by Bruce Gray -Casual Encounters
Regardless if you play Standard, Legacy, Vintage, Limited…or you just play on a Saturday night with some buddies around the kitchen table, lands are by far and away the most crucial component to any deck. If you don’t have the right mana you can’t cast your spells. Everyone can play with basic lands of whatever colour, but in some instances that still leaves you stuck looking for just the right land to cast your awesome spell or activate that cool ability that you want to trigger. What can a guy do?
In its original form Magic had dual lands. They were just like any other land except they produced mana of both colours. As time has passed these lands have been revealed to be tremendous assets and greatly increase the consistency of decks and thus have climbed in value to the point that only the most ardent of collector or the most competitive of players are prepared to pick them up. Other dual lands of varying nature have been printed, all with differing drawbacks, but yet these too have seen their value climb. Players want access to both colours of mana and modest tradeoffs are perfectly acceptable.
As a casual player, I fully appreciate the need for access to the right mana and dual lands are certainly the way to go. However, the price tag on these lands can be staggering. If you were to review the mana base for many top tier decks, the value of the lands that are being run in the deck are often the most prohibitive part of replicating the deck yourself, or of brewing up something that is just as competitive. So, how do you balance the need to have access to the correct lands without putting a hole in your pocket? Today I will go through some of the options that a casual player can use without mortgaging your home (again) but can still make your decks fun and relatively competitive when you sit down to play.
The cheapest and easiest dual lands is the guildgates from the Return to Ravnica. The nice thing is that all 10 colour combinations have access to a guildgate making them very versatile and readily accessible for decks looking to access the mana of both colours. Each guildgate enters play tapped which is a dilemma if you are looking to have untapped lands, but played strategically can be a nice addition to a deck. Each guildgate runs for about $0.25 on Three Kings Loot but can often be found in boxes at game shops for a dime. This makes them eminently affordable and can help greatly to smooth out the mana hiccups.
For a number of years Core Sets had a series of lands affectionately called“Buddy Lands”. These were lands of typical allied colours (W/U, R/G, B/U, G/W, B/R) and came into play tapped unless you controlled a basic land of the required colours. These lands balanced the need for access to both colour mana and had a suitable drawback without making them undesirable to play such that they were extremely popular. The other nice thing is that since they saw a number of print runs the cost of picking them up can be quite a bit lower than other dual lands. Three Kings Loot has them listed for anywhere from $1.99 to $5.99 a card. These can add up quickly to a costly investment, but their versatility and ability to come into play untapped may make these appealing. Since these have rotated out of Standard there is likely no rush to pick them up, so unless you suddenly get the urge to test out your latest deck at a Modern event you should be just fine to gradually collect these to help defray the cost over a period of time.
Another cycle of inexpensive dual lands that is a little older are the Zendikar “Life Gain” lands. Again, these were allied colour combinations (G/W, W/U, B/U, R/G, B/R) where the land came into play tapped. What sets these a little bit ahead of a guildgate is the fact that when the land enters play you can gain a life. This may sound like a minor benefit, but any benefit is better than simply coming into play tapped. Also, in a deck where you may be running 4 or more of these lands in your multi-coloured deck you may fine yourself with a 20-30% increase in you life total, which is actually very sizable. It is even possible to recur these lands and gain the benefit a second time with creatures such as Kor Skyfisher or Emancipation Angel making for a little extra benefit from these lands. These lands run for approximately $0.75 a piece on Three Kings Loot but can be found at local game shops for about $0.50 a card, making them very inexpensive and perfect for a casual player.
When people think of fetch lands everyone immediately thinks of the Zendikar fetch lands (Arid Mesa, etc). These cards are extremely pricey and not typically something someone on a tight budget can afford. However, Mirage had a very reasonable set of fetch lands. Flood plain, Bad River, Grasslands, Mountain Valley, and Rocky Tar Pit enter play tapped, but can then be sacrificed to fetch a basic land of either type of land type. This is extremely valuable because it allows you to effectively thin your deck out for land and still let you get the land you require to cast your spells. Is it as desirable as the Zendikar lands that let you play them untapped? Absolutely not, but when you compare the difference in cost, a casual player may be willing to accept this tradeoff. The Mirage fetch lands are listed on Three Kings Loot for $0.50 a card and are roughly the same at the local game shop near my home. Arid Mesa is about $40 a card. I could pick up a play set of all 5 Mirage fetch lands for $10. If I’m looking to stretch my dollar I know what I’m looking to get.
The Ice Age “pain” lands are another option for those looking to pick up lands that produce both types of mana. Unlike the “buddy lands” or the “life gain” lands, “pain” lands come into play untapped and can be used for a colourless mana with no drawback. However, if the land is tapped for a coloured source it deals 1 damage to you. As your deck initially kicks off at the start of the game you may be willing to accept this drawback in favour of getting off to a quick start. The option to then use them as colourless mana is appealing to limit the damage you take, but still leaves you open to options. These Ice Age lands were initially in the Allied colours, but a similar set of Enemy dual lands was printed in Apocalypse, giving the “pain” lands a full complement of colour options. These lands usually run for about $1.99 a card, making them somewhat more expensive but not outside the realm of possibility.
There are other ways to go about fixing up your mana situation without needing dual lands or fetches. There is always the option of artifacts that allow you fetch your lands. The cheapest and easiest to put into practice is Traveler’s Amulet as it was printed in Innistrad block and again in Theros. Traveler’s Amulet allows you to fetch a basic land and put it into your hand and is very useful to get out of a jam. Along the same vein, Expedition Map grants you a similar ability. The activation cost to sacrifice it a tad more, but you can fetch ANY land including a non-basic. There are also countless spells and creatures that allow you to fetch lands of varying sorts and all of these are viable as well.
The problem with having these different mana fixing tools in your deck, whether you play at a kitchen table or commander, or some other variant, is that all these cards take spots in your deck. Some players may not mind running a 61 or 62 card deck, but every additional card limits the chance to draw what you really need. Conversly, if you stick to 60 cards you are sacrificing spots in your deck for creatures, removal, or other spells in favour of mana fixing. In Commander, with only 99 spots, you may find yourself unable to squeeze in the required mana fixing into your deck. As a result, these options are not optimal and having access to the correct mana is vastly preferred.
So, as you look to diversify the mana in your casual decks in time for your next kitchen table game, take a moment and consider if access to the correct lands is in your best interest. Instead of getting bogged down with the prohibitive cost of playing the newest and most expensive dual lands, explore some of the other options available to you to help keep you competitive without drying up your bank account. Remember, Casual Encounters are the perfect place to give these older, and often overlooked, cards a chance to shine once again, and great way to help keep your game of Magic fresh and interesting.
Until next time keep it fun, keep it safe…and keep it casual.Bruce Gray @bgray8791