Lands in Next Level Cubes – Part 3

(Well, I let you wait for this entry a lot longer than I intended. But, you know, there were reasons, and one good thing about blogging is that I am not beholden to any tight schedule unless I impose it on myself. So let’s just pretend this series went on without any noticeable interruption, shall we?)

After discussing lands affiliated with three or more colors, and then with two colors, in this entry I will get to „monocolored“ lands. Technically, this includes Plains, Swamp, Forest, Island and Mountain, but obviously we will only have to talk about the remaining five basic lands.

I didn’t spell it out clearly before, so I’ll do it now: There are a couple of lands I’m not using on principle. First, there are non-basics with basic land types, because of unwanted interactions (also, the existing designs tend to be either too strong or too weak anyway). Let’s get those out of the way right away.

Nonbasics with basic land types

Mistveil Plains
Leechridden Swamp
Dryad Arbor
Sapseep Forest
Moonring Island
Madblind Mountain

Realizing how dangerous this kind of land is, Wizards made the Shadowmoor cycle supremely unattractive. Dryad Arbor actually plays reasonably in limited, but it is certainly not an important element, and even less grounds for an exception to the rule to leave such lands out.

Another kind of land I do not use is the legendary ones. Now, admittedly this is more of a pet quirk of mine than any important principle. However, I found that I did not want most legendary lands on their own anyway; Wizards have consciously been printing a lot less of them lately; and I also noted that most players simply are not aware that lands habe a type line just like other cards.

Now, regarding that last concern, I know it is close to insignificant right now for me, because of no basic land types on nonbasics, and because I do not use any cards specifically referring to legendary permanents (another pet quirk of mine – it comes down to culling unneccessary complexity of card evaluation for little interaction). As far as I am aware, the only card in my pool which specifically interacts with legendary lands is Vesuva. It’s also not impossible that I revise my stance if a couple really well designed legendary lands are printed (with Battle of Zendikar on the horizon, this might happen rather soon…), but so far there are just not enough really attractive candidates that I feel I should.

Let’s take a look at the candidates in this category:

The lands from Legends

Hammerheim
Karakas
Pendelhaven
Tolaria
Urborg

All these cards do rather unique (or, let’s say, strange) things on largely different power levels. While I wouldn’t use the abilities of Karakas and Pendelhaven on principle for rules complexity reasons, the common denominator here is that all five cards are essentially clearly superior to basic lands, and while the very structure of drafts provides a counterbalance here, I believe this is still something to be avoided. Note, though, that I wouldn’t want to use a single of these lands even if that wasn’t a concern (the weaker three have irrelevant abilities in my cubes).

The lands from Champions of Kamigawa

Eiganjo Castle
Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers
Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep
Shizo, Death’s Storehouse

I already mentioned that I do not use legendary-referring cards – the synergies don’t play well enough to justify an additional level of complexity. Even if did want a „legendary tribal“ theme, this cycle isn’t well balanced in itself, and the power level overall would be too high for lands. I might have thought differently a decade or so ago, but nowadays I wish the „legendary“ rider didn’t exist at all in game terms. It’s a crude tool producing strange interactions, and an additional card aspect the game doesn’t need.

The lands from Urza’s Saga

Gaea’s Cradle
Phyrexian Tower
Serra’s Sanctum
Shivan Gorge
Tolarian Academy

Three of these were designed to produce absurd amounts of mana under the right conditions, which isn’t something any limited environment should want. (I’m actually not sure about constructed, either…) The Tower is usable, but unexciting, and tied to Black with an ability which should have been „clear“. The Gorge is actually fine and one of the few legendary lands I might actually use, but I don’t really miss it either, espcially since I have Keldon Megaliths, which play a lot more interestingly.

The „megamegacycle“

Kor Haven
Keldon Necropolis
Teferi’s Isle
Volrath’s Stronghold
Yavimaya Hollow

Yes – these lands were actually meant to be part of a cycle which spanned five blocks! Obviously, they’re unusable as a cycle in a cube, with vastly varying power levels and the Isle using phasing. Also, two of them (Isle and Necropolis) are too weak to be attractive, while the others are way too strong. (Did you notice that you can still block and kill the creature affected by Kor Haven?)

The remaining legendary lands

Academy Ruins
Flagstones of Trokair
Kher Keep
Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
Tomb of Urami
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

The lands in this group are either too strange for limited play (Flagstones, Oboro, Urborg), or too strong (Ruins), or do something I do not want in my cubes (the Keep). The latter causes no issues powerlevelwise, but I decided against using cards which produce 0/1 tokens in general – yet another pet quirk of mine. Once again, the important thing to keep in mind is that a cube should contain cards you WANT to be in there; not cards which just COULD be in there.

 

„Splashable“ lands are yet another kind of lands I avoid – I already touched upon this when talking about Phyrexian Tower: These are lands which are, by design, color-affiliated, but might get played for their special abilities in decks not using that color. I like lands to either be completely clear (without an additional bonus for certain colors, like producing their mana) or „colored“.

There are a couple of strict cycles which may fall into this group, but right here I will address only the following cards:

Splashable lands

Kabira Crossroads
New Benalia
Sejiri Steppe
Bojuka Bog
Dakmor Salvage
Piranha Marsh
Khalni Garden
Llanowar Reborn
Turntimber Grove
Halimar Depths
Soaring Seacliff
Smoldering Spires
Teetering Peaks

These are mostly the two cycles from Zendikar and Worldwake, with three Future Sight lands added. Theoretically, there might be a power level zone where entering the battlefield tapped is too much of a disadvantage to splash these lands, but not big enough to exclude them from decks which can use the colored mana, but if that zone really exists, it is way too narrow to be useful, and these lands are either too weak or too easily splashed.

Strict cycles

The Snow-Covered Forest cycle
The Abandoned Outpost cycle
The Ancient Den cycle
The Barren Moor cycle *
The Bottomless Vault cycle
The Coral Atoll cycle
The Drifting Meadow cycle
The Dwarven Ruins cycle
The Fountain of Cho cycle
The Hickory Woodlot cycle
The Vivid Crag cycle *

(Once again, I use the term „cycle“ in this context to denote cycles where seeing one card makes it clear what exactly its other cards do.)

I already talked about snow: That theme would be underdeveloped even disregarding the difficulty of introducing snow basics into a draft environment. Doubling the number of basic lands in the game was one of the most stupid and shortsighted mistakes in Magic’s early era.

The Abandon Outpost cycle is obviously just a lot weaker than the Vivid Crag cycle, which is on the right power level to support small splashes in an environment encouraging mostly monocolored decks. Of course, it helps you get cards into your graveyard for purposes like threshold, but there are many more attrractive alternatives for this.

The Ancient Den cycle is another case of color-affiliated lands which would get played off-color, in this case for their card type. Running one Darksteel Citadel in your cube should be enough to offer this function to drafters.

The Barren Moor and Drifting Meadow cycle are obviously similar, but the first one is more efficient while requiring you to be solidly in a certain color, while the other is less efficient, but encourages you to use its members off-color or for optional splashes. I strongly prefer the first.

The Bottomless Vault cycle is inferior to the Fountain of Cho cycle, which is still very unattractive in limited environments (and once again very likely to be used off-color, if at all).

I like the Coral Atoll cycle more than the Ravnica block bouncelands (like Azorius Chancery) because they are not splashable, but they are still too clumsy.

The Dwarven Ruins cycle plays a lot better in limited than the Hickory Woodlot cycle, but there is once again the off-color issue, and Crystal Vein already does this job in a cleaner version.

The manlands

Forbidding Watchtower *
Spawning Pool *
Treetop Village *
Faerie Conclave *
Ghitu Encampment *

The members of this cycle are powerlevelwise a bit further apart than I’d like, but they are still an excellent option to provide drafters with lands which do more than just make mana, and a solid basis for any land-centric theme in a cube.

The hideaway lands

Windbrisk Heights
Howltooth Hollow
Mosswort Bridge
Shelldock Isle
Spinerock Knoll

Some of these are more appropriate for limited environments than others, but their mechanic is in general too swingy and too much buildaround in lands for my taste.

The threshold cycle

Nomad Stadium
Cabal Pit *
Centaur Garden
Cephalid Coliseum
Barbarian Ring

Except for the terrible white one, all of these lands are usable in cubes. However, I found that I cared less for having a cycle of them and more for supporting the threshold theme. Here, Green certainly didn’t need help. In Limited, Cabal Pit is mostly a more interesting variant of Barbarian Ring, and Cephalid Coliseum is both too close to Cephalid Sage, and taboo because it can mill an opponent (something I strictly forbid because it is an alternate win condition).

The sacrifice cycle

Kjeldoran Outpost *
Lake of the Dead
Heart of Yavimaya *
Soldevi Excavations *
Balduvian Trading Post

Again, I am not interested in a whole cycle of these lands, just in their utility. The Lake is too specialized for limited, while the Trading Post just didn’t make my crunch – I already have a couple red-affiliated lands in my pool, and the Trading Post’s ability is neiher feeling Red nor needed in that color. The others are fine, albeit a bit disparate in power level – the Heart makes a good common a green player can pick up late, while the Outpost is almost a bit too oppressive for a land.

The tribal lands

Daru Encampment *
Rustic Clachan
Unholy Grotto
Wirewood Lodge
Riptide Laboratory
Flamekin Village
Goblin Burrows *

The issue with the Clachan and the Village is that they are not really tribal cards – you might get a bonus from their synergy, but will probably gladly play them „off-tribal“ for their real ability. That is very bad design. The Grotto and the Laboratory are too powerful and annoying for lands in limited, while the Lodge on the other hand just doesn’t do enough to be worth a slot in a cube.

The miscellaneous rest

Emeria, the Sky Ruin
Cabal Coffers
Crypt of Agadeem
Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
Magosi, the Waterveil
Tolaria West *
Hellion Crucible *
Keldon Megaliths *
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

Coffers, Crypt and Magosi do not do things too relevant in limited. Emeria and Valakut are too swingy, while Oran-Rief is just way too powerful for a land. Tolaria West helps a land theme, while Megaliths and Crucible are just interesting options for red players in general.

 

Let’s see when I will get to finish this series, shall we?

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