SCG Daily: Nathan’s Absolutely Essential Land List (And Then Some)

In the last installment of Nathan’s daily column, the Xaxson one is writing, collecting, answering questions, and takin’ names, punk! This one has it all: Reader Q&A, a please to the Magic community, and Nathan’s list of the most essential lands to add to your Magic: The Gathering collection.

If there’s anything I wanted to do with my last daily article, it would be to drive home how important it is that you try writing about Magic.

I love this game. I’ve loved it now for over ten years. If there’s one tidbit you should know about my dedication to the game, it’s that I’ve never let anything impede my desire to be involved in the community.

I’m no Mike Flores, and I’m no Steven Menendian. Honestly, I’m a nobody – you’ve never seen me make Top Eight at any significant event, ever. In fact, you’ve probably never even seen me at an event, though it’s not like I’m hard to miss. How hard is it to find the black guy with the beanie? I will probably never have an impact on a tournament the same way a guy like Richard Feldman (who, but the way, is Awesome McAwesomeness) will.

So I write. I don’t write for the fame (although it certainly can be a nice perk — muchos thanks to all four of my fans), and I don’t write for the money (although it is nice spending cash, I admit). I write because I love this game. I refuse to stand by and be a blip on the radar screen – I want to share my experiences.

This includes all of the times I get to poke fun at my compadres. I think Mike Flores wants to smack me up the head by now, and let’s not even talk about Oscar Tan. Tim Aten probably loves it, in that self-loathing kind of way. Us writers each have unique styles – individually tuned prose that evokes a sense of who we are. Anyone who’s met me knows that I talk just like the way I write. Well, give-or-take the faint Israeli accent, anyway. For the record, I am probably the least ghetto-sounding black man you’ve ever heard. So while I may fake a good game, I think Ebonics is a crime to humanity.

Please, I beg you. Write some articles. Yes, that means you. I admit that I’m a little biased here, because I would love to be that super-crazy-hypercritical-about-your-missing-punctuation-mark guy that some people who send me mail seem to be — then I could get my revenge. But honestly, it’s because the best way to get better at Magic is by sharing your experiences and getting feedback. I’ve become a better player because of it.

What does writing have to with Magic? Everything and nothing. Everything if you make the effort, nothing if you don’t.

OK, now that I’ve totally wigged you all out (anyone get the Buffy reference?), let’s move into another area I’ve been dying to talk about – card collections. For those of us that play every format – from casual to Vintage to Block – it’s good to build a collection that can support all types of decks.

This guide is by no means exhaustive for everybody, but it should serve as a nice framework. My aim was not to list any card that was ever good in one format at one point in time, but rather to outline those cards that have kept their value over time due to their general power-level, efficiency, or utility.

While you might not see your favorite Extended or Standard card on this list, you will see cards that will almost always be up for inclusion in a deck that could support it. A good example is a card like Forbidden Orchard: It’s great in Vintage Oath decks, but that’s really it. It’s not as universally desired in all decks, as, say, something like Lightning Bolt, which is always a serious consideration for every Red deck.

Other cards on this list are good to have simply because they are a lot of fun, or maybe are good in alternative formats like Type 4/Limited Infinity or multiplayer.

With that in mind, here is the most fundamental list: Lands. Every deck needs lands. Out of all the cards in your collection, you will use lands the most. Having the cards to build a solid mana base – for any deck that you will ever put together – is important. Even if you’re budget doesn’t afford you the luxury of buying all the best creatures, spells, or artifacts, you should really invest towards your mana base. Mana bases are the most important part of the game, and it’s where your investments are worth the most. You will get much more mileage out of your lands than you probably will out of any other card in your collection. That’s why I wanted to start sharing my “collector’s guide” for lands with you. If you guys really love it, I’ll do more collector’s guides.

(My apologies to Mr. Ben Bleiweiss, the collection master. But hey, it’s my Daily and I can guide if I want to.) (Not while I’m editor — Ben, kidding)

I’ve separated the list into categories that make it easier to remember. For convenience, I’ve added an indication of the general cost of cards.

$: The price of these are so insignificant that you should pick them up regardless of whether or not you’ll use them often.

$$: A good staple to have, and one you might have to invest in. Some of these may be expensive to get in multiples, but they are worthwhile.

$$$: At more than $20 each, these will run you a pretty penny. If you don’t think you’ll use them, consider skipping them.

$$$$: If you’re willing to drop $100 or more on a single card, then you might want to take a look at these.

Enough banter, on with the list!

Colored Manabases — Getting the Job Done
2-Color+ Lands:
$$$: 40 Original Dual Lands (Badlands, Bayou, Plateau, Savannah, Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author], Taiga, Tropical Island, Tundra, Underground Sea, Volcanic Island)
$$: 40 Ravnica Dual Lands (Overgrown Tomb, Sacred Foundry, Temple Garden, Watery Grave, and six lands to-be-determined)
$$: 40 Ice-Age/Apocalypse Pain Lands (Adakar Wastes, Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], Caves of Koilos, Brushland, Karplusan Forest, Llanowar Wastes, Shivan Reef, Sulfurous Springs, Underground River, Yavimaya Coast)
$$: 20 Onslaught Fetch Lands (Bloodstained Mire, Flooded Strand, Polluted Delta, Windswept Heath, Wooded Foothills)
$$: Five-Color Lands (City of Brass, Gemstone Mine, Glimmervoid, Tendo Ice Bridge)

When you think about building a deck, you just want the manabase to work. You don’t want to pray that your deck will offer you up the mana that you want on its own whim. You want it to have the consistency that allows you to avoid losses due to color screw.

Whenever I start building a casual deck, if it’s two allied colors, I start off with a playset each of the original dual lands, the Ice Age/Apocalypse painlands, the Onslaught fetchlands, and six basic lands of each color. After I playtest, I tweak these numbers accordingly – but whatever I tweak it to, or whatever I splash for, I know that I’ve got the lands I need to make it work. I don’t need to scramble the day I show up to a tournament for silly things like land, and I never have to fret about splashing because my collection can always provide me with the lands I need.

The best part is acquiring these is that you’ll use these over and over again. The more you play, the more you’ll make these worth your investment. Every one of the cards on the above list will probably get used countless over the course of your Magic-playing life.

Some of you may disagree, and claim there’s no way you’ll use Savannah or Glimmervoid. Fine, so don’t get those. But if you have the opportunity to get them cheaply in trade, consider picking them up and holding onto them. They might prove useful in the future.

Multi-mana Lands — Acceleration Through Lands Alone
$$$$: 4x Mishra’s Workshop
$$$: 1x Tolarian Academy
$$: 4x City of Traitors, Ancient Tomb
$$: 3x Serra’s Sanctum, Gaea’s Cradle, Lake of the Dead, Cabal Coffers

At some point, you’ll want to build a deck that needs more mana than normal land drops allow. That’s where these cards come in. Not everyone will need Serra’s Sanctum, but it’s not a bad thing to have on hand.

Obviously, not everyone can buy Mishra’s Workshop. But if you have ‘em, you probably want to keep them. Even if you don’t have Workshops, there’s no excuse to lack the broken Tolarian Academy in your arsenal of manabase tools. It’s on the border of the twenty-dollar mark, but you only need one, so it’s worth acquiring.

Mana Denial — Turning Your Lands Against Your Opponent
$$: 4x Wasteland, Rishadan Port
$: 2x Dust Bowl, 1x Strip Mine

With the exception of the original dual lands and the five-color lands, you will probably use these lands more than any other cards on these lists. Iif you want to be able to build competitive decks, you will probably need these cards. Even the slow Dust Bowl has seen plenty of use in the old Extended, and it’s a great one-of or two-of in decks that can tutor for lands. A Fourth Edition Strip Mine can easily be picked up for a few bucks, so there’s no reason not to get at least one of those as well.

Manlands — Packaging Uncounterable Threats in Mana Slots
$$: 4x Mishra’s Factory, Blinkmoth Nexus
$$: 3x Kjeldoran Outpost
$: 4x Treetop Village; Faerie Conclave; Stalking Stones; Vhitu-Ghazi, the City Tree
$: 2x Tomb of Urami

Some of you may question my inclusion of Kjeldoran Outpost and Vhitu-Ghazi as man-lands, but that’s really the best category to put them both in. They are uncounterable creature generator in the mana slot, are they not? That’s good enough for me to put them here.

None of these cards should come as a surprise. Blinkmoth Nexus has proven its worth as both an evasion creature, and as a sacrifical lamb to Shrapnel Blast. Mishra’s Factory is still the most commonly used manland in Vintage. Treetop Village and Faerie Conclave are popular cards that have seen use in both Extended and Vintage, and Stalking Stones is good for control decks.

Tomb of Urami, a newcomer, almost didn’t make it onto this list. Once I started playing with it, I changed my mind. Quite honestly, it makes a huge creature. A huge, 5/5 flying critter – one that can be put into play at the end of your opponent’s turn. It bashes face and ends games in short order. It’s just awesome in black aggro decks that need to push through those last points of damage. Two is probably enough, since you probably won’t use more than that in a deck. Besides, even if you don’t use it often, it’s easy to get and cheap. Why not pick them up?

Card Avantage — Lands that Provide You Extra Resources
$$$$: 4x Bazaar of Baghdad, 1x Library of Alexandria
$$: 4x Thawing Glaciers
$$: 2x Volrath’s Stronghold
$: 2x Mikokoro, Center of the Sea

Mikokoro, Center of the Sea may be a good card, but I doubt you’re going to want to include it in every control deck you build. On the other hand, you certainly would include Library of Alexandria in every control deck you built, if you had it. Not everyone wants to rush out and pick up Bazaar of Baghdad either, but like I said earlier about Workshops, if you have them, they should probably stay put in your collection.

Some may question my call on Thawing Glaciers here, but they are awesome even in mono-colored decks. By thinning out lands from your library, it generates a significant increase in card quality over time. It’s particularly good in decks that can play multiple lands per turn, via Fastbond, Exploration, and the like. Perhaps the Onslaught fetchlands accomplish this task just as well, but I love my Glaciers. Where they really come in handy, though, is in 5-Color. I know some groups restrict it, but it’s awesome if you play a 250-card deck. If you ever play a Battle of Wits deck, Thawing Glaciers is a sweet inclusion.

Creature Control — Stop Those Pesky Attackers
$$$: 2x The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
$$: 3x Maze of Ith, 2x Karakas
$: 4x Quicksand, 4x Barbarian Ring, 2x Kor Haven

Many people don’t realize that there are several lands that can play defense. Maze of Ith is probably the most famous of the bunch, but the rest of these cards have proven equally effective as creature control. The Tabernacle is a great way to disrupt that token-generating deck your friend always brings to the kitchen table. Notably, I left Ice Floe off this list — I just don’t think it’s nearly as good as the rest of the cards on this list.

The most unexpected item on the list is probably Karakas. With the release of the Kamigawa block and its heavily-legendary focus, the quality and playability of legendary creatures has greatly improved. Karakas can help stem the tide of damage that you might find in a casual match against Ink-Eyes, or Kokusho, or other large beaters.

However, Karakas is worthy of scrutiny due to the recent metagame developments in Vintage, where Oath of Druids is one of the most popular decks. Karakas can totally screw up an Oath deck’s plan to hit you with Akroma or Razia. True, you have to watch out for Wasteland; but Karakas is still a cheap, uncounterable anti-Oath option that could very well knock the unprepared opponent right out of the game.

The Rest — Extra Utility in a Neat Little Package
$$: 3x Boseiju, Who Shelters All
$: 2x Glacial Chasm

These cards are special in their own right. Boseiju will continue to play an important role in Magic decks as a way for all colors to have some sort of foil against blue permission decks and as a way to battle Chalice of the Void.

The inclusion of Glacial Chasm is a bit harder to explain. It is a unique land — if it wasn’t for the life loss associated with its cumulative upkeep, it could sustain you indefinitely against an unprepared opponent. Thankfully, we now have Crucible of Worlds and Life from the Loam to help recur the Chasm. With a Crucible and method to play more than one land a turn (such as Azusa or Exploration), you can play the Chasm and then replay the land you had to sacrifice to put it into play. On the next turn, you can choose not to pay the upkeep cost, and repeat this process. Against many aggro decks, this can buy you a ton of time.

There are other ways to abuse the Chams (Pestilence immediately springs to mind — Ben). I decided to add it to the list because its effect is so powerful. Feel free to skip this card if this ability sounds boring to you.

Honorable Mentions — The Common Lands You Want
20x Urza’s Saga Cycling Lands (Drifting Meadow, Polluted Mire, Remote Isle, Slippery Karst, Smoldering Crater) (What, no love for Blasted Landscape? — Ben)
20x Onslaught Cycling Lands (Barren Moor, Forgotten Cave, Lonely Sandbar, Secluded Steppe, Tranquil Thicket)
20x Mercadian Masques Depletion Lands (Hickory Woodlot, Peat Bog, Remote Farm, Sandstone Needle, Saprazzan Skerry)
24x Mirrodin/Darksteel Artifact Lands (Ancient Den, Darksteel Citadel, Great Furnace, Seat of the Synod, Tree of Tales, Vault of Whispers)

Not all good lands have to be rare or uncommon. All of the above common lands are useful to have in several different types of decks. Cycling is always good, and the artifact lands can be used in conjunction with Thirst for Knowledge or as tutor targets for Trinket Mage. The indestructible nature of the Citadel also makes it a worthwhile inclusion if your friends like playing with land destruction. The multimana depletion lands find their way into all sorts of combo decks, so it’s nice to have them on hand as well.

That wraps it up for the lands, so let me leave you with the top ten questions people ask me.

10) What’s your favorite card?

The birthday card with Kaori Manabe. FrummyChick knew I would love it. Heck, she loves it.

9) Who’s your favorite Magic Writer?

Hands down, Geordie Tait. Doctor Mox easily comes in second.

8) Who taught you how to play Magic?

My friends Zwadi and Sakka. If you’re reading this, thenwhere the heck are you guys? I haven’t seen you in ages.

7) Why don’t you post on the forums?

Because I guess that the forum name “njx” must stand for New Jersey Ten.

6) What does it mean to keep kosher?

It means, “What in Kalamazoo does this have to do with Magic?”

5) Who is FrummyChick?

The mother of my daughter, who interestingly enough, happens to be my wife. (I’m sure you mean that FrummyChick is both your wife and the mother of your daughter, but who am I to judge? — Ben, smirking)

4) If you could design one card, what would it be?

Shallow Harvest, GG, Sorcery: Put target Island or non-basic land on top of it’s owner’s library.

3) Why don’t you write about Extended?

Because Extended doesn’t write about me. Duh.

2) Where does your last name come from?

My parents took it from the first license plate they saw.

1) Black and Jewish? Huh?

Nope. I’m really bright green and you’re just colorblind.

You’ve been great, guys. Here’s to Magic.


-Nathan J

Special mad-hatter hails to big bad Bsertai. Because no dude rocks like Bsertai rocks. Peace-out.