Fetchlands are coming back!
It looks like we have a decent picture of how manabases are going to look for the upcoming Standard season with Khans, or at least what the key players are going to be. Temples are looking to be the best manafixing option for non-aggro decks, and that won't be changing anytime soon. Fetchlands will probably be the best untapped source of multiple colors for non-aggro decks and a solid addition to any multicolor deck that supports them.
What are the best ways to use temples and fetchlands? Easy. You scry to get rid of the cards you don't want or need, and use fetchlands to find the color(s) you do need. Like so many aspects of Magic the basics are simple, but the corner cases and subtleties are intricate.
Join me as I look at the best ways to fetch and scry, how they interact with other cards, and how they work together. I'll mostly be focusing on fetchlands and Temples with regard to Standard, but these practices should apply to most formats and similar situations.
Fetch A Sketch
First, let's address the elephant (or in this case, Shuffleupagus) in the room: fetchlands make you shuffle a bunch, which slows tournaments down, creates more draws, and chafes my delicate Magic playing hands.
When it comes down to it, yes this is a real cost, but I think it's a reasonable one. First of all, they picked a great time to introduce fetchlands. Theros was the mono-molored block and Khans is the enemy wedge block, so decks are strongly prodded in the direction of only playing four fetches at most.
So how much time will sac lands eat up in an average match? Let's take a look at what the Comprehensive Rules have to say about shuffling:
Decks must be randomized at the start of every game and whenever an instruction requires it. Randomization is defined as bringing the deck to a state where no player can have any information regarding the order or position of cards in any portion of the deck.
It doesn't specifically tell you how you should be shuffling. A rule of thumb is six-eight riffle or mash shuffles are enough to get your deck random in a game. Each player doing seven shuffles should take about 30 seconds. This isn't insignificant. If five or more minutes are lost every match that's going to create more unintentional draws. Temples aren't winning any awards for being the speediest mechanic either. Add in some additional slow factors like Courser of Kruphix's flipping of the top card and constant lifegain or Prognostic Sphinx's constant reordering and slow clock and you're looking at a mechanically slow format.
There are some ways to minimize this potential problem. Without tapped lands to find, there aren't many reasons to sac at the end of an opponent's turn except to cast a spell or thin your library. This is always wasted time since you need to shuffle before you can draw your card. It's a good idea to fetch and announce your spell once you've gotten your land while you're shuffling (or before that) so your opponent can consider it during the shuffle period. You can even pass the turn and continue playing while shuffling.
The extra time generated by fetchlands, while perhaps slightly annoying, is nothing to get worried about but worth being aware of to make sure you don't grab too many unwanted draws.
As a general rule, if you're only searching for basics like we will be in Standard, you want play and pop your fetchlands later rather than sooner.
Reasons to wait to crack your fetchlands:
- The life loss may matter. (It's more of a concern than thinning your deck in many matchups.)
- You might need both colors of mana the fetchland can find and hope to draw more land or cards of a certain color before deciding which basic to find.
- You might be manascrewed and not want to thin your library of land.
- You might have scryed a bunch of cards you don't want to draw to the bottom of your library and be decreasing the quality of your draws.
- You (or your opponent) has Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth in play, and you don't need any crack to get your mana fix.
Reasons to crack your fetchlands early:
- You thin your library of land and increase the probability of drawing spells.
- You might only have one land left to search for, and if you draw all your basics, your sac land will do nothing. Three color decks will likely be running a low amount of searchable basics, so this is an important thing to watch out for.
Thinning your library of land with fetchlands to increase the likelihood of drawing useful cards very slightly. Should monocolored decks play them just to thin the amount of lands you draw in the late-game? According to this article and general consensus the answer is no. The effect is minimal enough to not be worth the loss of life.
But let's say you're already running fetchlands as fixing, have access to all the colors you need, don't want to draw more lands, don't have any synergies with sac lands, and the life loss can't possibly matter. Should you fetch? Well, yeah. Thinning your deck isn't nothing. I actually love thinning my deck of lands because even the tiniest advantages will add up. If you want to thin your library and know you will likely be cracking a fetch at some point in the game, it is better to do it early and increase the quality of your draws for a longer period.
In matchups where your opponent is trying to get you to zero, the life loss of cracking a fetchland will usually matter more than the benefit of thinning your library. If you're playing against Mono-Red Burn and have Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth in play and have ample access to all your colors of mana, you should essentially never be cracking your fetches. But what if you're at two life against burn and desperately trying to draw a Counterspell or threat to close out the game, with no way of gaining life, and every card in your opponents deck deals at least two damage? Crack away!
The thin is negligible over basically any other factor but must still be evaluated case-by-case. If you are thinking about cracking a fetch just to thin your library and can think of any good reason NOT to do so, then you probably shouldn't be.
Land, Crack, Fetch, Gain 2
Now let's address the other elephant (or in this case, glowing centaur) in the room: Courser of Kruphix. Courser was already a really good card, was one of the best cards in Theros Block Constructed, and only gets better with fetchlands.
If Courser of Kruphix is in your deck, don't crack your fetchlands until you have to. Having two copies of Courser of Kruphix out is actually a profit of a life for every fetch you crack. That is some good stuff, and it isn't even the really abusive part.
Having spare fetches around with a Courser in play gives you incredible card selection. Often Courser would hit two lands in a row off the top of your library, and you'd be stuck unable to play the second one and end up drawing it your next turn. No longer! With a fetchland in play, simply shuffle your library for a chance at a brand new card. This applies to excess lands and any other card you don't want to draw in the late-game, perhaps Thoughtseize.
Just what Thoughtseize needs: more lands that make sure you don't draw it when your opponent is hellbent.
What about running fetches in a mono-green deck with Courser of Kruphix? We know you probably shouldn't run fetchlands just for the thin, but is it worth running for Courser of Kruphix? That might never get answered and seems like it might be a matter of taste, like running off color temples. My intuition is confident in suggesting running more than none and likely less than three.
Scrying on the Outside
Scrying is similar to many mechanics such as looting and cycling and is a very powerful mechanic to have with a dual land. Scry on a comes into play tapped land is an interesting tension since you usually want to get your tapped lands into play immediately, but you might not know what you're scrying for. Generally it's best to value having smooth mana and playing your Temple on turn 1 and treating the scry as an upside. You also usually have a general idea what you want, and don't want, to draw. Incentives for not playing a temple on turn 1 are:
- You're playing a spell on turn 1. (duh)
- You don't know what your opponent is on.
- You have a comes into play tapped land without scry.
- Your hand is very good and you're fine drawing a land or a spell.
How you scry can give your opponent good information. Let's say you are playing an aggro deck and are running over your control opponent. They scry and smile before keeping a card on top of their library as you are swarming them. You should be expecting to get wrathed and be cautious about casting more creatures. Alternatively, if your opponent has bottomed three cards in a row quickly he/she may be digging for an answer and have not found it yet--although that is no guarantee they don't already have it in hand.
Time spent thinking can also be a giveaway. Unwanted cards can almost always be bottomed quickly without fear of giving much away. When a person snap keeps a card on top that usually means it is one of the best cards for them to draw in a given situation. If you scry and immediately know you want to keep a card on top, I recommend you consistently do a short pause before keeping. I wouldn't take more than five seconds, unless you have a real decision to make since overacting is rarely effective and it would slow the game down.
In a deck with Sphinx's Revelation and no shuffle effects, every card you bottom brings you closer to drawing Rev. It shouldn't affect your decisions too much, but recognize you get closer to your best late-game cards every time you bottom something inferior.
Scrying away cards that overlap in mana cost, or cards that are redundant, is common. If you have a hand with two copies of Dissolve in it, you should be less inclined to keep a Divination on top. Your plan is likely going to be casting the Dissolves, and you won't have much room for casting Divination. The same situation can apply for any clump in your curve, as you are less likely to want to keep a Hero's Downfall when you already have two and a Silence the Believers (although in matchups where they're very good, you might).
Remember you don't always want to keep a good card on top if your opponent has an Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver in play.
It's as Easy as 1, 2, 3
What happens when you're scrying for more than one? Let's say you want to play a Temple, Magma Jet, and attack with Prognostic Sphinx on the same turn. First of all, make sure you want to actually play all of those, since scry really doesn't stack well. Second, as a general rule, go smaller scry first, so lead on the temple. This way, if the first card is bad you get to see two new cards. If you play the card with the higher scry value, you're more likely to find a card you want to keep, which then makes the smaller scry irrelevant. I would recommend being very aggressive if you're going to be scrying that much since you can potentially see six cards deep (with a redraw to the seventh card being good if the first six aren't).
The "smaller scry first" also usually applies to card draw since a lower investment card draw spell might yield you something you can cast or give you more information.
How about scry and card draw? Let look at Divination. If you're digging for an answer and mana constraints aren't an issue, scry before you draw. If casting Divination is likely the last thing I'm doing and it will tap me out, I like to scry afterward since it gives you more information as to what you want and the top of your deck is usually safer than your hand. If I'm in no particular rush to cast a specific spell, not under much pressure, and will have untapped mana afterward, it'll usually be correct to cast Divination before playing a Temple since you might draw a spell or untapped land you want to play. Beware when playing a Temple before drawing cards since you might find you would've liked an untapped land in play that turn.
Reaper of the Wilds (and Viscera Seer) can go deep. Beware those who wish to scry for one a bunch of times, because there is no going back. Many fools have fallen victim trying to find the perfect card only to be left with nothing. How long can you press your luck?
I would consider myself to be an aggressive scryer, especially when it comes to bottoming lands. For example, say I have a good opening hand with three lands and two four-drops on the play. I lead on a turn 1 Temple and see a land on top of my library. I will often bottom that land even though I'm going to need a fourth land eventually to win. Lands usually have greatly decreasing value as the game goes on, and if I have three draw steps to find a land, those are good odds. Even if I don't draw a land, I have drawn spells that I can probably cast on three land. (This scenario assumes that my deck is not very mana hungry with many four+ spells, and can bite you when you whiff on lands for ten turns.) You are going to draw lands eventually, so why not draw fewer while you can?
Beware of keeping mediocre cards in a bad situation. Sometimes a removal spell or decent creature won't be enough to turn around a losing game. When in doubt try to imagine what the next few turns will look like and what your opponent might draw. If the card on top is unlikely to get the job done it's often right to ship it and try to spike the perfect answer (if you have one).
Together at Last
There weren't that many shuffle effects in Standard before the fetches came along. Cards you scryed to the bottom tended to stay there. So how will they interact in the same deck?
Temples are better late game topdecks than basic lands which makes the impact of thinning your library with fetches slightly better.
Temples put cards you don't want in the early to mid-game on the bottom of your library while fetchlands shuffle them back in and thin your deck of a land. Once you have a bunch of lands you don't want to shuffle up the land that you scryed to the bottom, but you do want to shuffle back in a powerful late game bomb.
One strong way to approach this is to just not care. It's barely going to matter.
For everyone who wants to fully understand, we have come to the End Boss: Math.
I'll focus more on the intuitive side of how things work, but I hope someone interested and capable will explore the math side eventually. Intuition is what you'll usually have to rely on in a tournament setting.
Let's look at the simplest scenario:
Scenario 2: It's the late-game and you've scryed an Elspeth, Sun's Champion to the bottom earlier, and now you fetch up a Plains with a fetchland. Now you introduced an Elspeth into the pool of cards you can draw and removed a useless Plains for the cost of a life. A net gain for our fair city!
Scenario 3: You've scryed three lands to the bottom, and you fetch up one of them. You just made your deck more land dense by introducing two harmful lands into the ecosystem.
Scenario 4: You actually just need to fetch out a land to cast the spells in your hand so who cares about worrying about what you scryed to the bottom (this will likely be the most common scenario).
Scenario 5: You've scryed a bunch of stuff to the bottom and can't really remember what, and you think you've already cracked a land, and your opponent is dead on board.
Things are usually going to be messy so an intuitive understanding is usually best. Combat situations you need to make gut decisions may be life or death. Trust your intuition (until someone explains the math).
Hopefully I've shed some light on how to use fetches and Temples. It's complicated subject matter that will yield minimal gains, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Actually scratch that, I wouldn't mind some simple subject matter for massive gains, but I suppose this is fine too.
Magic is a game where you get rewarded for digging deep, spending patient hours sifting away the cloudy mud to try and find flakes of insight. Getting an understanding of the game that gives you even a percentage of a percentage is absolute gold. Temples and fetchlands are excellent examples of cards that are nearly impossible to use optimally. The best we can do is think things through and try our damnedest to understand how to use them.