Hip to be Square: Land, Ho!
By Tom Fowler on August 14th, 2009 · Filed in Limited, Casual, Hip to Be Square · Comments not available just now
HIP TO BE SQUARE:
By Tom Fowler
Lands. They frustrate us on the occasions we draw too few, too many, or the wrong kinds. We windmill slam them into play when we finally draw the one we've needed to play our bomb. We have a bloody ton of them lying about from old tournament packs, booster packs, and drafts. But how often do we really think about them?
I'm going to talk about lands this time - specifically, nonbasic lands and Cube drafting. The nonbasic lands we'll be talking about are the ones that help your mana by producing more than one color. Sorry, if you're looking for keen tech about Adventurer's Guildhouse, this is not the column for you. (And I mean that sincerely.) We'll look at cycles of nonbasics first, then a few individual winners.
In cube, like in any Limited format, you're going to be playing two (or more) colors most of the time. Sometimes, you can do this off of all basic lands, and there have been limited environments where that's been necessary. Cube, by its very nature, isn't one of those. It's made up of good cards, some of which will be nonbasic lands. Which ones should you have in your cube, though?
Let's look at them, in no real order past the first three entries.
The original dual lands.
These are obviously the best nonbasics you can have. They come into play untapped for free, tap for two colors of mana, and have basic land types for easier fetching. If you have them, the set of ten should be in your cube. If you don't, I would look into getting them, either via trade or buying them. They'll make your lands better, which will make your multicolored decks better.
The problem: getting them can be pricey. Underground Sea alone, for a Revised version, often sells for $50 US. A full set of all ten will probably cost about $300 US. That's a lot of money to put into something that you're going to draft with your friends. If you don't have them all, or can't afford to spring for a full set, I recommend getting the five "enemy-color" duals (Bayou, Plateau, Scrubland, Tropical Island, and Volcanic Island). There are more options for mana-fixing in the friendly color pairs to begin with, and you neatly avoid dropping $50 on Underground Sea (Tropical Island is the most expensive of the enemy lands, at about $36).
The Ravnica block dual lands.
They're not quite as good, since they only come into play untapped if you pay 2 life, but the "Shocklands" are pretty dang close to the originals. The other advantage is that they're both easier and cheaper to get. They do see play in Extended, so if you need to pick some up, demand will be lower when there are no Extended tournaments on the calendar.
Right now, since we're in an Extended off-season, you should be able pick up a full set of these for about $60 US. If you're just starting out building a cube, these lands are a much more sensible investment than the originals. For the price of an Underground Sea and lunch somewhere, you can snag all ten. I would start with these lands and then work your way up to the originals.
(All price figures come from the "Average" price listed by the Magic Online (but not Magic Online Trading League, at www.magictraders.com.)
Of course, both of the above are made a little better if you have...
The Onslaught fetch lands.
Personally, I like these better than the Ravnica block duals. They can get you the exact land you need (including a dual), cost only 1 life to activate, and they force you to make a decision. I like cards that put people on decisions, since that means they can make mistakes. Heck, I know I've gotten the wrong lands with these a few times, only realizing my mistake a couple turns later when another card I wanted to play remains stranded in my hand.
I listed the fetch lands third because I think popular opinion will put the RAV duals ahead of them. People like their duals, Shock or no. I just happen to prefer the fetch lands. The set of five will run you about $70 US.
While you could add cards from the above three cycles piecemeal, I don't encourage it. If you're going to encourage multicolor play with your nonbasic lands, you need to offer the chance to more than just one or two color combos. If you have to choose the allied or enemy color pairs because of price, that's understandable, and you could treat each of those like a cycle. What I wouldn't do is just add a couple of RAV duals if that's what you have. Trade for or buy the rest and then put them all in. Your players will thank you for it.
The SHM/EVE filter lands.
This cycle was first glimpsed, appropriately enough, in Future Sight with Graven Cairns. Shadowmoor and Eventide saw the other nine color pairs get their days in the sun, too. These lands have been big players in many Standard decks since they first arrived. They'll be rotating out in a couple months, though, and history tells us their prices will fall then. If you don't have a set of ten now, get them when Standard rotates in October and you can save about 50%.
The Vivid lands.
Here we have an uncommon cycle, which is a boon to the cubists among you who have common/uncommon cubes built (I'm working on one, myself, and will be writing about it in the future). Like the filter lands, the Vivid lands have been the backbone of Standard decks since they were printed, working with other lands like Reflecting Pool to enable shenanigans like Cloudthresher and Cryptic Command in the same deck. Not that I'm tired of Standard and its ridiculously simple mana or anything. Since these are uncommons, they'll be pretty easy to get, and they're great for Cube.
The Ravnica Block "bouncelands."
Whether you call them bouncelands or Karoos, you should be playing these cards. They're common, which makes them great for both no-rares and pauper cubes. Even if your cube budget is in line with the GDP of Paraguay, however, you should include the Karoos. They're good mana fixing for all ten color pairs, and can enable you to cheat on your land count if you have more than one. Wasteland is a giant dagger if you just played one of these, but what's life without a little adventure?
The ten painlands.
We saw the allied pairs appear in Ice Age, then had to wait for Apocalypse to get the enemy colors. Since then, the painlands have appeared in two core sets, so they're pretty easy to get. These are gone from Standard and don't see much play in any older format, making them cheap to acquire, too. You can pick up a full set of ten for under $30. That's pretty hard to beat from rare lands.
The Shards of Alara "trilands."
Remember the comes-into-play-tapped cycle from Invasion that got reprinted in Eighth Edition? Don't worry, most people don't, because they weren't very good. Coming into play tapped is certainly a drawback, but Jungle Shrine et al have it all over the Shivan Oasis family in that they tap for three colors of mana. That kind of flexibility is hard to get. These are uncommons and currently in print, making them easy to get and available for common/uncommon cubes. I don't run them in my main cube because there are so many other options out there, but if you have a large cube, you should consider these lands. Even if your large cube is pimped out and powerful, your players need mana fixing. These lands give it to them.
The Lorwyn tribal "dual lands."
Cube really isn't a tribal format. You can put some good Goblins in your cube, but there's no guarantee that they'll make someone's deck, or that they'll even get drafted. These might come into play tapped a lot, making them little better than the Shivan Oasis cycle. However, if you have enough Elves or Goblins to turn Auntie's Hovel or Gilt-Leaf Palace on right away, then consider adding the cycle. Don't go overboard stocking your cube with tribal components, but if you're including these in your cube, you should try to make them better than the Invasion lands.
The Invasion taplands and the Coldsnap snow taplands.
When is an Urborg Volcano not an Urborg Volcano? When it acquires the snow supertype and gets recast as Tresserhorn Sinks, of course! With the Shards trilands, I think the Invasion cycle has obsolesced. The Coldsnap cycle, though, does have the snow supertype going for it. If you're using snow basics and some cards that care about snow mana and the like, then the Tresserhorn Sinks family will prove worthy additions to your cube.
The Planeshift Dragon Lairs.
Remember gating and the halcyon days of returning a non-Lair land to your hand? Believe it or not, Planeshift used to be known for more than just Meddling Mage and Flametongue Kavu. Not much more, admittedly, but there was a little. The Lairs were never good outside of IPA Limited, but they do fix three colors of mana. Another perk is that they come into play untapped, so even though you have to bounce a land, you can still use one of those three colors right away. If your cube is full of good rare lands, you don't need to add these, but for common/uncommon cubes, the Lairs are at least in the conversation.
The Magic 2010 "dual lands."
Do these have a gimmicky nickname yet? I remember a few being bandied about, but I don't know if one of them stuck. Anyway, these aren't as good as real dual lands, but you can do a lot worse. In Cube, like any limited format, your mana base will be made up mostly of basic lands, so you have good odds of getting these onto the battlefield untapped. Since M10 is still new (and has been hard to find), these are a little pricey right now. I think their prices will come down as we get into Extended and sealed qualifier seasons, so if you can wait to pick these up, you should. Personally, I don't run them in my cube, since I think the two dual land cycles and the ONS fetches are better, but I wouldn't fault someone for running these. They're perfectly good lands for a limited environment.
The rest of the Future Sight cycle.
You know, the cards that aren't Graven Cairns. That's the best of them, of course. Grove of the Burnwillows is actively bad; the rest of them are at least decent. If you want to exclude the Grove because of its large quantities of suckitude, I think you should exclude the entire (non-Cairns) cycle, since you'd be missing out on a color pair. Then again, some have said I have a perverse sense of balance. Others have simply said I'm perverse.
The Odyssey filter lands.
In the dark days before hybrid mana, we had to pay to get two mana in the friendly color pairs from such illustrious cards as Darkwater Catacombs. This was after walking ten miles in the snow, uphill both ways, to play in the PTQ, only to lose in the last round to some lucksack who cracked Upheaval and Psychatog in his sealed pool. Not that this happened to me, of course. Anyway, these are serviceable enough. They're actually better than the SHM/EVE lands if you're playing three or more colors, but worse in the respect that they don't tap for on their own. On the whole, while these lands are serviceable, I don't think they're good enough. Even in a large cube, you should have better options.
The Shards of Alara fetch lands.
These are mostly for pauper cubes. If you're playing rares and uncommons, you have better options. If your cube is all commons, though, the Shards fetch lands provide you with three colors of mana fixing, and that's hard to beat from a cycle of commons.
The Time Spiral storage lands.
These saw a lot of play during Time Spiral block and that era of Standard. While it's true that our other options weren't overwhelmingly strong, these lands are actually pretty good. You can get a pile of mana from them, saving up unused mana over a period of turns. If you want to tap one land to play your Oona, Queen of the Fae, you need one of these or Tolarian Academy. These are easier to get. I like them for common/uncommon cubes more than for regular cubes.
The pickings are starting to get thin. Here are some cycles you shouldn't be playing:
The Mirage fetch lands.
They come into play tapped, which makes them quite terrible.
The Tempest painlands.
Painlands aren't bad, but painlands that come into play tapped are the pits.
The Ice Age/Tempest/Champions of Kamigawa "slowlands."
These are the lands that could tap for with no drawback, or tap for one of two colors and not untap during your next turn. For all the good cards Tempest had in it, its multicolored lands really sucked.
The Invasion saclands.
This is the Ancient Spring family. They're nice with Terravore and/or Balancing Act, but not so good without those cards around.
The Odyssey saclands.
Hey, I'm nothing if not a completist. This is the Bog Wreckage family, and they're so bad, the Ancient Spring clan gives them wedgies and shoves them in lockers.
The Torment Tainted lands.
Tainted lands! I've got to (snap snap) run away. Come on, like you didn't know that was coming. Running away is good advice, though, since these are only good if you're building a black-heavy cube.
Let's move on to individual lands that will nicely fix your mana.
City of Brass.
I'm listing this one first for three reasons: first, it's the most recognizable (and one of the best) multicolor lands out there. Second, it was first printed at uncommon, so it's an option for any of you making common/uncommon cubes. Third, it got reprinted in several core sets, so there are plenty of Cities out there for good prices. This is a small and easy investment that will be great for your cube. You really can't do better than all five colors from one land.
Reflecting Pool and Exotic Orchard.
I'm grouping them together because of their very close functionality. Reflecting Pool is the better of the two since you don't need to rely on the lands your opponent has. Still, Exotic Orchard is a good card, and I advise you to add both to your cube. Both obviously work very well with the various five-color lands that always turn up in cube drafts.
As a brief aside, I think Wizards missed the boat in naming Exotic Orchard. Why not call it Fellwar Grove? That way, they give a nod to the underappreciated Fellwar Stone, which functions the same way (and should also be in your cube). Of course, I like Fellwar Stone from 5-Color, and I also like random shout-outs to old cards, so I'm probably a little biased.
It lacks the permanency that most of the other five-color lands feature, but don't let that deter you from adding Gemstone Mine to your cube. Even if you can only use it three times, mana fixing is important enough that you'll want to play this most of the time in two-color decks, and all the time if you're playing three or more colors. Plus, there are plenty of ways to get lands back from your graveyard, or you could bounce the Mine with a RAV block Karoo (or even a Dragon Lair). This is a must-play, and it's not even rare.
It's close to City of Brass, but overall, not as good. The ability to tap for pain-free is nice, but coming into play tapped is a dagger. Grand Coliseum is a great play on the first turn, but not as great on subsequent turns, since you might need the mana right away. On the whole, I think this is worth putting in your cube (it's in mine), but I can understand not running it.
This one isn't in my main cube, but it was one of the first lands I pulled for the common/uncommon cube I'm building. Having to build up the charge counters makes this slow, but it does give you all five colors of mana from an uncommon. That's hard to ignore. The slow nature of the card means it's probably not up to snuff for cubes that are packed with rares, but if you're going the common/uncommon route, this should definitely be on your list.
Not only does it make three colors, but you can fetch with any fetch land that allows you to get a Forest, and even Treefolk Harbinger. Because this only does three specific colors, I don't play it in my cube. I prefer lands that make all the colors, or adding cycles of lands that produce two or three. This would throw things out of balance for , so I left it on the sidelines. Those of you without my inflated sense of balance may find that this is a perfectly good card for your cubes.
Here's another good uncommon land that potentially fixes your mana very well. The best thing about Krosan Verge is that it can fetch dual lands of the appropriate types. Sacrificing this to drop a Tundra and a Stomping Ground into play is pretty saucy. Obviously, the Verge loses a lot of value if you're not running dual lands. That makes it a questionable addition in a common/uncommon cube, since it will only be getting a Forest and a Plains there. In cubes featuring dual lands, this is a good card that you should consider running.
Again, we get the perk of tapping for with no drawback. However, the 1 damage we're used to from City of Brass has gone on the Barry Bonds workout plan and bulked up to a robust 3 damage. Personally, I don't think fixing your mana is worth casting a Lightning Bolt at your own face. Your mileage may vary. This isn't in my cube, and I don't recommend it unless you're building a very large cube and need a lot of mana fixing. Even then, you should consider other options.
It has a drawback beyond just coming into play tapped—it makes you spend another right away. If you play this on turn two, you've blanked out that turn. You can play it later in the game and still have enough left over to cast a spell. The good thing about Rupture Spire is that it gives you any color you need, with no drawback after it comes into play. It's also common, opening it up for both common/uncommon and pauper cubes.
The crop is starting to dry up at this point. Let's briefly look at some others that I'm not too keen on, but, again, your mileage may vary.
I don't need access to that badly.
Is being able to untap your five-color land worth exiling a card in your hand? I don't think it is. I'm confident most players share that opinion.
It's a good play on turn 0. After that, not so much.
Getting three mana from one land is saucy. Having to sacrifice two other lands when this one enters the battlefield is not. If this gets hit with some kind of land destruction, you'll want to cry. I would spare you that pain: don't put Lotus Vale in your cube.
What is it with Planeshift and crappy five-color lands?
Pillar of the Paruns.
An interesting concept, but I've never seen a cube with a heavy enough multicolored focus to make this worthwhile.
Jonesing to play any Elementals, or activate their abilities? No? Me neither. There are a few, of course, but not many.
I dislike Mana Cylix, so I dislike it when they make it into a land. Even for a pauper cube, I think this is scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Tendo Ice Bridge.
I hope you didn't need that certain color more than once...
If you drafted a lot of creatures, you might be tempted to play this. Then, one board sweeper later, and your opponent played a free Stone Rain. Don't be sucked in by the promise of any color of mana.
This is even sketchier than Thran Quarry. Who plays enough artifacts to keep this thing around?
Even after looking at a lot of lands, remember that they're not the be-all end-all of mana fixing. Artifacts do a dashed good job of that, too, as do several creatures. They key is to make sure your players can cast their spells, and to do that, you need to have enough cards in your cube to fix their mana. Nonbasic lands are your best bet. Besides, there's just something cool about tapping an original dual land to cast a spell. You can't get that feeling from a Fellwar Stone.
In two weeks, I'll be back to talk about something else cube-related. In the meantime, if there are any cube topics you'd like me to cover, leave a reply. I'll
shamelessly steal your idea for myself, you fool! make a list of the good suggestions and work on them in the future. Also, don't forget to look into MTGS' thriving Cube forum for all your cube-related discussion needs.
Until next time, thanks for reading.
By Tom Fowler on August 14th, 2009 · Filed in Limited, Casual, Hip to Be Square · Comments not available just now
About Tom Fowler
Tom is a Level 2 judge who frequently works in the MD, DC, and PA areas. He is also an active player, and has written articles from both perspectives. Tom has judged numerous Pro Tours, but would like to make it there as a player at least once.