Stephen Newman takes a look at his favourite deck for the Legacy format; A combo lands deck that sustains itself and loops all the way to your demise.
Head over Heels
I got my first glimpse of Lands watching the live stream of a StarCityGames Legacy tournament in the summer of 2014. I forget who was playing, and even how the match ended up, but what I do remember is falling in love. Falling in love with a deck that could exist as both an explosive combo based deck and back it up with a long-term plan involving slowly strangling the opponent into submission.
This is the deck that got me into Legacy.
This is the deck that I love to think about, talk about, shuffle, draw 7s from.
This is the deck, and I’m about to tell you pretty much everything I know about it. So grab yourself a beverage, get comfortable, and get ready for a stream of consciousness.
Me and my Cards
Before we get too much into Lands, I want to give you a quick summary about me as a Magic player, when I started, what I’ve played and all that jazz. Feel free to skip this section and head on down if you wish. I shall not hold it against you.
It was October 2012. A good friend introduced to the game over a few lunchtime games. He slung me a deck of 60 cards making a decent burn deck and that was it. We played, talked, and slowly but surely the game grabbed me. We began playing with decks from his collection, all pretty balanced and all from around M11 onwards. We started to get into Standard around Gatecrash’s release. This would have been in early 2013. I also started going to my local store to play Friday Night Magic. I graduated to Modern around the time Theros was released.
A Modern Man
I’ve always enjoyed playing decks that are a little different. I have a Modern Maze’s End deck that I’ve played with a fair bit, and I currently enjoy playing KCI Eggs in that format. But I do also like to win from time to time, and let’s be honest those decks aren’t going to be bringing in the prize packs. For a long time, I was on Jund and GR Tron, but Modern has lost a little of its shine for me since the Twin banning and the chaos that has followed. I would describe myself as a reasonable player, I don’t win a lot of things at my local and very lovely store and typically target a positive record at larger events.
In Legacy specifically, though, I have played the following decks (in order) at various sized events.
- Punishing Jund – I already had Modern Jund so only needed a couple of pieces to pick up my first deck for a tournament.
- Omnitell – Picked up CVM’s list and played it at GP London 2015, I came 41st out of 81 souls and learned a lot.
- RG Combo Lands – I eventually stumped up the cash for a NM- condition Italian Tabernacle and my list was complete.
The History of Lands
Lands is a deck that goes way back in the format in various different guises such as 43 Lands and Eternal Garden but I’ll be focussing on the current version which sprang into life when the legend rule changed.
This change was timed to coincide with the release of the 2014 Core Set. The nature of the change allowed us to abuse the copy ability of Thespian’s Stage and the Marit Lage producing skills of Dark Depths.
A Legendary change
We went from
704.5k If two or more legendary permanents with the same name are on the battlefield, all are put into their owners’ graveyards. This is called the “legend rule.” If only one of those permanents is legendary, this rule doesn’t apply.
704.5k If a player controls two or more legendary permanents with the same name, that player chooses one of them, and the rest are put into their owners’ graveyards. This is called the “legend rule.”
Prior to this rule change, if you copied a Dark Depths with Thespian’s Stage’s ability you would be in control of:
- Two copies of a Legendary Snow Land named Dark Depths.
- One would have a non-zero amount of ice counters upon it.
- The other would have zero ice counters upon it, and it would have inherited the copied land activated ability as printed on Thespian’s Stage.
At this point, you would have been forced to sacrifice both copies, and you would be sad.
After the rule change, you get to choose which instance you keep, and upon keeping the version without the counters you find yourself transported to a magical world in which you have just cheated a Legendary 20/20 Black, Flying, Indestructible Avatar into play for 2 mana at instant speed, which is pretty good at bashing your opponents face in.
Lands variants I Have Played
I started with a traditional RG Combo Lands list, then splashed some black for Abrupt Decay and occasionally Chains of Mephistopheles to help against Miracles before playing the RUG Intuition build for about 7 months. Now, in our post-top combo world, I am back to RG Combo Lands for the consistency it offers. I loved the power of RUG but it is a shade too slow for the current meta.
The Gameplan of Lands Today
Todays Lands deck is a combo deck with prison elements and a light reliance on the graveyard. This means you tend to win by utilising a particular set of related abilities. It also helps by throwing off your opponent’s game plan. You accomplish this through a combination of mana denial and recurring spot removal to make your game plan inevitable.
The combo elements of the deck are comprised of:
and to a lesser extent:
Executing the Combo
- Activate the copy ability from Thespian’s Stage and target a copy of Dark Depths on the battlefield.
- When the copy ability resolves you are forced to select which copy of Dark Depths to keep as described by the “legend rule”.
- Select to keep the copy of Dark Depths with zero counters on it, sacrifice the other copy.
- Decide to sacrifice the copy of Dark Depths with zero counters on it, and put an indestructible legendary 20/20 black Avatar creature token with flying named Marit Lage into play.
Protecting the Combo
The sections in bold above are points during the copy sequence in which your opponent can mess you up.
- When you activate the copy ability your opponent can:
- Destroy either the copier or the copy target using Wasteland, Ghost Quarter or similar land destruction effect.
- Counter the activated ability using Stifle
- When you are deciding to sacrifice the copy of Dark Depths with zero counters on your opponent can:
- Destroy the copy of Dark Depths with zero counters on it using Wasteland, Ghost Quarter or similar land destruction effects
- Counter the triggered ability using Stifle.
- Although this is technically possible, the triggered ability will trigger again immediately. I’ve included this possibility for completeness but don’t get caught out on this one.
Once you’ve created your token it can:
- Be exiled (but not destroyed as it is indestructible).
- Have a sufficient number of -1 adjustments made to its toughness so as to leave it with a toughness of zero or less.
- Be bounced or flickered as it is a token it will cease to be.
- Be subject to sacrifice effects.
Playing around Land
If there are already land destruction possibilities in play on the other side of the battlefield you need to either:
- Copy in response to one of the lands involved being targeted.
- Wait until you can force the opponent to start the ball rolling typically by targeting their Wasteland with your own, or tapping it down via Rishadan Port if you are playing it.
Another way to avoid your Thespian’s Stage being destroyed by a Wasteland is to copy a basic land in response. Be careful of opening up landwalk options. If successful, this will cause the effect to fizzle and the opponent will be out of luck.
If there are no land destruction possibilities in play on the other side of the battlefield, then you can make the token in your turn. This is important; if they play a Wasteland or similar in their turn you can’t make the token in response, at which point you need to follow the advice above.
Playing around Swords to Plowshares (for example)
If you are intent on making your token in your opponent’s end step but they have an open white mana it is possible they are hanging onto a copy of Swords to Plowshares.
If you are playing Rishadan Port then you are best off tapping their white source down at the end of their second main phase. this prevents them from floating the mana and having access to it in their end step as you create the target. All things being equal they should not have another turn this game.
If you are not playing Rishadan Port, sometimes you just need to either wait until they have committed the mana or just see if they have it. If you have your recurrence engine up and running you can effectively overload their removal and just keep making 20/20s, getting an extra 20 life a turn or two is very useful when playing this long game.
Playing around Bounce or Flicker effects
Sorcery speed effects can be played around by creating the token in your opponents end step. Instant speed variants, typically Aether Vialrelated are harder to play around. Either wait for the vial to be used or just accept it is going to happen. You can’t wait forever sometimes, and occasionally they are bluffing with their vial on 3.
Playing around Sacrifice effects
This follows very similarly to the advice connected with Bounce and Flicker effects. Sorcery speed easier to play around, so the end of their turn is the usual best time to free the witch from her icy slumber.
Recurring the Combo
Life from the Loam is in the deck for a reason, it allows us to return up to three lands (zero is a valid number) from our graveyard to our hand. We can use the Dredge replacement effect to also return the Life from the Loam from our graveyard to our hand as well.
Knowing when to dredge and not to dredge is very tricky but it often comes down to the following questions:
- Have I a means to play extra lands in a turn (Manabond, Exploration)?
- Do I have a problem I need a certain card to address?
- Is there enough mana to be able to play Life from the Loam afterwards if what I seek is a land that is milled?
The deck functions on a different level once a copy of Exploration (or two) is in play, and Manabond is just stupid most of the time. So normally you want to prioritise drawing until you have a means to play multiple lands a turn. There will be times when you are going ham and need to win this turn or you die so adapt this based on your situation.
If you need a certain card to address the problem then life becomes a bit difficult. You have to think about whether or not drawing a tutor (Crop Rotation or Gamble) affects if you can pull the card you need out of the graveyard once it is milled and still realise its effect.
Let’s imagine a situation where you are facing down a flipped Delver and the clock is insane, you need to get hold of a Punishing Fire, Glacial Chasm, or Maze of Ith. You know you have 6 cards in your remaining 45 cards, but that the playsets of Crop Rotation and Gamble can also help (perhaps – it is a gamble after all).
If you draw, you are happy if you draw one of 14 (6 + 8) cards of your 45 about 30% chance of success. If you dredge then you have three chances to hit one of the Punishing Fires or the lands, but the tutors won’t help and this is about 36% chance to succeed (1 – the product of failing three times). In this case, it is better to dredge but this stuff is hard to figure out in a game so I normally dredge once I have an accelerant unless the thing I need can’t be pulled out of the graveyard.
Main deck graveyard attacks facilitated by Deathrite Shaman and post-board effect such as Surgical Extraction can be a real problem.
Deathrite Shaman is a very high priority target to remove from the battlefield as fast as possible. It will eat your lands out of your graveyard, keep you off Threshold for Barbarian Ring, and remove copies of Life from the Loam from your graveyard at instant speed. It can also feast on your other instant and sorceries presenting a real clock. As soon as you identify that your opponent is playing a Deathrite deck be very mindful of what you leave exposed in your graveyard if you care about it.
To the graveyard with ye!
In post board games, a lot of decks will want to bring in more hardcore anti-graveyard technology. It is possible to use cards which cycle in order to save your Life from the Loam from an attempt to remove it from your graveyard, simply cycle your Sheltered or Tranquil Thicket and use the dredge replacement effect for the instance of Life from the Loam being targeted (in the case of spot extraction), mill three, and return the card to your hand. Surgical Extraction will fizzle, leaving you to fight another day. Wider focused graveyard hate such as Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void will nuke your whole yard.
A successful extraction on Dark Depths effectively removes any chance of a quick win. This is why we bring in Tireless Tracker and can fall back on Punishing Fire loops. Unless, of course, our graveyard has been destroyed forever.
Accelerating the Combo
Exploration is a key card for this deck and if you can land one, and land it early you will find this deck absolutely shines. Manabond fuels our fastest starts but is less useful if things falter. Gamble and Crop Rotation allow us to quickly locate the pieces we need to complete our game plan. Mox Diamond is helpful for playing a turn one Life from the Loam, but this can be risky as you may not know what deck your opponent is on.
Having access to being able to play more than one land a turn allows you to very easily recover from a disrupted token creation or a Swords to Plowshares resolving. You can dredge Life from the Loam, recovering both Dark Depths and Thespian’s Stage, play them both and put your opponent under a lot of pressure.
Glacial Chasm Loops
You can set-up an ever-present Glacial Chasm lock that will keep you safe.
You can then play Thespian’s Stage and Glacial Chasm, sacrificing the original Thespian’s Stage to the Glacial Chasm.
This leaves you with:
Next turn you untap, and the cumulative upkeep clause of Glacial Chasm kicks in, you copy the chasm with the Thespian’s Stage and then sacrifice the Glacial Chasm. Cast Life from the Loam and in your first main phase to return Glacial Chasm and Thespian’s Stage. Play the Thespian’s Stage, play the Glacial Chasm and sacrifice the tapped Thespian’s Stage to the Glacial Chasm. You can repeat this every turn to stop from dying.
There are other versions that allow for a window of opportunity for you to get burnt out while your shields are down, but this is the nicest loop I’ve got so far.
There are two different tutors in the deck.
Crop Rotation is superb for getting the right land you need in play right now. However, if countered, it really hurts. This is because you have to sacrifice a land as part of its cost, not its resolution. Be careful out there and watch out for Daze!
Gamble is typically used to get Life from the Loam, because you don’t care if you lose the Gamble (in fact you want to), but if you have a full hand, go for Exploration as that has a massive upside and you can play the percentages.
Punishing Fire and Grove from the Burnwillows
The combination of Punishing Fire and Grove of the Burnwillows allows you a backup win condition by continually burning your opponent for two, but then giving them a life back in order to recover a copy of Punishing Fire.
There are a couple of things to be aware of with this element of the deck.
- The second ability of Grove of the Burnwillows is a mana ability so Pithing Needle isn’t a concern.
- While it is a mana ability to trigger the life gain, it causes a triggered ability on the Punishing Fire to happen – this can be responded to with Deathrite Shaman to eat the copy of Punishing Fire.
- If you have multiple Punishing Fires in your graveyard you only need to trigger life gain once to get them all back – you do need enough red mana though.
Maze of Ith and Marit Lage
There is a step at the end of the combat phase, the end of combat step. This occurs after the damage has been dealt, but before the second main phase begins. As such any attacking creature is still deemed to be attacking. I use this to attack into flying blockers, kill them, then leave Marit Lage open as a blocker for the following turn. Can be really useful to help setup a future kill. Maze of Iths activation can be stifled.
Ghost Quarter vs Rishadan Port
I am currently on Ghost Quarter as I expect large tournament metas to involve a lot of decks that are stretching their mana base and not including basics, as such Ghost Quarter turns into Strip Mine. If I expect a lot of decks with a good number of basics I’ll go back to Rishadan Port. Consistency is king for this deck. As such, I would not recommend mixing and matching. A 2/2 split here or a 1/3 is going to hurt from time to time. Pick a side and commit to it.
Keep or Mulligan
I highly value the ability to cast Crop Rotation in the blind. We have a number of bullets in our deck and being able to grab them in a pinch is really useful, especially early on. Just giving yourself time against fast combo decks is priceless.
There are a lot of hands that look great because you can do a lot in a turn or two but are then super reliant on the top of our deck.
Try to envisage how the hand does against a Force of Will, or a Stifle. Attempt to minimise that damage. Take advantage of the fact that a Mox Diamond is still scary. If you have access to good mana, you can run it out sniffing for a counter and hold back the Exploration depending on how the outcome goes.
This is about as good as it gets. I would start off with Mox Diamond (pitching Maze of Ith if it resolves). Then Misty Rainforest for Taiga, tap Taiga for Exploration, then Thespian’s Stage. Use the Thespian’s Stage and Mox Diamond to cast Life from the Loam to get Maze of Ith and Misty Rainforest back to hand. Next turn draw. Play Maze of Ith, and Misty Rainforest for Forest. Crop Rotation on the Maze of Ith for Dark Depths then (if now Wasteland exists), make Marit Lage and setup for a turn three win.
Trap hands are where you’re relying on a single tutor to resolve in order to turn the hand on. You will get away with these from time to time but it is best to avoid the temptation. Also be wary of too much acceleration. You want to accelerate into something not just praying for some love from lady luck!
My Current List
This is the 75 card deck I currently have sleeved up and ready to go. I’ll categorise the cards as best I can to help describe their function. It’s worth noting that some cards pull double duty.
4x Mox Diamond
4x Life from the Loam
2x Sheltered Thicket
1x Tranquil Thicket
4x Dark Depths
2x Punishing Fire
4x Crop Rotation
1x Molten Vortex
1x Barbarian Ring
3x Grove of the Burnwillows
4x Thespian’s Stage
You Can’t Win Conditions
1x Bojuka Bog
1x Glacial Chasm
3x Maze of Ith
Mana for me
No Mana for you
4x Ghost Quarter
1x The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
1x Ancient Tomb
2x Drop of Honey
3x Krosan Grip
1x Pithing Needle
4x Sphere of Resistance
1x Thorn of Amethyst
2x Tireless Tracker
A new set brings about new cards. This list contains some cards from recent sets.
Whenever new sets come out I do the following:
- See what new lands there are.
- Check out the red and green spells that can be recurred.
- Take a look at the green creatures to see if anything fits our plan.
As such I am looking forward to trying out
In my hand I can use it to kill annoying flying things like Insectile Aberrations, Balefux Strix, and Flickerwisp. If it gets milled or cast I can use it to kill a lot of Death and Taxes stuff as Sanctum Prelate on 2 is a problem for this deck (and why we run Molten Vortex).
I am less hopeful of this guy, but I can see having it on the board as a fun of. Being able to loop lands from my yard helps. Especially against some angles of attack and it still gives me a reasonable threat for attacking purposes.
This is the first article like this I have written, did you like it. Would you like to know more? What else would you like me to cover?