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8 July, 2007

The Lay of the Lands

Steve McAleer

"We have all the time in the world."
So sang Louis Armstrong, who also went on to theorize that:
"If that's all we have, you will find, we need nothing more."

Of course, this was written in 1969 and inspired by the words of legendary super-spy James Bond. Those of us whose lives are a little less filled with tropical beaches, extended drinking sessions in casinos, and beautiful yet treacherous women can often find that time is a little on the short side.

Ironically, I penned the above introduction over three months ago, but my own lack of time prevented me from submitting the article it was attached to. Even more ironically, the events that conspired to keep me from writing very largely featured tropical beaches, an extended drinking session in a casino and a beautiful (though I hasten to add entirely trustworthy) woman.

But that's in the past now. Looking to the present; well, you're reading this, so I must have made my triumphant return to the Twincast website. That only leaves the future to be examined: which contrived and by now altogether overused link brings us to Future Sight.

Specifically I want to talk about the new dual lands. Future Sight contained one new land for each allied colour pair, each of which was an entirely new design. Aaron Forsythe has also stated here that R+D intend to complete at least one cycle in an upcoming expansion.

I decided to take a detailed look at each of these five cards to see what makes them tick, what deck building strategies they open up, and to predict which will become a full cycle.

Graven Cairns

My first thought on seeing this card was 'Cool - hybrid mana symbol!'

My second thought was 'Wow, this is the best mana-fixing land ever!'

1Imagine: You are playing a red-black deck and your first three lands are all mountains. Your opponent has curved out nicely and is beating down with several creatures. You have Damnation in hand, but ordinarily the double black cost means you need two more land drops to cast it... But you play Graven Cairns, filter R into BB, and from nowhere you wipe the board.

There are a lot of powerful black cards in standard that cost BB or more to play. They push towards inclusion only in heavily black decks, or run the risk of being stranded in hand. Similarly, there are many red cards that demand RR or more. Graven Cairns allows these cards to be played even when there is only a light commitment to that colour in the deck.

This will become even more important once Ravnica rotates out. The loss of the duals, bounce lands and signets will have a profound effect on which mana costs your decks can support. This land may well give BR decks the consistency they need to stay viable after the rotation.

Chances of becoming a full cycle: I think it unlikely. Graven Cairns is a very strong enabler of heavy colour costs, and virtually nullifies the difference between casting costs of C and CC. This is just too powerful a land to be a fully realised cycle – if you need an example, consider a control deck with access to the WU and UB, or UB and BR, versions of this land.

Horizon Canopy

At the outset, this was easily the most underrated of the new land cycle. The online cost of the card has risen steeply though, which shows that more people are realising quite how insane this land can be.

2The immediate reaction seems to have been that this is worse than Brushland, because you can't get colourless mana for free from it.

The power, however, is in those last three words: Draw a card.

Already we can see many people trying this out in decks with Tarmagoyf in block. My own experimentations have been looking at the following core of cards:

Horizon Canopy
Flagstones of Trokair
Edge of Autumn
Mystic Enforcer

Standard adds Life from the Loam to our options. Could Horizon Canopy also find a home in the eponymous dredge combo deck?

Now consider that Crucible of Worlds is returning in Xth Edition. Any colour that wants to support an artifact and a land can have access to recurring, uncounterable, card drawing.

Chances of becoming a full cycle: We can safely say no to this one. Even without Crucible of Worlds in the environment, putting this ability with a colourless activation on any land gives it to all colours. Imagine the following deck list:

4 BR land
4 RG land
4 Horizon Canopy
8 Mountain
4 Karplusan Wolverine
4 Scorched Rusalka
4 Keldon Marauders
4 Mogg War Marshall
4 Sulphur Elemental
4 Seal of Fire
4 Shock
4 Rift Bolt
4 Volcanic Hammer
4 Char

Every single spell in the deck is focused on dealing damage to the opponent. 12 of the lands provide card drawing, yet only four of them cannot produce red mana. Does this sound fair?

River of Tears

Easily the most hyped land to emerge from Future Sight. It was subject to a preview article, which always seems to push interest in a card above reasonable levels. But read that preview again and you notice that there isn't very much to recommend this card.

Aaron has to resort to bigging up the card frame as a plus on this card, something that won't ever impact on a game outside of some future 'card frame matters' un-set. Besides, all five cards we are looking at have the same frame, so even this doesn't distinguish River of Tears.

So what can we say about it? Well for a start, you have very little control over the colour it produces unless you always have a land in hand. In this respect the colours of the card mean that this shouldn't be a problem, although it does limit it to use in slower control decks. It also interacts nicely with the Ravnica bounce lands.

When building your deck you need to take particular care with your card costs. You won't want to run too many blue spells that need to be played early and on your turn (such as Sleight of Hand). Similarly, black instant timed cards need to be carefully chosen. Working out the rest of your mana base is also tricky; can you count River of Tears as a black source or a blue?

Ultimately, I think this card gives you far too many ways to mess up, from deck building through to mulligan decisions and play situations.

Chances of becoming a full cycle: I really hope not. This is bad enough in blue-black, I think that red-green and green-white versions of this card would be nigh unplayable.

Grove of the Burnwillows

I would like to start by saying that I like Grove of the Burnwillows mainly because Gruul decks don't want to use it.

4Not because I have any dislike of the Gruul deck, but because it forces people to think about it a bit more than just ‘a new on-colour dual, stick it in the deck!’

This is a great twist on the classic pain-land mould, and a far more interesting drawback than merely paying life.

Who would want to use this land? First of all, there are those aforementioned Gruul decks that are already running rampant. They could bite the bullet, drop Kird Ape, and accept that they may have to reduce the opponent from 21 or 22 for the sake of having better mana. They may very well find that the added mana consistency actually makes the deck more reliable.

A more controlling deck would far prefer the opponent to gain life than to lose life itself. In this respect the Grove is in the wrong colours to properly benefit, but reprint it in white-blue or blue-black... woohoo!

To really take off, this land needs more effects that trigger on your opponent gaining life; currently only Kavu Predator has this trigger. Until more cards are available that can interact with Grove of the Burnwillows I think it will stay off the mainstream radar.

Chances of becoming a full cycle: I rate this as second favourite. It is a simple card that feels like it should have been done already, which is usually the sign of a solid design. With a cycle of them in the format, they open up a lot of design space for the developers that has been relatively untouched until now. Will we see a block where life gain is a major theme?

Nimbus Maze

The final card in the list seems to fall squarely in the centre ground. It is solid, without appearing to do anything overly powerful. It provides multiple colours, whilst firmly dissuading you from playing outside the two colours it provides.

I do know what Nimbus Maze is not, and that's Hallowed Fountain numbers 5 to 8. Unless you have a Hallowed Fountain in play already, in which case it is. Um...

5Let me rephrase that.

In a deck with 20 Plains and 4 Nimbus Maze, they may as well be Islands, because they aren't going to produce white mana. This is a fantastically balanced land; it wants you to play basic lands, and it wants you to play them in roughly even numbers. This does lead to one big question:

Why the hell isn't this an uncommon?

This is not a card that people who can afford to spend £100 or more on a mana base will play. They don't need it alongside Hallowed Fountain and Adarkar Wastes. They don't want it alongside the Urza lands, Urza's Factory, Tolaria West, Ghost Quarter et al.

Okay, Tolaria West and a single copy of Hallowed Fountain is a relatively cheap way to make Nimbus Maze work. But why bother?

This would be the perfect card to finally reward budget players with a dual colour land that doesn't punish them for not being able to afford expensive rares. At the same time it rewards you for playing basic lands, and for playing with the right balance of those lands.

As is, this card is out of reach of a lot of the players who would use it, and not good enough for many players who can easily access it. Print this as a cycle at uncommon though, and this could see a lot of play.

Chances of becoming a full cycle: Nimbus Maze is top of my list for most likely to return. We have already seen Imperiosaur in Future Sight as a glimpse of where development may head. Compared to a lot of the potential mechanics this one seems simple and deep, which is a good indicator of the likelihood of it returning. In a block that has some focus on using basic lands, Nimbus Maze has a great tension: it plays off the basic lands itself, while simultaneously reducing the number you have in your deck.

My only plea is that, if this does happen, they bring the Maze back as an uncommon.

To wrap up, I've made a couple of lists ranking these new lands. Let me know your own ratings, and where you disagree with mine, in the forum.



Most Powerful

1 Horizon Canopy
2 Graven Cairns
3 Grove of the Burnwillows
4 Nimbus Maze
5 River of Tears

Most Likely to Return

1 Nimbus Maze
2 Grove of the Burnwillows
3 River of Tears
4 Graven Cairns
5 Horizon Canopy


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