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In this modern world of Ravnica MTG, I dare ask the question that no one else will ask.
What are you doing on turn two?
Think about your FNM deck. Think about that thing you threw together for last night's multiplayer game. Think about your last draft deck, your last Apprentice game, I don't care which deck you think about, just think about one of them and then tell me what you did, or do, or will be doing on turn two.
You have three seconds to answer and I do expect an answer. Right now.
Got it? Ok, click the button.
Here are some good answers. Pat yourself on the back if you said any of these common Ravnica 2CC cards:
- Glimpse the Unthinkable
- Lightning Helix
- Mana Leak
- Hunted Horror
- Dark Confidant
- Vinelasher Kudzu
- Selesnya Evangel
- [card=Selesnya Guildmage]Pick a Guildmage
- Umezawa's Jitte (OK it's not from RAV, but it sees enough play)
Sorry, but I'm not giving extra credit if you named a 3CC card and a first turn Birds. You do get regular credit though.
And here is the answer that none of you thought of:
Playing a bounce land.
Yeah, Selesnya Sanctuary, Golgari Rot Farm, Dimir Aqueduct, Boros Garrison are all perfectly acceptable answers. In fact those are the answers that I am looking for.
I know you are thinking that I need to lay off the pipe, but the simple fact is these four lands (which will be ten eventually) are highly underrated cards. I spent a good half hour arguing with my entire card shop today over their merits, so much so that I felt compelled to write this article right after getting home. Now, I will try to present a mostly unbiased approach to them so the world can hopefully benefit from seeing both sides of the argument.
In traditional fashion I will start with the negative comments I tend to hear, and try to either validate or negate the statements, then I will go on to the positive and give them the same treatment. So without further ado...
Main Complaints People Have With Bounce Lands:
If you only draw bounce lands and no other lands, you are forced to mulligan.
OK, you win. It's happened to me once, but I'm the idiot who runs four in his FNM deck. I'm not telling you to run four, but if you only run two to three the odds of getting two and no other mana in your opening hand are kinda slim.
They do not accelerate, they only help smooth your mana base, and if you can't use both you take the mana burn. The New Duals are better.
Usually I do have to agree that the New Duals are usually better than the bounce lands.
As far as tempo goes both come into play tapped, but the New Duals let you buy into speed at the expense of two life. Then you can tap them for one or the other, and don't have to worry about mana burn. I will again say, however that I run four bounce lands in my FNM deck (and I make top four every week), and I have never needed to take mana burn.
If tempo is necessary for your deck and you don't mind Shocking yourself, you'll probably want to run the duals. If not, then their common bretheren cost about $12-$15 less (each).
They do not accelerate, in fact most people would say they decelerate you since you have to lose a land and they come into play tapped.
This is actually 100% correct, however in many ways they are actually more efficient than basics lands and they provide card advantage. If you are thinking that that is completely preposterous, then carefully read on.
Here's a realistic example:
You made a 60 card Red and White deck and packed into it 24 basic lands just like Mom said to. In your opening hand you draw three lands but do not draw a fourth until turn five. Turns one, two and three you drop a land without missing a beat; you will have one mana on turn one, two on turn two, and three on turn three, you skip your fourth-turn drop and play your fourth land on turn five.
We're all MTG vets and have this down cold, and since we're playing some kind of Weenie Sligh thing we're probably happy with only 3 mana anyway.
So, let's try the same deck but we'll sub in a few Boros Garrison instead of basics. This time we'll say you draw two basics and a Bounce Land: on turn one you play a basic and can play a 1CC drop, turn two you can play a 2CC drop, turn three you can play a 2CC drop, bounce a land and play your Garrison, then on turn four you replay that bounced land. So over those first four turns you have one, two, two, then four useable mana.
Both decks will get you to four mana, but in most cases I would be much happier with the second version. It will get me to four mana a turn faster, at the expense of 'stumbling' over my turn three drop. So where did I actually stumble? Is my deck loaded with 3CC drops? If it is, then I probably wasted a turn, but since my deck is a RW aggro sort of thing it probably maxes out around 2CC. Hmmm, maxing out at 2CC means that I not only didn't waste my turn 3, it means I actually accelerated my turn four, since it has already been decided that I won't draw my fourth land until turn five, and on that turn four I can now drop two 2CC creatures.
So take a good look at your deck, and see what is in that three slot. In this example of a WWR sort of thing, that slot is most likely Glorious Anthem or Skyknight Legionaire, both of which are excellent drops. If however you are only running four 3CC cards, and the bulk of your deck is at 1CC and 2CC - then I would ABSOLUTELY prefer to have the second example. See, in both examples I get a 1CC on turn one, a 2CC on turn two, and a 2CC on turn three, but only one scenario gives me two 2CC on turn four.
Let's make this more a little more complicated, and we'll stick to the exact same 'two' decks. This time we will assume that you only draw two lands in your opening hand, and you will either have a Plains and a Mountain, or a Plains and a Boros Garrison. Which do you feel better keeping, or would you mulligan both of them?
For me, I want the Garrison. I'll lose my turn two tempo. Yeah it's sad, but I would take the hand that guarantees me three mana on turn three, over the one that may only guarantee getting stuck on two mana for the whole game.
Three mana on turn three may not exactly be acceleration, but three colored mana from only two lands is all the acceleration I probably need, that card that could have been the third land is now actually a threat or an answer. Since I'm hoping for a quick aggro game, that threat may be more valuable to me in the end than the possible loss from the stumble, but that is something I don't know for sure unless I know what my opponent is playing.
Let's put all that together one more time in another example. Let's say that both decks will get me to four mana on turn four. One will do it with a bounce land, and one will not. One deck will spend four cards to get to four mana, one will spend three. Not adjusting for drawing, the one who played only three lands effectively has an extra card in hand. So that one-turn mana stumble actually provided a form of card advantage - it has done the same job in less cards at the expense of some tempo.
If this person was on the play, then he actually has the same number of cards as the person who was on the draw - suddenly going first has every advantage. If this person was on the draw, he is now effectively two cards ahead of the person who went first (unless the person who went first also played an early bounce). And that is how they are actually a form of card advantage.
Signets are better since they provide real acceleration.
Yeah sure, I actually hear this all the time. Let's take an example where one hand has two basics and a Signet, and the other has one basic and one Bounce.
The hand with the Signet spends turn two playing its second land then tapping out for a Signet. On turn three it will use a mana to activate the Signet, getting two mana from the Signet and one from the other land. I fail to see how using three cards to get three mana on turn three is better than just three lands, especially when I had to tap out (i.e. waste) my turn two to play it. Granted, if I do drop the third land on turn three, I will be able to use four mana… but that’s a four card/three turn combo that costs me a turn just to accelerate one mana on turn three. Not for me, but thanks for offering.
The hand without the Signet possibly plays a 1CC drop on turn two, then drops the bounce land, and plays the first land again on turn three.
Three mana on turn three but with only two cards, plus I could have played a card on turn two. Wow, definite card advantage (two cards instead of three) and possible tempo advantage over the Signet. Do the math on this one.
Oh and did I mention that Signets can be countered? Yeah, and don't conveniently forget about all the artifact hate in the environment...
(As I note, I do nab Singets in drafts, they are good in Limited, but I would pick the 'in-color' Bounce over the corresponding Signet anyday - Nullmage Shepherd's presence is too big to ignore).
Arguments for Bounce Lands:
Most of this I already glazed over in the preceeding section, so I’ll try to not repeat it. If for some reason you skipped that part, go back and read it.
I am deliberately bringing this up as number one. This is a truly viable mana-fixing alternative for people who can't afford duals (or even pains). As you have already learned they aren't as bad as you had thought and best of all, they are FREE! Don't believe me? Go to anyone who has just finished a sealed deck or draft and ask him if you can have his bounce lands. He may even pay you to take them off his hands. If it's free it's for me, and I am all about building a viable deck on a budget. Just remember not to use more than three for most decks...
These things reek of combo. This list could go on and on, but I am not about to list every single good use I've found and heard for these, so here's a quick two examples from Standard to whet your appetite and get you thinking of others...
Play one after depleting a Tendo Ice Bridge for a shot to replay the bridge with a charge on it. Five-Color Gifts loves this trick.
Hokori givin' you the blues? Well, with as many Hokori's as there are in this environment, hopefully the one land you are untapping is one that gives you two mana.
The One Land (or Hidden Land) Effect
OK, this isn't exactly a great reason, but needs to be included for thoroughness. It's a simple fact that many players will glance at your untapped lands and see only one and play on through, never even thinking that the Dimir Aqueduct is all you need to play a Mana Leak, or those two lands and asingle creature are all you need to Convoke out three blockers (if those two lands are Golgari Rot Farms). People miscount mana all the time. It's an advantage that can swing games, and as long as everything is easily viewable by them, I am not above winning at their mistake.
*That being said, here is a public service announcement: Do you stack or semi-stack your land? Although a common honest mistake, it is generally considered cheating to stack a basic on top of a Bounce (or even a basic on top of a basic) so it appears like you have only two mana when you really have three. Even though you are allowed to ask your opponent to show exactly which lands they have in play (both tapped and untapped), and they are required to show, some more devious players may try to use this sort of thing to deliberately trick you. Do not let yourself be duped! If you ever see your opponent stacking mana for any reason - tell him to unstack immediately so you can clearly see the names and pictures on them. Also, never be ashamed or embarrassed to ask to reread a card up close. Your opponents are required to oblige. If you ever have any questions on how a card works do not trust your opponent - call the judge. Disclaimer being said, consider yourself warned, and anything shady that you may do, you do at your own risk :)*
I had originally written a very brief section on this, but during revision it was suggested that I expand on it. Captain Coke calls it "mana potential." Simply put it is the measure of how much total mana your deck is capable of producing. Here's how you calculate it - basics will only count as one, but bounce lands count as two since they provide two mana when tapped, lands that do not provide mana count as zero, and Fetchlands count as either negative one or zero (personal preference). This means a deck with 18 basics and four bounces (22 total) actually plays more like a deck with 26 lands than a deck with 22. So if you are running a high mana curve, you can include bounces in lieu of basics at an approximate rate one to two. In this same example, both decks 'feel' like they have 26 mana, but one of them will be running four extra cards than the other. In a high mana curve deck, those four cards could be that early defense that keeps you alive long enough to win...
This is simply a further extension on how before I mentioned that you can have three mana on turn three, but with only two lands in play, except this is on a entire deck level. Some decks will want bounce, some won't, playtesting will decide the right number, but it is up to you to begin including them.
Now, let's ask that question again: What are you doing on turn two?
While we're at it, let's again ask about turn three.
These questions will decide how many bounce lands, if any, you should include.
Decks that don't have many 2CC or 3CC drops in total will more than likely benefit from Bounce Lands, since they most likely will just be passing the turn anyway. Run three to four of them.
Decks that have a lot of ONLY either 2CC OR 3CC will also run the same benefit since they normally would skip one turn or the other. Playtest this one out, anywhere from two to four depending on the rest of your curve/deck.
Deck that have highly filled 2CC and 3CC slots have so many options that they could include the bounce to play it on turn three while easily playing around it. I would say run two or three.
So who shouldn't run bounce? Decks with a super low curve. If your deck runs twelve 1CC spells and your mana curve tops at two or three and you can always use all of your mana every turn, bounce lands will stop you dead in your tracks. Maybe run one, but only if you have some lategame alternate win condition.
In case you don't like thinking in numbers and you like thinking in how things 'feel,' approach it this way:
Is your deck fast? Is it so fast that you can never afford to miss a turn two land drop? Do you require a drop on turns one, two and three so you can pull that turn four win? You are probably playing some weenie or Sligh variant, so you become exempt from using bounce lands.
Is it medium paced? Do you have a steady mana curve and threats at all levels? If you answered yes, then you can afford and should probably run around two (maybe even three or four) bounces. Some builds that I have seen in this general area are Medium Green, Rock, Fungus Fire, Mill, and Searing Meditation.
A Bounce Land's Worst Enemy.
A Bounce Land's Worst Enemy.
Are you slow? Does your mana curve start at three, and you find that your Birds are more often chump blocking than producing mana? It has just become your duty to play a minimum of two (and maybe even three or four) of these lands. In fact if you are in this zone, you probably shouldn't even be looking at the real New Duals. If you want to be dropping Dragons or Enduring Ideal on turn five or six, you don't need to run 26 lands with four Birds, and four Elders, you can run 20 basics with four bounce, and Birds and Elders being optional - and that should free up some room in that deck for more control/removal.
Now that you have the basics, the last thing to think is about your metagame. If Wildfires and land destruction are rampant in your neck of the woods, suddenly bounce lands are much less desirable. Drop your otherwise preferred number by one or two. And again, unless you’re running some super aggro, or your metagame is entirely Red, don't ditch them all together.
That's about it, I hope that you will now see our friends, the bounce lands, in a whole new light. Remember, they are not just mana-smoothing… they are efficiency-creating, card advantage-causing, mana-pumping machines, all wrapped up in a convenient package with a black expansion symbol.
Until next time keep in mind that Meditate is not the only way to skip a turn for card advantage...
Special thanks go:
Binary for Editing
Crazed Mike, Captain Coke, and all my Clannies for all their help and input...