Friday 18 July 2014

Top 10 Dual Land Cycles

Murmuring Bosk
I have basically all the good dual land cycles in my cube, about a quarter of the total cards in my cube are land and I would happily add more. Decks are usually about a third land so on that basis alone there is justification for a very high land count in the cube. Land are not always the most interesting of cards or picks however they underpin everything else. Have a bad mana base and lose regardless of the quality of your spells. I heavily emphasise consistency and cards that offer it within the cube. Magic is at its best when both players get to curve out as their deck should and neither screw nor flood. Things like the humble cycling land allow you to fine tune your mana base so as to minimise screws and floods.

Without dual lands it would be near impossible to construct competitive two or more colour decks and the result would be a very boring and narrow meta game. The mono colour decks are still more consistent than multicolour decks in the cube however the increased power potential from another colour tends to offset the loss of consistency reasonably evenly. Not until there were at least 16 dual lands of the same kind of quality as the original duals would the two colour deck be as consistent as the mono coloured. Things like Path to Exile, Land Tax and Waste Lands also naturally increase the consistency of decks using basic lands and so even with unlimited duals there are still advantages to the mono coloured decks.

Seaside CitadelThere is one awkward outcome of having very high quantities of dual land in the cube as it allows three colour decks to have comparable consistency to two colour decks in terms of having the right coloured mana. An even split two colour deck is usually 4 of each basic and about 8 dual lands however a three colour deck is usually about 6 dual lands from each of the three colour pairings. So while your mana base has little change in consistency in going from 2 to 3 colours your access to powerful gold cards and synergies rises by about the largest possible margin (theoretically this should just increase ever more as you add colours but in practice and with 40 card decks you just start to run out of space to include all the power and synergy you might want). The result is that three colour decks are one of the more dominant "archetypes" in my cube although they are typically just a pile of good cards rather than a honed archetype. The three colour decks are a little more vulnerable to mana base disruption and the mana bases are harder to optimise so can turn out very clunky in a small draft where you see less cards.

Overall I can live with three colour decks having relatively more strength than other kinds as a result of very high quantities of dual lands because it gives the best games. I recently went on a look through the Magic archives to see if there was any more viable land to be added to the cube and found very little left of interest. There are many more options for allied colours and I was mainly looking for ones that I could add to bolster the off colour pairings. Here is a list of the most powerful to the most unplayable of the dual land cycles in all of Magic. I will try to spend less time on the obvious ones we all know why they are good and focus on the relative qualities of the less commonly used options.

Polluted Delta1. Sac Lands

Obviously these are only the best lands because of the original duals and the shock lands allowing you to basically fix any two colours with any sac land in the right deck. They allow you at least two colours of mana untapped from turn one. This last sentence is of huge importance and one of the main factors in determining land quality. Sac lands do this most important thing impressively and then they come with a whole bunch of added utility in shuffling libraries, thinning lands from your deck, filling up the graveyard, generating landfall and so on. The sac lands are so good they can wind up in mono coloured decks just to take advantage of the added utility.

Tropical Island

2. Original Duals

So, they tap for two colours of mana from turn one and they basically present no downside for doing this. They make sac lands incredibly comfortable to abuse for fixing and are just a delight of convenience. Like Lightning Bolt and Ancestral Recall they are so painfully simple that there is little to say about them beyond their obvious goodness.

Stirring Wildwood
3. Man Lands

Only coming in allied colours gives a huge advantage to the allied colour players. Not only are these five lands perfectly good fixing but they come complete with a free, powerful and hard to kill threat. For cards that have closed out the most numbers of games the man lands would be well up there with all the best threats in the cube. Unlike other cycles these lands are all of different power level due to the different bodies they turn into. Colonnade is likely the best however all the others bar the Lavaclaw Reaches are incredibly strong and Reaches is still always played when on colour. Why wouldn't you? It is still a threat at little or no cost to you.

Steam Vents
4. Shock Lands

These would surpass the man lands in this list if it were not for the Original Dual lands doing what these do better. These are fairer lands, they tap for two colours and can do so from turn one and so are very good lands but they do become painful if used with abandon. If, like in modern, you had no original duals to go with your sac lands then the shock lands would be essential rather than just high quality redundancy. Regardless of the sac land synergy it is very rare to see this cycle of lands left on the sidelines in any multicolour deck.

5. Pain Lands
Caves of Koilos
I don't know why but there is not much love for the humble pain land in the world of magic. If the pain lands had basic land types or the shock lands did not then there would be basically nothing to chose between these two cycles of dual lands. These are the last lands that you will find on this list that, without any stipulations or requirements, that will provide you one of two colours of mana from turn one. You don't take much damage from pain lands in the course of a game of magic, zero pain is the most common by far as you barely ever need to tap for colour later on. One is the next most common amount of pain and I don't think I have seen over three which is very rare as it is. The average damage they do you over the course of a game is lower than that for shock lands, if only by a tiny amount. They are also much more convenient to lay as a land drop later in the game than shock lands. The cube is a fast and powerful format, you want to be involved from the outset and you never want to be prevented from casting something because you couldn't have the right mana at the right time. Nothing is more frustrating that having a mana creature to play on turn one yet only having a filter land and a check land to offer you green mana. If tempo and curving out in the early turns is important to your deck then you should be playing your on colour pain land and no excuses! They might look mean but pain lands are your friends. They get worse the more you have of them but in singleton this is fine. I almost never don't run them (horrible horrible sentence, I'm sorry) if I am a two colour deck, the times I wouldn't would be a red splash in a Gr ramp deck where I wanted maximum forests for other synergies and I can reliably fix with spells as well. In three or more colour decks I am less likely to run the full set, usually one or two tidies up your mana nicely, often one colour has no one drops and so you can afford not to have pain lands over slower options.

Temple of Enlightenment6. Scry Lands

It was very hard to chose between these and pain lands because they are somewhat different in application. The pain lands are purely about offering convenience of mana options with no tempo cost. Scry lands offer you mana convenience for a tempo cost but add a little scry sweetener into the mix. Tap lands first arrived in invasion block and did feature in my cube for a time. They were only allied colours and simply came into play tapped and tapped for two colours. This was the fair benchmark for a dual land, any worse was unplayably bad, better made it quite good, and as they were they were very unexciting. Dull though they are I would 100% have off colour tap lands in my cube now if there were any on offer. Then Refuges came along a few blocks back and put any chances of the original tap lands seeing play out to pasture. A free life isn't exciting but it is a whole bunch better than nothing. Again, being only allied colour made the Refuge cycle rather uninspiring although they have all seen a bit of play they have never been mainstays. Typically it is when you know you are facing a burny red deck that you think the Refuges are a good thing to add in, or perhaps you are running a few too many pay life black cards without enough life gain and you are getting scared! So, with the Refuges, over the history of my cube, seeing a comparable amount of play to the original tap lands yet offering a fairly similar seeming perk to the scry lands, why is it that the scry lands are so highly played? Firstly, a scry is worth more than 1 life in magic, not a lot more but definitely more. Secondly, and much more importantly, life is a resource that has no baring on the game until the end of the game while a scry has an immediate impact that can continue to accelerate your momentum throughout the game. Just imagine the situation where you are going to miss your next land drop but have the rest of the lands you need on top of your deck after the one dud draw. Should you scry than one non land away with a scry land you will have more powerful things sooner and more mana on each of your subsequent turns. While this is an extreme example you can kind of say that the scry in this case is worth a free mana and a free +1/+1 counter (to account for the higher power of cards played) on each of your next three turns. The earlier you scry the more powerful it is yet it retains value throughout the game. It greatly increases the consistency of your deck and is kind of free. It basically feels like casting an Opt or I guess more accurately a Serum Visions with scry 1 (as the card you "draw" is the land you make thus you draw it first which is not the case with Opt but I digress...) whenever you make one. Typically coming into play tapped is most annoying in the earlier portions of the game however the increased value of scry at that stage rather tempers that drawback. Also, with check and filter lands not working better than Scry lands on turn one you are far happier making a Temple than either of those. There are only four other dual lands that can be better to make on turn one and without a one drop there is no better land to make. There after they are a little clumsier to lay but this is made more comfortable with the scry and a well worth it trade off. The final thing scry lands have strongly in their favour in the cube is their synergy with a wide array of other card. Ponder, Brainstorm, Divining Top and Sylvan Library all become much more potent card quality in combination with a bit of incidental scry for 1. Domri Rade, Courser of Kruphix, Delver of Secrets, cascade and any other card/ability that has effects based on the top of your library also enjoy the company of scry lands. Scry is more powerful in 40 card decks than in 60 card decks as well. Despite being a lowly six on this list I really love a scry land, there is a huge gap in power between the best six land cycles in the cube and those after.

Graven Cairns7. Filter Lands

These can be a little awkward if used in large numbers or with other awkward mana sources and loads of colourless lands etc however in singleton format that is rarely an issue. I am generally happy to play two although one is optimal. Three however will tend to bite you. After turn one the filter lands are pretty much the best mana fixing in the cube. They come untapped and ready for use, they provide two colours of mana themselves but in addition are able to convert another one of either of the two colours to the other. In effect a filter land turns one of your mono coloured lands in to a dual land as well. Although they do not offer much in the way of fixing on turn one they do at least tap for mana and can help throw out an Aether Vial or Divining Top etc. Typically you cannot tap them for coloured mana on turn but if you run the original Mox in your cube or just have a deck with loads of fair Mox then the Filter Lands get even better. Not only because they are then powerful fixing from turn one but also because the draw back of Chrome and the Original Mox is that they usually only offer one colour of mana and can be a little restrictive on the casting of colour intense spells. Turn one Mox plus Filter Land usually equates to casting whatever two drops are in your deck which is far less consistently so with any other land you could make. Another reason I am fond of the filter lands is the increased ability you have to play colour heavy spells like Cryptic Command and Necropotence in multicoloured decks. Prior to filter lands you could splash cards into Necro decks such as Vindicate or Pernicious Deed but the splash could never extend to a point where you wanted to run lands that didn't tap for black like Forests and Plains. With the presence of the filter lands I am happier to go a little deeper on a splash in such decks. This is the practical result of filter lands being able to count as two dual lands in certain situations.

Clifftop Retreat8. Check Lands

Boring lands that get the job done. At worst these are the same as the original tap lands from Invasion block but with off colour options. At best they are without fault. Check lands are safe duals that will never royally screw you. Yes, they might sometimes come into play tapped or not turn on your Kird Ape but this is a minor inconvenience compared to having a bounce land bounced or having only filter lands and colourless lands. They obviously scale in quality with both the length you are trying to make the game go on for and with your count of appropriate basic land types. With dual, sac and shock lands taking the first spots in most decks mana bases the Check Lands are still good with one or zero basics in a three land deck. The longer a game goes the more lands you are likely to have out therefore an increased chance of having the right basic to have your check land be optimal. This makes them more suited to control decks, especially as they cause you no pain or option to take pain. Agro decks will still resort to the Check Lands a lot of the time but do typically prefer the quick lands when they are an option. No turn one mana from them can be a kick right in the tempo and with no scry perk to dampen the blow you feel really ripped off when you make one of these tapped and fail to curve as you would like.

Copperline Gorge9. Quick Lands

I hate a lot about these lands, I hate them being only on colour, I hate them being inflexible and devoid of choices, both in play and in construction. I really hate the art, metal and nature are an ugly mix (no fault of the artists at least). I hate the term Quick lands too... they are not quick, they are just not shit early on. All said and done however these lands get the job done, they are never worse than the benchmark Invasion tap lands and are about as good as you can get in the all important first few turns of the game. I would have these above the Check lands if there were a full cycle on offer in the ratings. The early turns are the more important ones in magic as the rest of the game has to follow from them so any momentum you gain in them helps for all the subsequent ones. When a Check land is bad it can cripple your whole game plan, when a Quick land is bad you will have that many more alternate plays and options that they are fairly negligible most of the time.
Quick lands are "bad" more often than a Check land will be however they are comparably less bad when both are being bad as well as of more benefit when both are being good.

Golgari Rot Farm10. Bounce Lands

The lands which have the highest variance of all the offerings. When these are good they are mana fixing, card advantage and potentially a ramp in mana (when used with untap land effects). When they are bad they are crippling. An early land destruction or even simple bounce spell will usually be game over if it hits a Bounce Land. One land handers with bounce lands are worse than those with Filter lands. Even when you have other lands and can make them later in the game a bounce land is still a slow and clumsy land that is more awkward to use efficiently than any other in the cube. Their variance makes them interesting as it leads to difficult deck building choices. You can be greedy and play fewer lands by ramming these into your list or you can sure up a weak looking mana base by replacing lands with these. They work well with Frantic Search, Garruk Wildspeaker and other such cards thus making deck building more interesting due to the potential synergies on offer. You can just run them as you think your deck is weak and needs to take risks on lucking out and getting the good end of the variance to be able to win much. They have been seeing a lot less play since the introduction of scry lands as they have similar perks and flaws yet the scry lands are far far safer and more consistent.

Honourable Mentions

Mirage Sac Lands are in my cube but tend to only see play when you are really pushing landfall and shuffle synergies and the other viable painful sac lands have all be used up. As sac lands only really need to have one appropriate colour to work amazingly these offerings are seldom needed. They are fine but annoyingly slow and see less play than the bounce lands although I suspect this would not be the case if we had off colour ones to chose from.

The Vivid lands are outstanding fixers and unlike most dual lands they work better the more colours you have in your deck. The thing with the Vivid lands is that the more colours you have the more options you have on other dual lands. As I mentioned before, 3 colour decks in my cube have equally good mana bases to 2 colour decks and so having these in the cube just adds unneeded redundancy to decks already well catered for.

In much the same vein we have the Alara block triple lands that are a little less versatile in where you can play them but are more powerful when in the right deck than the Vivid lands. They would probably also see play in opposing two colour decks due to lack of other options. I do not have these in my cube for similar reasons to the Vivid lands however this might well be wrong due to the off colour fixing potential in two colour decks. For prettiness sake I think I would rather just play the off colour Guildgates instead!

Grove of the Burnwillows is not yet a cycle but supposedly will be one day. As Check lands are to Quick lands these will be to pain lands. Essentially really good quality dual lands that favour control decks. They will also offer some better synergies than the pain lands such as the beloved Kavu Predator or the not so well liked Punishing Fire. All in all they will be instantly added to the cube and would probably rank 7th or so.

The Horizon Canopy cycle is a little too niche due to the certainty of the pain and as such only a few archetypes will want them, mostly I suspect the red and green ones. The Nimbus Maze cycle is more interesting and is probably on balance a tiny bit better than the Check lands due to always being untapped and having colourless options. The blue/black Time Spiralled dual of the cycle is gross and has a far too unreliable trigger to be interesting for cube play and the Graven Cairns cycle has been printed and does rank 7th currently!

Original Filter lands from Odyssey block are not good lands but they do offer you the ability to turn colourless into coloured mana and as such are quite interesting for decks that both produce a lot of colourless mana and have lots of coloured spells to play. Despite being far from good these are occasionally dug up to sooth such problems in decks.

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