The basic Island is one of the most contentious cards in Magic. Some call it Magic’s most powerful card, and they do so with a bit of an ironic twist. The Island is more a symbol for another symbol, the water drop, or U, or Blue Mana, that enables many of Magic’s most powerful spells. The only spells of colour in the Power 9 are blue. Brainstorm and Ancestral Recall, just about the most efficient things you can do with a single mana, are blue. Modern’s banlist has 6 blue cards on it, an astonishing 5 of which can be cast for U. Gitaxian Probe, Ponder, Preordain, Mental Misstep and Treasure Cruise. Dig Through Time misses by an extra U, but is close enough. Seat of the Synod, another banned card, makes U. Commander’s banlist has a healthy amount of blue cards on it, too. So Islands are good. And Islands with upside are even better, and that’s what this post is all about!
One more thing about islands being contentious before going into the cards – not all Islands are Islands. I mean in the artwork. I’m only going to do one more facepalming example here, but if you want me to do coverage of hilarious Islands-not-Islands, I’m all for it. Let me know in the comments!
Racing out of the gate is Castle Vantress. My stance on this is simple. Every blue I deck I play will have this in it. Every one. I will be shocked if there’s a reason not to play it. Even a deck that wants dozens of Islands can make room for this. I don’t care if it comes in tapped. Instant speed scry stapled to a land is amazing. Whether you play draw-go, use the top of your deck a lot, or just want some extra options, this is perfection. Digging 2 deep is great, and the cost is pretty negligible. An all-star.
Mystic Sanctuary scares me. Initially I thought, oh no, Brago can blink this to loop some extra turn card… and then I calmed down and realized Brago doesn’t blink lands. So the easy Commander loop in the already OP deck is out, thankfully. But anyway, this is soooooooo good. Sooooooooooo goooooood. Mono blue auto include forever. Blue with other colours is worth it if you play a lot of Islands, and they don’t have to be basics. Recurring an amazing spell once is awesome, but of course we want to loop this bad boy. Can we?
We have a commander that blinks permanents, and has blue in the colour identity. Yikes. With Inexorable Tide to proliferate the loyalty counter back every turn, we can easily loop something like Time Warp. For less effective strategies, we have single shot flicker options like Felidar Guardian, Flicker, Flickerwisp, Glimmerpoint Stag, Oath of Teferi, and Teferi’s Time Twist. We have a few repeatable options, like Venser, the Sojourner, Ruin Ghost, and the underappreciated Skybind.
There are some weird janky ways to get Mystic Sanctuary off, then on the battlefield, and no, phasing doesn’t count. Parallax Tide is one way. If you can sac the Sanctuary, Sun Titan, Emeria Shepherd, and spells like Sevinne’s Reclamation and even Profound Journey will bounce it back.
Synod Sanctum is extremely janky, but one of the rare effects that will hold permanents in exile, including lands.
I wanted to point this weird card out, since we have the exile zone as a more-and-more interactive piece of the design puzzle.
The way this is worded is strange. It’s in the difference between ‘the’ and ‘those’. Oracle/Gatherer don’t clarify, so maybe a judge can help me here. I read this as ‘Exile all the stuff, and then players can return cards from exile to play, one at a time on their turn.’ Not specifically the cards that were exiled with this card. The return clause depends on having those cards still in exile, but the wording creates the possibility that this refers to any exiled cards. Just putting that out there. The first thing I would bring back is my Paradox Haze.
So is there a big payoff loop spell to pair with Mystic Sanctuary? Ask Pauper.
In Pauper this card is already a holy terror of grindy value. In commander it can blink your Sol Ring and a Wormfang Newt, for example.
Your Newt blinks the Sanctuary, which quickly taps for mana each time it appears, and with the blinking Sol Ring, provides the mana to endlessly recast Ghostly Flicker. Wormfang Turtle also works. You need to redraw the Ghostly Flicker somehow each time, which you can do by casting Beck, among other things.
Tatyova, Benthic Druid or Guardian Project are easy choices too, if you’re in Simic. And if you’re just mono-blue, the options are pretty slim, but Kindred Discovery will get you there. You might get points for making this happen, but the more you pad a deck with protection, tutors and redundancy, the less cool even a janky combo looks.
Mystic Sanctuary may just be a value player, but it’s ripe for abuse. Foils already reflect this and are headed north of $10 in a hurry. Being able to tutor for it via fetchland ups the value considerably. I hope a common doesn’t do too much damage, but it is an Island after all. Play this for value, people, not to oppress.
The Blue Ribbons
I think the most insane thing you can do with Academy Ruins is to put Draco on top of your deck in response to a Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow trigger. With 3 opponents, that’s a possible 48 point swing. Past that silliness, this card simply does work, recurring your sacrificed or destroyed stuff in a colour that draws cards easily. Oh and blue also has plenty of artifact-happy Commanders, so this helps all of those. It probably goes in just about any blue deck, really, and even comes in untapped. Why not play this? Cost. We only have 2 printings, and either might run you upwards of $40. It was last printed in Modern Masters 2013, and is a likely target for a future Masters reprint. Get a copy then, and try and pay as little as possible. This is a good card to look for in the damage binder at your LGS.
Minamo, School at Water’s Edge does a lot of things in a lot of different decks, but in all blue decks it does the same potentially cool thing: untap your Commander. It can be another source of value, like untapping Azami, or an answer to an answer, like untapping Dragonlord Ojutai.
Since Minamo comes in untapped, it hardly creates a ripple in your blue manabase. But it might in your wallet. Minamo will probably cost at least $25 until a reprint, likely in a Masters set.
Tolaria West helps out Tolaria as a story location big time. Other Tolarian cards have had… difficulties. See the bottom of this post for more on that. Tolaria West is a tutor for zero CMC cards, which mostly, but not entirely, means other lands. This can be big game as you can get you Gaea’s Cradle in your simic deck, or your Darksteel Citadel in your Noyan Dar deck. It can also get stuff like Chalice of the Void, Walking Ballista, or Engineered Explosives if you must. Mana Crypt, maybe? Zuran Orb? Pact of Negation? Transmute is almost uncounterable, and having access to your powerful 0 CMC card on a land can be really powerful. This has been climbing recently, and is over $10 for all printings. There’s a wacky From the Vault foil that can probably be had much cheaper than any other foil, and maybe even the regular card. While this is a weird, unique land, it could totally reappear in a Masters Set and be cheaper for a while.
The Blue Chips
Faerie Conclave is one of the better creaturelands overall. It’s blue, it’s cheap to activate, it has flying, and it has a more and more relevant creature-type. It even has 2 power for attacking. What’s not to love here? Great chump for emergencies. I love the look of the old Urza’s Legacy cards, but that printing, the foils, and the promo foil are all pricey. Even the Commander 13 and Commander anthology versions are mostly over a dollar. Eldraine promised faeries, but didn’t do much for the tribe outside of Alela. This is still a staple, but prices may die down. Reprints are likely too.
Cephalid Coliseum has an extremely high upside. Drawing 3 cards, even if you have to immediately discard 3, can be game changing or game winning. Costing only a single blue mana is amazing. Decks that want to fill their graveyards will love this, and make it easy to activate. Gisa and Geralf spring to mind immediately. The Locust God would love this, and The Scarab God probably would, too. A lot of blue decks would. It’s tough to ping yourself every time you tap for U with this, but it’s probably worth it to have this effect on hand. This is not that cheap, and only has an Odyssey printing, so currently not Modern. There’s a From the Vault: Realms foil available, and it might be the cheapest option at some point. This card will probably soon be over $5 in all forms until there’s a reprint. If you see a cheap copy, grab it. Yes you can play this with War of the Spark Narset as a discard spell. Try not to.
When the Blighted cycle was revealed in Battle for Zendikar, I didn’t give it much thought. I figured the black one was the best, and the rest were dismissable. Not so much. The blue and the green are really solid. Blighted Cataract here is a terrific addition to a blue-heavy deck, and while you’re essentially paying 7 mana (including tapping the Cataract) and a sacrifice to draw 2 cards, it can be done at instant speed and might save you the game. Coming in untapped helps this a lot, and while it doesn’t produce blue mana, helps mono-blue decks keep moving along. With 2 printings, and strong likelihood of more, this is super cheap. Foils might push a dollar or more if this isn’t printed again soon in a set with foils.
Like the Blighted cycle, Dominaria’s Memorial cycle looks better and better, especially in black, green and blue. Memorial to Genius is a terrific ‘Island’ for most blue decks, for the same reasons as Blighted Cataract above, except for coming in tapped. Like the Cataract, this is available cheap, with the same thoughts on foils.
Halimar Depths saw a reprint in Commander 2018, and I’m glad it did. This card is excellent, and will help most blue decks. It’s not this card’s fault if the three cards on top of your deck are terrible in any order. This was also in a duel deck, and it’s currently fairly cheap. Foils only appeared in Worldwake, and are probably $10 or more.
Blue utility lands have a strong Scry/topdeck theme, and Moonring Island is no different. While this isn’t high-impact, because it is neither Scry or Fateseal, it does have a lot of unique little perks to offer. Being Island type is strong, as we know, and being able to look at the top of any player’s library can be the difference between being prepared and being dead. Mill decks can use this too, to make sure they hit a juicy target. It should be mentioned that blue is the least permanent-heavy colour, and can sometimes struggle to have even 2 on the field. This only has one printing, and non-foils are pretty cheap. But foils, even for a low-impact card like this, are starting to climb.
Soldevi Excavations is on the Reserved List, which is too bad, because it means this card will not be available in foil, or widely available at all. It’s not that this is so good that we’re all missing out, it’s that it’s not good enough to be hidden behind paywalls and clauses. This won’t break any games, and the sacrifice of an untapped Island sucks to do, but this makes 2 mana on tap, and has a cheap Scry-not-Scry. It’s solid. Look for a damaged copy to save, or grab one cheap if you can. They can be had for under $10, but that might be too much for this card already.
The Niche Players
Ipnu Rivulet naturally goes in every blue mill deck, which is probably every mill deck. There are other applications, such as decks that want stuff in the graveyard, either their own or opponents’. Having the colourless mana option makes these Deserts so much better, and so does the ability to sacrifice other Deserts. A few cycle Deserts and a way to recur them turns this into a solid engine. Currently very cheap.
Oboro, Palace in the Clouds is pretty wide open. The Legendary lands that come down untapped are easy to jam in decks to give you various options, although beyond repeating landfall triggers, I’m not sure where this belongs. Tatyova, Benthic Druid thinks this thing is the best, however. With one printing, this is expensive. $25+, and the foil is comfortably over 3 digits. I hope a reprint comes soon, as we’re likely to see other Commanders that love this in future. Chulane probably does.
Riptide Laboratory spiked when the Wizard tribal deck was spoiled a couple of years ago. Then it turned out the deck was clunky and not many people play it. Wizard tribal is still a thing, though, and will be in future. Changelings also really like this, and as more of them are printed, the demand for cards like this will go up. This only has one printing, but should appear again at some point. The floor is currently about $10. Foils are very expensive.
Seat of the Synod comes in untapped and taps for U, just like a good little Island, but has traded that type for a different type. The whole cycle of these lands should be no surprise to anyone by now (just don’t forget them when you wipe the artifacts with Cleansing Nova or something). Blue, as a major Artifact synergy colour, can do a lot with this. You can’t Tinker for Time Vault, with good reason, but plenty of cards just need any old artifact to play with. One that comes down for free and uncounterable as your land drop might be your jam. This is really expensive in foil, but the non-foil has many printings keeping it about a dollar or less.
Shelldock Isle really shows off Mark Tedin’s ability to capture extremely diverse subject matter. From original Necropotence, to Emrakul, to old school Sol Ring, Tedin has been in it from the start. He’s a super nice guy, too. My copy of this card is signed. I play it in a mill deck, which is a no-brainer. There are other ways to abuse this, but cutting your deck in half is often an all-in play, not something you usually add some value to. This can trap a card in exile. This also got pretty expensive recently, and even non-foils can run $10 or more. Probably best to wait for a reprint.
While Skyline Cascade may seem like a groaner, keeping something nasty tapped down for a turn cycle can be game-changing. Playing this is like casting that tapdown spell for U. I would take that lots of times, and blue decks, especially those on a budget, could use this. The best endorsement is against protection from blue. This is a colourless card, even though it’s so blue. Keeping a sworded-up Voltron Commander tapped down for a turn might be more timewalk than tapped Island. This does not tap the creature, though, just keeps it tapped for a turn. These are cheap.
Soaring Seacliff is not unplayable. A Jump spell that turns into an Island afterwards is okay for plenty of concepts, especially Voltron. This is very cheap, and fits the budget in those decks. The downside, if you could call it that, is that there are so many better options.
Teferi’s Isle is a relic of yesterday, and possibly tomorrow. It’s on the Reserved List, so we’re always at peak supply. Mirage was pretty heavily printed, making this somewhat cheap. Less than $5 mostly. As for what it does? I’ve played with it, many years ago, and it was a struggle then. Phasing has undergone some changes since, but this needs some sort of workaround to be good. Amulet of Vigor is the obvious choice, and any Commander that untaps lands, or has them ETB untapped will like this. That means past and future. If Phasing gets a boost, look for this to spike. Note that ‘Phasing In’ is not ETBing. The card was considered to be there the whole time, just ‘Phased Out’. Confused? Tokens may Phase as well, and all changes to cards, including counters, are retained when Phasing in or out. Why do we do Phasing at all? Because the 90’s, man.
Blue may not need miscellaneous card draw coming from its lands, but tell a blue mage they don’t need card draw and see what they say. They will probably draw a card in response. One way to do that is to cycle Desert of the Mindful. While the other cyclers have a more friendly cost, this might actually get put into play a lot as a sacrifice to Ipnu Rivulet in mill decks. Otherwise: blue, card draw. You get the idea. These are cheap, foils included.
Lonely Sandbar was a recent reprint in Modern Horizons, but it’s only the second time we’ve had access to foils. The Onslaught ones are $25+, and the Moho ones are already $3+. Non-foils of this card are cheap and plentiful, with many printings.
Remote Isle has never seen a foil! There are a few options in non-foil, including the old framed Urza’s Legacy, and white bordered Battle Royale and Beatdown. All are fairly cheap, but some less so because of weird set scarcity.
The Questionable Mana Producers
Coral Atoll can be pretty slow, but ramp in blue, especially mono-blue, can be tough to come by. When you play a bounce land on turn 2, and you have to discard as a result, it feels bad. That will sometimes happen with cards like this. Otherwise, it can be good mana production, and an extra landfall trigger for Tatyova, Benthic Druid. I don’t know why they made the Island have to be untapped. Maybe an improved cycle will appear someday.
Sand Silos, like all the mono-colour Storage lands, kinda sucks. It’s restrictive and doesn’t produce short-term mana well. That being said, blue is the primary Proliferate colour. Inexorable Tide or Atraxa can turn this into a legit mana producer. With only a Fallen Empires and Fifth Edition printing, this isn’t so cheap. You might have to shell out a whole dollar.
Saprazzan Cove is a lot like Sand Silos above, but slightly mechanically improved. It can be a fun pirate deck theme inclusion, and saying ‘Saprazzan’ is a fun way of saying ‘Surprising.’ I used this once as part of an infinite turns kill on turn 5. A real feel bad. I moved a counter from here to my Magistrate’s Scepter with Power Conduit right before untapping with Vorel of the Hull Clade in play, and well, that ending writes itself. Foils of this aren’t cheap, and non foils are about where Sand Silos is.
Saprazzan Skerry, to no-one’s ‘Saprazz,’ goes well with Proliferate, turning it into a Sol land. You lose the Proliferate, though, and it’s a different story. I’m not sure I’d run these without a way to make them work all the time. I looked up a ‘Skerry’ and it’s Scottish in origin, meaning a reef or rocky island. Foils are over $10, but nons are cheap.
Seafloor Debris fits one function, and that’s adding extra colour potential for mono-blue theft decks. Memnarch, for example, can use this sort of thing to pay the odd activated ability cost. You can run things like City of Brass instead, to give you all colours without a sacrifice, but Seafloor Debris costs next to nothing. Foils might creep, though.
Svyelunite Temple has a few printings, though no foil. All the printings are under a dollar, currently, but these old lands are getting noticed as itty-bitty utility pieces. One mana is sometimes the difference, and if you have to sac the land, so be it.
Vivid Creek has quite a few printings, including in foil. It’s a mostly better Sunken Debris for blue theft decks, that gets a lot better with Proliferate. This could sneak into budget Atraxa decks, if there’s such a thing. You can get one of the foils for about a dollar, and they look great with this art.
Seafarer’s Quay is pretty specific to blue legends, few of which are known for combat, and even fewer of which are known for having legendary friends. There are several legendary Moonfolk, some Merfolk, a few Dragons, and some Sea Monsters that might have a lot of fun with this. As a weird Legends card with a tough to reprint word on it (bands!) this is probably only going to get more expensive than the $3-5 it is now.
While card draw, Scry, and other such blue effects are really powerful stapled to lands, Wizards managed to make an extra turn spell stapled to a land look really bad. I run this in my wacky counters concept, and I skipped my turn once, and took the extra turn. It didn’t feel like a major advantage, but it was actually not so bad. You can do it early, turn 2 maybe, and stash away a money turn for later. I’m not saying you should, and I don’t think there’s any good way to abuse this, but you never know. As with many others, this is just short of being an Island, so you can just throw it in a blue deck and see what happens. Non foils are about a dollar or so, and foils are closer to 5.
When you think about Tolaria and Karakas being from the same cycle, it’s kind of funny. Kind of. Tolaria got the shaft. All future Tolaria stuff (see below) did pretty well, though, and this picture makes me smile. I run Tolaria in my Noyan Dar deck, and I would love to kill someone with it, animated with 40 +1/+1 counters or so. Someday. It’s extremely unlikely that Banding will return, but if it does, Tolaria will be there to keep it in check. This can be had for under $5, as it’s pretty much nostalgic value at best. But a nice looking card is a nice looking card, and Boil ignores it. Teferi/Dominaria/beach theme decks can play this too.
At the bottom of the great blue deep, we have the banned card, Tolarian Academy. Banned is relative, but the kitchen table is no place to use this for evil, either. This card is too good. It’s banned in Commander and Legacy, and restricted in Vintage. Not a lot of other cards can say that. I tried to come up with some logic that justifies this, and I’m sunk. A mistake, pure and simple. If you are the kind of person that wants to see this in action, you can do Vintage online for a relatively reasonable cost. Otherwise, proxy a copy and try it in the kitchen. See how broken it is. You won’t be disappointed. Real copies will run $50 or more.
Here’s one more Island-not-Island for the road. A lot of these cards are pretty playable, no? Tune in tomorrow for Green, and as always, thanks for reading!