I've been waiting for Lands Week for a long time. I'm a lands junkie. I run a lot of nonbasic lands in my decks. If I can get away with replacing a basic land with a nonbasic land, I usually do it. I regularly replace an Island with one of my copies of Tolaria. That's right, banding. It is a poor move to run a nonbasic land where a basic would be better, but that's just the way I like it. The thing people don't understand about taking banding from your opponent . . .
We interrupt your regular article to provide this public service announcement offering advice about lands.
Almost every set that comes out has lands that can give you at least two colors of mana. You want to get at least a playset of each of them. These lands are not exciting. These lands don't provide win conditions. They aren't creatures that make everyone's shoulders slump when they hit the table. They are better. These lands let you do everything else. Dual lands help your deck run two or more colors more efficiently. Dual lands let you run Archangel of Tithes and Avaricious Dragon in the same deck, and cast them both on curve.
I can't stress it enough: Get them.
We return you to your regularly scheduled article, already in progress.
. . . those four cards create an amazing banding combo and Tolaria is the lynchpin!
For Lands Week, I want to give you my list of top ten lands. These aren't dual lands. Duals are very important (that really can't be understated), but these lands are on the list for the extra something they offer. Most of them tap for mana, but they also offer an ability that is game-changing. Before I start going through each card, it pays to remember that these are lands we are talking about. Most players have no way to deal with your lands, while others might have a single card that destroys a single land. Lands stay on the battlefield more than any other permanent. They are innocuous. Many players aren't even aware of the lands that their opponents have and what those lands can do. If you think these lands aren't impressive, remember that these lands will likely be on the battlefield for a long time, and may end up surprising less aware opponents.
10. Shivan Gorge
A quick look and you'll likely question why this made the list at all. Doing 1 damage to each opponent seems like nothing. The key to Shivan Gorge is to remember that it is a land. This card is going to keep doing the damage again and again. No one is going to waste their limited land destruction on a card that is only doing 1 damage, so this card will just keep pecking away
This card should make the list just for the art. Peter Mohrbacher gave us a beautiful piece.
Admittedly, four mana to get the effect isn't cheap. You also need to remember with all lands that require the card to tap, you are actually paying five mana, since the mana Gavony Township could have provided is gone. Also, the land taps for generic mana. Since the deck will be running at least two colors, lands that produce colorless mana can be a liability.
In spite of the limitations, this card is still impressive. It can completely mess up combat math for any opponent thinking of coming your way. It enables so many abilities that require your creatures to have +1/+1 counters. Consider what a powerhouse this is in decks that produce a lot of token creatures! Gavony Township also works as a mana sink. If you have the mana available before the start of your turn, use it, even if it only makes one creature bigger. Consider my deck from last week:
I altered the lands of the deck, upping the Gavony Township number to three. The deck produces enough token creatures that adding a +1/+1 counter to all my creatures should be a significant increase. It should also look pretty comical piling tokens on toys (thanks to Mishra's Toy Workshop)! With more lands that don't produce colorless mana, I also upped the dual lands, adding two Wooded Bastions to the list. I removed a Temple Garden to add another Temple of Plenty. Temple Garden is a great dual land, because it can be found by any card that searches for Plains or Forests. This deck doesn't feature land searching though, and the Temple Garden either enters the battlefield tapped or costs me 2 life. In multiplayer games, I generally don't mind my lands starting out tapped. With that limitation no longer a consideration, Temple of Plenty and its ability to scry just made more sense.
I have always been a fan of Howling Mine/Temple Bell, and Mikokoro follows that trend. Mikokoro lets you decide when the card draw happens. This is another card that offers what initially appears to be a small return, which discourages others from destroying the land. The incremental gains accumulate over the course of a game, putting Mikokoro into the top ten.
I like to start with the limitations on a card, but they are pretty minimal here. Again we see a card that taps for only colorless mana, but considering that it could be in a deck with just black, that may not matter. The card is also legendary, so running four of them will likely lead you to times when you are holding a dead copy in your hand. The card also does very little in the early game, when you have no cards in your graveyard.
The Stronghold is a recursive nightmare for your opponents. This is not the card you are looking for when you get an early Grave Titan, since you are going to have to cast it from your hand. The Stronghold is amazing for cheaper creatures with enters-the-battlefield abilities that you want to use again and again.
Academy Ruins is Volrath's Stronghold for artifacts. These two are basically tied in the rankings. I run Academy Ruins more frequently than Volrath's Stronghold, because I often use it as a way to make a particular artifact more resilient to removal. Discuss amongst yourselves which is better.
The ability to exile an attacking creature until the end of the turn is wonderful, since it discourages attacks. Many decks are set up to allow one creature to attack while the others defend. Mystifying Maze means those players aren't attacking you. In multiplayer games, the best strategy against a player with Mystifying Maze is for each opponent to send one creature against the Maze player. The player has to choose which creature to stop, leaving him or her open to the other attacks. What actually happens tends to involve no one attack the Maze player, since everyone wants their attack to count. It is this result that makes the Maze so powerful. It wards off more attacks than many other cards, often just sitting there and never getting tapped!
The problems with Mystifying Maze are the activation cost and the exiling. To be effective, you need to have four mana at the ready, along with an untapped Mystifying Maze, at all times. This can completely neuter your own board development. When you think of the number of creatures that show up in your games with enters-the-battlefield triggers, this can be a difficult decision for you to make.
I included Mystifying Maze over Kor Haven just because of the drawbacks. There will be times when you'll be working with an opponent to get the enters-the-battlefield trigger for one of their creatures. It won't happen often, but often enough to make Mystifying Maze unique.
4. Maze of Ith
Maze of Ith is Mystifying Maze without the drawbacks. You don't need to hold back four mana, and the creature just untaps and stops attacking. Sure, it doesn't tap for mana, so when you include it in the deck, don't count it as a land when you are figuring out how many lands you need to consistently get Dragonlord Silumgar into the game.
The Maze has been stopping damage for a long time, and continues to show up in casual decks for good reason.
Vesuva means you have another copy of Maze of Ith or Gavony Township, or whatever dual land you need to cast the cards in your hand. Vesuva can be your fifth copy of Cloudpost, dramatically improving your ramp. Vesuva can target any land in play, so even your opponent's lands are options. The flexibility this land offers is delightful. I find that I often copy an opponent's Strip Mine or Wasteland. Players tend to be reluctant to use up a Strip Mine when they know you'll simply return the favor. Losing two lands that can tap for mana is generally not something anyone wants, so the player with the Strip Mine picks someone else's land for destruction.
The only limit on the flexibility of Vesuva is that you have to pick a land in play, and Vesuva can be nothing but that land. If something better comes along, you end up kicking yourself the whole time.
This is where Thespian's Stage come in. Although you have to pay two mana to make the Stage into another land, you can change it on a whim! Have a bunch of creatures? Boom! You now have two Gavony Townships! Are you having to deal with two attacking creatures each round? The Stage can copy your Maze of Ith and you are good to go! You can eliminate your opponent's plan to draw you out of the game by copying their Reliquary Tower, giving you all the options your deck has!
The Stage's limitation is the tap requirement. You can make it into a copy of a card, but it will be tapped, so it does involve some setup to make the switch as painless as possible. This can be tricky when copying lands to get extra mana, but you can make it work.
This land has so much going for it. With X in the activation cost, you can use it earlier or later in the game, taking advantage of however much mana you have available. It is constantly there, so combat damage becomes impossible for your opponents whenever you attack or block. My personal favorite part? It says "target creature," not "target creature you control." You can use it on an opponent's combat step. It can kill a creature you wanted dead, or pile on the damage on an opponent, and you didn't even have to tap a single creature to make it happen. You can just give creatures trample for red and green mana.
Part of the reason it sits in the number-one spot lies with the threat it offers. Most attacks you make, your opponent is left to wonder how to block or whether they should bother at all. If they assume each attacking creature could suddenly be huge, they often choose not to block at all. You can simply choose not to use the mana there, but on furthering your board position. It is a serious threat that absolutely must be dealt with.
A top ten list for lands does something of a disservice to lands. There are so many great lands that are so diverse, it is difficult to compare them all. I hope I opened your mind to the possibilities lands bring, beyond simply tapping for mana.