Written by Oliver Flaherty
Legacy, traditionally one of the slowest-moving metagames, has been hit with some format-shaking bans in the past few years. First, the Sensei's Divining Top ban unseated Miracles as the uncontested king of the format. More recently, in July 2018, the ubiquitous one-mana planeswalker Deathrite Shaman was banned along with Gitaxian Probe.
The recent bans saw the format in a near-constant state of flux, and it feels like things have only just begun to settle. Regardless of your opinion on these bans, the new metagame is here, and it is one without the omnipresence of Deathrite Shaman.
The purpose of this article is not to discuss the bans directly, nor provide an in-depth analysis of the post-ban metagame in general; rather, I will take a more narrow look at my favourite deck in the format and discuss some of the changes I have made to the deck in reaction to what I have seen in the metagame in the past couple of months. Furthermore, this article will assume some familiarity with both Legacy and the Lands deck, and will therefore not cover the mechanics of the deck, nor its various lines of play in-depth. I'm more interested in assessing how the deck is changing moving forward.
In order to discuss the changes in the decklist, let me first briefly discuss some of the changes I've seen in the metagame over the past couple of months.
The first two decks to appear at the top of metagame share after the Deathrite Shaman ban were Miracles and Death and Taxes. We also saw an increase in blue-based Stoneforge Mystic decks. The predicted increase in BR Reanimator lists did not really pan out, but we did briefly see Sneak and Show as one of the top combo decks of choice. This was followed by the appearance of UB Shadow, which exploded into the metagame after the Pro Tour. Grixis Delver also put up and impressive performance at the event, followed by a similar performance at Eternal Weekend Asia. Grixis control has been gaining metagame share steadily over the past month, and represented a decent chunk of GP Richmond. RUG Delver has declined a little, especially after being dismissed as unplayable by many pro players, but dedicated players are still seeing decent results with the deck.
If I was preparing for a large event at the moment, these are the decks I would most want to be prepared for.
Within these lists, there are also some specific cards that need addressing. First, most miracles players have been moving toward two maindeck 'haymaker' slots, with some opting for Counterbalance, some opting for Back to Basics, and some pilots even dedicating FOUR maindeck slots to two of each (such as both Brad Bonin and Andrew Cuneo this weekend at GP Richmond). Grixis Delver players have been including Bitterblossom as a difficult-to-deal-with enchantment that creates streams of chump blockers while acting as a serious threat to slower control decks. These new Grixis Delver variants also seem to be leaning more heavily on True-Name Nemesis, running as many as three copies in the main. Stoneforge Mystic is also back in a big way, either paired with True-Name Nemesis or the rag-tag bunch of white weenies in Death and Taxes.
All in all, I see a lot of fair blue-based tempo and control decks, all running difficult-to-answer enchantments and creatures. There has also been a substantial increase in basic lands. These changes have resulted in me making fairly drastic changes to my Lands deck, notably moving away from Ghost Quarter in favor of Rishadan Port once again. I have also opted for the lesser-appreciated blue splash to gain a leg up against the difficult-to-answer permanents in the fair blue decks and give myself outs to various unexpected angles of attack in game one vs the field.
My current decklist.
This list differs significantly from my previous iteration of Lands (and the majority of current lists), primarily because I have opted for a light blue splash for the Engineered Explosives / Academy Ruins package, along with a maindeck Crucible of Worlds. Most lists these days are more focused on the combo, streamlining the deck into straight RG and running playsets of Thespian's Stage and Dark Depths, as well as the full set of Grove of the Burnwillows. While arguments can certainly be made for this approach, I feel that the light blue splash offers a certain amount of flexibility that is lacking from the more combo-oriented RG lists.
The case for splashing blue:
Without going too much into the history of Lands, the deck originally played blue, mainly for Intuition, which functioned as a tutor for Life from the Loam + recursion pieces or a triple tutor for various lands once the Loam engine was active. Intuition also had the ability to set up Academy Ruins + Engineered Explosives or Crucible of Worlds with an active Loam, generating an insane late-game lock. Earlier iterations of Lands also played Tolaria West to tutor for Engineered Explosives and various lands. Intuition has long fallen out of favor due to being too slow, as has Tolaria West. Moreover, Grove of the Burnwillows and Punishing Fire, once printed, were a natural inclusion for Lands, and pushed the deck more heavily into red and away from blue.
One of the biggest changes, however, was the rules revision regarding legendary permanents that enabled the Dark Depths / Thespian's Stage interaction. This allowed Lands to shift away from a pure prison deck by providing a game-ending combo that can be assembled as early as turn two. This allowed lands to pivot between roles, playing as either a heavy control deck, a prison deck, or a combo deck, as needed.
These changes, alongside the metagame gradually becoming more hostile to Intuition in general (due to things like the speed of combo decks, Thalia tax, and Intuition playing so poorly into Surgical Extraction in games two and three), led to the Lands deck dropping blue altogether in favour of a faster RG list utilizing the power of Gamble.
I'm not going to go too deep into singing the praises of Gamble as a card in this deck, but it is an amazing tutor whose drawback is largely mitigated by the recursion available to Lands. Most of the time you'll be gambling for Life from the Loam anyway. Moreover, the ability to pad your hand with lands returned by Life From the Loam when the need arises to "honest" gamble for something, such as an exploration or a sideboard card, means that the drawback of Gamble doesn't matter all that much. All of this has led to the widespread adoption of Gamble among Lands players.
While Gamble has dethroned Intuition as the tutor of choice in modern versions of Lands, however, I still feel a light blue splash has merit. The strength of splashing blue largely hinges on one card: Engineered Explosives.
In a nutshell, Engineered Explosives offers a catchall solution to otherwise difficult-to-deal-with threats. Additionally, having access to this effect in the maindeck offers outs to cards that otherwise spell doom for the Lands player.
Miracles has a high metagame share, and currently comes in two main forms. The first is more of a hard control deck that tends to run Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Search for Azcanta, and Back to Basics. The second version of Miracles leans more heavily on Monastery Mentor, aiming to land the monk and then end the game soon after. These builds tend to run two copies of Counterbalance in the maindeck, some opting for a third in the sideboard. Some more recent builds run two copies of both Counterbalance and Back to Basics. Yuck.
Fun is a zero-sum game
Both Back to Basics and Counterbalance (piloted by a skilled Miracles player) are pretty awful for Lands to deal with, especially in game one. Making a fast token against a deck with Swords to Plowshares, Terminus, and Snapcaster Mage is often a losing line, forcing the Lands player to take the game long more often than not. One of the ways the Miracles player can fight the long game is to land either Counterbalance (especially alongside Jace, the Mind Sculptor floating a two-drop) or Back to Basics. Engineered Explosives provides outs against both of these enchantments. Notably, you can play EE by tapping as many lands as you like to play around Counterbalance--just make sure you only spend two colors to do so. After sideboard, there is a non-zero possibility of seeing Rest in Peace from Miracles, although the more common sideboard card is Surgical Extraction.
A good Miracles player will be familiar with the line of casting Surgical Extraction targeting Krosan Grip, shutting us off any further outs to additional copies of Counterbalance and Back to Basics. In this case, having an additional way to deal with these permanents (and one that can be recurred with Academy Ruins) can easily be the difference between a win and a loss. EE also helps to clean up the tokens generated by Monastery Mentor, and takes care of Mentor itself in the event that we are unable to get the Punishing Fire engine online. It provides a similar answer to Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which is one of the best ways Miracles has to really lock up the game. With the rise in popularity of Miracles in the recent months, combined with the near-universal maindeck inclusion of either Back to Basics or Counterbalance, I feel there is real merit to returning to a blue splash for the flexibility of Engineered Explosives.
Another one of the things I noticed early on in the new metagame was an upswing in the number of Stoneforge Mystic decks. I think this is mostly due to two factors. First, Deathrite Shaman played very well against Death and Taxes, rendering the mana denial of Wasteland and Rishadan Port largely useless and tempo-negative. Also, the mana fixing Deathrite Shaman offered enabled four color control decks to run rampant, making the late-game engine of Snapcaster Mage and Kolaghan's Command a common sight in legacy events. Directly after the bans, the number of K-commands sharply dropped off, allowing Stoneforge Mystic to gain traction once again. This led a number of people to Stoneblade (even versions running Back to Basics maindeck), which further increased the number of fair blue/white decks in the meta. We have since seen an increase in Grixis control, which may lead to a decline in the number of Stoneforge Mystic in the meta, but having additional answers to True-Name Nemesis and equipment in the meantime is certainly where I want to be. Engineered Explosives also offers a maindeck answer to otherwise-annoying threats such as True Name Nemesis and the equipment that generally accompanies it. In RG builds of Lands, our only true removal for creatures is red, and a Sword of Fire and Ice handily renders this useless, forcing us to find Maze of Ith. Maze of Ith is often a temporary plan against Sword of Fire and Ice, as Wasteland is a thing. One or two swings with a SoFaI-equipped threat is often lights out.
True-Name Nemesis used to be significantly less threatening in a deck like Grixis Delver because we could just make a token and attack unhindered in the air. Newer versions of Grixis Delver have adopted Bitterblossom, which makes a stream of blockers for Marit Lage, sometimes forcing us to cast multiple Punishing Fires to push through our attacker. Stoneforge decks also play Swords to Plowshares and Snapcaster Mage, making fast token lines less reliable, forcing us to play a longer game in which an answer to TNN can really help. These decks decks also run a number of basic lands, making the Wasteland / Tabernacle plan for dealing with TNN a little less reliable. Engineered Explosives not only provides an answer for TNN and equipment in these matchups, but also gives us a clean answer to Bitterblossom from Grixis, while simultaneously providing a clean sweeper for all the tokens that would otherwise block Marit Lage.
Moreover, the premier Stoneforge Mystic deck in Legacy, Death and Taxes, has seen a huge upswing in popularity. In the weeks directly after the Deathrite Shaman ban, Death and Taxes had the largest metagame share of any deck in the format. The matchup has been getting worse for Lands over time, with Wizards of the Coast printing more and more hatebears with every set. Death and Taxes is certainly a deck I would expect to face at least once in each event. There are three cards in particular that can make the matchup miserable for the Lands player.
Generally, Lands has relied on the power of Barbarian Ring to answer both Sanctum Prelate and get around Mother of Runes' protection ability. In sideboard games, Krosan Grip comes in for Rest in Peace (while having additional utility against Aether Vial and equipment). However, as good as Barbarian Ring is in the matchup (and it is very good), it has one weakness: threshold. In order to use Barbarian Ring as removal, we need seven cards in our graveyard. This can be difficult to manage at times when playing against Death and Taxes, especially now that they have access to Remorseful Cleric. Engineered Explosives is good against both Sanctum Prelate and Rest in Peace, while providing more removal in game one, especially relevant against Aether Vial. They do have Phyrexian Revoker to shut off EE, but the blue splash is so uncommon right now that Death and Taxes players will likely not name the card in the dark, allowing for some blowouts. Even if they do name EE with Revoker, that means they are not naming Molten Vortex or Mox Diamond. Finally, The variable cost of EE makes it decent no matter what number Prelate is set on. EE also interacts favourably with Thalia's tax due to sunburst. This means that even with Thalia in play, you can still pay one (colored) mana to set EE to one, two (different colored) mana to set it to two, and so on.
Engineered Explosives, while rendering the Lands deck slower, provides removal for troublesome creatures like Nimble Mongoose out of RUG delver (just play around stifle). It also adds insurance against the myriad of randomly troublesome permanents you are likely to see at Legacy events.
Crucible: The Fifth 'Loam':
Lands is a deck that relies heavily on the Life from the Loam engine to function as maximum efficiency. Given that Surgical Extraction is the fourth most commonly played card in the ENTIRE FORMAT right now, Lands players need a plan for sideboard games for when (not if, but when) their Loams get extracted. The printing of Tireless tracker saw widespread adoption of this new technology, and for good reason. Recently, however, people have wised up to this sideboard plan, and are gunning for both Loam and Tracker in games two and three.
Having access to Crucible after sideboarding provides a way to recur Dark Depths and Thespian's stage in the case your Loams get extracted. And with the three Tireless Trackers in the sideboard, having the Crucible even allows you to shave one copy of Loam (gasp) in matchups where you anticipate a bunch of Surgical Extractions, rendering your opponent's hate card marginally less efficient.
While Crucible is not an engine in and of itself like Life From the Loam, when paired with Horizon Canopy, it does a fairly good job at providing a steady stream of cards, especially if Exploration is on the table. Crucible of Worlds is also more efficient at Wastelocking our opponent, as we don't need to sink mana into Life from the Loam every turn. This means we can use that mana for other things, like locking down the board with Punishing Fire, or making multiple Maze of Ith with Thespian's Stage.
Not bad in a pinch
Horizon Canopy also does a good job at protecting our Life From the Loams from Surgical Extraction, allowing us to sacrifice it in response to draw (choosing to replace the draw and dredge). Along with the clues from Tracker, Horizon canopy gives us another on-board way to counter Surgical Extraction on Life From the Loam. Furthermore, with Crop Rotation and two open mana, we can safely play around Surgical even with Horizon Canopy in our deck. Finally, Horizon Canopy produces white mana, marginally increasing the utility of Engineered Explosives by increasing the ease of casting it with three or more sunburst counters.
The Combination of Crucible of Worlds and Horizon Canopy is a good one, and plays to the slower, longer game that the blue splash version of Lands is trying to play. It also makes Lands' graveyard recursion slightly harder to hate out. I believe that in this build, Horizon Canopy is a stronger card than the Sheltered Thicket it replaced. Being able to recur Crucible of Worlds with Academy Ruins is just icing on the cake.
Rishadan Port vs. Ghost Quarter:
The uptick in fair blue/white and Stoneforge Mystic decks, along with the increase in the number of Back to Basics has seen the number of basic lands increase, especially Island and Plains. Decks like Miracles and Death and Taxes are notoriously difficult to Ghost Quarter out of the game due to the high number of basics. Also, Jace the Mindsculptor is a very powerful threat that Lands needs to keep off the board. Rishadan Port is better at fighting these strategies, prolonging the amount of time before Jace can hit the battlefield, and keeping Miracles off Back to Basics for a turn--or two or more, if multiple Ports are found. Rishadan Port is often better against combo decks too, as even the Storm decks run basic lands to fetch. In these cases, using a Ghost Quarter sets us back on precious tempo, while Rishadan Port might buy us one more turn to find a combo piece or a Wasteland. Rishadan Port also plays better with the postboard plan vs combo, which is usually to land a Sphere of Resistance and keep the combo deck off the mana required to go off. An uptick in blue-based Swords to Plowshares decks often makes Rishadan Port a better choice over Ghost Quarter, as it opens up the line of tapping down our opponent's white sources and making Marit Lage at the end of their turn. Ghost Quarter is significantly worse in these situations. We still want access to the effect, however, which is why Ghost Quarter remains a one-of in most Lands lists. Rishadan Port also allows us to tap down Fetchlands, threatening to Wasteland them. This often forces our opponents to fetch at inopportune times (without setting us back a land drop, like Ghost Quarter does), which can be relevant when facing Counterbalance and definitely helps to reduce the power of filtering cards like Brainstorm that rely on shuffle effects for maximum efficacy.
Finally, Rishadan Port is amazing with Choke.
Take that, basic Island
Other Considerations and Choices:
I am hesitant to play Lands without three copies of Tireless Tracker in my sideboard at the moment, with the number of Surgical Extraction being so high. I also highly recommend a fifth 'loam' type effect, either in Crucible of Worlds or Sylvan Library, in the case you want to run a more traditional RG build.
I cut Barbarian Ring entirely from my list due to having more flexible colorless removal in Engineered Explosives.
With the number of Leovold in the format dropping off, combined with having two Engineered Explosives maindeck, I felt confidant shaving a copy of Drop of Honey, going down to one in my sideboard. I wouldn't play less than one, however, due to the number of True-Name Nemesis in the format, and the presence of Death's Shadow. Although we have the ability to give the Death's Shadow player life every turn with Grove of the Burnwillows, there are games where Shadow is still able to get out of hand, and Drop of Honey plus Maze of Ith do work. Drop of Honey is also the best card we can bring in for RUG delver, doing serious work against both Nimble Mongoose and True-Name Nemesis. Engineered Explosives is good here too, as long as we are careful about playing into Stifle.
Choke is amazing at the moment, putting the, erm, choke on blue decks of all shapes and sizes. It's the best card we have against Miracles and other Back to Basics decks. Just be sure to bait out all their countermagic with other spells before you attempt to resolve it. I'm usually happy to run Exploration and Tracker into counterspells if it means resolving Choke. I can see myself adding a second in certain metagames.
Kozilek's Return is amazing in matchups with Mother of Runes. It's also a concession to the fact that I don't run Barbarian Ring in my 75. Bring it in for Death and Taxes and Maverick. To kill a Knight of the Reliquary, play Kozilek's Return, then Crop Rotate for Bojuka Bog afterward. The knight will die to state-based effects. This trick also works with Punishing Fire, but Kozilek's Retun has the advantage of Killing Knight through Mother of Runes. If you really see a ton of Miracles alongside Death and Taxes, you can tech in a Sulfur Elemental in this slot instead.
The other card I really want to squeeze into my sideboard is a single Chalice of the Void. Having access to a fifth card in combo matchups is fantastic, as any deck with Lotus Petal is generally awful for Lands. Being able to Gamble for Chalice and set it to zero on turn one to fight Lion's Eye Diamond and Lotus Petal gives more keepable hands vs. combo after sideboarding. In these matchups, we really need interaction on turn one. It's also great at shutting off Surgical Extractions in a pinch. Just don't go siding it in for every matchup with the intent of negating Surgical. It should only come in against decks that are reeeally heavy on cantrips, like Miracles. We often trim Crop Rotation against these decks anyway.
And there you have it! My list and my thoughts on Lands in its current state. Did I miss anything important? Do you have any questions about card choices or metagame decisions? Did I leave anything important out? Let us know, and I'll do my best to answer any queries you might have.