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By: stsung, Ren Stefanek
Jul 29 2016 12:00pm
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Magic is a resource management game. Spells in Magic cost mana and that is produced mainly by lands. Without lands most decks cannot do or cast anything. Those lands are the first resource we have to learn how to manage. Good management of lands is what can put us ahead; bad management will make us fall behind.

When Onslaught fetch lands were first introduced it changed the way we looked at our mana base. Before these were printed playing multicolored decks was way more difficult. Protecting our lands from Wasteland and Strip Mine was tough, we were solely dependent on dual lands that we had to naturally draw and thus running 3-5 colored decks was very difficult since we couldn't achieve enough consistency. Fetch lands allowed us to play the same amount of lands (even less) while being able to efficiently play 3 and more colored decks. Fetch lands and dual lands are the lands that constitute Vintage, Legacy and Modern mana base and will be the main topic of this article. Before talking more specifically about lands I'd like to tell you my story about how I discovered why lands matter.

After I was forced to stop playing mono-blue because people were too disgusted by my counterspells I decided to explore other colors. But it was not to happen because the players I played with stopped playing Eternal formats when Legacy and Vintage was first introduced. That resulted in long break for me as well. But I came back. But not as a blue mage but rather one that wanted to play all the colors. I was forced to play Standard if I wanted to play at least some Constructed. After Faeries were no longer a possibility, I built Naya Zoo for Standard but soon I switched to Extended. When playing Faeries all I needed to care about was having 3 blue sources for Cryptic Command and not dying to my pain lands. Playing Zoo in Extended was totally different. My mana base was way more efficient but hurt way more to the extent that sometimes I had to lose tempo and fetch a tapped land if I still wanted to survive. I learned soon that I have to sequence my lands well in order to be able to play green card on turn one, followed by 2 red ones for example. It wasn't difficult to figure out but whenever my opening hand contained Temple Garden I knew that this land can totally screw me up if my future red source would get Vindicated. When Zendikar came out and the cycle of fetches was completed I did not need to limit myself to 3 colors. At first I just put Arid Mesa and Goblin Guide in my deck but later I found the need for Meddling Mage and Negate. This was my way to stop cards like Living End or Scapeshift. I guess I could have chosen a different approach but this one has worked for me. Since playing 4 color already I also put Tribal Flames in my deck along with some black sources. Due to this I could afford playing some black cards. Usually these cards were in my sideboard (Terminate, Deathmark, Thoughtseize) but sometimes main deck (Dark Confidant, Vindicate).

When playing this deck I needed to be able to play turn 1 Wild Nacatl, turn 2 Meddling Mage, followed mostly by red spells. I started to wonder what the shock lands in my deck should be and in what order I should play them. Breeding Pool turn 1 and Sacred Foundry turn 2, Blood Crypt turn 3 would work. I could play my Nacatl (swing for three on turn 2), play Meddling Mage and Lightning Helix something on turn 3. I was left with Breeding Pool mana open but I couldn't use it most of the time. The need for red sources was so big that I had to reconsider the land I originally put in my deck (replacing basic Forest). Breeding Pool turned out to be a wrong decision. The chosen land should have been Steam Vents. Since the deck was more or less red-white and needed to play more red spells in a single turn most of the time I needed to have primary colors along secondary colors on those lands. Breeding Pool did not satisfy that condition since neither blue nor green were primary colors. For the same reason Watery Grave wasn't good either but Hallowed Fountain and Steam Vents fulfilled my requirements.

What I described above might not be that obvious in a format where land destruction is not common. But Extended was full of mana denial spells and land destruction. My opponents were targeting my red sources and that's when I could clearly see that Breeding Pool was a mistake. For that I could play Tarmogoyf and 1/1 Wild Nacatl but nothing else (Gaddock Teeg if I had white source).

Blood Moon was a common card of that time and often I faced it on turn 1 (which was actually better than facing Chalice of the Void for 1). At first I used to play 1 Plains and 2 Forest but by adding more colors I needed to cut 1 Forest, later I cut the other one as well. I usually needed Plains in order for my deck to function and having Forest in my opener often meant taking a  mulligan (primarily I needed to be able to cast Lightning Helix and Path to Exile). Against decks running Blood Moon I often did not get the chance to even fetch any basic land anyway. Being under Blood Moon I also felt the big difference between having the possibility to put a card in my graveyard for 1 life and not. Grim Lavamancer was unable to deal 2 damage per turn and turned into 1/1 attacker. That is a huge difference.

The land count was also something I had no idea what to do with. I arrived to the conclusion that 20 land is enough (6 shocks lands and 14 fetchlands) but when playing with basics my mana base simply stopped working from time to time. That is the reason that whenever I chose to play basic lands in my deck they were actually taking a nonland slots in it. Basics were my 21st and 22nd land. When playing against Burn or another aggressive deck it was good to have the possibility to find a white source that wouldn't cost me 2 life. It was actually a huge advantage.

Playing more colors than needed also led me to play Jund with white. I was splashing Ajani Vengeant, Path to Exile, Stony Silence and Lingering Souls. Since I was prone to terribly die to Blood Moon I ran 3 basics and 25 land. Some of my Affinity opponents siding in Blood Moon cried when something like this happened.

Now it is time to actually go over how we can use fetch lands to their full potential.

Deck thinning
If you are new to formats that include fetch lands you might be wondering why mono red decks (mostly) play even up to 12 fetch lands in their decks. There exists something called deck thinning. The idea behind this is simple. When you fetch a land, you take that land out of your library. This means that after certain number of draws/turns you should be able to draw one land less than a player playing the same deck not running fetch lands. In general people will be telling you most probably that deck thinning plays a big role and that you should fetch when you can but note that this does not apply to all decks nor all situations. Playing with fetch lands is tricky and the decisions can apply even to a mono red deck. The impact of deck thinning does not need to be observed in a game of magic but what will follow is something that can show crucial immediately or within 1-2 turns.

Cards in a graveyard matter

In Odyssey there is mechanic named Threshold. For as long as you have seven or more cards in the graveyard, the card with Threshold gets another ability. For example Nimble Mongoose becomes 3/3 and who would not want a 3/3 Shroud creature for one mana? In Future Sight cards with Delve mechanic were introduced. Tombstalker was the favorite card of that time that saw play, now the most popular creature with Delve in Legacy is Gurmag Angler. Other cards required cards in a graveyard - for example Jotun Grunt or Grim Lavamancer. In Khans of Tarkir new cards with Delve were printed and changed all the formats and certain cards had to be banned or restricted - Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise. In an environment where many decks run 10-12 fetches and very cheap spells these cards were too overpowered and could be played on turn 3.

The cards mentioned in the above paragraph do not care what card there is in the graveyard. There is a card that does care about that - Deathrite Shaman or for example Tarmogoyf. Deathrite Shaman can for tapping and exiling a land card produce mana of any color. It is good to have at least one fetch land in hand when you have Deathrite Shaman and will have the need to use it. Your opponent might not want to crack their fetch lands or will avoid playing them if they will see that you have no other land nor fetch lands.

Fetching the right colors
The first and obvious reason why fetch lands started to see play is that they can fetch the dual lands that allow us to play multicolored decks. If we look at our decklists we know what color combinations we need. For example Shardless BUG deck needs Blue, Black, Green in order to be able to play its spell and needs BB for Hymn to Tourach, Liliana of the Veil and UU for (Jace, the Mind Scultor) or the occasional Force of Will. We should strive to have access to BB by turn 2 while still being able to play Shardless Agent by turn 3 (requiring UGx). This alone is fairly easy to do but we should keep in mind that our mana base can be disrupted and for that we will find out that sequencing our lands is also important.

I'd like to make a note here. Many players starting with Legacy often fetch some kind of dual land and basic land combination. This usually means that we can't have UU or BB on the turn we need. When the dual gets destroyed it gets even worse because we will be left with only 1 land that produces only 1 kind of mana. Fetching two dual lands (for example Tropical Island, Underground Sea, so we can keep blue being our primary color - fetching for Bayou, Underground Sea would give our opponent the possibility to cut us off blue) or two basic lands (because basics are put in the deck so we can play the most important spells) is usually better.

When first we learn how to play Magic we are usually introduced to mono-colored decks. But later we discover that we can play multicolored decks. The more colors in a deck the more difficult sequencing and managing our lands can become. Not so long time ago there were Onslaught fetch lands reprinted in Khans of Tarkir. In Battle for Zendikar dual lands with basic land type were printed. They come into play untapped if we have two or more basic lands already in play, otherwise they come into play tapped. But can be fetched and that is something that probably made many players wonder what the right sequencing for these lands is. I noticed that often players were fetching basic lands first no matter what and then playing their battle lands or fetching them. This though often made them lose tempo sooner or later in the game because they couldn't play the card they needed on the turn they needed it.

At the time when Battle for Zendikar was out I played Standard for a brief moment and there was one player who tried to give me advice on how to play the deck. My deck of choice was Dark Jeskai because I just simply couldn't play a deck without Jace, Vryn's Prodigy (the card seemed overpowered to me, making the deck overpowered as well) and Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Crackling Doom seemed a good splash (anything that could deal with Siege Rhino was good). This player was giving me his advice on how to play my deck even though I hardly needed that. But thanks to his attempts at advising me I realized how deep Magic is and what a player obviously needs to learn. In one of the games I kept a hand with three fetch lands, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Mantis Rider, Fiery Impulse and Dig Through Time. He started telling me what lands I should find. None of the advised combinations though was giving me access to two three colors combinations on turn 3 I wanted. I planned to play Jace on t2 and Mantis Rider on t3. But there could be the need to play Crackling Doom as well so I needed Black. The colors that overlapped were White and Red and the ones that were different were Blue and Black and for that sole reason I fetched for Sunken Hollow, Mountain and Plains (in that order). I just needed Prairie Stream or a fetch land being able to fetch it so I could play any card in my deck (Gideon, Ally of Zendikar needing WW and Dig Through Time needing UU).

During the second World Magic Cup 2016 I played in between rounds with Naya Burn against other decks. My first opponent was also a Naya Burn pilot. While I played against him with my Jund deck, I noticed that he seemed to fetch immediately, usually fetching shock lands shocking himself or he was fetching at the end of turn. For that reason when I played with the Burn deck I tried to sequence my spells and lands in a way I wouldn't lose tempo while playing/fetching few lands tapped thus saving me important life which led to my victory in this mirror match.

Fetching at the correct time

While playing the aforementioned Naya Burn mirror I noticed one more thing. Since we both played Lightning Helix, Atarka's Command/Skullcrack fetching at the right time proved to be of bigger importance than one might think. I already noted in one of my previous articles that one should be aware when to fetch because fetching puts a trigger on the stack. My opponent had two lands in play Sacred Foundry and Stomping Ground. He played Wooded Foothills and Lava Spike and passed the turn. I just drew a card and let him play. He decided to fetch at the end of turn (as I noticed he was doing this rather automatically). Since in this game I had Lightning Helix in my hand I played it punishing him for his fetching. He could have easily avoided this situation if he would have just fetched before playing his Lava Spike or not fetching at all and just waiting me to play something and fetch in response.

Similarly when I played Jeskai Control against the same Burn deck my opponent ran into my Lightning Helix about six times just because he fetched at the wrong moment and was unable to play Skullcrack or Atarka's Command. I also had to make sure that I have the lands I need so I can counter spells when fetching. You simply can't fetch if you have 3 lands + fetch land in play and your only counterspell is Cryptic Command! Fetching in that situation means that you give your opponent the possibility to play something while not being able to Cryptic Command it.

Shuffling effect

One of the very important aspects of fetch lands is their shuffle effect. After we play Brainstorm we can shuffle away two cards we don't want. After we play Ponder and there is only one card we need, we can draw it and shuffle the remaining two cards away. When we have Sensei's Divining Top in play and we are looking for Monastery Mentor or Entreat the Angels, fetch lands help us find the card faster. For that reason it is good to keep fetch lands in play and not crack unless we have to. If someone is attacking us with Goblin Guide and we reveal a card we do not want, we can fetch to shuffle our library and draw a different card (hopefully). The previous example was rather clear but note that this can be done in upkeep before draw step as well. If you control Delver of Secrets and you look at a card in upkeep. You can reveal it or not and still fetch if you do not want the card (just make sure to make a stop in upkeep).

This shuffle effect can sometimes be a downside in certain circumstances. Note that for example when a player fetches and has Sensei's Divining Top in play you can target it with a spell that would destroy it. Your opponent can choose if he uses the Top (both for looking at three cards and then drawing a card) and shuffles it back into his library or lets it get destroyed. Similarly if you are playing Tarmogoyfs in your deck, there are decks that sideboard in a Submerge. This card puts a card on top of your library so fetching should be done with caution if you suspect Submerge from your opponent.

Mana Denial

While in Modern mana base is not usually disrupted much, in Legacy and Vintage it is. Mana base in eternal formats is way more efficient and the need for correct sequencing is needed less. On the other hand there are strong mana denial cards that we need to take into an account and these can totally change the way what lands we want to fetch and when. The ideal sequencing does not need to correspond to achieving ideal color combinations. Fetch lands play an important role when playing against decks with Wasteland. Having fetch lands in our decks allows us not to miss a land drop and to actually get to the land count we need in order to play our key card. So if we don't want to play something immediately and we have the choice between playing a fetch land or dual land, we should prioritize playing the fetch land since that cannot be destroyed (it can, but we can fetch and put a land into play).

In Legacy another card that messes up with lands is Stifle. It counters the activated ability on fetch lands or Wasteland which means that you lose the land. When playing against a deck running Stifle fetching needs to be reconsidered. One needs to try to either fetch safely (when the opponent is tapped out) or when playing Stifle won't be advantageous for the opponent. For example cracking your fetch land in opponent's upkeep will force your opponent to think twice about playing Stifle because he will have to tap a land to play Stifle and might not be able to play anything else.

Keeping a dual land in your hand so you can play it when you need access to the mana is correct. If you know that having the right color is crucial later, after some of your lands got destroyed, just keep the land in your hand and play it when you need to and can play the card you need to pay for. Playing a dual land from your hand means that you will avoid Stifle and will be able to use the at least once if you face Wasteland.

Prison style decks also run Rishadan Port. That card alone does not destroy a land but can keep a land tapped from upkeep to untap step (so that in upkeep it will be tapped once again). Since these decks also run Wasteland and sometimes other cards like Ghost Quarter, Rishadan Port can proof to be lethal.

Global Mana Denial

Since there exist cards that somehow affect mana base globally it is good to be vigilant about them. The most common cards that you will encounter are Blood Moon, Back to Basics and Winter Orb. The first two cards can be negated to some extent if we have basic lands in our deck. If we don't or our hand does not consist of any fetch lands or basics we cannot allow Blood Moon or Back to Basics to resolve or we need to keep mana open for enchantment removal. If we are on Lands or Miracles we should also anticipate Winter Orb from more aggressive decks (for example Delver decks).

Even in Vintage Blood Moon can be totally crippling. Countering on-color Moxen and Black Lotus is crucial then.

Some decks sometimes play cards like Choke or Boil. Since more than 60 percent of the meta in Legacy is blue it shouldn't be surprising that non-blue decks choose this to be one of their sideboard cards. So watch out for these cards if you happen to be playing blue!

Not playing lands
Not playing lands is sometimes as important as playing them. There are many scenarios in which keeping lands is better. I already covered a scenario in which we need to keep dual lands in our hand to protect them. There are other reasons as well. You can keep lands in your hand to bluff that you actually have some spells in your hand. If you need lands in play though, play them. For example if you have Force of Will in your hand without a blue card and have three lands in play and you draw a fourth one, play it. Because if you draw another land you can play it and have Force of Will ready. Keeping lands you don't need in your hand also can help you against discard. If opponent will play Liliana of the Veil you can keep the cards you need in your hand and discard excessive lands. If you play Dack Fayden keep something you can discard because you might want or need both cards you draw with Fayden's ability. If you happen to draw Brainstorm having something to shuffle away helps as well (shuffle away fetchable lands if possible so you still have targets to fetch).

I think that I covered enough to let you ponder about lands and their use. Lands in the game of Magic play very important role, many players do not realize how much important. The game is not only based on lands but understanding how lands work is something that can change the outcome of a game or match as you can see from my examples above. There is no guarantee that you will draw your much needed third mana source, there is even less chance of not drawing it when a spell is so desperately needed, but understanding your mana base and using it most efficiently is something that will improve your game a lot. There is way more to lands than just tapping them for the right colored mana.

Thanks for reading. Hit me up on modo (stsung) or Twitter (stsungjp).