The Secrets of Mana
In commander, everyone knows that different colours have various ‘auto-includes’ in terms of your card choices. These can be cards as basic as Sol Ring to cards as big as Cyclonic Rift. Each of these cards is generally a card on a high power level with minimal cost to include or just an effect that is necessary to keep your deck playing at every table. Everyone always talks about the spells without really focusing on their manabase. So today, let’s open up the conversation to what lands or cycles you should be starting each of your commander lists with.
Two powerful pieces of interaction that will help you deal with any Karoo lands as well as most utility lands. Interaction is a key piece of magic and making sure you are able to interact with lands will keep you from dying to a random Dark Depths, Gaea’s Cradle or even a Field of the Dead. Bonus points for these cards if you get to run them in a green deck with any sort of land recursion like Life from the Loam, Ramunap Excavator or the colourless all star Crucible of Worlds. Despite that, these lands should go in just about every deck.
Now one of the main issues with this card is how you have to build around it. Keep your nonbasic count relatively high while also splitting your basics. That means for each basic land type you have, you do half regular basics, and the other half snow covered. This will allow you to trigger Field even faster than you would normally. The power level and cost of this card is low, allowing further value off of land drops and avoiding punishment from flood. Creating an army of zombies off of this will help you either stabilize or gain advantage in a longer game of commander. This is also the point where I recommend people run fewer basic lands unless they’re specifically scared of Blood Moon. Adding further consistency to your mana base will help create less non games of Magic where you just sputter out and do nothing.
Having graveyard hate on a land drop is almost never a bad option. Even if there isn’t a specific graveyard deck at your current table, nearly every commander deck will run some form of recursion within it. It could be the aforementioned Life from the Loam or anything from Eternal Witness to Snapcaster Mage. Either way, preventing a second cast of your opponents spells will often help you stay ahead.
Throne of Eldraine Castles:
Castle Ardenvale, Castle Vantress, Castle Locthwain, Castle Embereth, Castle Garenbrig
So far in commander, the power level of these cards has been criminally undervalued. While they’re nothing game breaking like Field of the Dead may be, the utility and value within these lands are undeniable. The two standouts from this cycle would be Castle Locthwain and Castle Garenbrig. Card draw and ramp from your utility lands is just a stellar effect to have. The opportunity cost of including these cards is also incredibly low.
Each of these cards offer some sort of heavy ramp for mono black or decks heavier on the black portion of the colours. The ability to go from something like 6 mana to 10 allows for blowout plays or just dumping your hand on the board. These types of effects work best in decks that feature wincons such as Exsanguinate or Torment of Hailfire but will also work wonderfully in black decks that wish to draw several cards a turn and dump them all onto the board. Never underestimate how much excess amounts of mana can pull you into a winning position.
The Innistrad block utility lands:
Gavony Township, Moorland Haunt, Kessig Wolf Run, Nephalia Drownyard, Stensia Bloodhall, Alchemist’s Refuge, Desolate Lighthouse, Slayer’s Stronghold, Vault of the Archangel, Grim Backwoods
Now I’m not saying all of these are all auto includes in every list. Some of these are garbage (I’m looking at you Stensia Bloodhall), but being able to evaluate more utility lands is never a bad idea. Each of these gives you more options for you to pick from and for their respective colours, each of these has some worthwhile effect. The standouts from this cycle would certainly be Desolate Lighthouse and Kessig Wolf Run. The rest will go in the vast majority of the decks in their respective colours.
A lot of colourless utility lands have been mentioned so far but keep in mind, not every option will go in every deck but they’re always a great starting point for your manabase. Stage manages to be the second copy of your best land or your first copy of your opponent’s best land. Being able to turn into whatever best land is on the field is just a stellar effect. Becoming your second copy of Field of the Dead or Cabal Coffers will often just put you in the driver’s seat of your game pushing you far ahead of your opponents. Vesuva also offers a similar effect just to a slightly lower power level that’s just a little too situational outside of lands mater decks.
So what if Evolving Wilds and Terramorphic Expanse were good? In comes Fabled Passage with power creep akin to Questing Beast (I’m just kidding, nothing even comes close to that wall of text). The card offers a shuffle effect, mana fixing and gives you an untapped basic (with two landfall triggers). What more does one want? As well, as it currently stands the card is relatively budget while it continues to be in the current draft environment.
I could go on to talk about when you should be running the Battle for Zendikar cycle of lands (see Cinder Glade), shock lands (Stomping Ground) or the Innistrad/Ixalan/Dominaria check lands (Rootbound Crag) but there are more important matters to attend to. Now let’s talk about some of the popular cards that people keep shoving in each of their decks and why you shouldn’t be running them.
So 50% of the time, this card doesn’t work every time. Does that make any sense? No. It doesn’t. Just like playing this card doesn’t. If you’re behind on mana you’re only going to fall further behind if this has to be your land drop. You have to already be fairly ahead for this card to begin to do anything and as a result it becomes the definition of win more. The requirements for letting this card do anything is just too high to justify playing it in this format.
While a strong card, this shouldn’t be an auto include. This card works best in decks that are looking to suit up one big creature like a Zurgo Helmsmasher and swing for lethal with a single creature. More creature focused lists and midrange strategies will find this card to be useless and too high of a cost to be included. Most lists should consider cutting this card.
If this card is going to be included, you should be considering putting multiple shuffle effects in your deck like fetch lands, cards that look at the top card of your library for effects (Risen Reef), or self mill (Jace, Wielder of Mysteries or Thought Scour). If these effects aren’t used, it’s the equivalent of being Brainstorm locked every time you play this land.
Artifact land cycle:
Ancient Den, Seat of the Synod, Vault of Whispers, Great Furnace, Tree of Tales
While these are powerful cards when you’re running an artifact centric deck, outside of that these cards will simply turn on the artifact removal that your opponents are running. They don’t have the indestructible clause that Darksteel Citadel has and as a result, just lets your opponents blow up your lands with Krosan Grip and friends. Powerful cycle of cards if used right but often is not.
A lot of lands to evaluate, and a lot of deck building to reconsider. I hope that you take away from this the power of utility lands for keeping you in the game but also if a card’s ability is just too narrow or requires too much setup, you should probably reconsider why you’re running it. Good luck to all, and may your opponents suffer great defeat from your army of 2/2 Zombies!