you can more reliably have the colors you need when you need them. I just think back to block and pretty much everyone would have loved to have access to these, so I’ve got a feeling they will be even more important after the rotation.

OK, let’s take a look at some painland decks. Sometimes the impact of an extra set of duals is dramatic, other times it just means taking slightly less damage because of getting to upgrade some of your Mana Confluences. Let’s start with an obvious one, Boros aggro.

Splashing red or black has been pretty standard for white aggro over the past year, but the archetype hasn’t really been Tier One most of that time. Having access to so many untapped dual lands that we can actually reliably curve out is a pretty big change that may force us to reevaluate this strategy.

Boros Charm is the typical red splash, giving us an answer to Supreme Verdict as well as extra reach (beyond Brave the Elements). Akroan Hoplite is a pretty potent card that has seen little play due to mana considerations. Now, with twelve untapped duals, we can go ahead and get the power upgrade. As a nice bonus, if we’re in a racing situation, Akroan Hoplite is a juicy Boros Charm target for double strike.

It’s worth noting that every creature but Banisher Priest is a Soldier, so we could totally play an Obelisk of Urd if we wanted. Dictate of Heliod would be sweet, but it’s a little pricey. Obelisk of Urd is going to come down on turn three a fair percentage of the time.

Spirit Bonds is a bit of a wildcard. It might just be that this list is the equivalent of a Faeries deck with one Bitterblossom, so be sure to laugh at me later when everyone plays four Spirit Bonds in every deck and everyone always knew it was right. In the meantime, I just want to make sure to put at least one in every white creature deck to learn as much as I can about the card. Maybe it’s merely good in the right decks, but man, just reading it, it sure seems like a killer – specifically a killer against black decks.

This list appreciates the Battlefield Forge, sure, but there is a lot further we could push it if we wanted to. For instance, what about a hyper-aggro deck overflowing on one-drops?

This deck is a little over the top. Twenty-four one-drops that hit for two or more? I guess we’re serious. That’s actually about a 75% chance of drawing and playing three creatures by turn two. Hope you brought your Drown in Sorrows

While very aggressive Boros decks get the most out of Battlefield Forge, they are also excellent for enabling Boros decks that try to play CC of both colors early. I experimented with Prophetic Flamespeaker + Brimaz, King of Oreskos in block, but had two problems with it. First, it struggled against black decks, with too many reactive cards and not enough Planeswalkers. Second, the mana was just a little too hard.

Well, Battlefield Forge and Sacred Foundry (and Boros Guildgate if we want it) means number two is no problem, and Chandra, Pyromaster and Chandra’s Phoenix are pretty awesome ways to fight removal based strategies.

This list features a lot of snowball-y creatures and Planeswalkers that can build advantages each turn. If an opponent ever falls behind in tempo, you gain extra tokens and extra cards each turn. Chandra’s Phoenix doesn’t explicitly fit this theme, but it is an awesome way for us to convert our extra reactive cards into threats against control decks. Lightning Strike, Warleader’s Helix, and Chandra, Pyromaster ensure we have plenty of ways to get the Phoenix back if we need to go long.

The sideboard has lots of great options, albeit not a lot of surprises. One card worth paying extra close attention to is Burning Earth. That card might be about to make a comeback in a big way. If the format moves away from so much mono-black and mono-blue, with more people using painlands to splash colors, Burning Earth doesn’t just have more non-basics to hit, it will be hitting players with lower life totals (as a result of all this tapping painlands willy-nilly).

Another possible home for Battlefield Forge is Naya, but it’s actually surprisingly ill-suited for most Naya decks for reasons that will become clear in a moment.

This is basically just Zoo-experiment Pat Cox’s Brave Naya list, but “taking advantage of Battlefield Forge.” The thing is, green mana is actually what we need, not red. Hell, we already had more red mana than we needed… this is really just a W/G deck splashing Ghor-Clan Rampager and Boros Charm/Mizzium Mortars in the sideboard.

Of course, the addition of Battlefield Forge does mean we could easily incorporate even more red, but what red cards do we even want? This list doesn’t even use Chained to the Rocks, and Battlefield Forge is still a tough fit. Chained to the Rocks, of course, wants you to play some Mountains (minimum eight, but preferably more like ten). Every Battlefield Forge is one less Mountain in a white deck.

There’s also going bigger with Naya, but is Battlefield Forge really what they are looking for? Here’s a crazy approach to Naya, cutting the mana acceleration to just pack as many threats in as possible. This is probably just ludicrous, but it does mean we have room for more land (and actually get to play Battlefield Forge).

This sure is a lot of quality cards, but not playing stuff like Selesnya Charm let alone Sylvan Caryatid is questionable. However, at least we get to play a good two into a good three.

We already spoke on W/r aggro, but W/b aggro also appreciates another untapped dual.

OK, this one is a little excessive too, but it is interesting to have access to so many one-cost two-power drops and actually be able to cast them. Maybe we pull back a little and look at a more normal curve:

Caves of Koilos (and Mana Confluence) means we can actually play all the Humans we always really wanted to, like Tormented Hero and Pain Seer, but never really had the mana to cast reliably in a white aggro deck. This set up makes Xathrid Necromancer quite strong, particularly against removal-based strategies.

Of note about this list is the choice to keep all of the Thoughtseizes in the sideboard. That might just be foolish, but I kind of imagine some amount of backlash against Thoughtseize, at least on day one. We are already taking so much damage from our lands and spells, and I kind of just want to focus on being as tempo-positive as possible (with Thoughtseize obviously being tempo-negative).

More importantly, Caves of Koilos opens up options for B/W midrange. Obviously you can use it to just bolster the mana in “classic” B/W midrange decks, but it might also be enough to expand the types of options available to a B/W player. For instance:

Maybe Nightveil Specter is just better for us, but Brimaz is a stronger card at its foundation, so now that the mana permits it, it is kind of exciting to try. Thoughtseize + Brimaz is a pretty hot combo. Besides, there are a lot of factors pulling people towards Bile Blight instead of Doom Blade. Brimaz does very well in that little head-to-head, let me just tell you.

The problem I keep coming back to, though, is Lifebane Zombie. That card is just such a nightmare for anyone trying to be a good human being and play green or white monsters. I just really hope the answer isn’t “don’t play white or green creatures for three more months.”

One possible oddball approach to Caves of Koilos is as support for a Warden of Beyond deck, with Banisher Priest.

Continuing our way around the painlands, Llanowar Wastes might be the most appreciated and most needed. It’s not even just these B/g Devotion decks, although they are happy to have it. For instance:

Yay. I guess. I mean, you can spice it up a little, get a little bit of Vraska action in there, and it’s probably pretty decent, but it’s not exactly revolutionary. Llanowar Wastes is a helluva lot better than Mana Confluence and Forest in these decks. Maybe there’s not supposed to be four. I could believe that. You could totally play a Golgari Guildgate or two if you needed. I guess you could even play a Temple of Mystery if you’re feeling frisky. The point, however, is just that Llanowar Wastes is a totally fine addition, it’s just not game-changing.

We could use Llanowar Waste to get a little more adventurous with our green splash, better supporting Courser of Kruphix.

Courser of Kruphix is totally radical with Underworld Connections, however this approach does take a lot of wind out of our Gray Merchant’s sails. We probably need to just use the Gray Merchants, anyway, trimming a little of everything. Additionally, it leaves us a little more vulnerable to Lifebane Zombie, on the draw anyway. Maybe we just board out Courser of Kruphix against black decks and hope they don’t have that many main.

Going a little more to the extreme, Llanowar Waste provides a major boost to self-mill strategies. There are far more B/G graveyard cards than we can possibly fit into a deck, but a running theme is a desire to play relatively few lands (like twenty-ish), which puts a major strain on our colored mana requirements. We want untapped green on turn one for Elvish Mystic, but we also need double black for Nighthowler and Herald of Torment. Llanowar Waste helps mitigate our slavish dependence on Mana Confluence.

This list borrows a lot of ideas from the sorts of B/G Graveyard decks that Conley Woods has been advancing over the past few months. Not only does it gain a huge boost to its manabase, Soul of Innistrad adds a very powerful avenue of assuring a late game advantage against U/W/x control or Mono-Black Devotion.

The Soul of Innistrad endgame is so good, in fact, we probably want to tune the deck in such a way as to have the rest of the deck set up to beat aggression. Slow decks are going to have such a helluva time trying to combat the Soul of Innistrad engine, and in fact we probably want to even abandon the Eidolon of Blossoms + Kruphix’s Insight elements. For instance, we could go back a more Nemesis of Mortals approach and just try to grind people out with giant fatties that we keep Soul of Innistrading back:

These decks have been long on options for a while, but none of them really stood head-and-shoulders above the rest. Soul of Innistrad has the potential to do just that, if we can give it the right kind of support. It kind of suggests a weakness to extremely proactive decks like Mono-Blue Devotion, but if people try to overload on removal and fight an attrition-based game, they are just going to get buried alive.

One final option opened up by Llanowar Wastes is the possibility of splashing green in a black aggro deck:

I’m not sure how badly we needed Abrupt Decay in here, but if we want it, it is now on the table. We also gain plenty of reasonable sideboard options, like Unravel the Aether, Golgari Charm, maybe even Vraska. I’m not sure we are quite ready for Lotleth Troll and Boon Satyr, but if we bend the manabase even more, they are options.

Yavimaya Coast is, strangely, the painland I am least excited about. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine, it’ll have some homes, it’s just that U/G isn’t exactly the beatdown color combination at the moment. On the other hand, the premier beatdown deck is mono-blue, so maybe there’s a splash to be had:

So, the good news is, splashing green is easy and doesn’t even cost much in the way of tapped lands. The bad news is that we don’t really get all that much out of it. Maybe Fog, Simic Charm, Unravel the Aether, and Plummet are just the hotness out of the sideboard, but I’m skeptical. I think the main thing is just to keep this manabase in mind, in the event that a green card comes along that you just absolutely must slide into Mono-Blue.

Hypnotic Siren over Judge’s Familiar? Man, I just think Hypnotic Siren is underplayed. It’s not like people being able to Deicide your Hypnotic Siren is magically going to change things. Hell, that might be an upside, protecting Thassa or Bident. Judge’s Familiar’s ability to disrupt spells is fine, but Hypnotic Siren can be bestowed with Nykthos for a pretty exciting Plan B.

One deck that really, really appreciates a Yavimaya Coast is U/G Evolve:

The only problem is that the core gameplan of the U/G Evolve deck isn’t the most sound, however, greatly improved mana may be reason enough to give it another look, to see if we can find some piece of technology to move it into competitive play.

It’s tempting to look to put Yavimaya Coast into a control deck, but with Temples and Ravnica shocklands, it’s not actually either needed or wanted. I guess if we built a primarily U/G deck, maybe with a light splash, it would be conceivable that Yavimaya Coast has a purpose – but it’s hard to play a reactive strategy without a heavy emphasis on white or black at the moment. Once we embrace one of those colors, we end up with something like this:

Yeah, the new lands aren’t exactly groundbreaking for this kind of a deck, though I do think that BUG is going to be on the rise. Liliana Vess is actually kind of underrated (and, frankly, should be tried in basically every black devotion deck).

If only there was some reason to play Bant Aggro or somesuch, then Yavimaya Coast could actually shine. Without anything like Geist of Saint Traft, it’s hard coming up with what exactly we’d want to splash in G/W Aggro.

Finally, we come to Shivan Reef. Shivan Reef is definitely the best in Modern of the bunch, enabling no shortage of U/R combo decks. In Standard, however, its purpose is far less clear. There isn’t really a mainstream U/R deck, though Keranos is a very powerful card looking for a stable home, and there are both Mono-Blue and Mono-Red decks that might be in the market to splash.

Blue Devotion doesn’t super-need the red splash, but maybe Keranos is just powerful enough against control and black decks to be worth it. I definitely don’t hate having Mizzium Mortars in the sideboard, and I guess Turn // Burn is on the table. Mizzium Mortars isn’t just a cheap removal spell, it’s also a very real Nykthos payoff if you have a Frostburn Weird in play to backdoor enough red mana to overload it.

What would Mono-Red splash blue for? I don’t know. The mana is there if we come up with a reason to want to, but I’m just not seeing it. More exciting is the possibility of some kind of a U/R or U/R/x tempo deck. Prophetic Flamespeaker has not had his full day in the sun yet.

There are a lot of sweet tempo cards to try, but the key to this deck’s success (if there is any) is preying on a specific metagame. There are a lot of ways you could build a U/R Tempo deck, but they are all generally going to be very good against the couple decks you want to beat and a little underpowered against unknown opponents. It’s a risky path for Day One of the format, but if the format ends up being heavily focused on just a couple decks, you could really tune a U/R Tempo deck to be effective against it.

For instance, if the format is super-saturated with black decks, increasing the focus on Soul of Shandalar could be real sweet. We already have Chandra’s Phoenix and Planeswalkers for a good game against them, we just need more good answers to Desecration Demon. Encrust is a totally legit option that might be what we have to settle for.

Shivan Reef is also a totally reasonable option for U/W/R Control, but we’re talking about another situation where having access to Temples and Ravnica shocklands means if we want Shivan Reef, it is in pretty serious moderation. It could be of more value if we had very specialized mana requirements, such as Boros Reckoner making us want to play literal zero Islands.

Anyway, the point of all this is that the Apocalypse painlands are among the most important cards spoiled thus far. They aren’t the strongest dual lands, by any stretch of the imagination, but if you are just really in the market for an untapped dual land, there are now some passable options. This is most important for beatdown and means that beatdown decks are going to shift even more towards the enemy color pairs. My only word of warning is to think before just adding these lands to a deck. With great power comes great responsibility. Don’t be one of those people that just takes way more damage than they should. If you’re tuning your deck and feel like you are taking too much damage, it is definitely OK to trim these.

I’m out for today, but when I return:


Life’s Legacy has lots of potential applications, including Ghor-Clan Rampager for the blowouts. Harness by Force is a totally reasonable Act of Treason variant on its own, and if you pull of the combo (preferably on a Desecration Demon) you are going to be able to tell your kids stories about it someday.

As for Waste Not and Whispering Madness, the combo is obvious enough, but what’s really cool is finally giving Whispering Madness some support besides just relying on Notion Thief. Now you can play both the Thief and Waste Not and having Whisping Madness be a platinum hit every time you draw it. Now, if you are discarding Soul of Innistrad

Requests for previewed cards to be built around? Hit me with ’em! There’s nothing sweeter than brewing with new cards, so let me know which ones you want to see… and if you’ve got some sick combo, get it on the floor and let’s see if we can break it!