Friday, 6 August 2021

Mono Coloured Non-Basic Lands Part 1

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There are a lot of great utility lands in magic. A lot of those are on colourless lands which come at a cost to your mana consistency. You can only afford a couple such lands in even the most accommodating of decks and I often find I want none. Remember of course that in 40 card lists one colourless land is much more significant fraction of your total land count and poses greater risks to getting colour screwed. This in turn means there is very limited space for such tools however the utility lands that tap for coloured mana are less of a burden. Certainly many of them enter tapped which is a different kind of cost that hits your tempo rather than your consistency. This is easier to stomach and also easier to compensate for with your build. There are also a bunch of coloured utility lands that don't enter tapped and as such have very little cost for inclusion. Despite all this there is relatively little in the way of coloured utility lands in cube. This is down to the level of impact they have on the game combined with the fact they are essentially competing with a basic land which doesn't cost you a pick. How many utility lands are better than a pick? Yes, these lands are incredibly playable however they clog up cubes quickly while adding back very little. In constructed formats they are significantly better but in the limited ones where they cost picks and take up space in the cube over other cards their value falls off quickly. 

So while colourless utility lands are limited in my cube simply down to a very limited demand on them (due to the inability to run many in a list) the coloured utility lands are instead limited by their impact and opportunity cost. My main means of selecting cards to include in my cube is how much play they get but this rule does not apply well to luxury utility lands that would be taking the place of a basic land. There are plenty of utility lands that saw play almost every time they showed up in a draft that I have cut despite that being as good as it gets for playability. The opportunity cost of having such cards over actual spells is big. It can have the effect of feeling like your pack size is diminished. It reduces interesting and meaningful choices from drafts and increases the tension on just getting enough playable cards. None of these are particularly good for a limited setting. I will ram constructed and rotisserie decks as full as I can of suitable utility lands. I want all those free and low cost advantages where I can get them. When it comes to cube I am incredibly sparing on such cards so as to keep the draft portion of the event as good and clean as possible. 

Ultimately it comes down to impact versus playability. A utility land you play 95% of the time but only activate once every 10+ games is going to be a lot less value to your cube than a utility land that might only be playable 50% of the time but that is activated every other game, perhaps multiple times per game! High relevance of the utility goes a long way too. Minor perks are just that and result in a harder to justify card. The opportunity cost of it not being another card is fixed and so you dilute that cost much more with a land that has powerful effect compared to one with a small one. For limited environments more awkward lands (such as an EtB tapped one) that do powerful thing (like turning into a useful creature) are preferable to more convenient lands that do minor things. This is why you see a lot more Treetop Villages in cubes than you do Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers! 

A good building trick for utility lands is playing them as a spell in your deck. This means they neither hurt your tempo potential (as the EtB tapped lands do) or your consistency (as with the colourless lands). Indeed doing so generally increases both as you curve more reliably. Spending more mana early is the best way to gain the tempo and being a bit above the average land count will help with this. A higher land count also helps prevent mana screw which is a big cause of inconsistency. Utility lands also tend to offer a way to sink mana thus helping with floods further helping on the consistency front. I often find replacing my weakest card with a potent utility land improves my list. A 16 land deck with no utility lands and a perfect mana base retains the same number of colour producers and lands entering untapped overall if you cut one basic land and one spell and replace them with an EtB tapped and a colourless producing utility land. We are generally biased towards more spells and less lands as spells feel powerful and so this practice of adding utility lands serves to counteract this potential bias. 

In this review I am going to look at all the non-basic lands in magic that tap for exactly one  colour of mana. If the land only taps for colourless mana it will not be covered in this section as they are competing for a different set of slots in cubes and decks. Technically this would include the cycle of ten utility lands from Kaldheim however in practice these are closer to gold utility lands, without the perk of being dual lands themselves I might add. I probably would have tossed these in to the article for the sake of completeness had I anything to say on them however I haven't played with these at all and can offer no insight on them at all beyond that in my preliminary reviews of them. 

Equally I am not going to cover the MDFC lands directly in this article as they do function uniquely and merit an article of their own. With that let us dive into the various lands in magic that are mono coloured utility lands. I will give them all a rating out of 10 but trying to rate a multidimensional thing in a linear way has a lot of complications about it so please take them with a pinch of salt. It is mostly a function of power and playability although the impact is considered a lot too in this subset of cards. Generally 7+ is good and cube worthy in most cases or at least obscene in some. 3-7 is OK stuff with a selection of uses but typically just too narrow for drafting cubes. Lower than that is stuff I don't expect to be getting much love thanks to both low power and narrow applications. Also my apologies for the seemingly random order the lands are presented in. I started to do it alphabetically so I could keep track easily however I quickly found I wanted to be grouping lands within cycles and then also grouping those cycles when there were similar ones.

The Wrong Kind of Sac Lands

There are three sets of these lands that sacrifice for mana with the original ones from Fallen Empires. Then a comparable set from Invasion with a tricolour twist giving one of each of the allied colours when sacced rather than the colour the land taps for normally. Lastly a shocking set from Odyssey that only produce one mana when sacrificed rather than the burst the other two sets offer. All three sets of these lands can see fringe play in decks build around mass land destruction such as Obliterate or one of the various Balance effects. That is the only home the Odyssey ones see, the other two sets sometimes see play in combo decks looking to burst something out such as an Aluren build. For this the Fallen Empires cycle is the best as you typically want the same type of mana in both normal and burst modes. Even the burst mana options are rather too narrow to be worth including in drafting cubes of any kind. Ditching a land is a big cost as it is both a land drop and a card. Lotus Petal does a comparable thing and it is quicker, better at fixing, affords better synergies and doesn't cost you that land drop. 

Odyssey Cycle 1/10

Invasion Cycle 2/10

Fallen Empires Cycle 3/10

Artifact Lands 8/10

High power of an easily abused nature. These lands see an awful lot of play in any place with artifact synergies. Great in combo cubes or those just packing artifact matters synergies. Without such things these are a liability thanks to the relative ease of removing. Most cubes do have mild artifact synergies but you need a lot to justify these in a drafting cube. I only run them in my combo cube and then only the blue and red versions currently. 

The land cycle from Alliances is not symmetrical and needs individual review. Intuitively I want to call them sac lands as well as that is the aspect they have in common but clearly that is not the name to be using so we will stick with the Alliances cycle or individual names.

Kjeldoran Outpost 2/10

A very powerful card of its time and a common win condition for control decks. It was hard to disrupt and provided a good mana sink and inevitability. Now three mana for a 1/1 isn't impressive at all, it certainly isn't worth putting a land in the bin for. This still gets some fringe play as cards like Balance and Land Tax do enjoy it when you have a low land count but the various Karoo/bounce land options are typically a better way of doing this. You are going to struggle winning a game these days with a slow stream of pricey 1/1 dorks and so  Outpost is at best a supplement to other things and not a win condition it is own right. 

Heart of Yavimaya 1/10

The weakest of the cycle. The perk just isn't worth the sacrificed forest and there is very little reason to want to sacrifice your forests. 

Balduvian Trading Post 2/10 

A cute little land that doesn't get much love. While this doesn't reduce your mana output as with the green and white options it is a land that has prerequisites, reduces your coloured mana output, and risks costing you a two for one should they have removal. Being able to ping an attacker for 1 at an effective cost of three mana is not quite the payoff we are after here. The only time I like this is when you have untap land effects that can take advantage of the fact this land taps for two. Such untap effects are not that common in red lists and consequently neither is this. 

Soldevi Excavations 3/10

Unlike the red version this land tapping for two is a reasonably useful aspect as blue has a bunch of good untap land effects with a couple of strong combo decks employing them. Most of them also use High Tide which this does not pair well with and so you do not see this getting much love. Twiddle storm the main home for this card. Three mana to scry is useful but fairly low impact and not worth the risks when it comes to general use. It is at least a lot more exciting than 1 damage to an attacker thus trumping Balduvian Trading Post on all fronts. 

Lake of the Dead 8/10

The big name of the cycle being a whole heap of burst mana. It is a touch narrow and polar for my like when it comes to general use but it is perfectly playable in most kinds of cube and will do some very impressive things for you. I quite like it in powered cubes where you need those polar cards to allow you to compete with broken power draws. When you are able to build with Lake in mind the card can be obnoxiously powerful. You can lay it as your second land and sacrifice your 1st Swamp for BBBB with the EtB trigger on the stack and enjoy five mana on turn two at the cost of having no lands left in play after. Risky but explosive. Typically a mono black card but not exclusively. Most often played on turn three for a six mana turn with the option on at least five mana turns there after assuming you have the requisite Swamps to play. 

Threshold Lands

Another asymmetric cycle of lands with the large perk of coming into play untapped. This Odyssey cycle is one of the most polar on offer although more to do with the weakest rather than the strongest. The cost of the utility they offer is causing pain when tapped which favours the quick or aggressive uses of these. Needing threshold to use them allows them to be generously costed which in turn can make them appealing even in high powered environments. Some quick/aggressive lists do struggle to get threshold in a relevant timeframe and as such that edges them further towards the narrow end of the spectrum. 

Barbarian Ring 8/10 

The most played of the options being a card you will almost always play in any aggressive red deck, which is most red decks, seemingly even the midrange and control ones! It is an almost free way of adding an extra two damage into your list. The life cost is generally irrelevant when you are the aggressive red player. The card cost is nothing being on a mountain comparable land and the mana cost is only two which is pretty favourable for a final push affair. Compare that to the five mana a Fire Bolt flashback costs. Threshold is easy to get as a red player, or at least in time for when you want to use this. The issue is more that you will often use your yard to fuel Lavamancer or escape cards before you want to use the Ring. Easily one of the lands on this list with most direct scalps to its name. Likely one of the most powerful contenders for a cube slot however I prefer to run less powerful but more widely applicable lands where possible such as the red MDFCs or something like Castle Embereth. Ring just doesn't add much to a draft, you ignore it when you are not the right archetype and you pick it without any urgency when you are. There is not much in the way of choice or interest to the card. Some of the less powerful or impactful options for red utility lands lead to more interesting choices in draft and that is the sort of thing that helps curate a good cube experience. 

Cabal Pit 2.5/10

This is just a weaker all round offering than Barbarian Ring as it fails to go face and thus fails to provide the reach you want out of such things. When Barbarian Ring is going face well over 50% of the time (I would guess at 70+%) you can quickly see how Cabal Pit falls short. Yes, it kills indestructible dorks and yes it can affect combat favourably but it is a control card that costs you a land drop and potentially a bunch of life to use and that hurts it. Lots. The Pit is still a free inclusion in some lists and is still cheap removal on a low cost land and so does still get play but it is far too minor and narrow to be worth considering in a drafting cube. 

Cephalid Coliseum 4.5/10

Narrow but incredibly powerful when you can play it. Found in graveyard decks, madness decks, reanimator decks and some other combo builds. Potentially even a consideration to pair with things like Hull Breacher and Narset. Draw three, even just looting, is powerful regardless of where it is, on a land and for just two mana and you have to pay attention. 

Centaur Garden 4/10

Not a thrilling card but a pretty effective one. This is a big disincentive to blocking and can act as removal or a bit of extra reach as required. While this is arguably more versatile and punchy than Barbarian Ring it has never been quite as suitable without the backing of consistently top tier archetypes. Green is weak at getting threshold in the kinds of aggressive decks you might play this in. Green also likes basic forests more than most colours like their basic land types for one reason or another. Centaur Garden at least does a much better job of looking like a Barbarian Ring than a Cabal Pit does even if it fails to find many homes. 

Nomad Stadium 1/10

It is impressive how bad this is and yet it still has seen play. I have seen it in legacy lands builds as well as those in singleton formats. As soon as you are tapping this for mana the "perk" starts to look very questionable. You can only play this as a spell to provide life when you have the appropriate support from cards like Life from the Loam to get extra lands in hand and Burgeoning to get extra lands into play.  

Cycling Lands

Somehow these are a little slow and no longer that good at providing a consistency boost. They used to be one of the best ways to smooth out a mana base. The reason they no longer cut it is thanks to there being a good increase in other cards that help you out like MDFCs. It is also the result of better mana sinks, better card selection effects, and a much greater emphasis on the tempo of a game that has all worked together to harm the playability of cycling lands There are three sets of these, the Onslaught single-coloured-to-cycle lands, the Urza's 2 to cycle and the Deserts from Amonkhet that are one and a coloured to cycle. They all come into play tapped and are quite slow as a result. The Onslaught ones are the go to being the cheapest to cycle. The Urza's ones are the best with Fluctuator! All get play in all kinds of cycling deck as you can build those archetypes in plenty of colours. Presently desert synergy is marginal to say the least but I am sure it will become more relevant eventually. The Onslaught ones used to get a lot more play in more general decks although the scry lands started to phase them out and you rarely see them now outside of decks than can abuse in some way. Wrenn and Six helped with them getting more action in a wider variety of places. Sadly the abundance of Horizon lands that came with Wrenn and Six also did a number on them more than the scry lands and now occupy most of the slots you previously might have toyed with the idea of a cycling land occupying. The issue really these cards have fundamentally is there is no real ceiling, either mode is sub par. Either you have a land drop but it is an EtB one or you have one less land card in a flood but you lost a couple of mana for the privilege. Cards that can solve land to spell ratio inconsistencies that have better potential ceilings are typically the better direction to go in.  

Onslaught 6.5/10

Urza's 5/10

Amonkhet 4/10

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