Thursday 21 September 2017
Dual Land Quality
I have a huge percentage of my cube as dual lands. I presently pack 105 actual dual lands with another three lands that also help fix totaling over 20% of the cards in my cube. I am very happy with this setup and would recommend adding more dual lands to most cubes I see. This however does not paint the whole picture. Obviously, as with all magic cards, there are better and worse ones. Some dual lands are amazing and some are completely unplayable. The Ice Age depletion lands being perhaps the most extreme example of the latter. It is not a simple case of saying what the right number of dual lands is for any given cube size as the lands wildly differ in quality. If it was all sac lands and original duals then you could have a pretty good shot at getting close to the optimal number of lands in a cube. The issue is the more you add the weaker the next set of additions is. You get diminishing returns for adding more dual lands to the cube and this means that you probably want less dual lands in reality than the theoretically optimal number.
I have recently (over the last couple of years) added a lot of relatively low end dual lands to the cube that share a common weakness. This would be the shadow, battle and Amonkhet cycling dual lands. The common weakness is coming in tapped (you may be thinking we will be looking at allied/enemy colour issues but this isn't what this article is about. we also got enemy man and quick lands in that period which greatly helped balance things). Now in the grand scheme of things these lands are all pretty similar in power level and they all get played a comparable amount. What I noticed most was that the more I added the less all of them got played. This makes a lot of sense, they are the last slot lands you use to fill in gaps or round out a mana base. I also noticed a significant decline in the use of the Temple lands. Previously these had been pretty highly valued but the market was being flooded with lands sharing the same weakness of coming in tapped. There is only so much space you can afford to have slow lands in a deck and I have too many lands in the cube for the amount of places their are in decks for them. While I want to add more lands to the cube I actually think I need to be cutting some of the slower lands. Battle lands feel like the best place to start.
I would group the cube worthy lands into a few distinct groups in terms of power. First you have the sacs, shocks and original duals which are all able to come in untapped at any time and produce mana of any colour or turn one which are the two of the most valued things in a dual land. These lands also have all the juicy synergies going for them as well which is what pushes them above the second group. It contains only pain lands and quick lands. These are super reliable and tend to get the job done. Quick lands are especially good in cube as the early turns are so crucial. Quick lands probably do come in tapped a good chunk more often than check lands however they can help you play one drops and that is far more relevant in cube. The next group contains the filter and check lands. Neither help cast coloured spells on turn one but are both pretty reliable from turn two onwards. The man lands range in their power massively and don't fit into any one group. They are generally the best of the lands that always come in tapped and further help reduce the value of those that also tend to come in tapped. The last group of lands are the dregs of the lands including all the newer offerings in design with shadow, battle, cyclers and Temples. This group would also contain things like bounce lands, Vivid lands and the tri lands if I still had those in my cube. These lands either always come in tapped or tend to too much of the time. Shadow lands can outperform filter and check lands as they can do turn one plays but they are quite demanding on the construction of the rest of your mana base, they get increasingly unreliable as the game goes on, and they are not that reliable to begin with! They are pretty good when good but really bad when bad averaging out at the top of the pile in the bottom group. All this is to say that I think there is plenty more space in my (540ish cards) cube for more dual lands that would fit into groups one through three however there are too many lands in the fourth group. I did a top X land cycles a while back, this is how it would look now excluding the man lands.
2. Original Duals
This over saturation of slow lands became apparent to me when playing a deck the other day. The list is below, it is a very strong tier one Jund list. I was trying out a new card, Kheru Mind-Eater (which was fine at best on this occasion), the rest of the deck however was incredibly streamlined and full of premium cards. What makes this deck so good however it not the cards themselves but the pretty optimal mana base I had supporting it. A different mana base would turn this tier one deck into a total pile. In fact a sufficiently weak mana base and this deck ceases to be viable and you have to do lots of things quite differently.
Inquisition of Kozilek
Birds of Paradise
Traverse the Ulvenwald
Liliana, the Last Hope
Courser of Kruphix
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Gonti, Lord of Luxury
Now, the exercise I gave myself was building another mana base using cards from my cube but none of those used in the original build and none from cycles I had used three lands from. It was a lot harder than I expected and I expected it to be rough. I initially tried using none of the cycles of lands I used in the first build but it was quickly apparent that was getting me no where. Below is the best I could manage using what was left.
Temple of Malady
In terms of colour production both mana bases are fairly close. Both have 11 green producers, the latter has 9 red and black producers, one and two less than the former list respectively. The lower black count is a bit of an issue with the deck being heavier black than red. Ideally I would add in a Foreboding Ruins or an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. If it were not for the Traverse in the deck the swamp would be an Urborg. For the second mana base to really have the numbers it really needs another land. Going up to 17 land in this list is on the high side and risks running out of gas. I would further want to consider Amonkhet cycling lands as potential additions if I was going to take this mana base to seventeen lands.
The issues are far from over however. With the second mana base there is still loads I would look to change within the spells for it to work out. While colour production of lands is comparable in both mana bases the real difference is in speed of access to that mana. Of the first mana base's 10 or 11 sources of any given colour only one or two cannot produce the required colour on turn one or fail to come in untapped at a later turn. This makes it pretty good at casting one and two drops on cue. The second list has a mere four green sources it can use on turn one and only three for black. It doesn't get wildly better as the game progresses either. The second list should expect about half its lands to come in tapped at best. As such I would expect the first list to output about 9 mana in the first four turns from lands with the second producing only seven.
The first issue with all these tapped lands is the one drops. Both the mana producers and the black discard heavily benefit from being turn one plays. The second list has about a third the chances of playing one of those cards turn one. It is just not wise trying to have such an even split of effects with such poor ability to capitalize on them. If I had the second mana base I would elect to cut either the green or the black down to more of a splash colour like the red. Mostly this would mean shaving off cheaper cards of that colour. I would look to cut most of either the black one drops of the green one drops. I would then look to cut either Liliana or Courser depending on which colour was getting toned down.
There are some specific cards that get much weaker based of the list changes. Deathrite is the most obvious. While it is the most playable one drop in the deck without any sac lands it is a lot less valuable. Perhaps with a some self mill, discard and/or looting it would be fine but as is I think it is probably not worth running (unless you know you need lots of graveyard hate). Next up is Arbor Elf, the card is unplayable in this list with very little fixing potential as well as a really high chance of doing nothing. Ideally this would become an Elves of Deep Shadow but just a Llanowar Elf would still be a whole lot better. Traverse is also a little worse in the second list. Not only can it no longer find red but delirium is also that much harder without sac lands in this deck. A Vampiric Tutor is perhaps a better replacement, especially if you were to cull the green side of this deck rather than the black. A simple Oath of Nissa, Unbridled Growth or Renegade Map might be better alternatives if not.
Next up we come to the two drops. This list has several without any colourless in them. Such cards are super awkward to cast. I would be inclined towards replacing them with looser cost cards. Perhaps cut Abrupt Decay and Dreadbore and replace them with Go for the Throat and Maelstrom Pulse. This is a mana cost increase but I am pretty sure you will waste more than one mana trying to cast the heavy coloured things than the extra one for a Pulse over the course of a bunch of games. Grim Flayer also probably has to go. Weaker delirium is a shame but it is mostly just about him being awkward to curve out with. Sylvan Advocate or Goyf feel like the obvious replacements. Lastly we have both Cobra and Library which suffer from the lack of sac lands. The fixing and ramp from Cobra is still going to be worth it if you are green based, which would mean you were keeping Courser, which in turn would all be enough to merit keeping the Library. If you were black as the main colour however these two might also need to become something else.
Further up the curve is not so much of a problem, they will probably come down a turn slower but the double costs in the four and five slots shouldn't pose too many casting issues. You may want to tweak some depending on the cards you replace the more punished low CMC cards with just for synergy reasons. As for being a turn slower I may look to play a few more defensive cards. My Jund build is very capable of playing an aggressive tempo game if it is given the opportunity. The second mana base does not allow for the same sort of consistency in making decent tempo plays. As such it might be better just trying to go for a more value and control slant to things. Perhaps swapping Chandra for a Garruk, perhaps the Relentless flavour. It might mean throwing in something like a Wall of Blossoms or even a Toxic Deluge or Pernicious Deed. I am getting more and more vague because the more changes one suggests the more potential other things you want to tweak. It all is really just to show than a mana base defines a deck. I could only build the first deck because of what was backing it up. Had I had to base it on the second mana base it would have been a very different looking and functioning deck. You would still call it Jund and it would still be able to play many of the same cards but it would have a vastly different feel. Even with pick of the cards for the second mana base I think I would struggle to make a solid tier two deck.