Hitting for the Cycle

Posted in Card Preview on May 29, 2019

By Brian Braun-Duin

Lands are the most essential card type in Magic. They are the backbone of nearly every deck. We notice when we miss our land drops, when we hit too many, or when we draw the wrong lands. We run math equations to tell us how many lands to play or what ratios will work best to enable our various cards. We describe how decks will function based on whether "the mana supports it." We come up with cheeky rules of thumb like "Take whatever the best deck is and then add a land to it" to describe our deck-building processes.

Lands are also the most underrated card type in Magic. Our decks wouldn't function without them, but in many games of Magic, they are merely an ignored conduit that enables us to play the real cards we care about: the spells, creatures, enchantments, and so on that we built our decks around.

Of course, that isn't always true. Some lands are build-around cards, too. Lands like Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple were the cornerstone pieces of the dominant Eldrazi deck, and Dark Depths has terrorized many a battlefield because of its fast and deadly combos with Thespian Stage and Vampire Hexmage.

Even now, decks like Amulet Titan or Titan Shift strategies function entirely because of powerful lands, like Tolaria West and the bounce lands in the case of Amulet Titan, or Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle in the case of Titan Shift. Let's not even talk about decks like fan-favorite Tronald McDonald, known colloquially as Tron, which uses Urza's Tower, Urza's Power Plant, and Urza's Mine to power out cards like Karn Liberated to dispense endless fun credits for the entire family to spend. I'd like to spend mine on a Damping Sphere, please.

Lands, as it turns out, also tend to be the most exclusive card type. The best lands are the best for a very important reason, and thus, it's difficult to break into a format like Modern as a land. Most new land cycles aren't good enough to make it over the tried-and-true formula of pairing fetch lands and shock lands.

I guess that means it's a good thing that these aren't new lands I'm about to show you. Today, I am excited to reveal a cycle of lands. They aren't new, but they are new to Modern.

Secluded SteppeLonely SandbarBarren Moor

Forgotten CaveTranquil Thicket

I heard you like lands and cycling, so I gave you a land cycle of cycle lands so you can cycle your lands while you land your cycles.

Are these lands good enough to impact Modern in the years to come? Let's check the names. Forgotten Cave . . . eh, you know what, never mind, maybe that's not a good method. Forget I said anything.

At the very least, these lands look great. Noah Bradley, the artist, started with Lonely Sandbar and Forgotten Cave, and he accomplished something almost never done before. He made the red land the best looking one out of a cycle. I'm suitably impressed. It's okay to disagree with me here, just know that you're wrong about this entirely subjective, opinion-based thing and I'm clearly right.

Now, where were we? Ah, yeah, that's right. In all seriousness, I think the answer is yes. These lands are good enough for Modern. And we have to look no further than the Legacy format and the interaction of these lands with a little card called Life from the Loam. The appropriately named lands strategies in Legacy makes use of Tranquil "click it or" Thicket, Barren "less is" Moor, and friends to supplement their strategy in combination with Life from the Loam. Have you ever tried to Surgical Extraction a Life from the Loam and have your opponent cycle a Tranquil Thicket in response to dredging it into their hand and out of their graveyard? I have. And it doesn't feel good.

Turns out, Life from the Loam is not only legal in Modern, it's also the engine to one of the most powerful decks in the format: Dredge. If these cycle lands are good enough to pair with Life from the Loam in Legacy, I'd wager they're probably good enough to do it in Modern too.

Alexandre Habert's Dredge

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The Dredge deck functions by replacing its draw steps by dredging cards via the dredge mechanic, like Stinkweed Imp or the aforementioned Life from the Loam. Each dredge dumps creatures like Bloodghast, Narcomoeba, and Prized Amalgam into the graveyard to later return to play, as well as hitting cards like Creeping Chill that drain your opponent's life total or Conflagrate that can be flashed back for huge chunks of damage.

Dredge is a consistent and powerful deck, and the core to the strategy is being able to dredge multiple cards in a turn, typically using Faithless Looting or Cathartic Reunion, in order to churn through huge chunks of the deck. Life from the Loam is an incredibly important card to the deck. It's truly the engine that keeps the deck chugging along in the middle of the game. It finds lands to bring Bloodghast—and by extension, Prized Amalgam—back to play, and it fuels up hand sizes to power out massive game-winning Conflagrates.

Life from the Loam just got a big upgrade. Life from the Loam did everything else for the deck, and now it also gets to draw extra cards in a turn too, exactly what Dredge is looking for. The way this works is that you can dredge Life from the Loam, cast the Loam to get back a cycle land, like Forgotten Cave, and two other lands. Then you can cycle the Forgotten Cave to get an extra dredge out of the turn. With enough mana, you can loop the process of dredging Life from the Loam, casting it to get back a cycle land, and then cycling to dredge back the Life from the Loam for as many times as you have access to three mana.

Dredge wants to cast Life from the Loam every turn, but it also wants to get more oomph by dredging bigger hits like Stinkweed Imp and going deeper into the deck. With cycle lands in the mix, now it gets to do both. That's scary. And powerful. It's scary powerful.

I would be surprised if we didn't see one or two copies of these cycle lands become a staple part of the deck's mana base. Most likely, it would be Forgotten Cave, as the deck is base red. It's a little added consistency and power to already one of the most consistent and powerful decks in the format. Can I get a yee and a haw?

Who knows, the presence of lands like these might even help spring up other Life from the Loam–based strategies that are less interested in Prized Amalgams and more interested in generating lots of value from the interaction between cycle lands and Life from the Loam. Cards like Molten Vortex and Seismic Assault are interested in an excess number of lands, and creatures like Countryside Crusher get excited to see lands hitting the graveyard.

What about decks that don't play Life from the Loam? I could definitely see grindy monocolor strategies like the mono-white Soul Sisters or mono-black 8-Rack decks be interested in Secluded Steppe or Barren Moor for consistency's sake. Perhaps mono-blue As Foretold strategies might even want Lonely Sandbar for the same reason, although it's a tough sell when they already play Tolaria West. These lands can help reduce flood and the drawback of a land that produces one color only and comes into play tapped is significantly reduced in a monocolor strategy.

This cycle of cyclers isn't the kinds of lands that you'll just put into any deck. They come into play tapped and only produce one color of mana, which is a significant drawback for most decks in Modern that are mostly going to want to just play their lands and curve out properly. There exist superior options in most normal, fair decks, including the Amonkhet cycle of cycling dual lands, which do a better job of color-fixing.

These lands don't fit into most normal decks, but then again, Modern isn't the format for the normal. Modern is the format for doing weird things . . . cool things . . . things that aren't possible or viable in other formats. Modern is a brewer's paradise. Outside of Life from the Loam, I don't know where these lands might fit in, but I'm excited to see how you all figure it out along the way.

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