While analyzing every gold planeswalker for Magic: Remastered, I’ve also been thinking about how I want to approach mana fixing in the cube, and more specifically, what mana-fixing lands I want. I have a tentative plan coming into this article, but it wouldn’t be a Magic: Remastered article without walking through all of the possibilities in excruciating detail to see if I’ve missed anything.
Mana of My Dreams
Mana fixing occupies an interesting spot in cubes. For many cubes it’s given the same treatment as other cards- just throw in “the best” cycles of dual lands and call it a cube. In cubes that do this (or generally high-powered cubes) one of my favorite strategies is to just take every mana-fixing land I see. Most cubes have a very flat power level once you get to midpack, so players end up with far more playables than necessary. Lands become free picks that let me steal and splash more powerful cards while improving my mana for my main colors.
In the Magic: Remastered cube, I want lands to be much more deliberate picks. A big part of this will be ensuring a wider range of power level for ALL cards in the cube, so that players have to be deliberate to get 23 playables and can’t just take lands “for free”. On the other hand, I want to find the right power level for lands to reward players for prioritizing them properly in the right decks.
In addition to the general tenets of Magic: Remastered, this means I’ll be examining mana-fixing lands with the following goals:
- Enough mana-fixing should be available so that players who want to prioritize having a solid mana base can do so.
- Mana-fixing lands should provide reasonable value, to justify picking them over other decent or even powerful cards.
- Mana-fixing lands should support a variety of strategies. Specifically, both slow control and fast aggro decks should have good mana-fixing options.
- Players must make sacrifices to splash additional colors. Lands should not make splashes “free” or encourage excessive “color speculation”.
From a pure numbers standpoint and based on past experience, I’m aiming for at least 20 “dual lands”. This will be in addition to some number of five-color lands and some amount of green mana fixing and mana rocks. I’m currently aiming for a 540-card cube but that may change. Ideally, these 20 cards come from two 10-card cycles, but at a minimum I want clean 5-card cycles. (No Future Sight or Lorwyn shenanigans here.) I counted 25 cycles of two-color duals that meet these standards. We’ll cover three-color duals later as those options are much more limited.
Prime Directive Real Estate
So if we start from the assumption that I’m going to have multiple cycles of two-color lands, what are my constraints? For Magic: Remastered, the Prime Directive is that it “makes sense” that all cards would exist together in my bespoke single-set Magic world. This is where the puzzle starts.
- One cycle cannot be “strictly better” than another.
- Cycles should not be minor variations on the same theme.
For dual lands, the obvious place to start is with the original Beta duals. Including these in Magic: Remastered has a ton of upside- they are arguably the simplest design possible, they are powerful (but not unfairly so), and they are iconic.
Digression: This is a perfect example of where cube design plays by different rules than set design. In constructed, Beta duals are so blatantly good that they drive deck building. But in limited environments with normal power curves, spending picks on land is a real cost. If you get them early, you can build around them, but then you’ve spent your early picks on mana instead of the most powerful cards. Conversely, if you pick non-lands first, you can’t rely on getting the right duals to make your mana work.
If I include the original Beta duals, then my design philosophy forces me to exclude almost all other duals. Any dual land that simply taps for two colors and has some form of drawback is out, as they are all “strictly worse” than Beta duals.
Play Fetch with Your Dog, Not Your Lands
The first and arguably most powerful option for pairing with Beta duals are the fetchlands. They are definitely not “strictly worse” as a single fetchland can provide access to potentially seven different pairings of mana, if you’ve picked the right Beta duals. And yet, it is this extreme flexibility that causes me to eschew the fetchlands.
The mere existence of fetchlands in a cube warps incentives. Players will take fetches that match one of their two colors, in order to get half-on-color duals that they might not even have picked yet. This further incentivizes the taking of off-color duals. Splashing becomes a lot easier, so now you’re taking random bombs hoping to make it work. Suddenly, players regularly end up in four-color “good stuff” mush land where signals mean nothing and lands are first picks.
If you want players to actually commit to colors in your cube, if you want the color pie to have meaning, if you want your carefully crafted two-color archetypes to actually get drafted, I implore you to leave the combination of fetchlands and “dual lands with basic land types” out of your cube. I will not be allowing fetchlands to undermine everything that Magic: Remastered cares about.
Digression: I really wish there were fetches that simply fetched from outside the game or created land tokens. There are some logistical concerns, but I think they pale next to the cost of requiring players to shuffle so much for a good mana base. Even if fetches didn’t allow for four-color mush land, I’d still probably avoid them to eliminate the excessive shuffling.
So What are the Omegas to My Betas?
With fetches off the table, what’s left?
Creature lands are one option for pairing with Beta duals. One of my goals for Magic: Remastered is to have all reasonable combinations of card types represented. But a cycle of ten creature lands is nine too many. The idea of a “creature land” both requires careful attention to flavor, and deserves to be treated as unique and special. I will likely end up with exactly one- either Dryad Arbor, Treetop Village, or a Mutavault variation.
Bounce lands are next up for consideration, and they are really tempting. The ability to get two land drops out of one land slot can make a big difference in decks with expensive spells, or control decks that want to hit land drops for as many turns as possible. These decks can justifiably pick a bounce land over a Beta dual. I wish they had more generic flavor, as I’m not convinced I want the Ravniva guilds to show up in my world building, but this is a minor issue.
Most of the remaining options don’t excite me. Storage lands are way more complexity than bounce lands for big mana decks. Gaining 1 life doesn’t justify entering tapped compared to Beta lands. Filter lands are very fiddly and introduce hybrid, a cost I won’t pay (ha!) for lands that play so similar to Beta lands beyond turn one.
Scrylands are tempting, but they are a bit borderline on power level- I can’t see ever taking a scryland over a Beta dual. However, I really like the cycling lands. They are not strictly better than scrylands, but on average I think they are much stronger. They are obviously weaker early game, but at that point you’re often making vaguely educated guesses with your scrys, and a cycling land is much better as a late game topdeck. Although not something I would do regularly, I could even see taking a cycling land over a Beta dual for a midrange deck that wanted to play an 18th land without flooding.
In addition, the cycling lands have basic land types and the scrylands do not. If I’m including Beta duals, then I shouldn’t include lands that COULD have been made using basic land types, but weren’t. For example, bouncelands don’t make sense to have basic land types as they tap for two mana. Scrylands and creature lands, however, could have been printed with basic land types. Including lands both with and without basic land types would create internal inconsistency in a cube whose mission is to represent the “ideal design of Magic”.
- One cycle should not use “design technology” that another could use, but doesn’t. (this can also be derived from the Magic: Remastered Prime Directive.)
- As a corollary to rule #3, lands should be consistent in their usage of basic land types. Amongst lands that tap for one colored mana at a time without drawback, they should either all use basic land types, or none.
The biggest drawback of the cycling lands is that only five exist, but that’s not going to stop me from considering them- I just need to account for that in total quantities. I might also be willing to use “proxies” for the enemy pairings, until cycling rolls around again and Wizards comes full circle to cycle things out. Note: I have no insider knowledge that this will actually happen, but it’s such an obvious place to go, and Wizards has regularly used cycling as a set mechanic.
Now for the Beta Switch
So far, I can have Beta duals, paired either with bounce lands or cycling lands. Either combination fits all of my goals for Magic: Remastered. (using only one of these cycles, or all three, is also theoretically on the table if we want to have more or less lands.) But if I don’t use Beta duals, that opens up consideration of many other lands. It also brings scrylands and maybe filterlands back into consideration, now that I don’t have Betas to compare them so unfavorably to. I’m leaving fetchlands out of contention as they’re not worth the shuffle effect and they end up on the weaker side if I’m not willing to pair them with basic land typed duals.
To help sort through the remaining options, I’m going to set some more goals. I don’t want all of my lands to be “enters tapped” lands. For starters, I don’t want two cycles that are the same design but with one thing swapped for another. Two cycles of “enters tapped unless…” violates rule #2. I also want each cycle to feel and play differently.
- Cards or cycles that fulfill a similar role (e.g. mana fixing lands) should be distinguished by different play experiences and not be blindly interchangeable.
- As a corollary to rule #5, if there are multiple cycles of mana fixing lands, they should be optimized for different deck styles e.g. aggressive and low curve vs. controlling and high curve.
So even if I don’t use Beta duals, I’m still going to want a set of untapped lands. This basically means using filter lands (not completely off the table now) or painlands. Although technically an option, I’m eliminating Waterveil Cavern et al. from consideration. I don’t like the memory issue, there’s some emotional overlap with tapped lands, and there’s only five in these cycles.
Bringing the Pain
I lean strongly towards painlands, but I need to know what they’re paired with to be sure. Painlands favor aggressive decks, as they can be used turn one and aggressive decks are more likely to be able to afford the cost in life. Playing a painland in a control deck over a basic land carries the very real risk that you will have to pay too much life for access to your colored mana. In order to balance things out, painlands would ideally be paired with a cycle that can’t be used on turn one.
The first option I will eliminate is the Sunken Hollow cycle, because I don’t want cards to refer to “basic lands”. It’s not a qualifier that makes sense in a curated draft environment. If I were designing cards in a vacuum for Magic: Remastered, this cycle would just refer to the number of lands you controlled, as it’s unlikely your deck will have more than a couple of nonbasics anyways. Given that this cycle also only only has five cards, and there’s tons of better options, I’m just going to dismiss this cycle and move on.
Drowned Catacomb (and friends) is interesting if I specifically want an option that aggressive decks don’t hate. While this cycle will never enter untapped on turn one, after that they might as well be Beta duals in a two-color deck. Given the abundance of choices, I’m going to eliminate this option in favor of something that more strongly favors control decks and won’t be grabbed by the aggressive drafters at the table.
All of the remaining options are justifiable within my goals. Simple taplands or gainlands are perfectly serviceable for slower decks. I even like how gainlands are a nice mirror of painlands. Cyclelands, bouncelands, and scrylands also serve control well and have been discussed already. My gut would be to go with bouncelands, partly because they provide the biggest stratification of play style from painlands and partly because my actual favorite cycle (cyclelands) isn’t a complete cycle yet. (say that five times fast!)
Filtering Out the Other Options
Coming from the other direction, filter lands mildly favor control decks as they can’t be used on turn one and they help with the heavier color requirements more typical of late-game cards. As such, they would need to be paired with lands that work on turn one, so aggressive decks can play one and two drops better. There are really only three options here.
The “reveal” lands are only a cycle of five, and aren’t even guaranteed to be usable on turn one, so they are by far the worst option and out of contention completely.
Shocklands are an option if I want lands that are still good in control decks. Control decks can usually find a turn to play them tapped, but are also happy to pay two life on a critical turn if necessary.
However, I lean heavily towards fastlands like Darkslick Shores. These lands give aggressive decks the mana they need on turn one, while conversely punishing control decks on later turns when they most need to draw an untapped land to cast their higher-end removal and bombs.
So after all of that analysis, and then filtering out the lesser options, I believe I’ve narrowed my choices down to four pairings:
- Beta duals + bounce lands: If I want the most overall power in my lands, as well as a significant stratification in playstyle.
- Beta duals + cycling lands: If I want all my lands to have basic land types, and I’m willing to “proxy” to complete a cycle.
- Painlands + bounce lands: This option has the highest variance in playstyle on this list.
- Painlands + gainlands: This option has the most elegance, with the aggressive- and control-favoring cycles being philosophical mirrors of each other.
Painlands + (anything else): I don’t think any of the other options offer enough upside over painlands + bounce lands, so I’m eliminating them from contention. Filter lands + fastlands: Between the fiddly-ness of filter lands, the use of hybrid mana symbols, and the much lower variance in playstyles, I’m eliminating this option now as well.
Basically, I think the two combinations with bounce lands are the best choices if I’m prioritizing playstyle variance, and the other two options are best if I’m prioritizing design elegance. Within each group, the option with Beta duals is better if I’m OK with the higher power, otherwise I’ll go with the option containing painlands.
Evaluating the Tri Angle
I did say we’d cover three-color duals later, and now is later! This section is going to be simultaneously easy and difficult.
The easy part is deciding which three-color duals I would consider running. Historically, three-color lands have been… unimpressive. Four of the five options are completely unappealing from a power or design standpoint for Magic: Remastered, and hence easily dismissed.
However, the fifth and most recent cycle of three-color lands is perfect. The cleanest possible design and an ideal power level, with generic names and flavor. They are almost an automatic include for Magic: Remastered. If I only included one cycle of mana-fixing lands, I would include them without thinking twice.
Unfortunately, I want two (or more) cycles, and as such the three-color lands need to make sense alongside other options. That’s where things become difficult, and where I may have to start bending or even breaking some of my own rules. Let’s see how they pair up with all of the other cycles currently up for consideration:
- Beta duals + Trilands: Mechanically a clean dichotomy (trading tapped for an extra color) but this breaks my rules for basic land types. Arcane Sanctum should totally be a Plains Island Swamp.
- Bounce lands + Trilands: This pairing isn’t so bad, other than having two enters-tapped cycles. At least they go in two different styles of decks. (lots of colors vs. big mana)
Cycling lands + Trilands: Not just two enters-tapped cycles, but also has the basic land types problem. Gainlands + Trilands: It’s hard to look at gainlands seriously next to the trilands. Gaining one life is just not remotely comparable to adding a third available color.
- Painlands + Trilands: This is the only pairing that’s completely clean.
The Dual List
So where does that leave me? Here are all of the pairings/triples that I think are viable options:
- Beta duals + Trilands: If I want trilands, then this is probably the cleanest set of two cycles I can include, even accounting for the missing basic land types. Before I wrote this article, my gut told me that this was the correct choice overall.
- Painlands + Trilands: This is the other triland pairing in contention, trading in the perfect elegance of Beta lands in exchange for not having only one set of lands with basic land types. It’s also one of the most balanced from a power level standpoint.
- Beta duals + bounce lands (previously discussed)
- Beta duals + cycling lands
- Painlands + bounce lands
- Painlands + gainlands
- Beta duals + Bounce lands + Trilands: One of three options I’m willing to go with if I want three full cycles.
- Beta duals + Cycling lands + Trilands: Both of my reasonings for not mixing cycling lands and trilands no longer apply if I add Beta duals as well. I basically have to accept two “tapped” cycles if I have three cycles, and I’m obviously willing to bend the “basic land types” rule if I mix Beta duals and trilands.
- Painlands + Bounce lands + Trilands: The final three-cycle option. As this option maintains “basic land type” ideological purity, I won’t bother considering the variant with cycling lands.
Tests to the Nines
I believe any of these nine options is justifiable. But what will I be putting in my cube today? My final decision is going to be based on what combination will teach me the most about my cube and what belongs in it. In other words, I’d rather take a risk upfront if it helps me eliminate an option or make better decisions later. So what questions can be answered with the dual land choice?
- Power level: Including the Beta duals gives me a chance to confirm whether they are overpowered even without fetchlands. It allows me to test my ability to craft a power curve where Beta duals cannot simply be picked first. To test this theory, I would be watching players to confirm that they don’t pick dual lands first, or that the players that do end up with less powerful spells than the other players.
- Two-color preference: I want two-color decks to be the norm, with each additional color requiring active effort to support. Including the trilands would give me a chance to confirm whether they cause players to recklessly splash a third color. I would be watching for too many players either using the trilands as bad two-color lands, or alternatively, too many players finding it correct to play three or more colors.
- Segregation of play style: Regardless of what cycles I choose, I will be watching to see if the right dual lands end up with the right decks. This is most interesting with the Beta dual combinations, to see if players ever willingly pick another type of land over a Beta dual.
- Quantity: I want to do as much as I can to help players deal with mana issues without making four-color mush a common occurrence. This pushes me to start with a higher quantity of lands and pull back if I’m seeing more than one person attempt to go four or more colors per draft without relying on green mana fixing.
- Reactions to custom cards: This is last and comparatively minor, but including cycling lands would give me an opportunity to gauge players’ reactions to the inclusion of custom Magic cards. I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not it’s thematically appropriate to do for Magic: Remastered, and I wouldn’t mind some data either way.
All told, there are two questions that I can answer by including Beta duals; one question I can answer by including trilands; one question I can answer by including a full ten cycling lands; and one question I can answer by including three full cycles. This leaves me with two possible solutions:
- The most optimal answer from my list of nine options is Beta duals + Cycling lands + Trilands. This will provide anecdotal evidence towards answering all five questions.
- An arguably “more optimal” answer is Beta duals + Bounce lands + Trilands. This provides stronger evidence for segregation of play style (as I believe bounce lands are more distinct in what decks they enable) at the cost of not collecting reactions to custom cards.
Between cycling lands and bounce lands? I’ll be starting off with bounce lands. If I really want to try out custom cards, I can find other avenues to explore this. Conversely, as someone who regularly plays and talks about Magic with Wizards employees, I’m not willing to risk any problems regarding “proxies” or “unsolicited card submissions” if there’s not a clear benefit to doing so.
There’s still a lot more to think about in terms of mana fixing. I haven’t covered five-color lands, mana rocks, or green mana fixing, nor have I settled on how many gold and artifact cards I want or whether I want hybrid cards. There’s also mechanics to consider, such as cycling. I’m sure some of these will make good topics for future articles.
It was a lot of work to get to this stage, but I’m happy to have captured all of my options and reasoning here. When more dual lands are printed, when the needs of my cube change, as I collect data on my four questions, I’ll be able to come back to a clear framework and make better decisions on what to change. And if my ridiculous over-analysis helps even one other cube designer, it’ll be worth it! 🙂