The Top 10 Utility Lands
Hello, Nation! I’m in the midst of a major deck-a-thon, given that I’m building a new Commander deck and running my 100 Combo Decks challenge. I wanted to take a break for a week and breathe normally. Inhale and exhale; inhale and exhale; whew. Since I’ve adopted the Top 10 format for many of my articles, I compiled a large list of potential topics for these things. When I wrote down my list for nonbasic lands, here is what it looked like:
Casual Nation #72 – Top 10 Nonbasic Lands That Do Not Tap For a Colored Mana of All Time
The issue is that it’s hard to compare a card like Savannah—which is valued solely because it can tap for mana with no issues and can be tutored for with certain land effects—with something like Maze of Ith. Which is better? It’s like comparing apples and salamis. They’re both food, but that’s where the comparison ends.
Today, we’ll actually be considering only those lands that are utility lands. I am defining a “utility land” as a land that has an ability other than tapping for mana. Sure, any land can make mana, but for this list, I am considering lands that do something else. This is a list designed to discuss cards such as Maze of Ith and Kessig Wolf Run instead of Command Tower and Gaea's Cradle. It still allows me to look at cards like Halimar Depths or Celestial Colonnade for their abilities other than mana smoothing. Are you ready? (As a quick reminder, this is a casual column. It’s not my intent to count down the best utility lands of all time for tournaments—but for casual-ments.)
Honorable Mention #1 – Strip Mine
It seems that every time a new set is comes out, it unleashes a bunch of new lands to the masses. The number of powerful lands that can alter the game continues to rise. You have man lands that make colored mana, lands with powerful activated abilities, and lands that do unfair things. In order to deal with all of these threats, you need land destruction. Having a land that destroys them all is powerful, and we have that in our first entry. To be fair, we have other cards that will do something similar, such as Wasteland and Dust Bowl. None does it as well as the original Strip Mine. Feel free to blow up a Lotus Vale or Scorched Ruins along the way if you have to. I won’t tell anyone. This is among the best answers to a problem that is growing in size. You can add it to any deck with land searching to turn your land tutors such as Sylvan Scrying into emergency land removal in a pinch. Lands can only kill other lands—there is no Shatter land or Demystify land or Terror land. The best we have is jank such as Desert and Quicksand. Make your deck better and embrace the Strip Mine.
Honorable Mention #2 – Vesuva
I doubt I’m the only one saddened by the recent price jump of Vesuva because of Modern. Even after Twelvepost died, the price didn’t come all of the way back down, and now you have to lay out $13 for one over at CoolStuffInc.com. Considering how useful this land can be in many different decks, it’s a shame. Cloning other valuable lands is always a smart play. Sure, you can smooth your mana base with it, but most of us prefer many of the cards higher in today’s ranking. Whether you are destroying a legendary land with it (no more Tolarian Academy for you!) or just duplicating valuable lands such as Cabal Coffers or Mutavault, this is a potent card. I particularly enjoy the combination of this with Urza’s lands or Cloudpost. I was sad to read that Glimmerpost would not have been printed if Modern had been a format. It’s such a fun card for Casual Land, and witnessing great casual cards axed in R&D simply because some format or other might play them enough to see a different card banned saddens me. Does it really matter if they print a card that breaks, say, Viscera Seer in half in Legacy? Nobody cares if you add the V Seer to the banned list there, and if we are gifted with a great and not-broken card for Casual Land, all is happy. Yay for things like Vesuva!
Honorable Mention #3 – Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Now let’s see the lands that made the cut!
#10 – Karakas
All Karakas does is bounce a legendary creature. That seems minor, right? Nope! It’s so powerful that this uncommon rose to around $50 on the back of Legacy, and it’s banned in Commander. That’s a résumé you can respect. If you play casual without playing a format that bans this, you know its power. With a huge number of very powerful legendary creatures hitting the board in every single game, this has a lot of power. You can also build around it with enters-the-battlefield triggers such as with Bladewing the Risen, Dong Zhou, the Tyrant, or Godo, Bandit Warlord. It acts as a powerful Maze of Ith against legendary creatures—Akroma and friends do not attack into an untapped Karakas. It can also save a legendary dork from removal, either sweeping or targeted. It acts like a one-way Homeward Path for your legendary critters. This is a card with the pedigree for power.
#9 – Yavimaya Hollow
Do you know how many permanents in the entire game of Magic can regenerate target creature over and over? It is such a powerful ability that most abilities have a disadvantage (such as Broken Fall or Fanatical Devotion) or take a crazy amount of mana (such as Scarwood Hag). The list is basically just Asceticism and Yavimaya Hollow. You can regenerate anything to keep it alive. That allows you to chump-block a big dude turn after turn or swing with impunity with your duo of 2/2s into a 3/3 to deal 2 damage to your foe. It changes the board. Who bothers to attack with his Serra Angel into your Birds of Paradise with Hollow backup? Just like Karakas, it can keep one of your creatures alive through removal—only you won’t have to replay it, and it can work on any creature. You can also use it diplomatically to save an opponent’s creature from dying. The Hollow is a great card with a lot of power under the hood.
#8 – Tolaria West
#7 – Reliquary Tower
This is the highest-charting uncommon the list (sorta, but not really). Its ability is so subtle. Reliquary Tower is just a Spellbook. We all know that Spellbook is a card that new players play with. They eventually learn it sucks, and we move on. In order to play this, you have to give up a land that taps for mana in your color(s), and that’s not the right play, right? Right? RIGHT?!? I’m sorry to say that we were all wrong. I remember not thinking very highly of this card when it came out either. Despite that, over time, as I played it more and more, I realized its power. How many times in a multiplayer game am I forced to play something because I have eight cards in hand? How many times do I play Stroke of Genius for a dozen cards and then discard on my turn? How many times does Recurring Insight draw me way too many cards? The Tower is used so often that I’m quickly finding it to be vital. It deserves this spot, and I will challenge anyone to prove otherwise. (In the comments section, please.)
#6 – Bojuka Bog
This is either the second-highest-charting common or the eleventh or twelfth, depending on how you want to count it. (You’ll see.) It’s also the only one of the ten common lands from Zendikar block with the enters-the-battlefield (ETB) triggers to make the cut. The problem with graveyards is that a lot of casual decks abuse them. This is especially true in today’s Dark Ascension–and-Innistrad age. Graveyard removal is even more important than normal. One of the issues with this is that cards that blast graveyards are innately card disadvantage in most situations. If all you do is play Tormod's Crypt and exile someone’s graveyard, you lost a card. Unless he had a bunch of flashback cards there, that’s bad math. Finding spots for these exiling cards becomes rough, but not for Bojuka Bog. You can just slide it into any deck and take out any graveyard. I’ve even seen them in decks that don’t have any black at all! They are virtual essentials in any black deck in Casual Land. That gives them a spot on today’s list easily. All right, ready for the Top 5? Alons-y!
#4 – The Cycling Lands
For the record, these are Blasted Landscape, Barren Moor, Drifting Meadow, Forgotten Cave, Lonely Sandbar, Polluted Mire, Remote Isle, Secluded Steppe, Slippery Karst, Smoldering Crater, and Tranquil Thicket. Adding some of these to a deck enables you to see more of your deck when you want to, while only slowing down your mana a bit. This is not Tournament World, it’s Casual Land. You can afford a slight loss of tempo for card quality. Adding extra card-sifting in your lands allows you to pack your nonlands with more goodies. In colors that are not blue, these are especially valuable. When the only card-drawing you can rely on are things like Hunter's Insight, Browbeat, and Ambition's Cost, these become quite useful. You can also abuse them with things such as Life from the Loam or Cartographer. The value packed into these guys is quite significant. They are vital cards for winning at the table, and we are very lucky that most of them are common. You can pick them up for a small price. Now, let’s move to the cards in the Top 3!
#3 – Academy Ruins
Academy Ruins is not card advantage. Not technically. Guaranteeing that your next card is a good one increases card quality, and that’s very potent. You can ensure that you draw good artifacts after something like Akroma's Vengeance hits. These things are all great, but what puts the Ruins over the edge is the combination of them with some mega-powerful artifacts that sacrifice for an effect. Take a look at things such as Etched Oracle, Memory Jar, or Mindslaver. Those are magnificent! You can grow back that Mind's Eye that some wayward foe destroyed. Whether you are abusing a combo, bringing back a bomb, or just smoothing your draws with quality cards, this is a card of power. This is a card people respect.
I wanted today’s list to be fun. Having the same card in five slots of these Top 13 is boring. Boring is not fun. To fix that, I just tossed them all in one place. Maze of Ith and Kor Haven would be Top 3, the Island would be Top 10, and both the Maze and Prahv in the Honorable Mentions, which would push four other lands out. That’s not fun. One of my basic principles for winning in multiplayer is surviving. As I say often, “You can’t win until you don’t lose.” These lands are vital for keeping you alive, and therefore for enabling you to win. Even outside of multiplayer, these are just mega-powerful bombs of gooey Magic goodness. How do you fight through a table with three of these out? When you combine them with normal removal, such as Wrath of God or Terminate, things look even worse for creature decks. Most decks can’t even take out lands (which is why Strip Mine and pals are so good, FYI). The Maze is awesome, and it fits almost any deck. Kor Haven is an auto-include in decks that can use the mana. The Island of Wak-Wak is better than you think—most casual threats fly. Sure, you’ll occasionally see an Avenger of Zendikar or Grave Titan coming your way, but most decks attack with air-based beaters. Note that Prahv prevents damage from any source, so it can stop Lightning Bolts and such, and it can be used to keep your creatures alive. It has a very expensive cost, but it’s worth it! All of these cards have value, but what card can beat them out for the top spot? What is the single best utility land of all time?
#1 – Volrath's Stronghold
Most decks use creatures. Maybe they want to attack early and win. Perhaps they need creatures to combo out. It’s possible that they have some creatures for defense early and some for attacking later. For whatever reason, that makes them happy—most decks use creatures. When those creatures die, you are saddened. It makes you unable to win or unable to defend yourself. You need to draw creatures to replace those that died. How do you do that? Volrath's Stronghold. When you use it, you are guaranteed to draw your best dead creature. That card quality is huge for winning after removal. It also virtually ensures that you will win any game that devolves into a top-deck war.
The combo potential of Volrath's Stronghold makes Academy Ruins look like a sick child. For every artifact that combos well with the Ruins, I can name fifty creatures that work with Stronghold. I have creature removal (Bone Shredder and friends), land removal (Avalanche Riders, Orcish Settlers), artifact removal (Hearth Kami, Keldon Vandals, Scavenger Folk, and many more) enchantment removal (Ronom Unicorn, Elvish Lyrist, and so on), countermagic (Daring Apprentice, Voidmage Apprentice, Voidmage Prodigy), and so many more cards and effects. Whether you are restocking creatures to abuse the graveyard (Karmic Guide is particularly nasty) or to make a ton of token creatures (Deranged Hermit) or just to draw cards (I have Etched Oracle, too!) or abuse evoke (Mulldrifter for the win), we have so many options that the shopping cart is broken.
The sheer staggering power of Volrath's Stronghold cannot be captured by mere words. It dominates game after game after game, and you will never regret playing it or owning more copies. It truly is the best utility land of all time.
I hope that you enjoyed today’s break from the deck-a-ganza that we’ve had going on for a few weeks now. We looked at the best utility lands of all time for casual play. Let me know what you think in the comments!
See you next week,