The Kitchen Table #344 - 26 Islands
Hello folks and welcome back to the column! After missing a couple of weeks due to vacation and turning in canned articles I am back and writing again. Earlier this week I wrote another Bad Rares article to hit the can for later. During that article I did something a little unusual.
I built a deck with all of the trimmings and then because I was lazy I decided to add 26 Islands instead of something else. How many times have you or someone else just put in basics to fill the mana spots in your mono-colored decks?
Lots of writers including myself have spent a lot of articles about proper mana fixing for decks. These articles including my own analyze options for multi-colored decks. For example this article from 2009 tells people about all of the options available for multi-colored decks and many are cheap with a common or uncommon symbol or a low price-tag on a rare.
Lands like Rupture Spire the tri-color taps from Shards the Refuges and Evolving Wilds have all done a lot for your multicolor manabase. We have tap lands that become creatures and older cards like lairs and the Karoo lands from Ravnica block. There are tons of these cheap options available when it comes time to make sure you have your colors.
However what do you do when you don’t need to add special lands in order to have the right colors? Sometimes your deck requires you to maximize your basic lands in a mono-deck. Nightmare Cabal Coffers and Mind Sludge will dictate your manabase as will Gaea’s Liege and Beacon of Creation.
So beyond those cards what other options do you have? Actually you have a lot. There are a ton of cards out there that can help you out.
How often do you just put in 26 Islands and move on? We do all of this work in order to get a great deck and then don’t worry much about the manabase. It’s like spending a ton of money and attention on your wedding and then just wearing jeans and a stained t-shirt. It doesn’t make sense.
How many times has your deck not had the answer because you didn’t use your land slots in the right way? Ever get hosed by a graveyard recursion deck when playing Black? How about a single attacker that sailed by turn after turn versus your White deck? What about a creature offed by a Rend Flesh in your Green deck? What about when that next card was the one that would win the game for you?
Today I want to look at the options available to you to flesh out your manabase in mono-colored decks. You need to avoid the “26 Island” problem and make your deck as good as you can.
The Color Legendaries
Back in the Legends expansion set one card in each color was made that was a legendary land but made the right color. The abilities were either broken (Karakas) or laughable (Tolaria) in ability but they didn’t enter play tapped or anything. They gave you the mana you needed. Removing First Strike from a creature is rarely used but having its ability is never a bad thing. (See Urborg)
In the Kamigawa Block we got more of these lands. They made the right color of mana and they gave you more abilities. Most of these have abilities that work with legendary creatures but Oboro Palace in the Clouds doesn’t and neither does Tomb of Urami.
Special note to Flagstones of Trokair and Teferi’s Isle which do the same thing a legendary land that taps for colored mana but the Isle sucks while the Flagstones have no major disadvantage. Use whichever cards in here make your deck better such as Karakas and Pendelhaven.
The Colorless Legendaries
There are several types of legendaries that make colorless mana. You don’t want too many colorless lands but most decks can afford some so why not add them in? This section includes power cards like Volrath’s Stronghold Academy Ruins and Kor Haven. It also includes Yavimaya Hollow Shivan Gorge Kher Keep and Keldon Necropolis. Use the ones you like for your deck.
There are also legendaries that give you a powerful ability but do not require an activation cost from a certain color. Examples include many cards from Kamigawa block such as Untaidake the Cloud Keeper or Miren the Moaning Well. Outside of that block you have just Rath’s Edge. So if you want to prevent your sorceries and instants from being countered look for Boseiju Who Shelters All as an example.
The Broken Legendaries
These are Gaea’s Cradle Tolarian Academy Serra’s Sanctum and I’m including Urborg Tomb of Yawgmoth as well. These four legendary lands change the game by making a ton of mana or making all lands Swamps. If they work in your deck look at playing them!
Non-Legendary Colored Lands
There are a lot more lands that make your color of mana than you might suspect. Playing them does not hurt your ability to make a certain color but they usually enter the battlefield tapped or have other disadvantages so it can slow you a bit to play them. Playing some of these can really help your deck out while not weakening your ability to play cards or abilities with very heavy mana costs.
The absolute obvious choices are the cycling lands. Since there are two in each color I regularly toss in 4 or 8 and call it a day but I think even that is a bit lazy. These can add a bit of card sorting for those decks that need it and give you something to do with dead lands drawn late. There is no question that you should consider these.
The artifact lands are commonly known and have value for decks that can use the extra artifact on the board. Otherwise they make your lands more fragile so stay clear.
Another group you used to see a lot of are the sac lands from Fallen Empires. You can sac one for two mana of your color. Later you saw sacland versions that sacked for any color or two adjacent colors. Today I’d stick away from lands like Havenwood Battleground unless you have a deck specific need for them.
Another set I’d stick away from barring a high need are the Masques common depletion counter lands that twice tap for two mana of its color and then are gone. Hickory Woodlot et al really only need to be played in certain decks but I mention them here in case that deck is yours.
You used to see the storage counter lands a lot. There was a cycle in Fallen Empires and another in Masques. You could set up a few counters and then make a ton of mana. A lot of decks today can still benefit from the storage counter lands. Consider them in decks with cards like X spells in it. If you’ve got 6 X spells for example maybe you want Mercadian Bazaar in your deck. I assume that post-Rise of the Eldrazi you can find a home for a storage land or two.
Another interesting cycle of five cards are the Future Sight uncommons. Tolaria West might not have much value in a mono-colored deck but the other four have value. The dredge of Dakmor Salvage the scry of New Benalia the graft of Llanowar Reborn and the hellbent ability of Keldon Megaliths all are interesting. Your deck can easily use one of those abilities. I really like the scry the best; even at scry 1 it’s a really solid ability for your land. You also have Dryad Arbor in Future Sight as a weird land creature dryad thing. It taps for mana it’s your land drop and it’s a 1/1. Why not add a few of them to a Green deck that wants more creatures? You can also fetch it with cards that get Forests.
Similarly you can retrieve the 5 uncommon lands from Shadowmoor as a land type and get them when you need to get an Island or such. Leechridden Swamp and Mistveil Plains and Moonring Island are okay but I’m not a big fan of Madblind Mountain or Sapseep Forest in most decks. If you are playing Blue anyway why not look at something like Moonring Island?
You do have the sacrifice lands from Alliances available to you as well but each is different. Three (Kjeldoran Outpost Lake of the Dead Heart of Yavimaya) sacrifices a basic in your color and makes just one mana. The other two (Balduvian Trading Post Soldevi Excavations) tap for two mana after the sacrifice. All have an ability and some are pretty good.
Remember that we have the actual Karoo lands from Visions but they’ve never been popular. They just add to your mana count with the slow down you’ve seen because they require the bounced land to be a basic and an untapped one at that.
Let’s also not forget the Hideaway lands from Lorwyn. Some might not be easily played but in many decks some of them are very easily to get off. My favorites are Mosswort Bridge and Windbrisk Heights.
While Barbarian Ring and Cephalid Coliseum were often the ones most commonly seen the uncommon cycle from Odyssey block of lands that deal damage but has a nice threshold sacrifice ability have value in many decks. I’ve never liked Nomad Stadium but Centaur Garden and Cabal Pit certainly are valuable. Finding an extra way to squeeze some removal into your deck via Cabal Pit or Barbarian Ring is great.
In Zendikar block we have some very powerful rare lands that make your color while also making the right mana. Cards like Crypt of Agadeem; Emeria the Sky Ruin; Magosi the Waterveil; Oran-Rief the Vastwood; Valakut the Molten Pinnacle have some serious power. I especially adore Emeria for casual and multiplayer.
Finally we have the two cycles of common lands in Zendikar block. Each makes a color of mana and has an ETB ability. Of the group my favorites are Bojuka Bog Khalni Garden and Halimar Depths in that order. Some may fit your deck a lot better than others.
Non-Legendary Colorless Lands
(I know all lands are colorless but that title sounds better than Non-Legendary Lands that don’t tap for a colored mana.)
This is the bounty of playing mono-color decks. There are lots of great cards that have a color to them that are mentioned above but this is the real treasure trove. Multi-colored decks are often too busy with making sure their manabase is solid to waste land slots on cards that don’t tap for a mana of a color. However that is not the case with a mono-colored deck. You can easily add 4 6 8 or more lands to your deck that tap for colorless without a fuss.
Of course many players play colorless mana like the Urzatron and Cloudposts and Scorched Ruins for the mana they make. There are many reasons to play lands that tap for colorless besides these though.
There are zounds of these cards and practically none in a cycle. I am not considering lands that either don’t tap for mana or fetch other lands. They aren’t part of this discussion regarding manabases in a mono-color deck. Neither am I concerned with lands that make mana in other colors like Henge of Ramos or Adarkar Wastes.
Non-basics can do a lot. Want to destroy a land? A creature? Want to have more cards in hand? Want to play a creature as though it had flash? Want to tap a land? Want to become a creature? Want to pump a goblin?
What do you want your land do to? If you want to destroy other lands you have cards like the old classic Strip Mine to the newest entry Tectonic Edge. Wasteland Dust Bowl and Ghost Quarter all have seen play in decks. While Rishadan Port doesn’t do the same thing exactly it is often played in the same way and thus it is a strong land of note.
Maybe you want to help your tribe. From Arabian Nights through Morningtide we’ve seen tribal lands aligned with just one color (or no colors). The list I made includes cards like Wirewood Lodge Daru Encampment Elephant Graveyard Swarmyard Riptide Laboratory Goblin Burrows Griffin Canyon plus Unholy Grotto and Rustic Clachan. That helps goblins elves wizards zombies and a lot more.
Maybe you want to add to your deck’s creature count. Perhaps you want to make creatures or maybe you just want to make a land a creature. You’ve got Kher Keep Springjack Pasture and Urza’s Factory to make creatures and Stalking Stones Mishra’s Factory Blinkmoth Nexus Dread Statuary Mutavault to become creatures. Gargoyle Castle sort of does both and Zoetic Cavern kind of does both and neither at the same time.
Then there are a lot of lands that do something different. Want to give a creature protection from artifacts? Then play Tower of the Magistrate (which may be really strong in the new format with the return to Mirrodin). Want to have more cards in your hand than seven? Play Reliquary Tower!
Deserted Temple will untap one of your other lands and Blinkmoth Well will lock an artifact down. You have another cycling land in Blasted Landscape if you want to bring up your total. Finally High Market will get you some life.
Throughout this article I have tried to show you all of the tons of options you have in your mono-colored decks. Whether playing something that taps for your color or not there are scads of lands that you can play to strengthen your deck. You are not finished building your deck once you get to your lands. Simply put there is no excuse for 26 Islands.
I hope you enjoyed today’s article. Catch you next week!