Nailing the Landings

Posted in Command Tower on October 8, 2015

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Lands are arguably the most important part of any deck. You need to cast the right spells at the right times, but it's impossible without putting the right lands into play first.

Kodama's Reach | Art by Heather Hudson

In the lead-up to looking at Battle for Zendikar, we talked about some of our favorite lands in Commander. However, there were far more responses than there was room to share at the time. With Land Week officially here, it's a good chance to share more options and reiterate just how powerful the newest lands we received are.

Impressive Mana Flexibility

Take a land like Tundra. It's powerful. What makes it powerful is straightforward: It's two lands packed into one, and it enters the battlefield untapped, ready to use. Its descendant Hallowed Fountain helps define the mana of formats like Modern, taken down a step in power by giving you a choice to pay 2 life if you want it to enter untapped. In Commander, where we start with 40 life but aim to cast bigger, splashier spells, paying 2 life is either paltry or unnecessary.

Hallowed Fountain is often just as good as the originator for our 100-card decks.

Battle for Zendikar added another descendant to the mix: Prairie Stream. At a glance, it seems obviously weaker than either of its predecessors, since it's impossible (without some very specific card gymnastics) to put it into play untapped on the first two turns of the game. But that's the beauty of the new cycle in Commander: Early on, you play it tapped just like Hallowed Fountain, but late in the game it's indistinguishable from playing a Tundra instead.

Prairie Stream is often better than Hallowed Fountain for our 100-card decks.

The catch at any point in the game, of course, is playing basic lands first. This is where some of you may disagree with me: Some players do not use enough basic lands in their Commander decks. There are hundreds of lands available to use in Commander, and nearly every set seems to increase that number. Utility lands, spell lands, dual lands, tri-lands, and numerous other groups of nonbasic lands make it possible to put nothing but these into decks.

I believe that's a mistake.

Even ignoring cards like Ruination that can prey upon decks that eschew basics altogether, the downside of ignoring basic lands means that more often than not your lands enter the battlefield tapped or only provide colorless mana. Basic lands are far easier to find with effects and painless to put onto the battlefield. Prairie Stream isn't meant to replace something like Hallowed Fountain, but in a deck that respects the consistency and convenience of basic lands, it performs as well as their shared Tundra forerunner.

Basic lands are a pillar, not an afterthought, in my Commander decks. Prairie Stream is just one of the five new ways that approach is the better deal moving forward.

Training with the Team

All of this talk about basic lands is important. When we hit on lands a month ago, it was all about the utility and potential of everything other than basics. While the counterpoint above won't convince everyone, there is one fact about basic lands that is undeniable: They're an unbeatable way to add style and flavor to your deck, as Christopher did with his Riku of Two Reflections:

My favorite lands to use in Commander are definitely basic lands. There are a variety of different cycles of lands that I use to fix my mana depending on the needs of the deck. But every deck gets basic lands and those ones are my favorites. I especially love going through all of the available lands and choosing ones with art that I feel conveys or represents the feel of the deck. Like for my Riku of Two Reflections deck I chose the M14 Island #236, Mountain #243, and Forest #248, each done by Jonas De Ro. Each of the basic lands in this deck are these three. I love the look of these lands. They feel like they'd be powerful sources of mana and they're bright and flashy which is perfect because that's how I like to play the deck.


Christopher's Riku of Two Reflections

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Riku of Two Reflections

Building Commander decks that reflect you feels natural. Having 100 cards to work with means every card can count towards the final expression you want to share with friends. Christopher isn't alone in using a specific basic land to best capture the feeling of a deck.

My choice of lands: the basic lands from Urza's Saga that were given the premium foil treatment through the then-new Arena League. The combination of older Magic's look with the shiny gleam of premium foils captures how I feel about Magic: Nostalgia matters for me.

That isn't all the functionality of basic lands, though. When I said they're easier to find with effects, I meant it. The Commander Lounge sent in a set of favorite lands that I have a healthy appreciation for as well:

I am absolutely in love with the Panorama cycle. Not only is it a budget fetch land, but it is an aggressive land too. What I mean is early game you can use your extra mana to fetch the basic that's missing or later when your land drop doesn't really matter it can just tap right away for a colorless. It can filter through your lands early and it can tap right away if you need that colorless mana.

These lands are great for aggro/midrange and just any multicolored decks in general. When I first build a new Commander these are the first lands I put in. My Xenagos, God of Fights deck still uses them because I want to keep the deck semi-budget, check it out.

—The Commander Lounge

The Commander Lounge's Xenagos, God of Fights

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Xenagos, God of Revels
Planeswalker (2)
1 Domri Rade 1 Garruk Wildspeaker
Enchantement (2)
1 Greater Good 1 Warstorm Surge
99 Cartes

The return of fetch lands in Khans of Tarkir was a moment of excitement for everyone. But along the way, we've received tons of quiet lands that perform a similar function or even better than the fetch land for the average deck.

In decks running three or five colors, something like Jund Panorama is invaluable for a deck that's playing plenty of basic lands. In two-color decks, a Panorama can get to a third or fourth source of one color in a pinch or just curve our mana on out when we're set. Myriad Landscape, from last year's run of Commander decks featuring planeswalkers as commanders, is powerful in any deck with one or two colors as well.

What these lands have in common is a demand for basic lands. That's the last point I'll make about basic lands, at least for this week.

A Perfect Score

Lands, regardless whether you focus on or avoid basic ones, make up one of the most important parts of every deck. Oddly enough, they're also colorless, which just so happens to be an important theme of Battle for Zendikar.

How was that for a totally natural transition?

Lands get a lot of attention as colorless cards, but it's artifacts and Eldrazi that get remembered for lacking color. This week's question is all about the splashy side of colorlessness: What is the most exciting way you've played with colorless cards?

  • Feedback via email in English.
  • 300-word limit to share the card(s) and decklist.
  • Sample decklist (does not count against word limit).
  • Decklists should be formatted with one card per line with just a leading number, such as "3 Mountain"—just a space (no "x" or "-") between the number and the card name, without subtotals by card type. (Submissions that don't follow this rule will be ignored.)
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column).

Did you make a sweet blue and red Commander deck built around artifacts? Have you tried your hand at a Commander deck to feed the ceaseless hunger of Ulamog? Did Karn, Silver Golem grip you with potential and send you spiraling through the artifacts of Magic's history?

Whatever your story with colorless creations for Commander, I'd like to know about it. Join us next week when we unlock a few achievements. See you then!

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