The Wasteland Conundrum

AJ Sacher returns! He has a lot of great advice on updating your Legacy lists, and they include the most infamous land in the format! AJ thinks the shaving of Wastelands is a bit unusual considering how much value it can gain you at #SCGPORT!

Hello, all you beautiful nerds and nerdettes! Did you miss me? I missed you. Let’s get a quick recap off before delving into our material for the day. I
took a break from the game but am easing my way back, and will hopefully be making content semi-regularly again. I have begun splitting my stream time between Hearthstone and Magic, despite V4 being practically unusable let alone unstreamable. I also
attended Grand Prix New Jersey a couple weeks ago, in which I piloted U/R Delver to a decent-but-disappointing 11-4 record, which was good for 132nd place
and a min-cash. Back in my day, I would have been one match win short of a Pro Tour qualification, but nowadays that is a full six points out. Four
thousand people is an extremely impressive number, and StarCityGames puts on one heck of a show.

The albums of the tournament were Lake Street Dive’s self-titled album, and Cake’s Fashion Nugget (a couple of tracks in particular). Here is the list I

Compare that to Dan Jordan’s much more stock list which he took to a top 8 finish:

You’ll note three key differences. The first is the Dig Through Time, which is simply the fifth Treasure Cruise. In my testing, which was all streamed, I
kept noticing that all I ever wanted to draw was Treasure Cruise, and I never really minded having multiples. It was easy enough to get rid of extras, but
going a game without drawing one often spelled game over. An interesting thing to note is that, while Cruise is generally better preboard by being cheaper
mana-wise and more raw cards, post-board I prefer Dig. You’re going to have more individually powerful and high-impact cards in your deck (presumably,
since that’s what sideboarding ideally entails) so finding a specific two becomes much better than a generic three. Also, the forms of instant-speed
interaction go up a non-zero amount, meaning access to mana on your opponents’ turns becomes much more valuable. Lastly, the drawback of Dig costing two
actual factual mana goes down as the games go longer and are less condensed, and this is the case for a higher percentage of post-board games. All of this
comes together to mean that in sideboarding, if I shave any of this effect, it will be Cruises before the Dig.

I also played a Tropical Island main so that the sideboard artifact killer could become Ancient Grudge. I got this piece of tech from Gerry Thompson’s article leading up to the GP, but when
we got to our hotel room and I showed him I was using his tech, he sheepishly admitted that he had changed his mind and wasn’t playing the Grudges. But I
still liked them; Smelt is an instant, but gets wrapped up in a Chalice of the Void for one. Smash to Smithereens gets around Chalice, but the three damage
you get in exchange for the extra mana isn’t often worthwhile (especially in my burn-light build, considering some people had Chain Lightnings and a
Fireblast main). Shattering Spree is cheap and gets around Chalice (you can replicate it and the Chalice trigger only counters the original) and can even
kill multiple artifacts, but sorcery-speed is too poor against Stoneforge Mystic and Batterskull. Also, the dream of killing more than one artifact isn’t
too realistic, as they often come into play one at a time. Ancient Grudge is the best of all of those worlds, all for the low price of having to play a
non-basic blue source over the second Island.

Now for the real spice in the list–and the main topic for today’s discussion–the intriguing two-of Wasteland. U/R Delver generally doesn’t play Wastes,
and common logic dictates that if you are to play Wastes, they come in fours. This is due to the way they scale and compound in multiples. While that logic
generally holds, I feel strongly that it is not the only way to go about things, and that is what I hope shed some light on.

History and Ancestry

It’s true, U/R Delver doesn’t play Wastelands and never really has. But if we take a look into why, we see that the predecessors to today’s builds had
multiple very good reasons to not play them. Multiple very good reasons that, I might add, are no longer applicable. The first is the anti-synergy with the
Goblin Guides that they played. It doesn’t make much sense to give them lands then try to destroy them. The other anti-synergy was with Price of Progress.
Those builds were much more aggressively built, lacking any form of lategame, and thus, needed to finish people off with burn. Price of Progress is the
most efficient of these doming burn spells, assuming you aren’t destroying opposing non-basics throughout the game with Wastelands.

Now, however, Monastery Swiftspear being a near strict-upgrade to Goblin Guide, the drawback that counteracts your own Wastelands no longer exists. Also,
with the addition of Treasure Cruise and Young Pyromancer, the deck’s lategame has actually become quite formidable. This means you don’t need the
hail-mary-esque burn finish as you can contend past turn 5; you can win legitimately in longer games. Once you cut the Goblin Guides and Price of
Progresses, why not add Wasteland?

Pratts and Pitfalls

My testing started with a full set of Wastelands, upping the land count to 19. After some initial success, I began to find myself flooding a tad too much
and the extra Wastes not accomplishing enough. I wasn’t choking their resources enough, and my creatures weren’t hitting hard and fast enough (save a
flipped Delver) to really take advantage of the time gained by activating Wasteland. When you have a five-power Tarmogoyf striking, you’re well-suited to
have a turn of mana parity. Not so much when a Monastery Swiftspear is poking for a point or two.

So why bother with Wasteland at all? Simply put, because it’s a good card. And one that you can utilize. Traditional wisdom dictates that it is a
four-or-zero type of card. I don’t see it that way. Sure, you don’t get the double-Waste, auto-win draws, but you also don’t have the auto-loss draws when
you mull to oblivion looking for colored sources. You can use it as a roleplayer rather than a strategy unto itself.

I even had multiple people suggesting adding Stifles to the deck to supplement the Wastelands. This is not only moving in the wrong direction, but a common
fallacy in deckbuilding; you don’t need to play “bad” cards to make your already good cards “better.” There’s merit to having a cohesive strategy and
inter-card synergy, but there’s also something to be said for having individually high impact and high power-level cards. There’s too much to be said on
this subject for right now, so perhaps we’ll revisit it soon.

For now, suffice to say, putting the opponent to zero lands and having them unable to do anything is nice and all, but not at all necessary to win a game
of Magic. And not at all the only way to use a card like Wasteland.

Incorporation and Theory

Magic, like everything else, is a game of resource management. One of the resources granted to you by the game rules is the ability to make a land drop
each turn. The problem is that at a certain point, this resource loses its value. That comes fairly early for a deck like U/R Delver with an incredibly low
and condensed curve. And so, how do you get value out of the land drop despite having nothing to do with the extra mana? By using it to deny them a mana!
For the price of a half of a turn cycle of access to the land, you can make use of your land drops beyond the usual point by attacking opposing land drops
which are, by their nature, going to be much more valuable than your own.

With the huge amount of card draw the deck has thanks to Treasure Cruise, you rarely miss land drops in the lategame, yet you have nothing to do with the
excess mana. So why not put those land drops to use? And besides, you still have access to the usual uses of Wasteland that we’ve come to know.

The basic principle of the tempo-Wasteland is to get ahead on board, then use it to otherwise break even, thus pushing your advantage. This play stays
equally valid whether you are playing two copies or four. Granted, they do compound heavily in multiples, but that doesn’t mean the first doesn’t have
great value. And capping their mana production can make it extremely difficult to do multiple things in the same turn, which is the best way to catch up
from a tempo or time disadvantage.

Besides the tempo angle, there is also the card advantage or virtual card advantage angle of blanking more expensive cards in their hand by keeping them
off of the requisite mana, be it amount or color. Not to mention that you have Dazes in your deck, and attacking their mana can extend the purpose of these
soft-counters that have a tendency to become dead fairly quickly in a game.

Utility and Utilization

Having Wasteland in your deck in any number gives access to the aforementioned types of draws. If you have one early, you can play in this fashion. And
what if you don’t draw them? Then you just play as normal! Having the capacity in your deck to produce these draws gives you a new and different, often
unexpected avenue of attack.

They will rarely play around Wasteland from U/R Delver, and though you may think that playing around Price of Progress incidentally plays around Waste,
that is only partially true; even though they both incentivize basics, Price of Progress is a lategame concern, while Wasteland is an early-game concern.
One will fetch normally early to develop as quickly and efficiently as possible, then stop getting non-basics to limit their exposure to Price. This often
ends up playing into the hands of the Wastelander.

Also worth mentioning is that the opponent will be forced to respect the possibility of Wastelands after the first, and in the post-sideboard games, while
it’s possible that you don’t ever draw them. This principle preys on the commonly held belief that it is a zero-or-four-of type of card, as previously
discussed. Once they see one, they will likely assume you have four. Or, at the very least, have to respect the possibility that you could have
four. As nice as it would be to have four Wastelands, there just isn’t enough room in the deck, as you need a certain number of colored sources to operate
and can’t afford to play much more than the standard sixteen lands (Though I prefer to play seventeen with the two Wastes, then board one out when it’s not
good, either the Tropical Island or one of the Wastes).

There is precedent for running Wasteland as a two-of in Legacy. The first example that comes to mind is the old standby, Shardless Sultai. While the threat
and disruption suites are quite different, both decks have the ability to bury people in card advantage late by chaining big draw spells. This is the core
principle behind the Wastelands, even though Sultai used them more often as removal while U/R uses them more for tempo.

Targets and Tactics

Right now, Legacy has multiple decks that are playing sixteen lands and can sometimes fold to a single Waste. There are also a good number of splashes off
of a single source going on that can be shut down when games go long.

There are a few decks that need a good amount of mana to operate, and Wasteland will always serve a role. Miracles and Sneak and Show are two that stick
out as highly playable, highly mana-intensive decks. You can even keep Miracles off of double white for things like Council’s Judgment, miracled Entreat
the Angels, or hardcast Terminus. Meanwhile, Sneak and Show is one of a handful of decks that use Sol Ring lands, Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors.

There aren’t too many manlands running around anymore, except maybe Dryad Arbors, but being able to take down any Mutavaults or Mishra’s Factory’s you face
is quite nice. And if you ever get paired against Tom Ross, Wasteland is one of the best cards you can have access to against his innovative Infect deck
and its Inkmoth Nexus brigade. In fact, there are plenty of fringe decks that dislike playing against Wasteland. You can have a fighting chance against
things like Lands or Cloudpost. Shutting down Grove of the Burnwillows from recurring Punishing Fire is borderline essential to winning those matchups.

I played against Burn twice in the GP, a supposedly terrible matchup, with no real hate (GerryT ran the Jacob Wilson special, the one-of Zuran Orb!). I was
able to win both matches, in no small part due to Wasteland. How good is Wasteland against the all-Mountains deck? Well, it lets you play your lands as
normal and develop, then protect yourself from Price of Progress by killing your own duals! Every point of life matters in these matchups, and
Wasteland–in addition to tapping for mana at first–reads “Gain 2 life per Price of Progress the opponent draws.”

Death and Taxes is a deck that may not seem to be that vulnerable to Wasteland, but being able to free up lands from under Rishadan Port or knock off a
Karakas that’s protecting a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is big. Cavern of Souls is a card that Death and Taxes occasionally runs, and can be pretty nasty
to play against from any Merfolk or Goblins decks that show up. That is, unless you have Wastelands! The same goes for the Cavern of spells, Boseiju, Who
Shelters All, from one-spell combo decks.

There are also a few special tactics that you can utilize with Wasteland if your opponents aren’t careful. The classic is when the opponent casts a key
spell leaving a fetchland up, ready to crack it and pay if you try to Daze. But! If you Wasteland the fetch first, they have to crack it in response,
giving you a window to Daze the spell before they get their land. Not many people get caught by this one anymore, but it does come up.

Another tactical strike you can make with Wasteland is by boxing out their mana using the passing of phases. Say that you are trying to resolve a Treasure
Cruise but your opponent has a Volcanic Island just waiting to Pyroblast it. Play your Wasteland and activate it on the Volc, then pass through combat
(assuming they float a red mana), and cast the Treasure Cruise in your second main phase. A similar line can be used to make Daze active in a fight that
they would otherwise have a mana open for. Worth noting is that, if the Wasteland is already in play, you can activate it in your draw step and then move
to your main phase to get rid of any floating mana. This way, any Swiftspears you want to cast get to attack. Just a small thing, as people often forget
that we get priority in draw steps (think Vendilion Clique).

Sometimes, you’ll reach a point in the game where both players have a lot of lands and not much in hand. The hellbent opponent will topdeck and
subsequently cast a Brainstorm. Your otherwise useless Wasteland found a target: their only fetch! This makes it so that they either can’t shuffle their
bad cards away, or hav to play another fetch from their hand in order to shuffle, which means one less card they got to keep! It’s not the most common nor
the highest value use, but these are the plays you have to look for sometimes to get those small edges.

Always keep your eyes peeled for unique ways to use cards, and don’t succumb to the hive mind’s perceptions of things. In Magic, it’s rare that things are
clearly binary. It’s just too dynamic of a game, which is why I love it.

One gameplay story for the road: at the GP, I got paired in a U/R Delver mirror. My opponent played a fetch and passed. I played a one-drop creature, and
my opponent got a basic island, floated a blue, and Dazed it, then Brainstormed with the mana. He then redrew one of the cards he put back and played
another blue-only fetch. I untapped my land and Brainstormed, and my hand was atrocious. I had to think of how I could possibly win the game with such
terrible holdings and no shuffle effect. I put two Lightning Bolts on top, hiding them from Gitaxian Probes. I then play my Wasteland and passed. His only
basic Island is in his hand and his fetch wasn’t a Scalding Tarn, so if he wanted to shuffle away the bad card he put on top, he would have to get a
Volcanic Island and let me Wasteland it before he could play his Young Pyromancer. He played Pyromancer and paid two life to Probe me. He saw a bad hand
and Probed again. I burned him out the turn before I died.

“Still got it” may not be appropriate, but it sure felt good to come off a long break from the game and still be able to find those sharp lines.