Friday 27 August 2021

Mono Coloured Non-Basic Lands Part VIII - The Conclusions


We are nearly ready to conclude this series on coloured utility lands. I will recap on why we might want to run utility lands and the costs they impose on decks and cubes. We will finally take a look at what are the best options to play in a variety of differing cube settings for each of the colours. We will also need a tiny little detour before the end to cover off colour-locked colouress lands. 

So, why do we want to run non-basic utility lands? Mainly it is down to them being such a low cost to include in a deck. When you can effectively get a free spell extra in your deck why would you not? The next big reason is to broaden your angle of attack and work your opponent's solutions that much harder. Lands are hard to answer and can provide that bit of reach or inevitability the opponent just can't contain. The last thing I have on my list has a couple of aspects to it but broadly it is consistency. Sensibly inclusion of utility lands will lead to a deck performing more reliably. This can be thanks to healthier land counts or more precise ratios of lands and spells. It can be thanks to having appropriate mana sinks or reaching a threshold of threats. Utility lands tend to increase options and more options tends to result in more consistency on top of being a good thing in and of itself. 

So if utility lands are such a low cost way to add a lot to a deck why are there so few in cube? Firstly there is a cap on how many you will want in any given deck which in turn results in a capped demand for them in drafts. Much more relevantly however are space concerns. Every utility land added is a card that is interchangeable with a free basic and doesn't help to get you to 40 playables. Even though you rarely find you don't get enough cards they still have the effect of making boosters thinner. This reduces options for everyone around the table when it comes to deck building. As such you make your cube more interesting and a more consistent/fair/balanced experience if you are as lean as possible on the utility land front. Doubly so with the coloured ones as they are either significantly narrower being colour bound and thus unplayable, or at least a lot worse, outside of that colour. Then they are also having to compete with the colourless utility lands on top of being weaker. 

The other reason to keep utility lands out of cubes is down to their impact. Either they have minor effects or they are used infrequently. Either of these things tends to mean that the benefits they might bring to decks are not coming close to covering the costs they impose on your cube as a whole. 

As far as costs to your deck go when it comes to utility lands we find three main camps of cost. There are those that enter tapped some or all of the time and cost you tempo. There are those that cost life to use in some way and then there are those that don't produce coloured mana. There are then of course combinations of these costs as well. Typically aggressive decks hate the entering tapped lands and don't mind at all about the life cost ones. They also struggle a bit more with the colourless lands as they have fewer lands overall and a lower curve that consequently ensures a much higher percentage of coloured mana costs across their spells. Midrange and control can afford the most in the way of colourless and entering tapped lands, perhaps up to two of each in a 17 land deck with good fixing. When building I would tend to limit tempo/aggro decks in my cube to one of each EtB tapped and colourless producing lands, and even then only if these cards are adding a lot. You also tend to find that you are using up some or all of your sensible capacity for entering tapped lands as part of your mana fixing. Overall that means there is more in the way of general cube and deck space for utility lands that can enter untapped. 

We don't need to worry about true colourless lands here as they don't count towards the slot allocation for  coloured utility lands. In decks they don't compete for slots very often and in terms of cube design the colourless lands also support more drafters. You still want to keep the count of colourless utility lands relatively low but as they are supplying all the players at the table you can have significantly more than you can for any one colour of coloured utility lands. All of them cause the bloating of cube and so finding the right balance of colourless and coloured while keeping both to a minimum can be tricky. I have previously done a best colourless land article but it is looking rather dated now thanks to shifts in the meta. It also includes a selection of colour-bound colourless lands which really should be included within these coloured lists when they concern cube design. I may well redo the list in a more pure form so as to complement this series and to be more relevant and up to date. For now here is the one I did in 2017 which does at least cover all the best colourless lands, just not quite in the order I would put them in now!

So lastly, what do I mean by a colour-bound colourless land and why should they be in this list rather than the best colourless lands? These lands are those that only produce colourless mana however they require coloured mana in order to provide their utility. Technically they are colourless lands and as far as deck building goes that is also true. The problem is that as far as designing a cube they take the slot of a coloured utility land as they are similarly narrow. This makes them even more of a luxury card and that much harder to justify giving a cube slot too. Only the very best and most important within this group should ever be considered. The only narrower group of cards are the multi coloured colourless utility lands that effectively also take up the slot of a gold card within your cube. These have to be pretty extreme to get a look in. There are plenty of good ones but the extreme narrowness tends to keep most of those well out of contention. Kessig Wolf Run has been the only one from this group that merits attention. I will briefly discuss the few mono colour-bound colourless utility lands that do get some attention as they come up in the final portion of this conclusion. For completeness sake I feel compelled to at least list the rest of them.

There are two cycles of "gold" two colour to activate lands both at ten cards each. One from original Ravnica and the other from original Innistrad. The latter is where we get Wolf Run from. Randomly we then get the one off Grove of the Guardian and Nantuko Monastery both for Selesnya. There are 8 tribal lands from Onslaught that provide a perk to elves, goblins, birds, clerics, zombies, beasts, soldiers, and wizards. Beast, birds and clerics are the only gold ones from these 8 and bring the totality of the gold colourless lands to 25. Technically the Lorwyn filter lands are colourless lands with a coloured activation but in practice they are dual lands. You just need to be a bit more careful about over doing it with other colourless sources. There is a cycle of colourless lands in Battle for Zendikar which you pay coloured mana and sac for an effect. Then there are 10 random ones dotted throughout magic history to include; Yavimaya Hollow, Volrath's Stronghold, Academy Ruins, Hanwier Battlements, Keldon Necropolis, Hellion Crucible, Shivan Gorge, Kher Keep, Kor Haven, and Hall of Heliod's Generosity. An odd leaning towards white and red lands when looking at these out of cycle lands. Even more so if you account for the gold ones. Right, with that off my chest we can actually look at what I would play in various cubes of the available options. 

Unpowered Cube

These utility lands are the most rounded and sensible options for good limited game play. The broken stuff is out, the narrow stuff is out, just broadly playable and powerful cards is what you want most for these kinds of cube and these are my lists of those such lands! The break in the list represents which I run in my cube currently and which I don't. Green doesn't have a break as I run all of five of them! Green has more desirable lands and is better able to support playing more as well. I made each list up to five long but you will note that some lists fall off rather quicker than others in power. There is a lot of the same cycles recurring here with predominantly newer cards standing out. Newer lands have had to really up their power level in order to be relevant alongside general power creep. Tempo is such a big deal that lands which pose a risk of costing you some need to offer a lot more than a marginal or occasional perk. 


1. Hive of the Eye Tyrant

2. Hagra Broodpit

3. Pelakka Caverns

4. Castle Lochthwain

5. Agadeem, the Undercrypt


1. Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass

2. Den of the Bugbear

3. Spikefield Cave

4. Castle Embereth

5. Dwarven Mine


1. Lair of the Hydra

2. Treetop Village

3. Kazandu Valley

4. Tangled Florahedron 

5. Bala Ged Restoration


1. Hall of Storm Giants

2. Jwari Ruins

3. Glasspool Shore

4. Faerie Conclave

5. Castle Vantress


1. Cave of the Frost Dragon

2. Castle Ardenvale

3. Windbrisk Heights

4. Emeria, Shattered Skyclave

5. Eiganjo Castle

Powered Cube

This is where the gloves come off and the support for some sillier things is more abundant. This allows broken lands and some narrower lands a chance to shine. Powered cubes are even more sensitive to bloating effects than unpowered ones. I advise them being kept to a 540 max which leaves less room for lands. There is quite a quandary on creature lands in powered cubes. They are a bit slow and fair to compete with the broken stuff however the more conventional decks are tending to be the better decks now even in powered cubes thanks to the impressive uptick in quality of dorks, removal, and planeswalkers. They probably don't need the creature lands to beat out the silly stuff but they will eventually want them to beat each other. 


1. Tolarian Academy

2. Shelldock Isle

3. Mystic Sanctuary

4. Jwari Disruption

5. Hall of Storm Giants


1. Gaea's Cradle

2. Bala Ged Recovery

3. Turntimber Symbiosis

4. Lair of Hydra

5. Tangled Florahedron


1. Karakas

2. Cave of the Frost Dragon

3. Flagstones of Trokair

4. Hall of Heliod's Generosity

5. Emeria, Shattered Skyclave


1. Lake of the Dead

2. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

3.Pelakka Caverns

4. Hagra Broodpit

5. Hive of the Eye Tyrant


1. Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass

2. Den of the Bugbear

3. Spikefield Cave

4. Barbarian Ring

5. Great Furnace

Combo Cube

This is where the niche stuff comes out of the woodwork. Cubes of this nature are not exactly common and have pretty varied design philosophies too. A better way to look at these lists is as a guide to some of the more useful utility lands for the exotic decks in more constructed settings. I play and curate my combo cube a lot less than the others too meaning it is less up to date and has a lower degree of refinement. As such I have not given a clean break in the lands from those I run and those I don't. It is around the point of the depletion and cycling lands in these lists where I am no longer playing those cards in my combo cube. As you can see, some colours fair rather better in the exotic lands than others too. This is more OK in my combo cube as blue is about twice the size of the other colours and so I am happy playing twice the number of blue utility lands as a result. Given that we are talking low numbers and high allowable margins of error that is a pretty muddy figure anyway. I am sure some of the more even colours already have twice the utility land count of others. 

There are three lands that tap for colourless and put a permanent type back on top of the library for a coloured 1X and tap cost. Blue does artifacts, black does dorks, and white does enchantments. All of these are pretty key combo cube cards. Singleton means you need to be able to recur lost combo pieces. Some combos want you to put things exactly on top of your library. Some combos kill by decking and these lands can protect against that. You can even just use them for card quality in combination with self mill things. There are a lot of good reasons to pack these cards and they represent the very few colourless colour-bound lands that see much cube action. Volrath's Stronghold used to be good enough to hold a firm cube slot for a good many years. Now it is all a bit slow and fair for non-combo applications. 


1. Mystic Sanctuary

2. Seat of the Synod

3. Academy Ruins

4. Tolaria West

5. Cephalid Coliseum


1. Hall of Heliod's Generosity

2. Serra's Sanctum

3. Remote Farm

4. Secluded Steppe

5. Vivid Meadow


1. Turntimber, Serpentine Wood

2. Bala Ged Sanctuary

3. Dryad Arbor

4. Hickory Woodlot

5. Tranquil Thicket


1. Great Furnace

2. Valakut Stoneforge

3. Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass

4. Sandstone Needles 

5. Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle 


1. Lake of the Dead

2. Volrath's Stronghold

3. Phyrexian Tower

4. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

5. Pelakka Caverns

There we have it! Coloured utility lands covered. Thanks again to Khaz for sponsoring this series.

1 comment:

  1. Superb serie fo articles. Will comment more when I have something meaningful to say.