How many lands do you think you have played in your time as a Magic player?
Hundreds? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands?
It's hard to keep count.
Now let me ask you a different question: how many times has playing the wrong land cost you the game?
Probably a lot fewer . . . but I bet you remember some of those ones. The times you were one mana off from doing what you need to do to win the game or were a colored source short from playing your creature on curve. The ones that you just can't shake.
When you've been playing Magic for a while, putting down lands becomes an automatic action. It's a hallmark of the main phase: untap, upkeep, draw, and slide a land onto the battlefield.
And yet, it's very important it doesn't become a knee-jerk action.
Turning those automatic moves into ones you are actively maximizing and being careful about can make a big difference. You should be trying to use your lands—the precious real estate offerings of Magic—as optimally as possible.
Let's take a look at that today!
Maximize Your Mana
When asking yourself which land you should play, the question to begin with is, "How can I maximize my mana for future turns without giving up what I will need this turn?"
In a world of enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands and lands with unusual abilities, this is crucial. And while it's not the only question to ask, it does often point you in the right direction.
For example, let's say your opening choices of what to play is between these two cards:
Assuming you have no turn-one play, you should absolutely put down the Boneyard. You aren't using the Island this turn, and you don't want to slow your mana down by a turn for no reason. (Aside from a potential bluff, which is extremely unlikely to be worthwhile.)
That is a very simple example, but a good way to illustrate the core of what's going on here.
Now let's look at something slightly more complex. Imagine you're playing a black-red-green deck in Modern. You have no turn-one plays. Here are the lands in your hand:
What land should you play first?
Take a moment and think on it.
Well, that Blood Crypt is going to enter tapped or cost you 2 life at some point—and to avoid the 2 points of loss, let's get rid of that now. All the other lands can enter untapped next turn with a lower cost.
The second land I play is a bit dependent, but if I don't have a turn-two play and want to be able to get a specific colored tapped dual land, I'll fetch with the Wooded Foothills. In any other case, I'll play the Copperline Gorge.
Why the Gorge next? Because if I draw another "fast land" like it, I want to be able to play it untapped before I leave the three-land window.
There's a surprising amount to think about when playing lands to maximize future turn's mana—and that's even before you start throwing cards you need to cast into the fray!
And speaking of that . . .
Here's a classic situation you'll run into time and time again.
It's a dilemma: do you play the one-drop on the first turn, hoping to either find an untapped source next turn and being content to wait and play your creature on turn three if not, or play the tapped land first and miss your one-drop?
Well, like many answers, it depends.
How strong is your one-drop? For example, if your one-drop here was Dread Wanderer, I'd basically always go ahead and play it. They're both 2-power creatures. If you curve out next turn that's awesome, and if you don't, you still have a 2-power creature on the board and attacking.
Similarly, how strong is your two-drop? If you have a really strong turn-two play, then you want to guarantee it hits.
How many lands are you playing? If you're land-heavy, then maybe you feel more likely to hit a land next turn.
How does the math work out? If both of your one- and two-drops are 1 power and they're probably both just poking through for the first couple turns, then getting your one-drop out first is going to generate the better damage output.
In this case, I would play the tapped land. But depending on the situation, you will want to take different actions—and it's important those are conscious choices instead of making an automatic accident.
Should you play your Swamp or your Plains first?
You definitely don't want to play your Plains and then draw your BB casting cost card, and vice versa. Being cognizant of which colors you need early on is important for making your first few plays.
Whenever I draft or build a deck, I always try and note—then be aware of—my mana requirements. It helps throughout the game, from when you're playing early lands all the way to if an opponent forces you to discard cards.
This can also extend to making sure you have enough mana for activated abilities as well. If your deck has a card like Crypt Ripper, you'll want to favor putting down Swamps when you have the option, for example.
There are some exceptions to these concepts, of course. Sometimes there are other factors pressing in on what's right in a vacuum.
A big one is concealing information. If your opponent doesn't know you are playing blue-red control, maybe you lead with Mountains to make them likely to think you're an aggressive red deck.
Maybe your lands have special abilities worth saving. For example, holding Wasteland in your hand can be great to try to wait for them to play a nonbasic land. Fetch lands can be right to hold onto or wait on because of Brainstorm.
In Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation, it can often be correct to not play your cycling land out right away if your hand has several lands, even though they enter tapped, because you may want to cycle them a few turns down the road.
And then, of course, there are your opponent's cards that impact you. If your opponent's deck has Blood Moon, you may want to fetch out basic lands firsts to avoid having all your carefully played lands become Mountains!
It's important to think about it from all directions.
Lands look so innocuous—but they really are the crucial building blocks of our game! You wouldn't be able to cast spells without them, and timing them carefully can be key to victory.
And hopefully now, you are better armed to do just that.
Have any questions or additional thoughts at all? I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to send me a tweet, ask me a question on Tumblr, or send me an email (in English, please) at BeyondBasicsMagic@Gmail.com. It's always a delight to hear from readers!
I'll be back next week with more Beyond the Basics. Talk with you again then!