How to play Magic: The Gathering Part 12: Lands

Lands play an important role in Magic: The Gathering as they are the main source mana and if you can’t produce mana, you can’t cast spells to play the game; therefore, having an optimized mana base is essential for a deck, especially in competitive Magic. Some lands are more sought after than others which can make for expensive mana bases in certain formats. In this post I will touch on the types of lands currently available and why they are good or bad. I will not be going to go over basic lands or dual lands that serve no other purpose than as a mana source that enters play tapped with no benefit or downside at all. As every set has the potential for new land cycles, this list may become outdated eventually.

Overall, there are two types of lands: fast lands, and slow lands (also known as tap lands); the only difference is that fast lands enter the battlefield untapped and can produce mana or have their utility abilities activated immediately (not including enter-the-battlefield triggers), while slow lands come into play tapped and cannot produce mana or activate their utility abilities immediately.

Let’s start with fetch lands. These cards get their nickname from their ability that allows you to sacrifice it and then search your library for another land card. There is also a sub-type of fetch land called slow fetch. The most common one is Evolving Wilds, but it also includes the Panorama lands from Alara and other lands throughout Magic’s history. These cards are called slow fetch because the land that they “fetch” enters the battlefield tapped. Typically these can only grab a basic land whereas a true fetch land can grab any land that shares the appropriate basic type. These fetch lands see play in Modern, Legacy, and Vintage because they allow the fetched card to still be used on the turn it is played. Not only does this allow for mana fixing, it also allows you to run fewer mana sources in your deck which can be pulled out when you need them leaving you with more spells in your library as the game goes on. There is a point in a game where you don’t want to draw lands anymore because it could be the difference between a win or a loss. These are also some of the most expensive lands out there which serves as a huge barrier to entry for the formats they are legal in.

The next land type is shock lands. These are dual lands, meaning that they can tap for one of two colors. Primarily featured in Ravnica blocks, these also see heavy play in nearly every format where they are legal. These are unique from nearly all other dual lands because they have two of the basic types which enables them to be grabbed with the fetch lands. The only other lands like this are the original dual lands which are on the reserved list and will not be covered in this post and the bi-cycle lands which I will get to later. The second reason why they are so popular is because of their ability to enter the battlefield untapped at the cost of 2 life, this is also where they get the nickname shock lands. Shock is a 1 mana red spell that deals 2 damage to any target. Sometimes it is more beneficial to play them tapped, but if you need mana, untapped can also be beneficial.

Next are the check lands. These can produce either one or two types of mana and they can enter the battlefield untapped if you meet the right condition. These conditions vary from cycle to cycle and include needing to control a certain land type, control a certain number of lands, or reveal a type of land from your hand. Some of these lands, such as Woodland Cemetery and others in that cycle, combine very well with the shock lands.

Next come the bounce lands. These are much slower than other lands because they have the additional cost of returning a land to your hand, also known as “bouncing,” and they come in tapped. These are mostly for causal play and they are often seen in commander as they are now included in supplemental products rather than standard sets anymore. While these can set you back on mana, they can tap for two different colors of mana on your next turn.

Pro Tip: Tap the land that you wish to “bounce” so you still add its mana to your mana pool. Even better, wait until the end of your second main phase to play one of these.

Pain lands are dual lands that can tap for colored mana at the cost of 1 life. If you don’t want to pay the 1 life, they can tap for a colorless mana. These can be useful in the early game, but after a while they become more detrimental than helpful as you don’t want to pay life every time you need a specific color of mana. These see a little bit of competitive play because they enter untapped, which is always a plus when evaluating lands. They have also been around since the early days of the game.

Scry lands are dual lands introduced in the Theros block. These have an enter the battlefield trigger that allows you to scry 1, meaning you can look at the top card of your library and either leave it there or put it on the bottom. These can be useful for fixing the top of your library to ensure that what you draw has a possibility of being helpful. They are particularly good to play on turn 1 after having to take a mulligan. The only down side is that they come in tapped.

Possibly the most common and nearly useless (from a competitive standpoint) of all of the dual lands are the gain lands. The gain lands earned their nickname from their enter the battlefield trigger of gaining 1 life when they come into play. Unless your deck has some kind of payoff for gaining life like Ajani’s Pridemate, these do hardly anything. They are always printed at the common rarity so you can use them in pauper decks or budget alternatives. They are also acceptable in commander since it’s a singleton format and the more dual lands the better, depending on how many colors your commander is.

Guildgates are common dual lands originally printed in the Return to Ravnica block and there is one for each of the 10 guilds. They enter tapped and can produce either of the guild’s colors of mana. The only other difference between these and other dual lands is that they have the gate sub-type. This is slightly relevant because of the card Maze’s End from Dragon’s Maze which is an automatic win condition by controlling 10 gates with different names, essentially one of each guild’s gate, and there was a gates deck in standard with the 3rd Ravnica block that was surprisingly viable for competitive play during that standard format because there were cards that interacted with the gate sub-type.

Filter lands are some of the more interesting ones that have been printed. These come in untapped and can immediately tap for a colorless mana. There are different cycles of these lands and the best ones are from the Lorwyn block. This cycle allows you to spend one of two colors to generate two mana of one color or one of each color that you could have spent. i.e. spending a red or a green mana to generate either 2 red, 1 red and 1 green, or 2 green. When you consider that in order to activate this ability you need to pay 1 mana, presumably from another land, and then tap this land to generate 2 mana, you might as well just run something else because its still just 2 mana that you got from tapping 2 lands. So all these really do is fix your mana. Pretty good in limited, but not so much in constructed. The other cycles come from the earlier days of Magic’s history and have a much higher cost to filter for certain colors. A ratio of 1 mana for 1 of another color is usually acceptable,  but 2 mana for a single mana of a certain color is too steep to be effective which is why these cards don’t see any play.

The hideaway lands get their name from the hideaway mechanic. Hideaway lets you look at the top four cards of your library and exile one face down. Then once a certain condition,  detailed on that land, has been met, you can cast that spell without paying for it. That may sound good, but the conditions for these are not always that easy to reach. They come in tapped and can only produce one color of mana. They mostly see play in casual while the better ones, like Mosswort Bridge, see some play in commander.

Moving on to the vivid lands, these cards all have the word ‘vivid’ in their name. They come in tapped and with two charge counters on them. They can produce their corresponding color or you can remove a charge counter and add one mana of any color. That does seem okay in the early game as it can help with mana fixing, but in competitive formats you don’t want lands that have to come in tapped. These are similar to filter lands, but they don’t require a generic mana to add another color of mana. Limited was about the only place where these were good. Nowadays their playability is limited to commander and casual.

Storage lands. There are several cycles of storage lands and none of them are viable in any format, casual or competitive. They work by putting storage counters on them, then you can remove the storage counters and add that much mana to your mana pool. The downside was that you either had to pay mana to add a counter, tap the land to add a counter, or leave it tapped to add a counter. Running these will only put you behind on mana so you’re better off just staying away from them.

Cycling and bi-cycle lands, get their name from the cycling mechanic. Cycling lets you pay the cycling cost and discard that card to draw a card. At first these were mono colored, but the Amonkhet block introduce dual lands with cycling and those have since become known a bi-cycle lands. These dual lands have the basic types that correspond with the colors that they can produce like the shock lands and the original dual lands. However I would not suggest combining them with the fetch lands because they have to enter tapped, and fetch lands bring them onto the field so you can’t cycle them. This doesn’t mean that they are useless, in fact I think including one, two, or maybe even three copies of these are great for decks that either flood easily or don’t need a lot of mana to operate, like a burn deck. They are especially useful in commander when you already have enough mana. The only downside is that they come in tapped should you need them as a mana source.

The fourteenth type I want to talk about are the man lands. These cards get their name for their ability to animate into a creature. These can be colorless sources or dual colored sources. Some of them do come in tapped, but they are so valuable especially when you don’t have a creature in hand to play. These do see play in a variety of formats, but not in overwhelming numbers like some other lands. They can be activated after a board wipe, for the sake of having an additional creature, or just for pushing through that last bit of damage to close out a game.

Canopy lands get their name from Horizon Canopy which was the only one of its kind until the release of Modern Horizons. These are dual lands that feel like a pain land and a cycling land had a baby. In the early game they function as a mana source that costs 1 life for a colored mana and once you’re done with them you can sacrifice them to draw a card in the mid to late game. These are highly playable in any format where they are legal.

For the longest time, Magic has had lands that can produce colorless, 1 color, 2 colors, or any color. A few years ago we were introduced lands that can produce 3 colors, known as the tri lands. These were based off the shards and wedges. While there are filter lands that can produce 3 colors that were printed before these, those lands require you to pay mana to generate colored mana while these only require tapping. They do come in tapped so they don’t see any competitive play and they are most helpful in commander, especially when your commander is 4 or 5 colors.

Believe it or not, there are lands that don’t tap for mana at all. While they don’t have a name for their category, I couldn’t bring myself to include them in the utility land section later on in this post because the utility lands that see play today, even the worst of them, can still produce mana. Many of these lands are from Magic’s earlier sets like Arabian Nights (1993) and Legends (1994), with the latest one, Eye of Ugin, being printed in the original Zendikar block (Worldwake 2009). The downside to playing most of these is that it eats up your land play for that turn which normally ends up putting you behind on mana in the early game. Depending on the particular land, these can see no play at all or so much play that they break a format and end up being banned or restricted.

The tron lands get their name from the 80’s cartoon Voltron. These cards are more powerful together than they are separate which is part of the premise of the cartoon as several giant mechanical cats are brought together to assemble Voltron, an ultimate fighting machine, similar to the Power Rangers and their Megazord. Separate, they produce 1 colorless mana, but together they can produce a total of 7 colorless mana. There are only three cards in this cycle; Urza’s Mine, Urza’s Tower, and Urza’s Power Plant. Legal in Modern, Legacy, Vintage, and Pauper, all of which have decks that use these cards. For the modern deck, you can check out my deck analysis page by clicking here.

Possibly the most broken of all lands are the artifact lands. You know something is wrong when you have to ban a land, especially a whole cycle of lands which wound up being banned in standard which carried over into modern where they are still banned today. These count as both artifacts and lands so decks that care about artifacts, like affinity, were pushed into overdrive with these. Since artifact decks don’t normally care about color, you could have a whole playset of each land in the deck, plus a few more for utility purposes, and it wouldn’t affect the functionality of the deck at all. On the other hand, decks that run 2 or more colors need fixing from fetch lands and dual lands to function properly and there is still a chance that the deck may not work. These are only legal in Vintage, Legacy, Pauper, and Commander at this time.

Snow lands are a type of basic land. So far these have only been printed in Ice Age, Coldsnap, and Modern Horizons along with other cards that require mana from a snow permanent. Without cards that use snow mana, these function just like their basic land counterparts. These do see some competitive play, most notably in pauper decks and Skred decks.

Lastly we have utility lands and there are hundreds of them out there with effects ranging from making tokens and recursion to land destruction and tribal synergies. Some are stronger than others and some are rarer than others. Some are viable in competitive play and some are not. If a land doesn’t fall into one of the above categories, it’s most likely a utility land.

Good lands are the backbone of a well functioning deck. You can’t only rely on basic lands when running a deck made up of 2 or 3 colors. What could happen when your opening hand consists of 3 basic mountains but you need green mana to cast the other 4 cards in your hand? You could take a mulligan, but the results could be similar. Replacing a few basic lands with some dual lands or fetch lands could prevent scenarios like this from happening. There is also something to be said for the number of lands a deck should run as too many and you will be more likely to draw a land than a spell, or too few and you may not have enough mana to cast spells. Use the following for a basis when deciding how many lands to run in a deck:

40-card limited deck: 17 lands

60-card constructed deck: 18-25 lands

          Fast deck (aggro): 18-21 lands

          Slow deck (control): 22-25 lands

          Combo decks can run anywhere from 12-28 lands depending on the format and their strategy


99-card singleton/commander: 34-38 lands

This is just for a basic guide. Some strategies or formats may require more or fewer lands, for instance I would never suggest running 25 lands in a modern deck, even if it was a control oriented deck. 20-22 is usually plenty for modern and one-half to one-third of those should be fetch lands most of the time.

This concludes the post on lands. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below and I will do my best to get back to you with an answer.

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