Augur of Bolas, the hidden King of the Sea

Augur of Bolas, the hidden King of the Sea

Let’s cut the chase right from the start: in this article I’ll talk about how Augur of Bolas (AoB from here on) shapes the Pauper metagame and why, in my opinion, it would be worthy of a ban.

The following string of unsolicited and personal opinions will revolve around three main topics:

  1. What is invalidated by AoB?
  2. Its role in the current most successful archetypes;
  3. What would the format be like without the Merfolk King? In other words, what would change in the case it was banned?

Let’s dive straight into it.



Speared by Its Majesty’s Trident

A card is worthy of ending up getting hit by the infamous Ban Hammer if it meets particular requirements. One of these is definitely “oppressiveness” – that is, not making many (perhaps too many) archetypes viable competitively.

This small side effect not only restricts metagame boundaries, but might eventually lead many players to distance themselves from the format, i.e. the ones piloting the decks that become “unplayable”.

I remember – not without a bit of melancholy – the era of Peregrine Drake: you could play aggro, tempo and unique decks such as Aura or Affinity, but you would have never dared playing Tron and midrange decks. It didn’t matter how much hate you packed, and how much prepared you could be from the maindeck: if you had a minimum of self-respect, you knew very well that you were at least a step behind Drake in any way possible. That was the matchup that you would have always struggled with, save for extremely lucky pairings. Always.

Going back to the Merfolk King, here’s what is stifled by its omnipresence.

 

Aggro decks

«I play my trusty 2/2 creatures and start to swing with them. Sounds good!»
«I play my two-mana dork that will block one of your pieces for days to come and maybe add a Lightning Bolt/Snuff Out to my hand.»

Doesn’t sound too fair, does it?

Two-for-ones are the order of the day in Pauper. Gush, for instance, isn’t certainly the nightmare of every aggro deck, so much so that Gush Players hope to see at most one copy of the card in those matchups. A card advantage piece does not tipically bother aggro decks too much; however, a two-for-one that impacts the board and costs a measly two mana is a whole different story.

Some might argue that a 1/3 is insignificant against aggro decks and that Stompy can solve the issue with Rancor, Hunger of the Howlpack and whatnot. However, the problem doesn’t only lie in the Merfolk providing a two-for-one effect at a very discounted cost, but in the fact that such weapon was given to blue decks. Delver – yeah, you guessed that right- is one of its main beneficiaries. To put it shortly, the deck used to suffer aggro decks much more than it does now with AoB. Delver can now afford the luxury of having fair chances against hard-hitting creatures already from the maindeck without even being particularly equipped to fight those matchups. In other words, AoB has covered one of the historical weaknesses of Delver decks: their structural weakness to consistent aggro decks such as Stompy.

Time ago, Mono-U Delver would tipically hope to avoid facing Stompy. In modern times, UR Delver can face the matchup with some peace of mind.

Time ago, UB Delver was not a very viable concept due to aggro decks being tough to face without red. In modern times, the Merfolk King makes ends meet and allows you to have shots at winning where you could only hope to nail resolutive sideboard cards or double-Delver nut draws.

In modern times, having a shot against aggro with Delver is no longer a dream – it’s the norm.

Ninja of the Deep Hours

In the pre-Bolas era, the “tempo” archetype was identified by one and only incarnation: Mono-U Delver. Besides relying on the usual “protect the Delver” plan, the old ruler of the format aimed to snowball many games thanks to an early or midgame Ninja protected by bounce and counterspells of various kinds.

Ninjas have lost a lot of their potential since then. A 1/3 creature that can land as soon as turn two threatens to weaken the whole Ninja plan – also considering that bouncing opposing Augurs isn’t really the best plan. Bolas is different from a typical way to remove Ninjas, such as a burn spell. The Merfolk is a proactive play that prevents Ninja from cashing in addition to providing important cards – all of which, once again, at a measly two mana.

Having landed a Ninja with counterspell backup isn’t no longer a recipe for guaranteed success: one has to keep in mind that each resolved Augur of Bolas might be a roadblock for future Ninjas down the line. Without a plan to clear the way of pesky Augurs, Ninja might turn out to be a mere cantrip + self-bounce spell.

In regard to the Mono-U vs UR Delver matchup, the difference between the two decks doesn’t only lie in the presence/absence of burn spells. Rather, it lies in not being able to consistently snowball the tempo advantage or cards off the strength of Ninja for the mono-colored deck (also) because of Augur of Bolas. Mono-blue can only hope to get the advantage thanks to multiple well-timed Spellstutter Sprites or Spire Golem(s) that go all the way.

Edict effects

UB Alchemy and MBC have always relied on edicts to complete their suite of removal spells. Chainer’s Edict is the most important of them, as it can produce a two-for-one in the late-game. However, playing edicts in the new metagame is quite lackluster: not only they can line up poorly against Boros due to Thraben Inspector and Battle Screech, but even against Delver flavors they might be clunky due the omnipresence of – you’ve guessed it right – Augur of Bolas.

Attrition wars

In any matchup where card advantage and favorable trades are the key to victory, AoB poses a huge threat if coupled with Ninja of the Deep Hours.

Take the UR Delver vs Boros matchup, or just a UR Delver mirror, as an example. If a player resolves an AoB and the opponent has no good blockers (which could be removed by burn spells anyways), the opponent is faced with a dilemma where no outcome is good.

The safest option is to remove the Merfolk from the field immediately, as it might represent a three-for-one even if Ninja does not connect: a replayed AoB would still provide more cards, becoming more than the initial two-for-one it was. However, if a burn spell is used on AoB right away for fear of this happening, its user will have one less piece of protection against other future Ninjutsu shenanigans or Spellstutter Sprite.

In a nutshell, AoB is not a simple two-for-one in these matchups, but a two-for-one that can easily snowball the game due to Ninja. In Skred mirrors, it is basically the best card to enable one’s own Ninjas and the best card against opposing Ninjas. Can you guess which is the only play that results in us not falling behind to an Augur played by our opponent? Playing our own Augur!

The fact that the power level of one card depends for better or for worse on another and that the only non-counterspell answer to a strong card is playing the same card yourself sounds like a vicious circle to me.

 


All hail the Fish

After having seen which strategies are somehow invalidated by AoB, we now take a look at the decks that play it: UB Angler and UR Delver, but also UW Tribe and UR Kiln.

 

UR Delver

As mentioned, Augur plays a dual role in the red-powered Delver deck: roadblocking aggro decks – thus making up for a slower manabase – and being the best play in the mirror and midrange matchups thanks to its sinergy with Ninja of the Deep Hours.

Augur is also quite important as an additional “cantrip spell”. It increases the built-in card selection of the decks that play it, allowing to “spin the wheel” one more time to find removal spells or sideboard sweepers against aggro decks/Elves, counterspells vs Tron and Gush against other midrange decks. The increased selection also lies in the fact that choosing an instant or a sorcery among the top 3 cards is tipically preferable to drawing a random card, except when mana screwed.

Another niche utility of the Merfolk King is found against Affinity, where in addition to stalling Frogmites, it can tag-team with Lightning Bolt to take down 4/4s without going down on cards. In other words, Augur upgrades the removal suite of the deck by acting as a pseudo-removal spell for four-toughness creatures. Whoops, another weakness covered!

In a nutshell, AoB truly enabled UR Delver as a competitive deck by giving it all that was missing before: a two-drop that does pretty much everything except getting you out of mana screw. UR was not playable as a Delver deck in the past, but only as a Flicker incarnation due to the lack of such an aggressively costed good creature.

 

UBxd (previously known as “UB Angler”)

This archetype has always had the problem of finding the balance between cantrips, counters, removal and card advantage cards. No solution to such conundrum seemed possible, because even if you found the right configuration for a certain matchup, that would have likely also been wrong for at least other three matchups.

AoB provides the deck with the flexibility it needed. It acts as a jack of all trades: it blocks Ninjas and aggro dorks for which further removal would be necessary, and propels the deck to the mid-game by digging for cantrips and/or Gush. And if that wasn’t enough, it makes it easier to find narrow, yet strong sideboard cards such as Shrivel versus Boros Bully or Hydroblast versus Burn.

The only thing that Bolas can’t find in the deck are lands and threats. However, it can do so undirectly by grabbing Preordain and friends. To recap: even in this deck AoB turns out to be the missing piece and the “perfect glue” to cover a broad range of matchups.

 

The other Augur decks

In UW Tribe and UR Fiend, AoB plays the very important role of lightning rod for Edict effects. The two combo decks have always been historically ill-equipped to fight this type of removal spell, as it makes no sense to play narrow countermeasures such as counterspells for sorceries. Once again, the Merfolk covers such weakness by insulating a threat from future Chainer’s Edicts while also spinning the wheels. Additionally, it can dampen the race of aggro against these decks, therefore giving them that extra turn necessary to find the missing combo pieces.

In other minor decks like UB Alchemy or oddball incarnations of UR Control, Bolas plays the useful role of “value wall” against small critters, allowing one to save maindeck slots otherwise devoted to removal spells for more counters, manipulation and card advantage.

 


A future return to the past

For all the reasons mentioned so far, AoB has proven to be the missing piece for many archetypes, enhancing them and even covering many of their natural weaknesses.

What would happen in case of a return to the past, though?
What would change if Wizards decided to limit the consequences created by dangerous downgradings by banning AoB (and maybe Palace Sentinels) in the first place?

I believe the answer would be a more varied and less stifled metagame, able to breath more without a card that is so solid that it covers the natural weaknesses of Blue-based decks. This is what would change metagame-wise, in my opinion:

Mono U Delver’s return to the high tables: not that Mono U is now a bad deck, but UR Delver and Boros Monarch definitely give fits to one of the few true tempo decks of the metagame;

Bx decks become more playable: without more AoB punishing edict effects and enhancing Ninjutsu sequences, top8ing tournaments for MBC and UB Alchemy players might become easier.

A more tempo-based UB: today’s UBxd would survive by replacing Augurs with Elusive Spellfist. This would make the deck more tempo-based (and classy!) and less oppressive in the metagame, as its mid-game power would suffer from the switch.

Balls-to-the-wall aggro thriving again: playing aggro with a massive presence of Augurs around feels quite suicidal – as if the omnipresence of Prismatic Strands in the format wasn’t discouraging enough. If you remove AoB from the equation, aggro is once again a force to be reckoned with in the competitive metagame. Burning-Tree Emissary – a card whose only fault was to be downgraded together with the tyrannical Merfolk – would finally be back.

UR Delver “dies”: this could be the only loss from this hypothetical ban. Such false-tempo deck would cease to exist competitively and could very well evolve into UR Flicker, equipped to deal with Tron in post-board games.

It’s also worth noting that such return to the past would only be partially comparable to the pre-downgrade of AoB state of things, as cards like Seeker of the Way, Lead the Stampede, Burning-Tree Emissary would still be there to mark a difference from how Pauper used to be back in 2017.

To sum it up: tempo, aggro and black-based decks would likely increase with no more midrange decks disguised as tempo decks dominating the metagame – a gradual shift that was made possible by Augur of Bolas among other things.

I really hope that Wizards will support the format more by intervening to improve the variety and competitiveness of the metagame. I am confident that banning AoB would be the turning point towards a better Pauper.

Original article by Pietro Bragioto (Crila Peoty)
English translation by Picelli89
Augur of Bolas, the hidden King of the Sea

Augur of Bolas: il re nascosto dei mari

Andiamo al nocciolo della questione senza troppi fronzoli: in questo articolo parlerò di come Augur of Bolas (AoB da qui in poi) dà forma al nostro metagame e del perchè, a mio avviso, sarebbe meritevole di Ban.

Questa valanga di opinioni non richieste e personali andrà a travolgere 3 vallate:

  1. Cosa viene invalidato da AoB?
  2. Ruolo di AoB nella sua schiera di archetipi più vincenti;
  3. Come sarebbe il mondo senza tritoni, ovvero cosa cambierebbe nel caso di un suo Ban.

 

1) Sotto il Tridente di sua Maestà

Una carta è meritevole di finire sotto il famoso “Ban Hammer” se soddisfa dei particolari requisiti: uno tra questi è sicuramente l’oppressività, ossia non rendere giocabili competitivamente molti archetipi, forse troppi.
Questo piccolo demerito non restringe solamente gli orizzonti del meta ma diventerà colpevole dell’allontanamento di molti player dal formato, giocatori degli archetipi diventati “ingiocabili”.

Ricordo, non senza un velo di malinconia, l’era di Peregrine Drake: potevi giocare Aggro, Tempo e mazzi singolari in stile Aura o Affinity, quello che non potevi assolutamente mettere nel portamazzo erano i mazzi Tron e Midrange.
Non importava quanto hate e come buildassi i main settati: se avevi un minimo di amor proprio, sapevi benissimo che eri minimo un passo indietro a Drake, Mu che avresti sicuramente trovata in sala salvo slalom olimpionici, sempre dietro.
Sempre.

Tornando a parlare di Re Tritone, ecco cosa viene soffocato dalla sua presenza:

 

–  Aggro:

Gioco il mio onesto 2/2 Random ed inizio a girare il board, sembra onesto!
Gioco il mio AoB che bloccherà un tuo pezzo per i giorni a venire e magari mi aggiunge alla mano un Lightning Bolt / Snuff Out, non sembra molto fair…

I 2×1 sono all’ordine del giorno nel panorama Pauper, vedi Gush che non è di certo l’incubo di ogni aggro tant’è che i Gush Player sperano di vederne una al massimo nel MU: una carta che genera vantaggio carte all’oppo non dà troppo fastidio ad un aggro, ma un 2×1 che impatti il Board e che costi solo 2 mana è tutta un’altra storia.

Qualcuno potrebbe obiettare che un 1/3 in board a costo 2 non sia nulla di chè contro un aggro e che Stompy può risolvere il problema con Rancor, Hunger of the Howlpack e compagnia bella, il problema non sta solo in questo tritone che fa il 2×1 a un costo risibile.Il vero problema è che ad avere accesso a questa possibilità siano mazzi Blu, Delver in primis, che prima di esso soffrivano Aggro enormemente di più: ora possono permettersi il lusso di giocarsela già di main senza essere settati contro aggro in specifico.In poche parole, AoB copre una debolezza storica dei mazzi Delver: la loro indisposizione strutturale nel fronteggiare aggro consistenti come Stompy.

Un tempo Mono U Delver cercava di schivare Stompy, ora UR Delver può giocarsela con una certa tranquillità; una volta UB Delver era impensabile, anche per il fatto che aggro era un problema senza il rosso, ora c’è il tritone che fa quadrare i conti e che permette di giocarsela dove prima si osava a malapena sperare in una carta da side risolutiva o in una partenza da sogno in stile doppio Delver.
Ora giocarsela contro Aggro non è più un sogno, è la norma.

 

–  Ninja of the Deep Hours

Nell’era pre-Bolas, l’archetipo tempo si identificava in un solo archetipo, ossia Mono U Delver. Oltre alle classiche partite protect the Delver, il vecchio re puntava a snowballare molti Mu grazie ad un ninja early o in midgame protetto da rimbalzini e counter di vario genere.

Ora con AoB, ninja ha perso molto del suo potenziale dal momento che un 1/3 risolto di secondo, mette in seria discussione tutto il piano ninja considerando anche il fatto che giocare bounce-spell su AoB avversario non è il massimo. Bolas è diverso da un qualsiasi botto su ninja che ne invalida il card draw: il tritone è una giocata proattiva che, oltre a fare vantaggio carte di qualità, impatta il board impedendo determinate giocate all’avversario.

L’oppo non è più al sicuro sninjato protetto da counter, l’oppo dovrebbe counterare ogni nostro Merfolk prima di far ninja per permettersi il piano snowball; altrimenti ninja diventa un oneroso auto-rimbalzino che cantrippa.

Il vero problema del Mu Mono U Delver Vs la controparte UR non è la sola presenza dei botti, ma il non poter snowballare una posizione di vantaggio tempo o carte grazie a Ninja in maniera consistente: il giocatore monocolor deve sperare di raggiungere in qualche modo un consistente vantaggio carte grazie a multiple Spellstutter Sprite o che Spire Golem possa carriare il game, rimane sempre la speranza che l’oppo non veda AoB o se li veda counterare.

 

–  Edict effect

Da quando esiste il Pauper UB Alchemy e MBC hanno fatto un discreto affidamento sugli editti per completare il parco removal, soprattutto Chainer’s Edict che in late diventava un 2×1. In questo meta giocare editti è abbastanza stupido: tra Thraben Inspector e Battle Screech non sono consigliati contro boros, nemmeno contro Delver.decks son così performanti per l’onnipresenza di AoB.

 

– Midrange

In un qualsiasi Mu dove il vantaggio carte ed i trade favorevoli sono la chiave per la vittoria, AoB presenta una minaccia di dimensioni enormi qualora fosse accompagnato da Ninja of the Deep Hours. Prendiamo come esempio il Mu UR Delver vs Boros o semplicemente un Mirror di UR Delver: se risolvo un AoB e l’oppo non ha bloccanti convincenti (che comunque potrei rimuovere con i miei botti), l’avversario si trova davanti ad un dilemma dove nessuna uscita è vantaggiosa.

La giocata più safe è rimuovere subito il tritone dal campo, in quanto quest’ultimo se sninjato rappresenterebbe un 3×1 nel caso ninja non connetta in quanto AoB rigiocato farebbe ancora vantaggio carte diventanto qualcosa più del 2×1 iniziale.
Tuttavia, usando il mio botto su AoB, non sono stato “solo” vittima di un 2×1, ma non ho più il botto per future sninjate avversarie oppure per giocare attorno a Spellstutter Sprite.

In poche parole, AoB non è un semplice 2×1 in questi MU ma, grazie a Ninja, un 2×1 che può degenerare facilmente snowballando il game.
In pratica AoB è, allo stesso tempo, la carta che smorza i ninja avversari e l’enabler più forte di ninja: ninja “è alla mercè” del re dei mari.Indovinate qual’è l’unica giocata nel mirror, escluso Counterspell, che ci fa uscire senza svantaggi da una giocata dell’oppo di AoB?
Giocare a nostra volta AoB!

Ora, il fatto che il power level di una carta dipenda sia nel bene che nel male da un’altra (ninja e AoB) e che l’unica risposta non-counter ad una giocata forte sia giocare la stessa carta, mi sembra un serpente che si morde la coda.

 

2) All hail the fish

Dopo aver visto quali tattiche di guerra sono in qualche modo invalidate da AoB, andiamo a vedere la sua posizione all’interno dei mazzi dove viene giocato, ossia UB Angler e Ur Delver in primis, ma anche UW Tribe e UR Kiln.

 

– UR Delver

In questo mazzo svolge il duplice ruolo di contenere gli aggro, andando a sopperire ad eventuali rallentamenti per la manabase, e a rappresentare la miglior giocata contro mirror e midrange grazie alla costate minaccia di ninja.

Molto importante anche il suo ruolo come peschino aggiuntivo, nel senso che lascia al player un maggior angolo di manovra nella card selection consentendo di girare ancora la ruota e cercare removal o wratte di side Vs Aggro o Elfi, Counter vs Tron e Gush contro altri Midrange.

Quindi oltre ad essere un 2×1 che impatta il board e  può degenerare, offre anche card selection spesso quando rivela 2 o più opzioni ed in molti casi, tranne in episodi di mana screw, scegliere instant o sorcery tra le prime 3 è preferibile dal pescare una carta random.

Un’altra utilità di nicchia dell’inquilino marino la riscontriamo contro Affinity, dove oltre che a bloccare una early aggression di Frogmite si combina efficacemente con Lightning Bolt per traddare un nostro 4-4 senza andare in svantaggio carte: virtualmente quindi nel MU, AoB upgrada il nostro parco removal raggiungendo il 4 di costituzione.
Ops, ho coperto un altro angolo debole!

In poche parole, AoB ha dato vita nel Pauper competitivo a UR Delver dando al mazzo tutto ciò che prima mancava: ossia un drop a 2 che fa essenzialmente ogni cosa salvo tirarti fuori dalla manascrew, in passato UR non era giocabile Delver ma solamente nella versione flicker proprio per la mancanza di in drop così basso ed incisivo.

 

–  UB Angler:

Questo archetipo ha sempre avuto il problema di trovare l’equilibrio tra peschini, counter, removal e vantaggio carte; un enigma che non vede soluzione perchè anche se trovate l’esatta miscela per un determinato Mu, quella miscela non andrà mai bene per minimo altri tre Mu…

AoB fornisce al mazzo la duttilità di cui aveva bisogno, fungendo praticamente da slot Jolly: blocca il terreno da ninja e pezzi aggro per i quali sarebbero necessarie ulteriori removal e non fa morire il mazzo nel midgame continuando a scavare per peschini o Gush, rendendo alla stesso tempo più consistenti sidate determinanti come Shrivel contro Boros Bully o Hydroblast contro Burn.

L’unica cosa che Bolas non trova nel mazzo sono le lande o le minacce, alle quali può arrivare comunque indirettamente rivelando peschino in stile Preordain; resta il fatto che anche qui AoB si rivela essere il tassello mancante ed il collante che perfette il giusto adattamento per ogni Mu.

 

– Altro:

In UW Tribe e UR Cane, AoB svolge il fondamentale ruolo di parafulmine per editto: i due mazzi combo sono sempre stati storicamente scoperti in questo angolo in quanto non ha senso mettere countera stregoneria o onerosi counter secchi di main, ribadisco anche che il tritone è una risposta proattiva ad editto ossia io lo gioco e mi faccio il 2×1 mentre resto protetto da un futuro Chainer’s Edict.
Da non sminuire anche il fatto che il tritone riduce la race di aggro ai nistri danni, regalandoci quel turno in più necessario per il completamento dei tasselli della nostra combo.

Essere un cantrip overcosted ma coprire allo stesso tempo gli angoli deboli dei combo, ossia editti e ninja, sembra un buon affare, forse troppo.In altri mazzi come Ub Alchemy o strane versioni di UR Control, Bolas ricopre l’utile ruolo di muretto value vs pezzi piccoli e ninja consentendo di non dover maindeckare un numero eccessivo di removal in favore di un maggior numero di counter, manipolazione e vantaggio carte.

 

3) Un futuro ritorno al passato

Per tutti i motivi sopra citati, AoB è risultato essere il tassello mancante per molti archetipi, potenziandoli e coprendo anche molte loro debolezze naturali.
Ma cosa accadrebbe nel caso di un ritorno al passato?
Cosa cambierebbe se la Wizzy tornasse sui propri passi bandendo i suoi pericolosi esperimenti di downgrade, AoB e Palace Sentinels in primis?

Si avrebbe un parziale ritorno al passato con un meta più variegato e meno oppresso, senza una carta così solida che copra i naturali punti deboli dei Blu based:

– ritorno di Mono U Delver ai tavoli alti: non che Mono U attualmente sia un pesce fuor d’acqua, ma UR Delver e Boros Monarch tagliano decisamente uno dei pochi mazzi tempo fuori dal meta che conta;

– mazzi Bx giocabili: senza più AoB che punisce gli edict effect e che sblocca sninjate fatali, MBC e UB Alchemy potrebbero tornare ad aspirare concretamente alle top 8 dei vari tornei senza favori divini;

– UB più tempo: l’odierno UB Angler Delver sopravviverebbe adottando la build con gli Elusive Spellfist, ciò darebbe maggiore poesia al mazzo rendendolo più tempo e meno opprimente nel meta levando a quest’ultimo una certa dose di consistenza nel midgame

– Aggro senza paranoie: giocare aggro con una massiccia presenza tritoni in giro è un metacall suicida, come se la presenza malata di Prismatic Strands nel formato non fosse abbastanza avvilente.
Se si tolgono gli AoB dall’equazione, aggro diventa effettivamente una fetta del meta competitivo dimostrando al meta la potenza di Burning Tree Emissary la cui unica colpa è stata quella di essere downgradata in contemporanea al tiranno AoB;

– UR Delver muore: questa potrebbe essere l’unica perdita da questo fanta ban, questo finto tempo cesserebbe di esistere nel competitive e potrebbe evolversi in UR Flicker settato post side per fronteggiare Tron;

Il ritorno al passato, come accennavo, sarebbe solo parziale rispetto al mondo pre downgrade di AoB perchè resterebbero carte come Seeker of the Way, Lead the Stampede, Burning Tree Emissary a sconvolgere il vecchio formato.

In sintesi, aumenterebbero i mazzi tempo, aggro e a base nera senza la presenza nel meta di Midrange camuffati da tempo che esercitano nel formato un influsso di onnipotenza che solo una carta come AoB poteva conferire loro.

Spero davvero che la Wizzard supporti maggiormente il formato intervenendo per migliorare la variabilità e la competitività del metagame, resto fiducioso che un Ban di AoB o Palace Sentinels sarebbe la svolta verso un Pauper migliore.

 

Unstable landscapes and how to fetch them

Unstable landscapes and how to fetch them

Evolving Wilds

Manabase is often an underestimated component of deckbuilding and often, when we want to try a new archetype, we find the most common list run online and just copy it, making it spread more and more.
I don’t want to explain in details how to build a good manabase: it goes beyond my capability and it would require an enormous amount of work to write, but as I always do on this blog I will discuss a specific topic: the comparison between Gainlands, Ash Barrens and Poor-man’s fetches (Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds).

Editor note: Since Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds are the same, i will use the term fetches instead of any of the two, so i can say 6 fetches instead of a mix of 6 between Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds)

GAINLANDS VS FETCHES:

Terramorphic Expanse

+ Shuffle Effect: fetches obviously synergize well with cantrips like Brainstorm (draw 3, shuffle away 2 bad cards) and Ponder (i get to choose which card to draw and shuffle the rest), but nullify the scry of Preordain.

+ Grows your graveyard: a big graveyard is essential in some decks, mainly to pay the delve cost and play a crucial fast and cheap Gurmag Angler or to reach threshold and utilize the full effect of Swirling Sandstorm;

+ Deck Thinning: ahhh, the noble art of thinning your deck! By using a land to fetch another land, we have reduced the number of cards in our deck, so now we have more chances to draw useful cards! It may seem like an insignificant detail (and to be honest, the chances of finding a spell before and after a fetch are almost the same in the majority of cases), but later in the game you can feel the consistency of hitting spell after using 3-4 fetchlands.

+ Gush: like I wrote in my last article, Gush requires you to play a lot of basic island or lands that can fetch them, it’s possible to play as much as 2 gainlands in some cases (UR Klin), but it’s a little, calculated risk and playing more than that is always bad and advised against.

+ It lets you play on curve with bouncelands: gainlands can be used with bouncelands to gain a little bit more life, but by doing so you are giving up the ability to play on curve since gainlands enter the battlefield tapped. By playing fetches, you can just fetch a basic turn 1, bounce it turn 2 and you will be able to cast a 3 drop on turn 3.
This can be relevant in decks that don’t need a lot of double colored lands in their manabase, and by using bouncelands and fetches they can have a better and more consistent / ready to go manabase.
A great example is Boros Bully, that usually runs a manabase like this one:
6 Plains
4 Boros Garrison
3 Wind-Scarred Crag
2 Evolving Wilds

Only 1 color: even if it’s true that fetches can search for any of the 5 basic land types (no, please, don’t play wastes in pauper) the land that you get can tap for only one color. This could be really problematic when you are in a mana screw: let’s assume that a daring Delver U/x player decides to keep a starting hand with only one land (a lonely Evolving Wilds) hoping to find more with all the cantrips in his hand: he will surely fetch for an island turn 1, but even after a turn 2 and/or 3 cantrip he can only find spells and other islands! Without access to the black/red/white source that he desperately needs, he can’t cast non blue cards. In this case, a gainland would have been more helpful, letting him play more cards.

– 1 Less life: that little, insignificant extra life may seem useless, but sometime it’s the defining factor between winning and losing (more so if you can play multiple gainlands or bounce them and play them again).Just one single life point get us out of range of the classical Kiln Fiend combo (2 spell + Temur Battle Rage), 2 life forces Tireless Tribe to discard an extra card during combo turns, a bunch of life can give you an extra (hopefully decisive) turn against aggro and Burn: that little life gain is the spoonful of sugar that let us swallow the enter-the-battlefield-tapped medicine of gainlands.

In short, in Delver decks fetches and Ash Barrens are mandatory mainly due to the shuffle effect and Gush, while in more midrange and control decks like Rakdos Monarch or UB Alchemy a safer approach is preferred: gainlands give us access to both colors, they don’t shuffle our deck (Preordain thanks us) and give us that precious extra life.

ASH VS FETCH:

Ash Barrens

We already talked a lot about fetches, but what does Ash Barrens brings to the table?

+ instant access to a single color: having access to your off-color a turn earlier that fetches is usually crucial: in UR Delver to have the possibility to bolt against aggro, in UW Tribe so we can play our 1 drop earlier and put pressure on our opponent, in UB Angler because having a 5/5 on board as soon as possible is often the winning play.
Let’s examine a common scenario revolving around counterspell: with a bicolored deck like UR Delver you will often see yourself with an island and a mountain turn 3: Ash barren gives you the possibility to cycle for an island tapping the mountain, giving you the opportunity to keep mana open for a good Counterspell.
One last example with a different deck: in UW Familiar, Ash Barrens are a godsend when we have our familiars out in play. discounting our blue spells, we can just cycle for more islands with our now-useless white mana.

+ play during your opponent turn: Let’s start with an example: we’re playing UR Delver against Affinity, it’s game 1, I’m on the draw, we don’t have mountains and i’m not applying too much pressure while the Affinity player has got a Myr Enforcer on boards. We have two blue mana open and the relevant cards in our hand are Brainstorm, Counterspell and Ash Barrens.
We know that if Atog hits the field, we lose the game on the spot since our opponent can protect him by sacrificing some artifacts and our bolts will never be able to kill Mr. Smiley Face, but at the same time we want to draw some more cards and get a red mana source to use all the other cards in our hand.
We can also assume that a skilled Affinity player will never try to slam Atog on the board if he sees our 2 mana open and will try to play avoiding Spellstrutter Sprite too, in this situation we could Brainstorm followed by cycling Ash Barrens during our opponent end step to get new cards and fix our mana.
With a fetch instead of Ash Barrens, we couldn’t have done it during our opponent’s turn: Ash Barrens gave me the opportunity to keep my mana open and to better answer my opponent with the right play.

+ Synergy with Foil: Ash Barren’s landcycle is particularly relevant when we need an island to discard with Foil while playing UB Angler Delver; the deck usually play only 17 lands and statistically we can’t draw Gush to help us every game we play.

–  Can’t keep a one-land-hand: How many times, while playing a mirror match with a midrange deck, we are sweating for a good starting hand to help us gain advantage to snowball and then we open a really good hand, maybe one or two cantrip to help filter our next draws, but with only one land: if the land we’re talking about is Ash Barrens, we can’t keep the hand and we’re forced to mulligan and start with only 6 cards in hand.

– Cycling is not free: while it’s true that Ash Barrens give you instant access to your off-color, it still cost a mana to cycle it while fetches are free; this is extremely important when lands are scarce and we need our primary color.
Let’s observe a situation with cantrips: it’s the second turn of the game, we are playing a delver deck and we have one or more cantrips in hand, one land in play and Ash Barrens in hand: we landcycle to get a mountain/swamp and since we don’t have any other land in hand, we play it. Now we can’t cantrip because we used our island to cycle and we missed an opportunity to fix our hand and spend our mana efficiently, a cardinal sin for any delver deck!

– It’s really bad when we’re low on lands: In a lot of blue decks, we can safely keep a starting hand with only one land with multiple cantrips, since they can help us find the next land drops. But what if we can only find Ash Barrens? We almost skip a turn: we’re a land behind and it may not matter that much if it’s the 4th or 5th land drop, but if it’s the second it may cost us the game!

A little note about bounceland interactions:
1.a) T1 Ash, T2 Tap for colorless, play bounceland, cycle Ash with the colorless i had in pool;
1.b) T1 Fetch and crack for basic, T2 cast a 1 drop and play a bounceland;

2.a) Midgame: tap a land that produces a color i’m not using to cycle with Ash and get a land that i need;
2.b) Midgame: play a fetch and fetch a color i need, but it enter the battlefield tapped.;

In the first situation, having the possibility to play a 1 drop on my second turn is essential to the gameplan of some decks like Boros Bully (and play Firebolt, Faithless Looting, Thraben Inspector or Sacred Cat); in the second situation Ash barren giving us access to untapped lands it’s better for decks like Familiar that want to play Familiars or maybe just recycle that blue/black mana they’re not using anymore.

You may have noticed that we don’t have a clear winner regarding Ash Barrens versus fetches if we think about delver or combo decks: they both have their own pros and cons.
Like in a lot of other different situations, when a card isn’t strictly better than the other, we play a mix of them to increase the chance of getting the right one at the right time and to get more options while playing..

 

PRACTICAL EXAMPLES

Evolving Wilds

After this comparison, let’s now move on and analyze the manabase of some of the best archetypes right now!

 

UB Angler Delver:

8 Snow-Covered Island
2 Snow-Covered Swamp
6 Fetches
1 Ash Barrens

– 17 lands total: it’s a really low number for a bicolored delver deck, with delver decks we go down to 16 lands only with MonoU by building accordingly, it helps with flooding against midrange and delver mirrors.

– 14 lands that can tap for/fetch blue, our main color, on the first turn (in any deck it’s too risky to have this number under 13/14); we have cantrips to find other lands, but if we can’t play cantrips we’re screwed. The only exception is Elves that can play 12/13 lands, but only because Quirion Ranger and mana dorks let you play with only 1/2 lands each game.

– 9 lands that can tap for/fetch black, our off-color, on the first turn: in every deck with a lot of cantrips we play at minimum 8/9 off-color sources; playing 9 of them is the safest choice while only playing 7 means that we could play early game with only our primary color. Ponder and Preordain will help, but Brainstorm could be bad without any shuffling or scry effect (i.e. Brainstorm-lock).

-1 Ash Barrens: as we said before, we can do a lot of things with it but we’re scared of a seeing it as our only land so we only play one. This way we have access to 3 untapped black sources to cast Gurmag Angler before turn 4; playing 2 of them would be risky since if we find both of them in our first 10 cards we’re dead.
We love to call this one-of the icing on the cake: it’s inclusion is almost risk free while still enabling a lot of different plays. Who doesn’t love icing on their cake?

-2 Swamps: the first one is obviously needed for the splash, the second one is the same icing as before: it’s safe to play and gives us access to 2 black sources in the late game to make some plays like Gurmag Angler + Echoing Decay in a single turn, or double Echoing Decay against Affinity of UR Delver if one gets countered.
We can think about the inclusion of a third basic Swamp, but it’s not worth: the second one already provide us with stability and with one more off-color only source we increase the possibility of finding them instead of the blue that we still need so much.

–  7 Shuffle effect: essentials with our cantrips, we gain the ability to better manipulate our draws but we lose some explosiveness and the ability to play early game. In my opinion, in a deck with a decent cantrip package 6 is the least possible amount of shuffle effects needed to play, while the highest number is 9: that’s why 7 is a good compromise.

If we’re talking about the Elusive Spellfist version of the deck, our manabase changes since we need to be more aggressive, we’re also playing more cantrips since they keep fueling our blue monk’s prowless:
10 Island
2 Swamp
2 Ash Barrens
3 Fetches
The only thing I  would change is the second Ash Barrens, too risky for us, it’s better to use a 4th fetch in its place.

 

UR Delver

9 Snow-Covered Island
2 Snow-Covered Mountain
4 Fetches
3 Ash Barrens

– 13 Blue mana sources available on your first turn (13/14 minimum)
– 16 Blue mana sources total (15/16 minimum)
– 9 Red mana sources (8/9 minimum)
-7 Shuffle effects (between 5 and 9 recommended)

Here i would like to point out the possible switch between the 3rd Ash Barrens and the 5th fetch: we still need two Ash Barrens for their instant fixing capabilities and we need it earlier than UB Delver, furthermore we have one more land in total to work with.
The 3rd Ash Barrens is again too much of a risk: we don’t want to see too many of them in the early game.
After reading Gavin Verhey’s wonderful articles on how many copies of a card we need to play, we know that we usually play 3 copies of a really strong card that we don’t really want to draw in multiple copies, 2 copies of  cards that we still want to see occasionally, but we almost never want to draw it twice.
Ash Barrens isn’t an indispensable card that we want to see every game, it can hurt us more if we draw it twice than benefit if we draw it once, especially with limited mana available: with 2 Evolving Wilds we can play a slow but steady hand, but with 2 Ash Barrens we are forced to play suboptimally.

 

UW TRIBE

10 Snow-Covered Island
2 Snow-Covered Plains
4 Fetches
2 Ash Barrens

– We keep repeating ourselves, but we still play only 2 Ash Barrens for the same reasons: we need immediate access to white but don’t want to risk a dead/slow hand too much and we still need a lot of blue.

– We strongly disagree with the second Plains because here the price of having one more non-island is too much: the deck needs to combo out with Inside Out + protection (and maybe + something to make our tribe unblockable), we can use one Plains to pay for the colorless part of Inside Out’s cost, but the second Plains is worthless (except rare cases like Apostle’s Blessing and  Ajani’s Presence), we need blue mana to cast Dispel and Circular Logic.
This deck, loved pet deck of mine, can’t afford to draw the second Plains when it needs an Island to protect our combo or cantrip: the inclusion of this extra basic land is downright dangerous, assuming that we aren’t playing in an aggro metagame..

-6 Shuffle effects (between 5 and 9 recommended): Tribe is a combo deck, so it needs to find its combo pieces, accordingly we need to dig deeper in our library than a Delver deck, that’s why we’d like to play more shuffle effects to better supplement our cantrips. This have the added benefit of increasing our potential white sources to 9, enhanching our chances to find a Plains before 4th turn and helping in a lot of matchups.

That said, this is in my opinion the more solid and reliable manabase to play in the current metagame after testing it for about a year:
9 Snow-Covered Islands
1 Snow-Covered Plains
6 fetches
2 Ash Barrens

CONCLUSION

Tranquil Cove

I really hope that you liked this write-up, this is the kind of articles that we want to put here, with some more on the state of the metagame and on the banlist.
You will always find very specific discussions with practical examples that want to confirm or explain what we can find online, addressing arguments like manabases little by little with the purpose of leaving hints that our readers can think about.
Please, let us know what do you think about our articles and whatever can help us be better.
We just started out, so any feedback on contents, the way the article is structured and the translation will be really helpful for us to learn and grow.
See you all next time!

Original article written by Crila Peoty (Bragioto Pietro) HERE
Translated by: Gabriele “gabky” Pastori