Do not adjust your internets, because Command of Etiquette has moved to its new location: Thursdays! No longer will you have the joy of reading two new columns on Commander, written by me, every other Tuesday. I know this might be tragic for some loyal fans, but this way I’m less likely to die via burnout. Dear Azami takes around eight hours to write, so the double weekends were getting a little stressful!


I’m sure you’ll forgive my preference for a change.


This week I want to talk to you about something completely inane: the choice of basic lands in a Commander deck. Land choice is a stylistic flair that is often overlooked. Some people default to the same choices for every deck, some people have their go-to favorites, and others just randomly throw their lands together based on whatever they can find.


I disagree with those approaches. Choose your ground with care, for one day you may be forced to defend it. In life, and in Magic. Although, to be fair, less in Magic.

I grew up near a part of the Poconos called Blue Mountain, but it didn’t look anything like that.


Sometimes, when I’m building a deck, I get into a white-bordered mood. I tend to do all white-bordered lands for three reasons. Either (1) I’m doing a lot of land searching and I want to have easy-to-spot basics, or (2) the deck is making me feel nostalgia for my early years, or (3) I plan to be trolling people with my lands. Often (always), these categories overlap. For some reason white-bordered basics drive certain people insane. When I’m running Revised lands, though, I try to run the ones where the color palate is in some ridiculous opposition to the card’s color identity. For this reason I love the blue [casthaven]Mountain[/casthaven] and the red [casthaven]Island[/casthaven]. They’re visually interesting to me, and that’s what matters.

Look how ugly it is! Oversaturated as hell, and the cardstock feels off too!


Once in a while, though, a Fourth Edition land slips through, and I despise that. I dislike the tap symbol that was used during Fourth Edition, and while the land art is basically the same, the frame and printing are different. This prevents visual uniformity, and thus should be burned with fire. But not literally, because that’s sacrilege.

Hands down the best Snow-Covered basic land. It’s a contender for best Plains period, in my opinion.


Every once in a while I’ll feel Spike-like when I’m building a deck, and I’ll break out the Snow-Covered basics. Originally, the primary reasons to run them were twofold: it let you be a jerk with [casthaven]Extraplanar Lens[/casthaven], and you got to show off your pet evolutionary dead end. I mean, come on, they’re a separate type of basic land? That would never fly under modern design rules. But Commander 2014 has changed this! In [casthaven]Myriad Landscape[/casthaven], they have provided exactly the type of card to reward people for running nonbasic basics. If you’re running normal lands, it can only get you two of the same basics, which is still very good. If you’re running Snow-Covered lands, though, suddenly it can get you two different types of basic lands, and that’s a big deal. Not a big enough deal to get me ripping up the floors in all my other decks just to put down snow carpeting, but I made that decision with Alesha, Who Smiles at Death‘s manabase, and it actually makes a huge difference in how happy I am to see that card. All the same, this weird bit of tech will never become my go-to land type.

It’s a pretty card, as well. I hope it gets a Modern-legal reprint, since I want a foil and I kinda hate all the promotional finishes.

My default choice for basics, in any type of deck, are the full-art lands from Zendikar. I was lucky enough to be drafting back when Zendikar was the fresh new set, and we drafted the lands in that block because they were and are gorgeous. Being an inveterate rare-drafter, particularly back then, I’d take them over plenty of commons, which lead to slightly worse decks, but I’d net at least five of the basics each draft. Now we have ton of them. I’ve never bothered to count exactly how many we have of each, but they’re in at least half our decks and the leftovers are still overflowing the Commander deckbox in which we keep them.

Try to argue that this is not a gorgeous Forest. You can’t do it!


The good thing about this is that I can pick out my favorite art for each land type, and I’ll have enough to only run that specific land. While the amount of information you can leak off land art is relatively small, it’s not all that hard to avoid, and it looks neater. Of course, I’m not so obsessed with this that I demand such purity from all my decks, but it’s nice to have the option, whether the deck be Legacy, Modern, Standard, or Commander.

I refer to this one as the “shit-balls Swamp,” but even this bit of ridiculousness is great because of that full frame.


Still, there are other ways to make your basics pop. A cool new thing I found, and immediately used for last week’s Tasigur, the Golden Fang deck, is that Fate Reforged has its own cycle of basics. It’s reasonable to not realize that, since they’re not included in packs, where the land slot is almost always taken up by one of the new common duals. Far too rarely is it a fetchland, and it’s never a basic. But if you buy a Fat Pack, it comes with a little packet of Fate Reforged lands, each with two arts apiece representing the proto-wedge clans.

Look at how the color pops on this Jeskai Island. There’s a whole cycle of these things!


Side note: Dragons of Tarkir is starting to look like it’s the darkest timeline. There were more functioning governments under the Khans, for starters. And it seems like there are more humanoid undead. It’s interesting how many times Wizards has committed to a downer ending. Mirrodin is now New Phyrexia, Zendikar got eaten by the Eldrazi, and Lorwyn is now forever dark. Or at least for a long time. The most prominent counterexample is Avacyn Restored, but even that ending seemed hella unpleasant if you happened to be anything other than a white human. And Return to Ravnica just ripped off Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I think. I’ll admit not having a firm sense of how Dragon’s Maze was actually supposed to end.

It was not amazing.


My favorite deck has a manabase that eschews all these preferences, and runs a mix of old black-border lands. There’s no particular scheme to the art, but they all share the same frame: that classic old border one with the full-frame mana symbol. You know, this one:


“Brilliant sunbeams peeking through the murk” may be a common element in all my favorite Forests. In life and in the game.

I don’t know why, but I love that border. Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t really playing during that period of magic, but, while I much prefer the current frame on my cards, there’s something about the way that border frames the art that makes it really pop as a basic land. Unfortunately, I can’t give this treatment to all my decks, since I wasn’t actually playing Magic while that border was a thing. All the lands I have from that era are refugees from preconstructed decks.

Back in the day, this was a precon rare. Some things have definitely changed.


If it weren’t for precons, I don’t think I’d be playing Magic again. Both times I came back to the game, precons were a huge part of that. I’m really glad they’ve started doing these Commander precons, and I really do think that they’re a solid foundation for a new player to build their way back into the game.

Precon land issue aside, I still do like this new modern frame.


That having been said! One thing I mean to rectify is how many of my decks are still running whatever Commander precon land they shipped with. Since I’ve upgraded so many of those decks over the years, and kept most of them together throughout, a lot of them never had the opportunity to get a manabase that pops. I’m looking forward to upgrading them, since it seems like it’s a simple fix with the side effect of getting me to refamiliarize myself with some vaguely forgotten decks. Little tweaks like changing out a manabase can go a long way towards making the deck feel more like your own.

Jess Stirba fears turning into a lady version of Colonel Gentleman. Now on Thursdays!

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