Landspells!

Hey Commander players! Hey non-Commander players! Before reading this entertaining and possibly informative post about Magic cards, please take a brief moment to think about the people who have been displaced and are suffering because of injustice, the pandemic, and extreme climate conditions like the wildfires in Western North America. If you feel like you have to stop reading this and go do something about any one of those, this post will be waiting for you when you get back. Good on you.

It can be tough to care about a card game during world upheaval, but such things bring us together, keep us occupied, help us deal with stress, and promote all sorts of useful kinds of thinking. We value sports for many of the same reasons. The media gets involved and ‘legitimizes’ games and sports and things when someone can win/earn a million dollars playing them, but Magic has and has always had a lot more to offer than just some prize-based spectacle.

So why should we care about Magic this week, in particular? You’ve probably heard. And even being under a rock is no excuse, because this week we’re going where the rocks float. Is the third time the charm for Zendikar? I’ve written about my early impressions, and how I find the plane kinda underwhelming, and on the Commander decks, which I think are fantastic. Now that the set is spoiled, I think it’s fairly bland, with too many blatant callbacks to the celebrity cards of original Zendikar, like Goblin Guide and Death’s Shadow. But in terms of mechanics and play, we have a potential gamechanger on our hands. Landspells!

I’m calling them Landspells, because they are not inherently lands (back face), and because it sounds good to say. It’s got a lot of the same syllabic appeal as Landfall, which is in the same set for easy reference. What’s not to like? Oh yeah, and these things are kind of the new standard in land utility.

But I’m not interested in talking about Standard. Those of you that want to speculate with hypergeometric calculators and such to determine the sufficient percentages to play the Landspells in 60 card constructed while riding the thin wire of tempo and utility, please do. I want to read about that. Jim Davis of Coolstuffinc has written about it, and has openly called ETBtapped lands trash. I love his work, and while when it comes to 60-card constructed I’m inclined to agree, I think exactly the opposite when it comes to Commander.

I’m not going to break down the Landspells individually. I think they are all awesome, even the derpy creature ones, with some having several significant extra degrees of awesome. All the ones with an instant-speed spell get a plus from me. The big bopper Mythics that can come into play untapped for 3 life get a plus, too. Most of the rest get a plus for situational use, and most get a plus for synergy with other stuff. A few are so good it shocks me. It’s hard to find one that I don’t plan on slotting into a manabase in the very very near future. Agadeem’s Awakening is bananas. I expect this to be a Commander Staple, and who knows, might even slot into Modern Death’s Shadow decks or something.

The way I look at these cards, and the way I encourage you to (in Commander), is as lands with upside. Forget the fact that the upside is sooooooooo goooooood. Try, anyway. I’m going to make a direct comparison to a card I play all the time, in Mortuary Mire, another of Zendikar’s finest.

I think this is a premium land in Commander. I could speak volumes about all the awesome situational stuff that you can do with Mortuary Mire, from simple recursion to blink engines, to abusing high CMC topdecks, etc., but I can also tell you that Mortuary Mire in my opening hand is usually my first play of the game. Why? Well, even in games where I drew a Sol Ring, the first turn is a bit expendable and where I play my ETBtapped lands. Bear in mind that I’m not a cEDH player or whatever, and that I think jumping out to a huge resource lead can turn a table against you and wreck your strategy as easily as anything, and I’m fundamentally playing Mortuary Mire to make mana. If all it does is that, and I sequenced in a way to minimize the downside, then mission accomplished. But we also have this major upside. ETBtapped and timing-specific downsides of a card like Mortuary Mire aren’t anything but a tiny speedbump in the early going for what becomes an amazing topdeck or utility piece in the lategame.

While we can’t quite interact with Landspells in the same way (though we can do fun blinky things with the permanent ones) I’m going to be playing them like I do Mortuary Mire: as an ETBtapped land with major strategic upside, emphasis on playing it as a land. I can’t imagine building a mono-coloured deck without considering the entire scope of them, just the same as I consider all of the many utility lands, unless that deck really, really cares about basics. I play plenty of creaturelands, cycle lands, ETBFX lands, Legendary lands, and all sorts of others. It’s not just opportunity cost, as lands are hard to interact with, even to the point of being poor form when you destroy them.

Multi-coloured decks will have to be a little more choosy, but I still find myself building 2 colour decks with a half dozen utility lands in each colour or so. Plus some colourless ones. My mana bases tend to run 36-37 lands, with about 8-10 rocks/ramp. There’s lots of room for fixing, basics to grab with ramp, and utility. It becomes more of a stretch when I add more colours, and really depends heavily on how much I’m leaning on grabbing basics. Even in these bases, I expect some Landspells to find a home based on how synergistic or flat-out powerful some of their effects are.

There are other elements of untapped strategy to look into here. The fact that these cards are spell side up while anywhere but in play is a really interesting feature, giving them a lot of interaction potential. Recurring them from the graveyard opens up some interesting ideas, as does anything to do with blinking Glasspool Mimic.

I love the idea of Moonmist turning Blackbloom Rogue into Blackbloom Bog, and as more of these Landspells get printed, that could be a whole thing.

I think I’m just scratching the surface here. We could go on deep dives about things like storm count, cards that care about non-lands in graveyard, hand or library, cards that reveal creatures from the top of your library then put them into play, specific tutors that become ramp spells, weird blink shenanigans, and all sorts of things. I could break down each Landspell for strategy, and all the dozens of decks they’d each fit, but I think we’re all going to be doing that, because these cards are simply too good not to try out from the get go.

I recommend Commander players get a copy of as many of these cards as they can. You might want to think multiple copies of a few, though you can have a single copy on hand and a placeholder card for each deck. You can even find a (starving) artist friend and commision some placeholder art, and rock some unique bling.

Like the ‘helper cards,’ the Landspells are a blank canvas on which to paint your strategic vision. I expect them to be a bright, appealing option on the pallette going forward. Thanks for reading! Glad you did! Make sure you be kind and help others, and if you can, get on MaRo’s case about biodegradable MtG packaging. I noticed the new Commander decks seem to be all cardboard packaging instead of a plastic blister bubble. That’s a good start. Your life matters! Black Lives Matter!

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