The Problem With Lands, or What’s Cooler Than Being Cool?

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"Jason Schousboe reacquaints himself with an old friend by taking Lands for a spin around the block, with the value-added Scapeshift and Valakut. See how he fared in this quixotic quest below.

My Falling Out with Lands

Well here I am, about to bring you fine gentlemen and ladies a tournament report of Legacy Lands in my first article for a major strategy site. The only snafu? My record for the event in question, an accomplished (ahem)... 2-4. No, I’m afraid those are not match-wins, they’re byes. Two of the finest...

Wowie wa woo. How did I get here exactly?

Rambling Aside with Too Many Metaphors

(Feel free to skip this section if you hate this sort of thing. You’ve been warned.)

It was a fateful Thursday, Legacy night down at the local store. I had come to durdle or, if the stars so-aligned, borrow a deck last-minute to battle for the evening. It became rapidly apparent that the latter was not to be, as not only Stoneforge & Jace, LLC., but also all manner of its less-traded, more modest cousins, had shuttered their doors for the evening. As I did not feel like deigning to shop at the Bolt and Blast Bargain Basement, durdle it was.

So there I was, relishing my peaceful disposition, when I ran across none other than QS’s own Mike Hawthorne in a suspiciously ebullient attitude . He was testing before round one, and as I looked down to see his board I knew trouble was brewing. I can still see him there, an irresponsible grin plastered across his face, gleefully porting lands, callously wasting his opponent off colors, recklessly making multiple land drops each turn, and... wait, what is this now? [card Burning Wish]Wishing[/card] for Scapeshift to [card Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle]Valakut[/card] them out?

Its not as if that particular version of Lands were unfamiliar, to me or the community at large. But its like running into an ex at a party after ingesting a modicum of alcohol, when you just can’t help but notice how spectacular she looks in that new summer dress. There’s obviously no way whatsoever that anything could go wrong were you to saunter over and say hello.

Lands and I have something of a history. We vacationed together in Madrid, where I scrubbed out to miss day two after having drawn every round in existence, including the ones other people were playing. I can still recall that sunny day in Minneapolis that we top-eighted the Star City 5K and lost to a flurry of nasty goblins in the quarter-finals. Various acquaintances like to proclaim that its my “favorite deck” because I played it for an eternity.

And the unintentional draws... Yeah, there were a lot of those.

But there she was, those [card Mox Diamond]diamond eyes[/card] gleaming up at me, that [card Life from the Loam]loam-tousled[/card] hair so inviting, and a shiny [card Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle]valakut broach[/card] clasped to her blouse. These cards are freaking awesome; how can I say no?

Mike and I talk for a bit about his build, which he is very excited about. He lets me borrow it for the Big 1.5 that Saturday, which offers fantastic prizes (duals, goyfs, and the like.)

Fast-forward a few days to see me nursing a broken heart all over again and pleading with my would-be audience to overlook such a dreadful showing. Why exactly didn’t I just play Brainstorm and Force of Will like a sane individual?

Let me tell you: this stupid deck sure has my number.

Some Depressing Games of Magic

It is my belief that Lands has been poorly positioned in the Legacy metagame for some time. In fact, over the course of a year-plus playing the deck extensively, I am increasingly of the opinion that the deck has a fundamentally weak game plan.

I would like to examine why I think this, as well as the reasons that led me to pilot a tier-two deck for so long under the belief that it was a contender. Before delving into the theoretical questions, however, I’ll walk through a brief recap of my matches from last weekend.

First, the build:

This list has a few things going for it.

A reasonable clock in Lands shores up one of its historic problems by preventing draws and reducing the number of turns you need to survive. Since your clock consists of one resolved spell, you care less about demolishing your opponent’s board. Any non-Blue opponent has to race you reaching seven lands, which, in theory, should be an easy task (more on the soul-crushing inadequacy of said theory below.)

The Wishboard has advantages over Intuition, costing less mana and ignoring graveyard hate. Devastating Dreams was the MVP here as an out to utility creatures like [card Dark Confidant]Bob[/card], as well as a way to blow up basic lands faster than Ghost Quarter or Smokestack. You have maindeck answers to Progenitus, Leyline of the Void, and other annoying permanents. Summer Bloom allows [card Burning Wish]Wish[/card] to double as a mana accelerant when you can’t find one of the enchantments.

Overall, however, I think the Wishboard is inferior to the Enlightened Tutor package, although there are some aspects of it worth salvaging.

Round 1 – Joe Kauffman with Elves!

G1: He combos off and “whiffs” with about 17 billion Elves in play and me dead to one swing. I’m drawing live to Intuition or Burning Wish, either of which will let me Dreams his board and murder him with pact triggers. Cue draw step: Tolaria West. Does this $200 [card The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale]Tabernacle[/card] do anything against Priest of Titania?

G2: I Intuition for three [card Exploration]Explorations[/card] with [card Burning Wish]Wish[/card] in hand. In two turns he will die to angry [card Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle]Valakuts[/card], or next turn I can Dreams away his board. Alas, there is no next turn as I die to a hasty [card Emrakul, the Aeons Torn]Emmy[/card], thanks to Concordant Crossroads.

How fitting: The Eldrazi destroy Zendikar yet again.

I’m feeling okay, as combo matchups are supposed to be bad, and I was one turn away from an (effective) win both games. The next round was to remind me more conclusively why I stopped playing Lands in the first place.

0-1, Jovial

Round 2 – Harrison Hite with BUG Control

G1: Harrison kindly loaned me some cards for the tournament and we share a little banter before the match. Both games he lands a turn two [card Dark Confidant]Bob[/card], which I simply can’t deal with. Without the luxury of time to tutor up [card Boseiju, Who Shelters All]Boseiju[/card], his [card Force of Will]Forces[/card] and [card Spell Snare]Spell Snares[/card] get me pretty hard.

G2: Leyline of the Void and [card Jace, the Mind Sculptor]Jace[/card] aren’t even necessary to dispatch me summarily, but they sure decide to show up anyway.

0-2 Melancholy

Round 3 – Scott with Reanimator

G1: My opponent unearths a silly little [card Empyrial Archangel]shroud angel[/card] early on, and when my wished-for Perish resolves after little consideration, I notice with chagrin that she has ended up back in the graveyard... Man, these damn zombie angels sure are hard to kill, aren’t they?

He tempos me by countering [card Life from the Loam]Loam[/card] each turn until I’m dead. I realize afterwards that I misplayed by neglecting to tutor for [card Boseiju, Who Shelters All]Boseiju[/card] when given the chance.

G2: Terrastodon kills Ensnaring Bridge like he’s supposed to, but I’m still in it until he gets [card Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur]Jin-Gitaxias[/card] online, followed up by [card Iona, Shield of Emeria]Iona[/card]. I only needed a few more turns with [card Boseiju, Who Shelters All]Boseiju[/card] to force through the right Loam targets so I can [card The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale]Tabernacle[/card]/Wasteland away his board.

0-3 Kvetching

Round 4 – The Bye

OMG a win!

1-3 Optimistic

Round 5 – Ian Ellis with The Rock

G1 & G2: This is actually the deck I tested against most with the Scapeshift build, so I’m feeling optimistic. Games one and two are one-sided affairs: Knight of the Reliquary wrecks me in one and I obliterate his mana base in the other.

Game three comes down to a bunch of idiots on his side representing lethal, among them an untapped [card Knight of the Reliquary]Knight[/card]. I have Burning Wish and exactly seven lands. So if I Scapeshift, he can simply tutor up a Wasteland to "counter" all the Valakut triggers. I decide to go for the value Scapeshift, tutoring up the perfect storm of [card Maze of Ith]Mazes[/card], [card The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale]Tabernacles[/card] and [card Wasteland]Wastelands[/card] that will allow me to stabilize and begin picking off his permanents.

For sheer rub-ins, Harrison is standing behind me and dutifully points out that Scapeshifted lands enter tapped.

Hmm, good thing I knew what my cards did before casting them.

[card Knight of the Reliquary]Stupid Bant knights[/card] proceed to bash my face in.

1-4 Ranting

Round 5 – The Bye

2-4 Pillarfield Ox (enchanted with Despondency)

A master, apparently, I am not.

The Role of Lands in Legacy

Besides degenerate combos, the cards that tended to wreck me were:

Notice what these cards have in common?

They are heavily-played staples in myriad tier-one decks, often four-ofs in the main. Once you factor in an abysmal combo match-up, just what exactly is Lands supposed to be preying on? What is its supposed strength in the metagame?

Herein lies the crux of the issue regarding Lands.

There isn’t much that it does better than other decks in the format. Resource denial is significantly more powerful when backed up by a robust clock, as in Team America or Merfolk. [card Life from the Loam]Loam[/card] as a card advantage engine pales in comparison to decks like BUGStill and U/W Stoneforge that generate incremental advantage with the majority of their spells.

[card Intuition]Intuitioning[/card] for a cute little triplet of recursion pieces seems silly when you could just tutor up the missing piece of the Hive Mind combo. Even the acceleration provided by Exploration and Manabond can be rivaled by Noble Hierarch, Green Sun's Zenith and Knight of the Reliquary.

What remains squarely in Lands’ domain is the full-on prison lock, which it certainly accomplishes better than any other deck. Its late game is capable of preventing the opponent entirely from playing Magic.

But in a format where Bitterblossom and Arcbound Ravager see little play because they are eclipsed by more broken strategies, is this really where you want to be?

The truth is that once you’ve stabilized, a Vendilion Clique or a Batterskull get the job done as well as a prison lock. Those game plans don’t even have to offer up sacrifices to the combo gods nor struggle through egregious graveyard hatred.

Ultimately, Lands’ basic game plan is a weak response to the Legacy metagame. It attempts to control a whole host of broken strategies without using the generically applicable Force of Wills and Brainstorms. It is utterly reliant on its mana acceleration to maintain mere parity in board development, let alone pull ahead.

Threats in Legacy tend to be absolute monsters that can win games by themselves if left unmolested for even a few turns. It is incumbent upon the Legacy deck designer to justify not playing any of these broken strategies themselves. Even Blue “control” decks avail themselves of [card Stoneforge Mystic]Stoneforge[/card] and Natural Order, in comparison to traditional Landstill builds, which have seen little success for some time.

The “Cool” Play

At some point in the future, I may write more about the specific vulnerabilities of Lands as a strategy and how to potentially mitigate them. For now, however, I want to address the issue of deck selection and the trap that I fell into by overvaluing the “cool” play, or, in this case, deck choice.

There are a couple of excellent articles on this matter, one by Geordie Tait about Tempest block draft (which, I might add, is hilarious) and another, more recent article on the mothership by Steve Sadin. The basic idea is that we are often seduced by the prospect of a flashy or tricky play that may be inferior to another more obvious, less-exciting play.

Lands is wicked cool. In addition to the prospect of locking somebody out entirely, it has the panache of a deck that’s notoriously difficult to pilot.

I fell hook, line and sinker for these ephemeral qualities and ended up handicapping myself for a series of events in which, had I played an “easier” deck, I most likely would have enjoyed more success. And, ultimately, a bit more fun.

Perhaps the most egregious aspect of my misguided thinking was the way I regarded my losses. Instead of asking critical questions about deck selection, I justified these poor showings with the assumption that I merely needed more practice to become a “master.”

Perhaps a true sentiment, but one that does not explain why said practice can’t be attained with a more traditional deck.

Until Next Time...

As people in a competitive setting, it is natural to want to show off, but it is absolutely necessary to reign in this inclination if we are to succeed. Among other things, I think that I am a stronger Constructed player for having gone through this process of self recognition.

While I may certainly sleeve up a sub-par deck in the future (and perhaps even Lands itself for some sheets and giggles), I like to think that I will be more capable of soberly evaluating my chances with the “it girl” when she shows up again.

Please comment if you have any thoughts or questions!

-Jason Schousboe

4 thoughts on “The Problem With Lands, or What’s Cooler Than Being Cool?

  1. Nice article! I don't know if I like the changes you made to my list before the tournament. I personally liked the E tutor sideboard. Anyways I'm going to continue to work on the deck even if you feel like it isn't placed well.

    Hope to see more content from you soon! You have a great writing style, it was a pleasure to read.

    Shoes booze and boys with tattoos.

  2. Nice article! I don't know if I like the changes you made to my list before the tournament. I personally liked the E tutor sideboard. Anyways I'm going to continue to work on the deck even if you feel like it isn't placed well.

    I really like your writing style and hope to see more from you soon. It was a pleasure to read.

  3. Articles with empirical evidence about why a deck is bad are so much better than all of the other articles about people's pet decks and why they should beat everything, so thanks for writing this. I was wondering if you'd actually write this report after you crashed and burned so hard, so kudos to you for doing so. Plus how could I not lend you what you needed to attempt to extract revenge for the triple mind control draft deck I put the hurt on you with? Maybe next time bro.


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