Sunday, 12 November 2017

Top 13 Colourless Lands

WastesI have found colourless lands being less and less used in cube. They have to bring quite a significant benefit or they simply don't outweigh the drawback of not being able to play your spells every now and again. There are lots of reasons why this trend makes sense but they are all a little subtle. It involves the various dual lands that fail to help provide colour on turn one, the increasing overall power level of things, the increased value of one drops and of tempo in general and the increase of dual lands that require other specific land types. There is also a lot more good mana sinks and things that you can recur in various ways too.

The only time it is actually zero cost to run a colourless land is when you are mono, you have no double colour two drops and you will not be keeping any 2 or fewer land hands. This is not at all common in cube. You also don't need to incur zero cost to play colourless lands. It is more just a case of the lower the cost the better they are. A deck which will keep a selection of 2 land hands, is splashing a second colour and that has one or two double cost two drops will be fine to run a colourless land. Every now and again it will be awkward but rarely critical. Assuming it is adding much at all with its utility it is likely worth it.

The issue is that most decks are not like that at all. You will have two colour aggressive decks with 12 one drops. In such decks you are best off playing colourless land in spell slots as they will be incredibly harmful if you have to make them as your 2nd land. Perhaps you will have a three colour midrange deck with a bunch of different double costs on your four drops. The old Mind Sculptor, Knight-Errant and Wildspeaker super friends decks at the dawn of the walkers! In such decks mostly you will get away with a colourless land, even two. The thing is that the one time you can't cast a big four drop on the turn you needed to you will actually lose. The risk, even if low odds compared to the cheaper decks, is just as ruinous, perhaps more so. Very few colourless lands offset that kind of game losing risk.

Ancient TombBack in the day I would just throw in a colourless man land in any old deck. It just felt worth it. Spells were weaker, you had more time and much more buffer room in which you could fail to do useful things in. Colourless lands were low cost and low risk. When I first built my cube the fixing included 5 sac lands, the 10 original duals, the 10 pain lands and City of Brass! I think I actually had the Odyssey filter lands in there too desperate as we were... Suffice it to say there was much more incentive to stay mono back then! The better fixing we have now encourages a higher colour intensity in casting costs. The better spells we have means that not casting things with your mana is a much greater cost. Many of the good dual lands, most notably the filter lands, but also the check lands, while generally being untapped colour producers fail to do so on turn one. You might have a great mana base  however changing one basic into a colourless land is almost like triple the risk due to potential openers with it and the filter land etc. Very few decks now run Mutavault or Mishra's Factory, they are really only wanted in some narrow (and usually undraftable) archetypes like Goblins, Affinity or Merfolk. A good RDW list will have at least 8 one drops, ideally more. It will probably also have the odd RR two drop. You keep most 2 land hands with RDW, if one of those doesn't tap for red you are in for a rough time if you don't find another red source quick. Red has more option on late game ways to use its mana without having to play late game cards. This was a large part of the role of these kinds of utility lands. If you don't need to find ways to spend spare mana late game then there is little point taking those early game risks. The few premium colourless lands still see plenty of play but almost everything else is rarely seen in cube drafts.

In this list I have not considered cards like Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors. While both clearly colourless lands they are not at all included in the same way that the others are. These are specifically for ramp, they are not something you replace a basic land with for some extra free value because you think you can get away with it.  Lands that tap for two can be pretty powerful and these are probably the two best. They just don't really fit in this list as they are not really the same kinds of card at all and won't compare in very relevant ways.

Volrath's Stronghold13. Volrath's Stronghold / Academy Ruins

Back when the latter of these was a new card you would use these things to recur powerful cards and that would be your inevitability and win condition. It turns out if you add three mana to the cost of anything in cube it gets pretty awful. Even Ancestral Recall fails this test looking a lot worse when it is Concentrate... These only become good in the super late game when you have no gas in hand or anywhere else and are drawing blind. Even then you need a relevant target. Suffice it to say with the increase in tempo and card power these slow tools became quickly useless in most draft decks. The only real play either of these now see is in a combo deck where they allow you to recur a key component should you let it fall into the bin somehow. While this effect does become quite dominant in those super late game scenarios they occur so infrequently you don't want to over do it on improving that aspect of your game. These are irrelevant in most games in any beneficial way. A minor cost to the early game to gain a decent boost in an area of the game that rarely happens turns out to be a bad trade. Stronghold is typically less risky simply due to the existence of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. That being said, the Ruins is found mostly in artifact based decks which are very light on coloured mana needs compared to all other decks containing coloured spells. Both still see fringe play but neither has done anything of note in a long time.

Inkmoth Nexus12. Inkmoth Nexus / Blinkmoth Nexus

Without ways to buff these cards they don't have enough impact to be worth it. A lot of buff effects cost mana to use much like activating these. If you want to hit someone with a Sword on one of these then it is 4 mana every turn rather than 2 mana once. Affinity loves these cards as it has great ways to buff these for little to no mana and also greatly benefits from the artifact synergies. Outside of affinity these are almost never used. Inkmoth obviously goes in the infect deck, which is bad. I have seen it also used with Primeval Titan and Wolf Run to provide a land based win condition which is OK but not thrilling. White weenie using Glorious Anthem effects would absolutely play the Blinkmoth if it were not for Spectral Procession, some WW two drops and loads of one drops. Figure of Destiny is another card that really devalues the colourless lands in red and white aggressive decks. The aggressive decks tend to prefer punchier lands to chip damage ones like these. You need to win before something like a Wurmcoil hits play, you can't just sit there for five turns doing them one a go to deal the last quarter of their life, you will have lost by then.

Mishra's Factory
11. Mishra's Factory / Mutavault

Two power goes a way to making these more playable than the Nexus options. You don't need buff cards for these to be somewhat significant. Most plays are based on what you can do immediately to counter them or punish them. A planeswalker will make you consider how much potential damage you can hit it for. A mass removal spell will take into account the known things that will be able to attack after. A Nexus is likely able to do more damage over the course of a game than either of these but these are able to threaten twice the damage at the same mana investment on any given turn. These are nice useful lands to have. They do some meaningful damage now and again when you have mana spare and conditions allow for it. They improve any alpha strike move be it on a walker or player. They incur play round costs for your opponent as well. Both these man lands are more useful throughout a game that most other man lands and utility lands but they don't offer any real big late game payoff. The value they offer in game is also not massive. You are going to be better off playing spells and that is the real problem for these cards. Factory is mostly just found in affinity lists and Mutavault finds its way into most tribal decks. Beyond those they are rarely seen. Red is just going to play a Barbarian Ring or Ramunap Ruins over this. Even Teetering Peeks and Smoldering Spires typically do more work and incur less risk.

Gavony Township10.   Gavony Township

Great late game win potential and some nice synergy options. This card destroys stalemates. It is a pretty cost and turn efficient way to push through compared to most other utility lands too. The issues for Township are that you need a board for it to do anything and it is a colourless land with two colours of activation needed. Narrow as a gold card and narrow as a colourless land. While very very good in some decks it is not playable in enough situations to merit a drafting cube slot. This land will directly win far more games than a Mutavault and it comes online much faster than something like a Volrath's Stronghold. The cost/risk of including any of these 3 lands is the same and so it really is just the number of lists than can use Township that keeps it down on this list as it really is quite a step up in potency.

9.   Ash Barrens
Ash Barrens
This is kind of cheating as it really isn't a colourless land unless you are foolish enough to play it without basics. This is much more of an Evolving Wilds that you can use for mana the turn it comes into play if you need and are happy to forgo the option on coloured later on. A lovely little fixing tool and very well designed card. Given the criteria for this list however it should almost be discounted. It is almost like calling a pain or filter land a colourless land. True but only in the sense of casting some colourless mana BfZ Eldrazi things. Either way, this marks the point on this list where cards above it are drafting cube worthy and cards below it I now feel are too narrow and/or low powered to use up slots in drafting cubes. Especially if those are land slots you could have fixing in! This being so high on the list of colourless lands just goes to show how important fixing is!

Westvale Abbey8.   Westvale Abbey

This thing is ultimately what did for the other colourless man lands and even Gavony Township in my cube. This card has great reach but it is also able to contribute to the board on its own. While it doesn't have that combat ready in play feel of the other man lands it does the other things that they do and generally rather better. Westvale can provide ongoing chumps, empower sac outlets and useful things like that. Really it is about the game ending potential of this card. If you are going to take a risk on mana base you want big rewards and this provides. Lots of decks that would be considering scooping are able to continue in the game due to just having this in their list. This is one of the more late game only lands but being playable so widely and having both huge impact and utility carry it a long way. Ormendahl is a beating. He is super hard to remove and super hard to race. Unless you happen to have a bunch of fliers he is going to end you rapidly as well.

Library of Alexandria7.   Library of Alexandria

Good but overrated. In most good cubes you can only use this if you are a combo deck or a control deck against a control or slower deck. For any other archetype the cost of losing early mana and perhaps juggling hand size is just too great. Library in the right spot is near impossible to beat but there are very little of those relative to the wrong ones. On balance the card is not over powered but it is so polar as to be pretty tedious. When it is good it is pretty unbeatable and not in a fun way (for one player..). When it is bad it does nothing beyond occasionally hurting your ability to cast things. The best argument for this in a cube is that so many people misuse it that it becomes a trap card! If that is something you are in for then go nuts. For good players they can usually include this with basically no risk and take the odd free win. It is no Strip Mine but it is in that vein of badly designed cards! I like to make weaker players better rather than setting them traps. I also like games to involve more skill and less random free wins because you drew the good card for the matchup. To recap, this card is near unbeatable if two slower decks face off and someone makes it turn one. As soon as one of the decks is a tempo deck Library becomes a pretty poor card.

Rishadan Port6. Rishadan Port

Port has fallen off a little of late. I find it is usually used as the reserve for when you didn't get the premium land disruption land for your given archetype. That or you are looking to go deep on a mana denial theme. Port is low cost to run and will be a significant factor in some of your games. It is not quite the free win card something like a Strip Mine is so often but it will play a major role in your games when it is strong. The nice thing about Port is the ongoing options it provides. It covers you to some degree at any stage of the game where you are drawing a little weak. If you have no two drop play then you can just use your Port to disrupt what your opponent is up to. Later on you can use it to force through your plays or keep them off a double colour and at any point you can just not use it and tap out for a big on curve haymaker. They wont know when you are going to Port them and so they will have to always respect that you can and that can be pretty tedious to play against. It can have the "losing to the Daze they never had" effect. Port is a good control tool for handling manlands but sadly it is much weaker at dealing with utility lands such as Kessig Wolf Run and the like. All it can do to them is force them to use it at a specific time. Port is very much a card than shines on the play and loses its luster on the draw. While most archetypes will toss in a Port when it is super low risk doing so but I have found with increasing reliance on specific land types and having sufficient basic lands for them that there just isn't room. Battle and Shadow lands on top of check lands and having things for Tribe Elders to find etc. all take their toll and mean than Rishadan Port is a cost. It is a small cost but increasingly less worth the payoff. Other colourless lands steal the few slots with their much higher and known returns.

Myriad Landscape5.   Myriad Landscape

This is an impressively powerful ramp card being fixing and card advantage into the bargain. Landscape is basically a Kodoma's Reach for any deck... on a land. You do really want to pack at least 4 basics of any type you wish to fix. I have gotten away with a 4/3 split on basics in a two colour deck and not been punished when trying to milk this for some late game value but I wouldn't want to go lower. While this does have a more significant early game cost than any other card on this list being both colourless and coming into play tapped it is able to convert into value quickly and easily which in turn can completely swing a game. One of my more memorable uses of it involved doing nothing but laying lands and activating my Landscape until turn four, the last land I made was a Temple of the False God which my landscape had turned on a turn sooner than expected. I promptly made a Teferi, Temporal Archamge and used the -1 to untap sufficient of my lands to cast a Temporal Manipulation. Having access to 12 mana on my effective turn four with six cards in hand and the option on Sleight of Hand if needed is about as big a swing as one could expect in an unpowered cube from a control deck. This card gets run in any slower deck that wants access to plenty of mana which is a lot of them. While less so than Ash Barrens this is not a pure colourless land due to being able to fix. It is not a million miles away from calling a pain land a colourless land. Like, technically yes but practically no. It is misleading despite being "correct". A pain land is absolutely a colourless source but to my mind a colourless land is one that is limited to producing colourless. If we are going to get super pedantic all lands are colourless and so we are left with no appropriate simple term for a land that produces colourless mana without the ability to produce any coloured mana. Semantics aside Myriad Landscape feels more like the other colourless lands on this list than Ash Barens due to spending the relevant early stages of the game unsacrificed for the most part.

Kessig Wolf Run4. Kessig Wolf-Run

This is the control killer. It is in fact the killer of any long game. The player who has the Wolf Run has all of the reach and inevitability. In many ways it is the perfect mana sink. It is a low cost card to include in your deck and it provides almost everything you could ask for. All you need are creatures, even manlands will do the job. With enough mana every creature becomes a game ending threat. A late game Wold Run is more oppressive than a Jitte or Sword that you lack an answer to. Lands are that much harder to shut down than artifacts and that is a huge part of the strength of the card. You cannot counter it. Very few cards actually kill it and even then you have to exile it to stop it just getting recurred some way. While exiling lands from bins is easy to do there is no removal in cube that exiles lands from play directly. This means you are using a niche or premium card to take out a Wolf Run and another thing to stop it finding its way back into play. Wolf Run's insane inevitability means that any deck with some dorks and it can just become the control player if they need to. Control decks knew this and as such had to effectively race down aggro lists that contain it. It was like a multistage boss fight, in the early game you just have to survive but the moment you stabilize you are then in a race to beat the enrage timer (which is Wolf Run plus some mana). Wolf Run is one of the reasons Primeval Titan is so brutal. If the Titan doesn't get there he has left behind a significant mana advantage plus a manland and a Wolf Run to seal the deal. Wolf Run is probably one of my most splashed for cards after Lingering Souls. I always want it in my mono green decks and have run it to good effect in a couple of aggressive red decks as well.

Field of Ruin3.   Field of Ruin

I didn't expect this card to be this good but it is just so incredibly playable and such a low cost. Field of Ruin simply brings a lot to the table, an unexpectedly large amount in fact. Firstly it can fix for you so it sits somewhere between Myriad Landscape and Ash Barrens in terms of cost, and much closer to the latter. Basically it is one of the least painful colourless lands to include. It offers valuable interaction of a kind that is hard to obtain on other cards. Any deck wishing to develop mana and cast some bigger things is not going to be interested in Wastelands and Rishadan Port is a bigger cost to play and use and doesn't shut down a number of the problem lands. Field can be used to shut down utility lands and any archetype can play it if they want. You can even use it to disrupt colour production if you have a good read on what basics they have in their deck. Three colour lists are vulnerable to not having the right basics to find or better still, have none left at all! The goodness doesn't stop there. Field offers you the ability to shuffle your own deck and your opponents. This means you can combo it with all sorts of funky things. It can be a soft counter to a Vampiric Tutor or turn an Oust into more permanent removal. As Field is relatively low cost to use it will often sit in play acting as a deterrent. They never activate their man land as you will just kill it and be ahead on mana for the exchange. As such you are presented with loads of options for how and when you are going to cash in the Field. As we know, options are great! Field of Ruin is great and yet it is also wonderfully fair. It has been a significant part of taming Wolf Run hence nudging it out of the top three.

Wasteland2.   Wasteland

Free wins you say? Why thank you yes, I'll take one. While perhaps giving the illusion of being fair this card is far from it. As most will be more than aware of what with its three figure price despite being a non-reserve list uncommon! Little is more brutal than being on the draw and having them go one drop, Wasteland and another one drop. You start your second turn with nothing in play and they have three things of which one is already beating down... So many memories of asking or being asked "did you miss your land drop?" immediately following the forlorn nod a Wastelands goes from hand directly to the bin and the game is pretty much done. Wasteland is a savage punish card for mana and colour screw. It is also good insurance against your own floods. You have nothing to do this turn? Just blow up a land and stall for a bit and hope to draw into a curve play. Wastelands ensures basic land are premium finds with sac lands in the early game of legacy. In cube it is just more of a consideration due to the lower frequency of facing the card. Giving it only mild consideration however leads to bigger blowouts. The card is dangerously good but at least it has play around potential.

Strip Mine1.   Strip Mine

Yup. All the goodness of the Wasteland and absolutely no play around potential. I deem this too good and have banned it along with the power. In any unpowered cube that runs Strip Mine it would be my first pick over anything. Over Jitte, over Jace, over Bolt, over BoP. It is open, it affects the game early, it leads to free wins. It combos with things like Crucible of Worlds. All round highly oppressive card. People are well aware of how good it is yet I still think people undervalue and under pick it in cube.

Maze's EndThe list would feel incomplete without a few honorable mentions. We have Darksteel Citadal which does a lot of work supporting artifact decks. It shows up in most of them from the combo to the beatdown ones. It even crops up in the odd Armageddon style of deck. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is another potent colourless land that is narrow but is still an important card in a couple of archetypes. Both these cards are better than the low end of this list but neither are really draft cards. There are some other cute land disruption lands that see some fringe use like Dustbowl, Tectonic Edge and Ghost Quarter. A couple of cute lands from the same cycle as Wolf Run and Township also get some fringe use. Nephalia Drownyard is in all the mill decks. Desolate Lighthouse has seen some love. Some really cool and quirky stuff has been used in constructed events recently such as Maze's End and High Market. Land are very playable cards! As they are so easily used their effects have to be fairly marginal else they are broken. With the cube being all about high playability this doesn't leave much room for the cool lands. When you start constructing decks however loads of appropriate and useful lands are out there and win up doing cool things in cool decks. I have won a cube game with Maze's End and it was one of my most enjoyable wins of all time!


  1. always enjoy these lists. agree w you for mist part on this one. Love Volath’s stronghold but it def underwhelms these days. academy ruins still gets utility sometimes but also def taken a big step down.

    So i have been trying to come up w a rough count for artifact/enchantment removal for cube, would be interested to hear your theory on how much to put in.

    1. Good question, probably a posts worth of answer so will try and get on that!

  2. This is a really enlightening list, Nick. I'm definitely nabbing a Myriad Landscape for my other list on the strength of your recommendation. And Field of Ruin probably!

    Very recently I added Kessig Wolfrun to my gruul section, primarily for its interaction with Primeval Titan. Turns out it's just great for ramp decks in general. So refreshing to run a red/green card that isn't a damn 4-drop!

    I just ran a 12-player cube draft last night and would love to pick your brain about a few things! Is it ok if I just go off on a tangent in these comments or can I message you directly? Cheers!

  3. Cheers! You are welcome to tangent in the comments or direct message as you prefer. Is there some clever way of doing the latter without publishing contact details in a public place? When it comes to computers I am not a smart man...