"People are going to start respecting Lands."

Posted in GRAND PRIX CHARLOTTE 2015 on June 13, 2015

By Corbin Hosler

Since its inception, Modern has been a format defined by many things. The "Turn 4" rule (no deck should consistently win before Turn 4). The "Liliana test" (Can your deck beat a third-turn Liliana of the Veil?) Tarmogoyf.

In the background, just out of mind, has always been what is truly the backbone of Modern: the many unique lands floating around (and not just Oboro, Palace in the Clouds). The lands a given deck plays may say more about it than the threats those lands eventually cast.

These days, those lands are more than just a necessary component of a good Modern deck: they're often the focus. And players can no longer ignore them.

"In my opinion, it's a lot about lands," said 13th-ranked player Brad Nelson. "People are going to start respecting lands this weekend, and the decks based around lands."

The list of lands that have come to define Modern heading into Grand Prix Charlotte is long and storied.

The Urzatron lands (Urza's Mine, Power Plant and Tower) are the most notorious of the bunch, combining to cast huge threats like Wurmcoil Engine or Karn Liberated as early as the third turn. The potent trio has been a mainstay ever since the creation of Modern, following in the tradition of big-mana lands like Cloudpost to get ahead on mana and race far ahead of the opponent. Ali Aintrazi demonstrated the power of the strategy last weekend, taking down the StarCityGames.com Invitational title in Columbus with the deck.

Urza's lands aren't alone. Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle is one of the format's premier win conditions when coupled with Scapeshift or Primeval Titan. Mutavault finds a home in Merfolk or Faerie decks, turning into the appropriate creature to finish off weakened opponents. Gavony Township has long been one of the primary paths to victory for green decks. Cavern of Souls provides the tribals deck a way to dodge counterspells. Even Raging Ravine and Celestial Colonnade are often key finishers in their respective decks.

It's not just the flashy lands that have a presence in Modern. A second-turn Simic Growth Chamber — typically a land relegated to Modern Masters 2015 draft — is an instant tell that its pilot is navigating one of Modern's trickiest-but-most-explosive decks: the much-feared Amulet Bloom.

Second only to Tron decks in its focus on lands, the deck aims to use Summer Bloom, Azusa, Lost but Seeking and Primeval Titan to put lands into play — hopefully untapped thanks to Amulet of Vigor — to quickly bury the opponent in mana. Even Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion and Slayers' Stronghold play key roles in the deck's most blazing-fast openings.

Combating the lands

The presence of high-impact lands in Modern isn't new, but their role at the very top of the metagame is. The runner-up to Aintrazi's Tron deck in Columbus last weekend? Amulet Bloom.

Which does a lot to explain why so many players are more focused on lands now than ever before, and why Nelson and renowned-deck building mastermind Gerry Thompson described this weekend as the Grand Prix of caring about lands. And it's why more and more land destruction is finding its way into the format.

"We're talking about adding more Ghost Quarter to our decks, and we have Fulminator Mage main deck and Blood Moon in the sideboard," said Nelson, who worked with Thompson to tweak the Jund deck for the expected lands-centric metagame. "Those cards alone won't beat the land decks, but if you can back them up with some hand disruption or aggression, that's how you're going to attack those decks."

Blood Moon has been Modern's go-to answer for troublesome lands, but more cards are appearing to interact with the opponent's mana base. Spreading Seas has long been a pillar of Merfolk decks for their Islandwalking synergy, but it's also finding its way into the main deck of many of the blue-red combo decks this weekend. Ghost Quarter and Tectonic Edge are increasing in number, and some players are taking the next step and switching to decks that avoid interacting with the opponent's lands entirely.

"There's going to be a decent amount of blue-red [combo] decks because they do well against those decks," Thompson said. "I don't think there's going to be a huge shift, but there are going to be more people playing Tron and Amulet and you're going to see people audible into something like Grixis or Twin to try and beat those decks."

One thing is certain: Modern is a format full of diverse answers, and those will be out in force this weekend. Will the big-mana decks fight through the hate, or will something else rise up to take the trophy this weekend? We'll find out soon.

Gerry Thompson – Jund

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