The Casual Deck Builder’s Guide: Diversion & Landopedia

This article is a bridge between Parts I and II of my deck building series. Before I dive into Parts III and IV (still yet unpublished), I’d like compose a comprehensive list of lands, including price. Land is really critical for the success of any deck. The worst fate of any player is being beat when they could have won had they drawn the correct land. More colors in a deck mean having the right mana spread (color availability via lands in play) is super critical. A Turn 12 Birds of Paradise is never as useful as a Turn 1 Birds of Paradise. However in a multiple colored deck, the lack of green in the opening hand (to play the Birds) may slow the deck down in the most critical part of the game, the first five turns.

You want me to pay that for what?!?!

Before MTGO, I was a purely casual player. My friends and I would sift through our local stack of inexpensive cards at now defunct Magic Moments (originally a Sports memorabilia store, but the owner decided to get into Magic when gamers would wander in looking for a product he didn’t carry). Most decks cost couple of bucks, and maybe we’d buy a card from the glass case on the days we felt crazy. Nonbasic land wasn’t really a part of our vocabulary (or our decks). I remember impressing my friends with the use of a Terramorphic Expanse I picked up in a Time Spiral booster. I could pick any land I wanted- amazing! I certainly wouldn’t have any of those “mana screwed” games anytime soon. Unfortunately, due our relative naivety to the Magic world at large, “mana screwed” never really was truly avoidable. But since we played for fun, our mantra was just: Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t. Just shuffle and play another hand.

Magic Online is different than the casual world. Naivety of the vast amount of resources doesn’t last very long. Each time a player used a card I’d never seen before, I learned about a new card, a new mechanic, a new idea. Sometimes, the card was cool enough save the name in my shopping list file. My first spit take while viewing a card was Underground Sea. An Island and a Swamp on one card! Four of those should definitely be on my list. I forgot the price back then, but now the price is about 40 tickets. For me the choice is obvious, I can buy Primeval Titan for less than $40 or one land. Hence, I own one copy of Primeval Titan and zero dual lands. (Actually, I do have a Scrubland that I drafted a while back; maybe after about $5,000 worth in drafts I’ll own them all!)

Sure a Titan won over my wallet in the above example, but don’t get the wrong idea- land is really important to any deck (unless it’s one of those zero land strategies). During the first five turns of the game, decks really start rolling or have already won. If you can’t play the spells you need during this critical time, the opponent may win because of an early game mana screw. (Even the best of decks still get mana screwed due to sheer statistical outcomes, but wise including of the right lands heavily lessens the chance.)

Recently, I played a green, red, and white deck versus a Psychatog deck. The ‘Tog is probably one of hardest creatures to deal with for green or red. Both direct damage spells and combat damage are pretty much pointless when their graveyard is large enough. During the critical first five turns, via my opponent’s countermagic and a Psychatog in various states of madness, my army was rendered nonexistent. He clobbered me with a large attack to end the game. I had the one chance to eliminate the pesky ‘Tog after he cast it, a Lightning Bolt. However, I drew a Kazandu Refuge. All I needed was a measly red mana, but my deck didn’t deliver.

The best lands and mana generating cards usually cost more than what seems reasonable for a casual player, but having the right mana spread will ensure the strategy of a deck will be underway. Kazandu Refuge is just as good as Taiga late in the game when player doesn’t need the land to cast the spell. However, a Taiga on Turn 1 can play a Llanowar Elves, or take out an Essence Warden before the life gain goes out of control. Later in the game, when I have five lands in play, a Taiga means I can play a 6 CMC card (like my Primeval Titan that I opted to buy instead of a dual land), whereas a Kazandu Refuge means I have to wait one more turn to which my opponent may not give me the luxury of experiencing.

I, like most casual players with a limited budget, can’t afford $160 for a playset of Underground Seas. My wife’s Mini Cooper costs us $160 a month in car payments. I don’t think she’ll find my side of the argument sympathetic when I say, “Don’t worry about your dream car being reposed; I got my dream set of Underground Sea!” Don’t worry though, wife, cheap alternatives are out there for the casual player looking to improve their mana base! Knowing your budget will help you use this list to buy what is right for you, as will knowing your playing style. I play green and white decks more than others, so four Savannahs are on my list to own one day. Instead of all four at once, I will probably buy one at first and then a few months later buy another. I still play black and blue decks from time to time, but I’m far more likely to get more usage out of some Savannahs than Underground Seas. Land may not be very fun, but when you pay for the better ones, you’re likely to get your money’s worth as you use them again and again and again.

There are three ways to ensure you can have the right foundation of mana production. The first, know the options of lands out there. The second is the method of playing the lands during the game. Lastly, for the shrewd business wise player, trade old cards for new ones. I do not feel adequate to write about the third option. Trading in that playset of Scrublands for a playset of Underground Seas is possible, and if you want to go that route check out The Academy’s Rag to Riches feature.

The List O’ Lands:

Basic Lands: These lands are Plains, Island, Mountain, Forest, Swamp and nothing else. They are so cheap, they are practically free. Seriously, I remember one day my friends and I decided to make a one thousand card deck. Only we didn’t have enough lands to support such ludicrous behavior, so we decided to hit up the local gaming store to purchase the additional real estate needed. He looked at us funny and said, “There’s a land box in the back; take what you want.”

Dual Lands: The most expensive option is basically the best. These lands have pretty much no drawback- they don’t come into play tapped, and they count as two types of basic lands (for example Savannah is a both a Forest and Plains), so cards that search for land types or have effects related to type like Farseek and Traproot Kami function with these cards! If you can afford this or want to treat yourself to your favorite colors, these should be on the list. They come from the various Masters Edition sets. (Note: The term dual land is technically any lands that produce two different kinds of mana, but most refer to the original ten from Beta/Unlimited/Revised, reprinted on MTGO in the Masters Edition sets, as the dual lands.) As of writing this article, Tundra is $25.75 (and I will use blue-white lands to do some comparison shopping).

Shock Lands: The next most expensive option, but still considerably cheaper than the dual lands, are the shock lands. Hallowed Fountain (the same two colors as Tundra) is $5.08. I can have an entire playset of Hallowed Fountains for under the price of a single Tundra! The shock lands have all the benefits of the dual lands (type, untapped, etc.) with only one drawback: if you want the land to come into play untapped, you must loss two life. If you are looking to grab a playset of these lands, they come from the Ravnica Block (I’ll provide a link to the complete list at the end).

Note: New players have a tendency to avoid cards that cause them damage, especially if the card doesn’t have some win-assuring effect. However, more experienced players realize that self inflicted damage usually doesn’t lose you the game. I’ve never seen a player lose from solely Phyrexian Arena wounds. If they lose, they are stomped out well beyond the one damage point. Two life is rarely the difference between victory and death.

Filter Lands: While generally less expensive than their shock land counterparts (Mystic Gate, the Hallowed Fountain color equivalent is $3.25 as of writing this article), they do have early game drawbacks. They are not a land type and require the use of their colors to generate more colored mana. Basically, Mystic Gate only will produce blue and/or white if you already have a blue or white source. While sometimes helpful (for example, if you have a Plains and a Mystic Gate and you need two blue for a Counterspell), other times it is not so useful, like if your Path to Exile is needed for that first turn multi-player Serra Ascendant. They also don’t enter the battlefield tapped, so you’ll always be able to use them. These can be found in Shadowmoor, Eventide, and even one in Future Sight. (There are even cheaper filter lands from the Odyssey Block that aren’t as flexible as the new ones.)

Fetch Lands: These lands are between filter and shock lands for price. Right now, Flooded Strand (our Hallowed Fountain equivalent) goes for $4.33. Fetch lands were previously much cheaper before Zendikar Block brought them back in fashion (I picked up a set at 2 tickets each). Their benefit is the guarantee you the basic land type you need, when you need it. The drawbacks are losing a life, and more importantly, being stuck with the color you chose after the transaction is complete. Sorry, no refund; you chose Plains, and I don’t care that you need to cast Sunken City! However, you can use a fetch to grab a shock or dual land; remember that type benefit? Besides the obvious benefits to a landfall based deck, there are many decks that abuse these poor lands for the deck beyond just the fetch ability. These can be found in Onslaught and the Zendikar Blocks (and some slow ones are in Mirage Block).

Note: There are dirt cheap fetch like Terramorphic Expanse, Evolving Wilds, and the Shards of Alara Panorama lands (the more useful versions of Krosan Verge and Terminal Moraine). However, they all bring the land into play tapped. A tapped land in the early game slows you down, leaving you one turn behind.

Pain Lands: These are really cheap on the scale of lands. A 9th Edition Adarkar Wastes costs 37 cents! You can use the mana the moment the land hits play, however each time you use the card you’ll receive one damage. Pain may be worth the cheapness of the land (especially if you only plan to splash another color, i.e. only use a few cards). But this land’s drawback is recurring; you don’t receive the damage once like shock and fetch Lands, but over and over again. The pain may not be worth the benefit in the long run. These can be found in Apocalypse, Tempest (pain and enter tapped, double the drawbacks! joy!), 7th, 9th, and 10th Editions.

Tap Lands: These are lands that come into play tapped, and vary on the price scale. Tap lands that have a way to avoid the tap like Glacial Fortress (from both M10 and M11) are a little higher in price (61 cents in M11). Whereas an unavoidable tap, like Coastal Tower (7 cents from 8th Edition), are so cheap you may even find people willing to give them to you for free! The whole point of having flexible mana generation is the ability to use the land when you need it. Whether early or late in the game, if you need an Island immediately, a Coastal Tower really won’t help. However, there is a way to work with the cheap lands, but I will discuss more of that play style later. Tap lands are found in Invasion, Coldsnap (can also be used as snow mana), Kamigawa (use right away, doesn’t untap next turn), Lorwyn (the Vivid series), Shards of Alara (three colors!), 8th, M10, M11, and Zendikar (adding one life as a small bonus), Worldwake (they also become creatures), and Scars of Mirrodin (avoid tap early game).

Karoo Lands: These lands, named after the card Karoo, are as cheap as most of the tap lands. Azorius Chancery goes for 9 cents currently. They slow up the works more than at a tap because you have to return a land to your hand. While some decks might benefit, like returning Sejiri Refuge to your land, these lands can slow you to a crawl if played in certain, unfortunate sequences. Not only do you take a land off of the battlefield, but you also can’t use the Karoo land right away! The playable Karoos can be found in Ravnica Block. The original Karoo lands from Visions don’t help with having a variety of colors of mana.

Other Lands: Magic also has a variety of other lands like Thawing Glaciers (the tap, Karoo, and fetch land combined into one card) and Terrain Generator. For triple color decks, Shards of Alara has several tap lands and Planeshift has Lairs (drawback like Karoo but triple color access, one mana generated). For building a lot of mana, Time Spiral has lands like Dreadship Reef and Mirrodin has Cloudpost. Vesuva is a tap land that can mimic any other land (and combos well with Cloudpost). Reflecting Pool, Forbidden Orchard, and Exotic Orchard all have a use in the right deck. Every new set has new lands beyond the basic (Plains, Mountain, Forest, Swamp, and Island). There are also plenty of artifacts to help with mana (like Moxes and the Ravnica Signets). Choosing the right mana base for your deck really depends on the Core Mechanic of your deck. Find the lands that work best for you. A complete list of the different types of lands can be found here.

Tap Off

Before you spend a lot of money on Shock and Duel Lands, you should know that there are ways to use some of the cheaper alternatives like Coastal Tower in a deck. The key is putting some thought into the deck construction itself. I remember when I first started playing online, I made a deck with all tap lands thinking that I would just play everything one turn later. All that deck did was to leave me thinking, “I wish I didn’t have to wait a turn to use my mana!”

A deck will support some cheap lands as long as you don’t overload the deck with them. If I have all Karoo and tap lands in a deck, I’ll more than likely hinder myself more than help. A few probably won’t hurt and might be exactly what I need to set myself up later in the game. For example, if I have no 1 CMC spells, then a Coastal Tower in Turn 1 will always be an ideal play. Let’s say I do have spells like Path to Exile and Unsummon. Turn 1 may still be the best choice, because I’ll usually want to save those cards for later.

The key to using the cheaper lands is when you play them. If you don’t need the mana a particular turn, then you can play the land; if you have two lands and need to play a 3 CMC spell, then you can hold off playing the nonbasic land and play a basic land instead. Usually, you can create natural turns to play these lands by excluding a certain CMC cost. For example, in my Coastal Tower deck if I have no 3 CMC cards (by design or luck of the draw), then I will wait until Turn 3 to play my tapped land. If I want to play Azorius Chancery and be able to use the returned land the next turn, then I will return a land that doesn’t come into play tapped to my hand.

In addition to your construction of deck, your style of play can make you more flexible as to what type of lands that you can play. Keep conscious of when you will use a land and try to plan ahead so you have it untapped when you will need it for mana. If I start the game with two Islands, and one Coastal Tower, I need to plan the next few turns. How many white cards do I have in my hand? How many in the deck? What about blue cards? Are the cards in my hand more important than the white ones I may draw? Do I have a blue card I will need in the first few turns or can they wait? After you consider your first few turns, play a land with drawbacks that have the least possible consequences. Let’s say my opening hand is an Unsummon, Counterspell, Hinder, Akroma, Angel of Wrath, Island, Island, and Coastal Tower, and I know there isn’t much low CMC White that will be as useful as that Counterspell, I’ll go with the Islands first. But let’s say I pretty much have all white weenies (low CMC creatures) in the deck, then I might want to get Coastal Tower out early.


Lands can really make a big difference in your decks and your overall Magic experience. Before MTGO, I accepted not having the right mana as merely a twist of fate. I simply reshuffled and played again. However, now that I’m aware of the various types of land (due to my online experiences), I know that a player can have some control over their mana situation. While the shuffler may never truly be controlled (though some try with cards like Senseis Divining Top and Sylvan Library), the mana available each turn is simply a matter of loading your deck in your favor (within, of course, money constraints). Having the right lands makes the difference!

Hopefully, this exercise will help you decide what lands are best for you or at least give you many choices of mana production for different fund levels. Ultimately, the perfect spread of land is different for each deck, you’ll have to try different things to find out what works for you. And finally, while spending a lot of money on land may not feel as fun as spending a lot on complete set of M11 Titans, in the long run, there is a much higher probability that you will use your lands much more than those silly 6 CMCs!

  1. Great read for new players and a good overview of the possibilities to fix your mana without spending a fortune.

  2. I would like to have seen a section on utility lands (Tectonic Edge, Mystifying Maze, etc.). Other than that, good reference for the casual player.

  3. If only land wasn’t so expensive :/ thankfully mtgo’s duals are way easier too obtain.

  4. I think lands are a pretty good investment for your deck since you can use them in alot of decks regardless of deck design.