Basic Fundamentals

You sit at your table or on your floor cards spread about you in some manner. You slowly start picking up small piles that lay in front of you and add them together. Thirty-four spells. Well, you are playing control so Twenty-six lands is about right. You add in the obligatory dual lands and utility lands and see you have room for about twelve basic lands. Running some quick statistical calculations (or in my case, guessing) you decide how many of each basic land you want. Now you reach for you stack of Islands and Plains.

For some players the story ends here. They count out eight Islands and six Plains and sleeve up their deck to battle. But these players are in the minority. The other 95% of us, myself included, reach the step where you add basic lands to your deck and are faced with a new challenge: Which basic lands do I use? You probably already know which basic lands you like to use. Most of us do. So really, that isn’t the question I’m looking to answer here. It’ll come up though, don’t get me wrong. We all love our own versions of the five cards you essentially need to play Magic. But, the more important question is Why do we use the basic lands we choose?

The answer that most players will give is simply “I really like their art.” While asking players about their basics I received answers ranging from “This forest is exceptionally beautiful and life-like” to “These Islands are all dark and foreboding and compliment the fact that I’m also playing Swamps in my deck.” I was even told “I only ever play with foil John Avon lands because they’re hands down better than any other land, even full-art.” So there we have the first major factor in choosing basics, the art. This makes perfect sense as we do have to look at our basic lands a lot while playing.

As a subtheme to Art, a lot of players also answered that they liked using Zendikar full-art lands. When I asked them why they prefered the full-art lands to regular ones I was simply told “they look better.” We now have our second factor for choosing basics, Aesthetics. It’s probably easier to say that Art is actually a subtheme of Aesthetics but, honestly I had a lot more responses based on the art of the cards themselves as opposed to their overall appearance. Even so, it seems players prefer their lands to be devoid of text boxes because Full-art lands are more attractive to the eye.

Another factor to choosing basics is what I have grouped together as “the pimp” factor. There are a number of basics out there that are actually quite difficult to locate and acquire compared to other basics. Examples are the Unglued or Unhinged full-arts, APAC or EURO basics, and probably the most notorious basics in existence, the Guru lands. These lands print runs were all for various reasons smaller than normal resulting in lower supply. They are a great deal more expensive than their basic brethren. “I have 30 of each Unhinged land in foil. I use them whenever I build a Standard deck. I enjoy having them because it shows other players that I care about my deck’s value.”

At this point I’m sure most of you are wondering what my own basic land preferences are. Well, my telling is a bit of a history lesson, so sit back and learn or reminisce. Back when I first started playing constructed magic in a sanctioned form was back during Urza’s Block. At the time there wasn’t FNM, there was it’s predecessor: Arena League. Urza’s Legacy was the first set to include the brand new “foil” cards that Wizards had begun to print. As is obvious, the popularity of foils EXPLODED! People went absolute bonkers over it. However, it was a little odd that it foils made their debut in a set that was the middle of it’s Block. As a result Urza’s Saga cards were printed as foils for promotional releases. Included in these releases were foil versions of the Urza’s Saga Basic Lands. This was my first time playing competitively in the game and I strove to get the promo cards as a reward. Those same promo foil lands I won are my favorite lands to use today while playing. Here we find another dimension for choosing basics, Nastolgia. I play these lands because of the memories I have attached to them.

I recieved one final reply about Basic Land choice that was extremely different from the rest. “I play Fourth Edition lands to put my opponent on tilt.” In case you don’t know the Unlimited/Revised/4th edition lands are complete eyesores when you have them in sleeves and on the battlefield amongst all your other non-white border cards. Thanks Brendan. Gotta have an outlier somewhere, I guess.

We all play this game we call Magic and to play you need lands. So, the next time you sit down to sleeve up your deck ask yourself, “Why am I playing these basics?” You’ll likely be surprised or entertained by your own response. I even encourage you to ask your opponents why they play the basics they chose. Of course, I’d urge you to also wait till after the game ends if your in a tournament setting.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed this exercise. It’s my first real Vorthos article and it was a blast to write. From reading this you can probably tell that almost all of us are at least a little bit Vorthos because of how we choose the basics we play. If you find yourself enjoying Vorthos articles then the man you need to listen to is Mike Linnemann. He’s kind of the unofficial Vorthos organizer and is always retweeting or posting links to Vorthos articles. He’s also really cool to have conversations with. You can follow him on twitter @Mikelinnemann.

That’s it for this time. You can catch my next article that will post tomorrow. It’s a spike article on post-rotation standard constructed. As always, you can find me on twitter or leave comments here.

Jason Clark



About therealevilgenius

It's the summer of '95 and a nine year old child goes with a friend to visit his friend's uncle. The nine year old is taken in by the Star War and X-Men posters covering the basement walls in which he and his friend watched cartoons. The uncle sat at a table off to the side. Soon he pulled out a box and asked the kids if they wanted to play a game. WOAH. No. This isn't that kind of story. The uncle promptly pulls out a couple stacks of cards and arranges them on a table. The backs of the cards read Magic: The Gathering. Our nine year old is instantly enthralled and learns how to play his first game of Magic. Fast forward 16 years and here I am. That nine year old kid, now 25, but still playing Magic. I have since moved a few times and never kept up with my friend or his uncle, but it is to them I owe the honor of my introduction to the game. In the past 16 years I've played on and off (definitely more on than off). With my latest return to the game I now have the time and resources to devote to the game to increase my skill and knowledge. I bring a lot of different experiences with me ranging from casual to constructed to limited. My article series Perilous Research, will be dedicated to Limited and Standard. I plan to start the Open/PTQ grind and hope to do well and learn more along the way. Stick with me to go along for the journey and read my insights and bad humor. You can always find me on Twitter as @RealEvilGenius if you want to yell at me. Thanks for reading.

Posted on September 28, 2011, in Extras, Perilous Research and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Apparently I don’t own any UNL/REV/4TH Forests…probably because I never played green when I started.

  2. Good read!
    Probably worth mentioning that some people care about having the same picture on every type of basic land in their deck. This can be strategically relevant (say, if you flip a Mountain when you are attacked by Goblin Guide, then play a different mountain on your turn – your opponent will know that at least one card in your hand is a mountain.)
    Another reason to use “Old Border” basics in “new border” decks is to be able to quickly find a basic when you tutor for one (say, with Rampant Growth). Maybe it’s just milliseconds, or irrelevant, but I like fanning through my deck and finding the different-framed cards quickly.

  3. There can definitely be some game-play elements associated with what lands you or your opponent are playing with. I was trying to focus on the more Vorthos aspects of the lands being played, but I totally agree with you.

  4. A pretty awesome Vorthos article, Jason. I used to want to make sure not a single land in a deck was the same. But recently, I’ve begun to have a different opinion. Competitive decks I try to keep my lands all the same. Casual decks I try to stick to the same principle, but let it slide based on land art.

    Also, my only land pet peeve is the modern border. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t stand it. So, I refuse to use old border lands if i can get away with it. I’ll even run white bordered.

    Ps….super jelly you have foil promo Urza lands. The Swamps John Avon did for that block are just superb.

  5. Just so you know, I upgraded my lands to Revised 😛 Good article.


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