Lands Before Time

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That’s right. It’s my second article, and I’m kicking it off with a The Land Before Time reference. This week want to take a look at the deck I’ve had together longest, and don’t see myself taking apart any time soon. It’s the first deck that I actively tried to improve and streamline after putting it together, and it’s definitely the most powerful deck that I currently own.

The Child of Alara five-color land deck does everything that I want a commander deck to do, and it abuses my favorite kind of permanent in the game!

What I want to do in this article is talk about the kinds of cards that make this deck powerful, clear up some misunderstandings about how the deck is meant to function, and which specific cards or types of cards are necessary to make the deck run smoothly. For example, my build has a number of really expensive cards, and people immediately assume that those are necessary to the deck’s functionality. The truth is that while the expensive cards are awesome they’re far from irreplaceable, and half of the reason I’m playing them is because I never get to play them otherwise. Regardless, we’ll start with my decklist:

[deckbox did="a62" size="small" width="567"]

Typically, the first reaction that I get from this list is confusion. There are quite a few cards in here that are just good, there are a few that are really narrow, but they don’t really “do” anything; it just looks like a pile of good cards.

In general, the plan involves grinding the other players out of the game in a number of ways. At its heart, the deck wants to lock people out of the game by using specific cards to attack vulnerable resources, and runs a ton of recursion and redundant copies of cards that attack those resources. You’re typically going to close out the game one of three ways:

1. Recur Child of Alara and wrath the board every turn. Having Child sit on the board is also your answer to permanent-based combos. Oblivion Stone is the backup for Child, but you could also run Pernicious Deed or even Plague Boiler if you wanted.

2. Strip Mine recursion, usually with Crucible of Worlds or Sun Titan, along with Azusa, Lost but Seeking or Oracle of Mul Daya so you can lock multiple players. You’ve got a number of cards that can back this up; my personal choice is Ghost Quarter, since it doubles as a slow win condition. You don't even have to lock people with Strip Mines; just keep them off of their own Strip Mine, or important quantities of mana.

3. Glacial Chasm recursion. Creature decks that can’t consistently interact with non-basic lands will scoop to this, and even ones that can muster a Tectonic Edge will scoop to Vesuva plus Glacial Chasm, Chasm plus Child of Alara, or Chasm plus Maze of Ith effects.

Once you’ve made it infinitely difficult for other players to win the game, or to interact with you, winning the game becomes pretty trivial, and you can do it just about however you want. Hopefully I’ve explained what the deck does reasonably well thus far, and we can jump right into what cards are necessary to make the deck run smoothly. First I want to talk about the cards that the deck is built around. You can build a similar deck without these cards, but you’ve fundamentally changed what style of deck it is without them:


Child of Alara
Oblivion Stone/Pernicious Deed/Plague Boiler

High Market
Diamond Valley/ Miren, the Moaning Well

Glacial Chasm

Strip Mine
Ghost Quarter/Dustbowl/Wasteland/Tectonic Edge

Like I said before, these are the foundation of the deck. It’s the core attrition gameplan plus some amount of redundancy. The cards that are slashed in aren’t in any particular order, but are some of the options I’d consider for direct substitutions. From here, it’s important to note that two of of the control mechanisms are land-based, so you’ll want ways to enable those and to tie Child of Alara recursion into your mana base.

Child and Land Recursion

Volrath's Stronghold
Emeria, the Sky Ruin

Crucible of Worlds
Life from the Loam
Tilling Treefolk
Eternal Witness


Deadwood Treefolk
Karmic Guide
Grim Harvest

Volrath's Stronghold and Crucible of Worlds are the only two cards here that are expensive, and the rest are pretty good. I separated the cards that I run from those that I’d consider replacing them with. It’s important to note that as you start adding more 2/X utility creatures, Reveillark becomes a really powerful recursion engine, and is worth considering.

The other consideration I want to talk about is Emeria,the Sky Ruin. This is one of the most powerful cards in the format, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m more than willing to warp my gameplay and deck building in such a way that I can get an active Emeria more often than not. However, if you’re not capable of running all or most of the duals/shocks, it will be incredibly difficult to turn on Emeria without the help of Prismatic Omen or Scapeshift, both of which are perfectly reasonable, but may impact the value of Emeria. enough to merit cutting it.

Really though, any mechanism of consistently recurring [card Child of Alara]Child[/card] is perfectly acceptable, and any combination of Eternal Witness and Tilling Treefolk effects can be almost as good as Life from the Loam and Crucible of Worlds.

So, the question of the day is: how else are you going to abuse lands? I built the deck because too many people in my group were playing blue-based control, and I was tired of having my stuff countered. When your important business spells are either lands or easily recurrable, it minimizes the impact of counterspell and control magic effects. These are some of the archetypical types of lands that make the deck as powerful as it is, and allow you to use lands as spells:


Let's start with ones that we're all comfortable with. These are the manlands that have been in and out of the deck at some point or another:

Mishra's Factory
Nantuko Monastery
Dryad Arbor
Creeping Tar Pit
Celestial Colonade
Lavaclaw Reaches

The important thing about manlands is that they're recurrable blockers that trade with utility creatures and they're a win condition that is child-proof. Right now I'm running Dryad Arbor for the utility it provides and Nantuko Monastery because of the high power relative to its activation cost.

The other manlands are all fine - Lavaclaw Reaches especially gives you a really fast clock - I just find that I frequently have other things I'd rather be doing with my mana.

Maze of Ith

These are your back-up to Glacial Chasm and Child of Alara. Recurring one or both of these can eat up your entire turn; protecting yourself with Mazes means that you can have a few turns where you're safe between to develop your board position.

Maze of Ith
Kor Haven
Deserted Temple
Mystifying Maze
Prahv, Spires of Order

Once again, I typically end up playing on the most mana-efficient copies of this kind of effect: Maze of Ith, Kor Haven, and Deserted Temple. [card Prahv, Spires of Order]Prahv[/card], while expensive, has the upside of protecting you from damage dealt from spell and effects, but really, that's what Glacial Chasm is for; Mystifying Maze, while powerful, is expensive and has the downside of triggering "enters the battlefield" effects.

I've chosen to run Deserted Temple over these as bad mana fixing, and a way to reuse mazes, manlands, and sacrifice outlets. It's still more efficiently costed than Mystifying Maze and it provides a lot more utility. Seems like all upside to me!

Card Drawing

Something that people don't notice about this deck immediately is that you'll often empty your hand pretty early in the game and spend the rest of the game playing out of your graveyard or tutoring up the pieces that you need. Regardless, some land-based card drawing is good for digging towards key cards:

Tranquil Thicket and the rest of the Onslaught cycling lands
Slippery Karst and the rest of the Urza's Saga cycling lands
Horizon Canopy
Cephalid Coliseum

Cycling lands interact really well with Life from the Loam, allowing you to dig three cards deep for various lands, and protect Life from the Loam from graveyard hate at instant speed. With a reliable 5 color mana-base, the Tranquil Thicket style of cycling lands are obviously just better than the Saga ones, but if you're having trouble hitting colors, a split is probably better.

Cephalid Coliseum is a lot like an uncounterable Ancestral Recall, especially with Life from the Loam to fill your hand with unneeded lands. Horizon Canopy is significantly worse, but sometimes you get to use these multiple times with Crucible of Worlds and Azusa, Lost but Seeking in play, and then it's pretty hard to lose.

While I could go over the rest of the deck in detail, I's rather pick out some of the stranger or more powerful cards and gloss over those, and end with talk about actually winning the game (since that's kind of important).

Nim Deathmantle
Anyone who's ever read anything of mine knows that I love this card. The thing is absolutely insane. If you use this in conjunction with a sacrifice outlet, you've basically built your own Recurring Nightmare, and that effect is powerful enough to be banned

Ad Nauseam
Your deck is mostly lands, so this and Treasure Hunt are both awesome. The difference is that this has zero chance of whiffing, and will almost always draw at least five cards, but usually ten or more. Seems fair, right? [Editor's Note: It's an instant too, for good measure.]

Realms Uncharted
Realms Uncharted, Intuition, Gamble, and Entomb are all of the tutors that dump things into your graveyard, and they're all stellar in this deck. With all the recursion you run, they're basically just Demonic Tutors. Imagine it's the mid-game and you cast Realms Uncharted for:

Petrified Field
Tolaria West
Glacial Chasm
Volrath's Stronghold

That split doesn't usually end well for the table, since you'll get whichever lands you wanted, plus tutor for one or two from your deck within the next two or three turns. Gifts Ungiven is banned, and, in this deck, Realms Uncharted is roughly equivalent to that, but for less mana.

Crop Rotation
When I say that this is the best tutor in the deck, I'm not kidding. Instant speed Glacial Chasm is no joke, since people will over-extend to try to kill you, and you can punish them with Child of Alara. When it's not blowing people out, it's also a cheap tutor that doesn't use a land drop, which is at a premium.

Summer Bloom

This is a card that facilitates blowouts. I've killed a table of four people on turn 5 on the back of Summer Bloom plus Yawgmoth's Will. Early game, this lets you explode out of the gates and set up your engine before people can really disrupt you. Late game, it's like a 2 mana Mind's Desire.

Winning the Game

I've been playing this deck for a long time, and I've tried a ton of different ways to close out games with this decks, all to varying degrees of success. Currently, my primary win conditions include Planeswalkers, Worm Harvest, and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, since they very compact and provide a lot of utility. However, here are a few other methods I've tried:

Rampaging Baloths
Last Stand plus Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth/Prismatic Omen
Meloku the Clouded Mirror
Avenger of Zendikar
Thopter Foundry/Sword of the Meek
Magosi, the Waterveil plus Rings of Brighthearth and Deserted Temple.

The problem with most of these is that they're dead unless you're actively trying to end the game, require you to run other cards that are dead outside of comboing, or require you to continuously commit resources to making them good, which can make it difficult to stay alive.

Hopefully you enjoyed this look at a deck I've been enjoying playing for the last two years; it's kind of amazing that in 2,000 words I've barely scratched the surface! If you're interested in hearing more, let me know, because I've got plenty more to say about this deck!

In the meantime though, if you've got any comments, criticisms, or want to talk about an idea or a deck, leave a comment, shoot me an email or tweet at me. I'm always happy to talk shop!

@cag5383 on Twitter

8 thoughts on “Lands Before Time

  1. This deck is awsome…I am new to commander and decided to build this deck just to test it out…Seems like it is mass NonBasic Land Control deck with the powerful effect of Child of Alara and Primevel Titan…

    Super awsome..I would like to hear more on how to play it because I am loving the Glacial Chasm with Zuran Orb and Crucible of Worlds…The only issue I have had is the deck is expensive so I had to make a LOT of proxies. Any Recommendations on Replacements for some of the Ravina lands, Volrath Stronghold, Tabernacle at Pendril Vale, Diamond Valley because I can't afford them…

    Maybe you could make a Child of Alara Balling on a Budget deck for the newbies trying to get into Commander. 🙂

  2. Suggested budget-izations:

    -Miren, the Moaning Well for Diamond Valley. Less efficient, but still gets the job done.

    -Magus of the Tabernacle, Propaganda, Collective Restraint, or others for Tabernacle.

    -Volrath's Stronghold can be replaced by Buried Alive, so you can go get Genesis and make that work.

    -Rav lands… are worth shelling out for. Probably can replace with painlands.

    If you're running things like Buried Alive, I could see adding a Recoup. Recouping a Rude Awakening, for example, could be potent.

    To the author: have you considered Blasted Landscape?

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