It’s tough to do much better than basics sometimes. When you are in a single colour, basics do a lot of your work. There’s a longstanding joke-not-joke that the Island is Magic’s most powerful card. Wood Elves and similar friends who fetch Forests see tons of play across Commander. Valakut kills people in Modern with Mountains. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Cabal Coffers are like peaches and cream that grew out of Swamps. And Plains, confusing in plural, ambiguous beside Planes, especially with Plainswalkers vs. Planeswalkers… we love you Plains!
This is not a series about how great basics are. This is a series about how great lands that do impressions of basics can be. I’ll dive right in with the first two examples, freshly printed in Throne of Eldraine.
The Eldraine Castles are amazing. I loved them all at first sight, and have already added a few to my decks. Why am I so excited about something like this? It’s the ‘Low Opportunity Cost.’ What that means is that this Castle, and all the others, are pretty much just basics with a tweak. They’re pretty easy to get in untapped, and tap for their colour of mana without drawback. They don’t get a type bonus, but they aren’t legendary either. So most of the time, Castle Lochthwain will be just one of the swamps, making Bs. But every so often it will draw you a card for 1 life on an empty hand. Or 2 on a 1 hander, and so on. Sometimes you might pay 8 or more life for that card, but if you opponent’s wincon is on the stack, and you’re at 40, what does 8 life matter? Either you draw the answer or you die. Your basic swamp doesn’t offer that potential, and for the Low Opportunity Cost of swapping out a swamp for Castle Lochthwain, you might get an edge you didn’t have otherwise. Let me be clear, this is not about being cutthroat, and leveraging avery incremental value angle, it’s more about giving yourself options. Castle Lochthwain gives you options. I expect to play it in every black deck I have going forward, swamps or no. These Castles are currently cheap, but I don’t expect that to last. Especially in foil, borderless, and alt-art.
Witch’s Cottage is another example of Low Opportunity Cost. It’s a bit narrower, as you need a high concentration of swamps, but the payoff is incredible. A free recursion spell is amazing in any format. Plenty of Commander decks will take this one step further and use putting the card on the top of their deck to their advantage. Aminatou, Yuriko, Vaevictis Asmadi, and Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign are a few examples. This is a mono-black staple. It can even be blinked or fetched to save a creature from a graveyard hate card. The pseudo-fetchlands from Mirage add another way beside the regular fetches to get these at instant speed. While Mortuary Mire is probably better, and can go in a wider range of decks, the fact that this is a swamp itself adds utility. You can just play both, and in mono-black, there’s almost no reason not to. As a common, copies are easy to get, just not in foil.
The Big Names
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is one of the best ‘swamps’ ever printed. While it can’t be fetched, and it isn’t a swamp in the graveyard, and it might enable the other big skullz deck at the table, that’s where the drawbacks end. Tons of cards leverage swamps, like the next one on the list. Not only that, many playable colourless lands (and of course, other colour lands) will now produce B. A few cards, like Caged Sun, care about the colour, not the land type. Even better, that applies to cards like Maze of Ith, which don’t normally produce mana, adding a layer of utility to them. This card was played in Eldrazi decks in Modern to allow Eye of Ugin to tap for mana. Nasty. The real cherry on top of all this is that this card has no colour identity. It can go in any deck, and use the all-swamp ability to whatever end works. Karma in the mono-white deck? I’ve seen it. While this definitely qualifies as a staple, it’s expensive. There’s a few printings, including in Ultimate Masters, and they’re all about $20-25. If you can find one of these for under $20, it’s probably a decent deal. Watch out for future printings, though. This has been in at least one Core set.
Cabal Coffers is the companion to Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth in a lot of decks. Why? Big mana wins games. This starts to net mana at 4 swamps on board. 5 or more and it’s huge value. That’s pretty easy to do, Tomb or not. Not coming into play tapped makes this just awesome. Is there a downside? The price is very very high. You might see this for more than $60, and it might not stop there if it isn’t printed any time soon. The last time was in Planechase 2009. Ten years. It’s due. Probably in a Masters set as a Mythic. If and when it does, watch the prices closely. If this is reprinted as an uncommon (haha) or rare (long shot) it will be available for a somewhat reasonable price for a while. There’s an alternative below, but it’s questionable.
The reprint in Ultimate Masters helped out the price of Phyrexian Tower big time. I’m pretty sure it was close to $40 at one point. As far as utility is concerned, this is exceptional. Many decks want a sacrifice outlet, and having an uncounterable one at instant speed stapled to a land is awesome. You can even use it prevent an exile or control effect. The fact that both the sac outlet, and the land itself make mana gives it no end of uses. This is a good time to grab one of these, possibly even as low as $10. It’s a great card for almost any black deck.
It’s tough to recommend Volrath’s Stronghold, even though it’s clearly excellent. This can recur your best dead creature in response to your draw, or save it from a graveyard nuke, or set up some trick involving your top of deck. Or save you from decking yourself for a turn. It would be an automatic include alongside the above cards except for one thing: this is on the Reserved List. Copies of this card are no longer being printed. What we have is what we have. Even though Cabal Coffers commands a higher price tag than this, it can be reprinted. I don’t know that getting copies for less than $40 is realistic. This will climb no matter what, though hopefully slowly. If you can get a cheap copy, or a damaged one, go for it. This does tons of work, and will make almost all of your black decks better. But this might be out of reach for some players for good.
The original Urborg has only the one printing, in Legends, despite not being on the Reserved List. The swampwalk reference holds it back, but Wizards claimed protection was off the table, too. You never know. This could be printed in an ‘Iconic’ or ‘Eternal’ set. Currently copies are around $10, which is probably more expensive than the value this provides in games. This does come in untapped, however, and it looks fabulous. It might steal a game or two by stopping a swampwalker or firststriker, and it even has a sweet Edgar Allen Poe quote on it. People who love the old frames, or just want to have a lot of toys or options in their manabase, will enjoy this a lot. I know I do.
Shizo, Death’s Storehouse is fairly innocuous-looking, but a few decks, like Greven, Predator Captain, Hapatra, Skithiryx, and Kaalia want to get their black commander into the red zone regularly. This does serious work in those decks, and the price is starting to reflect that. This card is getting close to $20 or more. Hopefully a reprint comes soon, and we can all get a cheap copy.
Tomb of Urami is a definitely a legendary land. It comes in untapped and it makes black mana. Beyond that…? Some decks want to hurt themselves, like the above-mentioned Greven. There are 2 legendary Ogres to consider as Commanders. Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder (Shrek) is well-known, but Kuon, Ogre Ascendant, a flippy card who turns into The Abyss, is probably less so. Kuon is kind of cool. It’s a stretch to imagine those decks wanting this card, though. Lord Windgrace is a deck that sometimes wants to sac all the lands at once, then cast something like Splendid Reclamation to pull them all back. This can help with crazy wincons like Barren Glory, to some degree. And sometimes a 5/5 flyer wins the game, even with no land in play. Not without use, but seriously narrow. You can get this for about a dollar unless something changes.
There aren’t many cards I would say should be played at every opportunity in Commander, but this is one. If you can accommodate it, do so. Even decks that don’t focus on the graveyard do abuse it sometimes. Maybe you just want to cast Living Death for the best value, or feel better knowing the Avenger of Zendikar is gone for good. Any which way, this is a staple, and the most important card on this list. While the C19 copies are already around $2, this seems to get printed a lot these days in supplements. You should be able to get one, and even though it may not be that cheap, will do lots of work for you. Worldwake is still the only source of foils, and those are expensive. A Masters set printing would change that. Bojuka Bog has one drawback, and that’s the feelbad of playing it in the early game when nobody has much more than fetches or Evolving Wilds in their graveyards. Ah well.
Dakmor Salvage is more than just a Dredge card. Dredge as a strategy has too few outlets to do well in a 100 card singleton format. And it’s not like they’re going to do much Dredge again. But we do get this little beauty. Besides being a force of evil in the Gitrog Monster decks, this helps with little things like sell-milling for reanimator. While Dredging eats a draw, sometimes having a reliable discard outlet is better, and you can keep bringing this back for value, while filling your yard in the process. While it might be more narrow than the following ‘Workhorses,’ in the right shell it’s dynamite. And I don’t have to say much for the power of Dredge. A couple of Masters printings have made this nice and cheap.
We got the Memorial cycle in Dominaria, and several of them have become staples since. Memorial to Folly is possibly the best of the cycle, adding yet another terrific land-based recursion spell to the mix. While coming into play tapped and having to be sacrificed are drawbacks that start to add up, most black decks should be able to find a home for this. As you can see by the picture, it has already seen a reprint. This is one of those cards that might see lots of reprints, but only in supplements. This could mean expensive foils down the line.
Like Memorial to Folly above, Mortuary Mire was part of a cycle of lands in a big recent Plane-focused set, and it has already been reprinted. The major difference is that this is the best of its cycle by miles and miles and miles. I have been jamming this in decks since BFZ. The timing can be tricky, but as long as you see it as mostly a swamp with some upside, it will do the occasional wonder. Like Folly, it is likely to appear again, but most likely in supplements. Foils may be worth getting, and may not always be cheap. All the topdeck decks I mentioned in the Witch’s Cottage entry above want this, but it’s in all my black decks.
Creaturelands are a mixed bag. Most of them don’t scale well enough for the bigger Commander format to see much play. Spawning Pool offers something a little different, however. I’m sure you can find niche uses for 1/1s, black creatures, and skeletons, but the reason to play this is the Regenerate ability. Why? Not every gigantic attacker has trample, and this regenerating chump blocks them like a champ, for very little cost. While it’s not Maze of Ith, sometimes it’ll do a passable Maze of Impression, all while doing a great swamp impression too. Low Opportunity Cost for sure. Foils aren’t so cheap, but non-foils are.
The Niche Players
Can I call Unholy Grotto niche? Zombies are one of the most played and supported tribes in Magic’s history. But they aren’t in every deck, so this gets to be called niche, despite the fact that if you’re all Zombie, it’s arguably a better Volrath’s Stronghold. This has only seen one printing, and is starting to be expensive at $10 or more. The foils are around $20. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this reprinted. Wizards knows about the equity in lands, and will use stuff like this to sell some product or other, from a Core set, to a Commander precon, or even a theme deck. Until then, this is amazing in dedicated Zombie concepts, and if you don’t have a Grotto and play Zombie a lot, it might be worth grabbing one of these now before it gets much more expensive. Reprint someday or not.
Now we are into legitimate niche lands. Blighted Fen is a worthy inclusion in many decks, simply because some percentage of Commander decks focus on a single creature to get the job done. A lot of these want it to be the Commander, and the first thing they do is put Swiftfoot Boots or Lightning Greaves on it. Having an edict effect for those times is life-saving. Many times, they’ll have a chump or something to sac, and this will fizzle, but coming in untapped is always good, so this is worth a look. There is a foily FNM version, too, and they’re all cheap.
Ifnir Deadlands would be more of a utility card, but the effect is fairly small and costly unless you specifically want -1/-1 counters. Several decks do want just that, however, and make great use of this. There are good and bad to go with it. Good, you can sac other deserts to make this a repeat effect, which might be cool for -1/-1 counter decks. My Hapatra deck plays a lot of deserts for this reason. Bad, the effect is at sorcery speed, which sucks to realize in combat. This is a fine inclusion in any black deck, because while it hurts you for making skulls, you can tap for C if you’re good on skulls already. Plus, plenty of creatures have 2 or less toughness, and this really hoses Brago, King Eternal. Foils are still cheap.
Leechridden Swamp may only ping your opponents for a life or two each over the course of a game, but paying B to drain 3 is pretty cool when you think about it. This is one of the few mono-coloured non-basic lands out there with a basic type, so it can be fetched, etc. Niche by virtue of small impact, but can go in most black decks as a swamp with upside. Like Witch’s Cottage. Very playable. The foil is Shadowmoor only and starting to get expensive.
Cabal Pit is like Ifnir Deadlands’ long-lost cousin. They do pretty similar things. While this doesn’t do counters, the effect is pretty much the same when it comes to removal. This doesn’t have the option to take no damage and make C, and threshold means the ability isn’t always available, but that being said, the activation cost is nice, and at instant speed. Laboratory Maniac, among others, has 2 toughness. Want one more hedge? Why not this? Foils are quite expensive, as this sees play in some 60 card decks, like Lands. This has only been printed in Odyssey, but should come around again eventually.
I wish Howltooth Hollow was better. The hideaway lands tend to be pretty good, with achievable conditions and a free play. Except for this one. Maybe it’s just me, but I can count on one hand the amount of times all the players in my Commander game had no cards in hand. All of those were in endgames where we’d exhausted all options and were reduced to topdecking. In that case, a free cast of some card that’s been hiding all game is probably awesome, and I applaud you. I’m just concerned your hideaway card will be stranded with this. Things change drastically with devoted discard shells, but I don’t think the right Commander to abuse this exists yet. When it does, expect this to pop, especially foils. Prices are going up already, possibly due to Anje and the Madness deck. This only has one printing, but it’s an easy include in a supplement as a throw-in. I’m surprised it wasn’t in the C19 Madness precon, now that I think about it.
Piranha Marsh offers just the tiniest of little bite effects. But one bite is plenty for triggering Spectacle, and every bite adds up for Greven, Predator Captain and Rakdos, Lord of Riots. This is lifeloss, too, and might be the final point needed. So very niche, but a nice little piece of tech in the right shells. Not expensive.
Whether you want to turn on Metalcraft, or sacrifice an artifact to some demon or something, Vault of Whispers ups the artifact count in your black decks for almost no cost over your basic swamp. Black is one of the least artifact-intensive colours, if not the least, but a few applications for this exist. Watch out for sweepers like Bane of Progress and Vandalblast. The foils are surprisingly expensive, but non-foils can be had for a dollar or less.
Barren Moor is one of Black’s cycle-land options. When it comes to mono-black, this is probably the best one, considering the cycle cost. These lands may come in tapped, but they help a lot against flooding in the late game, and aren’t the disheartening topdeck another swamp can be. I play these kinds of lands a bit. They get better and better the more you can use lands in or from the graveyard. Scaretiller is a new piece of tech that loves these lands. I recommend having these on hand, especially for mono-coloured decks. You can often sequence around the ETBtap, and that late game draw might be critical. Lots of printings mean these are cheap, but foils are scarce and are not. Grabbing a Modern Horizons foil now might be your best cheap option for a while.
Desert of the Glorified has the worst cycle cost of these cards, but makes up for it with the Desert subtype. The current options for leveraging Deserts are thin, but not too bad, and many decks would love to be able to get a couple of graveyard nukes out of Scavenger Grounds. Totally playable. Foils may start sneaking up in price. Grab em cheap if you can.
Maybe better than Barren Moor in multi-colour decks, Polluted Mire is one more cycling option for you. This only exists in foil from one source, oddly enough – the Premium Deck Series: Graveborn. That will most likely change in a Masters set or three, and until then, non-foil copies are plentiful and cheap.
The Questionable Mana Producers
Crypt of Agadeem is pretty close to being a staple. It comes in tapped, but beyond that it’s like a swamp with no drawbacks. The reason it’s here and not in the Workhorse or Niche category is the extremely high variance of the mana production. I play with this in a graveyard-ish deck, and it’s not super easy to net mana with this. When it is, it’s awesome, and decks that dump stuff in their yard in big volume will love it. But it’s my experience that the graveyard is sometimes a revolving door, and sometimes the biggest target out there, and having 4 creatures in there to squeak out an extra B falls too much under questionable. I do recommend it because it’s super-low opportunity cost, just don’t expect it to be Cabal Coffers. This isn’t so cheap, with non-foils starting to climb towards $5, but it should see a reprint at some point soon. The foil is about $10, and probably climbing, and will continue if the next printing doesn’t come with a foil version.
There were doing a Cabal Coffers callback with Cabal Stronghold, but one little word got in the way. Basic. Ouch. What a killer. No broken interaction with Tomb of Yawgmoth for you. That puts this firmly into budget mono-black, and makes this card struggle with all the low-opportunity-cost black lands this post has been talking about. Questionable. With all basic swamps however, this is really good, and is starting to creep up in price as well. The foils are around $10.
Lake of the Dead has been around for ages, tempting players to sac their swamps for instant gratification. I don’t know if there’s a specific combo or deck it belongs in, but since it’s on the Reserved List, and not in foil, there aren’t many people testing this in paper. Sacrificing a swamp isn’t so bad, but you do need a reliable supply of them, and that may not jive with your plan to play all the low-opportunity cost lands. Not needing the initial sacced swamp to be untapped is handy. This is going to run you around $25-40, unless you can find a really cheap or damaged copy. If you can, and you’re doing lots of swamps, it’s probably worth it.
Everglades requires returning an untapped swamp to hand, like all the Karoo-lands. And it enters the battlefield tapped. It’s a major speed bump, for sure, but if you can squeak it in during the early turns when nobody’s doing much, or later for value, this is worth playing. I would try this in any mono-black deck, as ramp isn’t easy to come by. There are no foils, currently, but the non-foils are cheap.
Vivid Marsh is probably not a great way to fix your mana. Maybe on a budget, or with some counter shenanigans, but there are so many other options out there that it’s hardly worth it. That being said, a handful of decks, like Gonti, Lord of Luxury, steal things from the opponent while playing mono-black. Gonti can pay the CMCs with any colour, but activation costs on cards are a different story. Cards like this help. Foils aren’t cheap, probably because they look great.
Everything said above about Vivid Marsh can also be applied to Bog Wreckage. Except this card is inferior in almost every way. It does put a land into the grave for Gitrog, and the name and art might fit your theme deck, but it’s pretty bad. Not expensive, despite one printing.
Ebon Stronghold can give you that one extra mana you need to fire off the glass cannon a turn early, if that’s what it comes to. It’s an okay budget option for black. You never know. One mana more has won and lost games. If you need critical mass of Sol lands, this does a one-time impression. Cheap, but only one foil and that’s from Premium Series: Graveborn. This isn’t like to be good enough to drive the price up, and could just be reprinted in a Masters set as part of a common cycle.
Peat Bog also does a sort of Sol land impression, but doesn’t do swamp. With a repeatable source of proliferate, like with ultra-cool Modern dad Yawgmoth, this might be a great contributor. I love the picture. Foils are quite expensive, as this has just the one printing.
Subterranean Hangar and other storage lands really want to get there, but they come in tapped and don’t get counters easily enough. This land can be played on turn 1, but generates no mana until turn 3. If it does, it has to wait until turn 5 to generate more mana. You can have it sit there and pile up counters for endgame, but most swamps will do more work over the course of a game than that. Foils are around $3, but nons are cheap. This only has the one printing, and might not be something they’ll bother with going forward.
Bottomless Vault just doesn’t get there. Cool name, cool art, but so agonizingly slow. Black ramp isn’t easy to come by in the early game, but plenty of cards make big mana for black as the game goes on. Sadly, not worth a land slot until something changes. Oddly enough, this isn’t as cheap as others on this list. If it goes up a lot, I’ll look into it, as someone clearly knows something I don’t.
Other ‘Black’ Lands
Not on the Reserved List, but hard to print again because of banding, Unholy Citadel isn’t that bad. The main knock on it is not making Bs, but if you’re playing the Tomb of Yawgmoth regularly, that might not matter. Why play this? Here’s banding in a nutshell:
Banding – Any number of creatures with banding may ‘band’ with up to one creature without. The band travels as a unit, attacking and blocking together. Banding is declared when attackers or blockers are assigned. The controller of the band chooses how combat damage is dealt to the band.
Giving a Commander like Greven, Predator Captain banding with other legends would allow you to attack into danger with him and another legend like Squee, then have Squee experience all the consequences. It starts to get wonky when you add most keywords, and is hardly worth the effort, but banding is an interesting relic of another page in Magic’s history. This card is doubtful in foil, and as a Legends card, is not in great supply. It’s about $2-3 now, but will probably climb slowly.
Cradle of the Accursed is one of several lands that make black creature tokens. Like most of those, this makes 2/2 zombies. A 2/2 zombie. Requiring 3 mana, tapping, saccing, and at sorcery speed really makes this tough to endorse, but as part of the various deserts available, it’s borderline playable. Cheap.
Dunes of the Dead is in the same class as Cradle of the Accursed. It clearly wants to be sacrificed to one of the other deserts like Ifnir Deadlands. A devoted desert subtheme to a zombie concept isn’t the worst thing in the world, and if you’re running ways to make extra tokens, like Anointed Procession, and ways to recur lands, like Crucible of Worlds, this might do some work.
Field of the Dead is absolutely playable beyond Zombie decks, black decks and even Landfall decks. This is an all-around great land. Interacting with Scapeshift, and most importantly, doing it on camera in the hands of LSV for a major tournament win, put a spotlight on this card it is unlikely to shrug. Possible reprint, but for now, it’s not cheap, and even rising, as it seems to do well in the new Standard, too. I hope you got yours while it was a dollar.
Westvale Abbey is more a black card, really, than a black and white card. The rules of colour identity make that doubly true. This only goes in black decks. While Ormendahl terrorized Standard briefly, he’s less of a Commander threat. Everything about him is great, he’s just a 5 turn clock for a single opponent that really doesn’t like getting bounced or flickered. Not bad, but not great, and a fair amount of effort to get flipped unless you’re going nuts with tokens already. It’s a cool card, though, and despite the colour identity thing, can go in a lot of decks as a singular plan. Currently under $5, but moving up. Foils are north of $10.
Finally we hit bottom. Dark Depths. Not really a black card at all, but the token is black, so I’ll talk about Dark Depths here. This is not a cheap card, and probably never will be. You might find one for under $30, but since it’s a huge deal in Legacy, and a big splashy card in general, that’s not so likely. Is it worth it? You can run this with Thespians’ Stage and land tutors like Tempt with Discovery for a quick 20/20 flyer. Solemnity is another option. Animating it and copying it with a creature like Vesuvan Doppleganger works, too. Super janky. You just have to dodge the ETB trigger to dodge the ice counters. I play this in my Eldrazi build. I have the Stage, and I make a ton of mana, so I could possibly even pay off the ice. I’ve had Marit Lage in play, and it’s awesome, but bounce and flicker are a huge problem, and unless you can give it trample, so are thopter tokens. It’s not the killshot it is in 60 card constructed. I also find the fact that the Depths doesn’t make mana to be troublesome. It can mess up your curve pretty bad. It is a snow land, so if you can find a way to make it produce mana, like the Tomb of Yawgmoth, it makes snow mana. Should you play it? It can be fun, and gives you the fastest clock in Magic, but there are a lot of costs associated with it. Try a proxy first. If you love it, get yourself a copy and a shiny Marit Lage token to go with it.
As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll be back tomorrow with the Blue lands!