It is possible (although not at all certain) that my blogging frequency on 00zero will drop sharply during the next months, so I want to at least make sure that I’m talking about something Magic again before (and if) that happens.
As a consequence from the latest arguments here, I will upgrade the strictness of my comment moderation to match the direness of the situation. „Arguing“ with me without actually adressing the points I bring up is no longer accepted. Defending obvious trolls will be treated as trolling. As before, attacking me for things I didn’t actually say (unless there’s reasonable room for a misunderstanding) will also be treated as the clear trolling that it is. I will also no longer allow comments which deny my (or anyone’s) right to criticize or satirize in general, or argue that such entries would for people who feel offended constitute the right to troll or do worse things. If you cannot stand what I write, the best solution still is NOT TO READ IT. For that reason, telling me you don’t like EVERYTHING I write – as well as any kind of explicit ad hominem – will also be dealt with as trolling.
Enough of that! Now, to Magic: Lands are the basics of every deck (excluding only the most extreme constructed builds), and therefore they are of similar fundamental importance for Next Level Cubes. In this entry – and the one(s) following it – I want to discuss the lands which made the newest version of my Limited Card Pool, as well as those who didn’t, and talk about the reasons for that.
First, let me explain my philosophy regarding manafixing in Next Level Cubes: There needs to be plenty of it, so that players always have the option to consciously spend a few picks on improving their manabase. At the same time, it is important to avoid making it too easy for drafters to support decks with more colors than that specific cube is meant to produce with regularity. An environment where everyone spends their first picks on manafixing, and afterwards grabs the best cards from all colors, plays out rather poorly, circumventing the challenges of finding your colors, reading and giving signals, and many more decisions which make draft interesting and demanding.
Two-Thirds Draft avoids that issue because the number of choices players have during the draft does not correspond to the number of cards they draft (remember, four cards from each booster get removed). Depending on if you use 12- or 13-card boosters, every player gets 32 to 36 picks. That does not leave too much room for cards which will not end up as maindecked spells (compare to the 42 to 45 cards drafted in conventional booster drafts). Assuming you want 23 spells in your deck on average, those 9 to 13 additional picks contain any lands (or cards which take the place of lands) you drafted, as well as a few early speculative picks in colors you didn’t end up playing, cards you might want to bring in from your sideboard, „duds“ from later boosters which held no viable choices for you (although those should be far and few between in Two-Thirds Draft, especially using well-built cubes), and possibly hatepicks.
This means that it is essentially never correct to pick manafixing first, then decide on the direction your deck will take – maybe with the rare exception of a cube which explicitly offers the tools and motivation for a deck with 4 to 5 colors. (I, at least, will never construct a Next Level Cube where the projected frequency of such decks per draft is closer to 2 than to 1.) On the flipside, there is no need to do so, since you should always be able to pick up manafixing for the colors you know you will be playing later – because, as I mentioned, manafixing should be plenty. This means especially that dual or triple lands need to be commons, or even staples. (Staple is a rarity below common which makes sure that these cards will always be in the draft pool, even if commons show up with a frequency of less than 100%.)
For practical reasons, I group cards in my Limited Card Pool not strictly by their „official“ color, but by the color(s) they explicitly enable or encourage you to play. This means that lands fall into the categories monocolored (obviously, actually 5 categories), dualcolored (10), triplecolored (5) or „clear“. Clear means that a card is not tied to any single color or combination of colors specifically, which means it contains lands producing colorless mana as well as lands allowing you to access ANY color of mana. (This makes sense from a cube-building point of view, because both kinds of lands can be picked up for any deck.) For the purpose of this overview, though, I will consider the latter kind as all-colored (or „circle“, as I like to call this) and start with them, while ending with the colorless ones. Ah yes: There are no „four-colored“ lands yet (and hopefully never), and I will not consider lands which neither produce nor give you access to mana – not only because they are not part of the manafixing in your cube in any way (colorless lands, on the other hand, influence players‘ mana bases by challenging their consistency), but more importantly because I avoid them for general reasons.
Cards I use in my Limited Card Pool are marked by an asterisk (*).
It’s impressive how many lands of this kind have piled up during the years! However, most of them aren’t actually good choices for cubes. I’ll sort them into groups for clarity.
Terrible (in Next Level Cubes, at least)
Crucible of the Spirit Dragon
Henge of Ramos
Paliano, the High City
School of the Unseen
Tendo Ice Bridge
Some of these flat-out don’t work in Next Level Cubes. The others are mostly testament of times when Wizards R&D were scared as hell by the thought of printing playable manafixing, and work in very specific constructed contexts at best. There is no place in my cubes for outright terrible cards, and there shouldn’t be in yours either.
Not really reliable manafixing
Orchard and Pool are not unplayable, but I prefer to provide drafters with reliable manafixing. Also, I’m not really that interested in doubling up existing mana. The other cards actually serve other primary functions and have to be considered on that grounds. Caverns aren’t that attractive, the End would be too weak even if I ever used the gates cycle (spoiler: I don’t), and Nykthos is a bit too narrow and not rewarding enough in limited for my taste, but I could see it in certain cubes. Vesuva is great for land-themed cubes, but I don’t need to double up on that effect with the more clumsy Stage.
I’m not a fan of giving manafixing only to certain synergies unless the card does more for that synergy than just fixing. The Haven would qualify, but I do not run dragon tribal cards in other colors than Red and do not want to encourage multicolor dragon decks. Slivers, however, are per definition a circle tribe, so the Hive fits perfectly.
Cavern of Souls
This is a group of cards which barely meets the definition of „playable“ in a Next Level Cubes, but plays unsatisfactorily.
In limited, running creatures doesn’t mean that you exploit a specific synergy, so the Ziggurat didn’t show up further above. Hoewever, that is still too narrow manafixing to deserve a slot. Cavern is even narrower, and its additional ability not desirable. Quarry is exceedingly clumsy. Mine lacks longevity, where Core is again too clumsy. Lotus Vale is both clumsy and risky. Landscape looks attractive on first glance, but is just too slow. Rainbow Vale is too unreliable. Grotto, Shores and Frontier are (minor synergies with the Frontier aside) the same card which imposes too high a cost on manafixing. Moraine is strictly inferior to two cards from the next group. Glaciers are a bit slow, but can actually be really strong in longer games. However, they just play terribly due to both timing issues and repeated shuffling.
Reasonable to good manafixing
I don’t like doubling up on too similar or even identical effects – otherwise I would certainly run both Wilds and Expanse. Confluence is actually the cleaner design compared to City, and if you happen to possess it, I recommend you use it instead of City, but they are close enough that I cannot justify acquiring the considerably more expensive card. Promenade / Spire is a bit weaker than I like, but usable. Paradise is not just fine manafixing, it goes also very nicely with landfall. If I needed another circle-fixing land for my pool, my choice would be the Coliseum, which is reasonably different from the City; but I don’t. It’s also a bit on the weak side, very close at the line between this group of cards and the former.
Note that manafixing lands differentiate not only by their obvious disadvantages (life loss versus speed loss versus setup cost), but also by being able to stand alone or not – Evolving Wilds can get you any color of mana, but it requires you to actually run a basic land of each type for that, while Transguild Promenade does not. If you are an experienced limited deck-builder, you’ll know how much cramming those additional lands into your manabase hurts your deck’s consistency. Another thing to keep in mind is if a land gives you a choice of colored mana once which you have to stick with then (like Evolving Wilds), or if it actually allows you to choose each time (like City of Brass). The more colorful a deck is, the more turns it will have where that difference matters.
In general, cards which make you choose once and include basic lands in your deck are better suited to providing general mana stability in a cube, while explicitly colorful cubes need more cards which stand on their own and let players choose each time. Still, my default starting point when building a Next Level Cube are Evolving Wilds and City of Brass, since these are just the two best designs.
These cards are few in number, which is why I decided to add them to this entry, although it is already quite long.
The An-Havva Township cycle (only shards)
The Ancient Spring cycle (only shards)
The Arcane Sanctum cycle (shards and wedges) *
The Bant Panorama cycle (only shards)
The Crosis’s Catacombs cycle (only shards)
The basic issue here is easily recognizable at first glance: There is only one cycle of wedge lands! Additionally, there is only one wedge cycle of manafixing artifacts, and it sucks, so the wedge triples are undersupplied in that respect.
I would love if the Catacombs cycle were expanded to wedges soon, since it provides well-balanced manafixing noticeably different from the Sanctum cycle (which is, of course, great – entering the battlefield tapped is a major disadvantage, but presenting you with a choice among three different colors of mana each time makes it clearly worth it!) Actually, the only reason that this cycle isn’t in my pool at the moment ist that there is no acceptable second wedge cycle to balance it out, and I’m afraid there won’t be anytime soon.
The Township cycle, in contrast, is obviously absymal. The Panoramy cycle, however, is only terrible – I know people were forced to play those in Alara limited, but that just showcased how terrible they were. The Spring cycle, on the other hand, is playable, but serves less of a manafixing function than a one-shot ramping function, and there are better choices for that.
I already explained why I don’t like cards like the Bosk.
A soon as I find the time, I will get to the dualcolored lands, which present a lot more interesting choices!