Editor’s Note: We’re off today in celebration of the US holiday. Enjoy this Monday Magic article, which was originally published in September 2013..
The topic of land in Commander is always an interesting one. Depending on the individual player and/or their play group, how one utilizes land slots is of continual conversation. Sometimes the dialogue is based on how many land should be used, debating whether or not deviating beyond the baseline 33 is required to make the deck work. More often, though, is the topic of how many of those slots should be dedicated to non-basic lands and which one should be used. If your play group likes to throw non-basic hate around with cards like Price of Progress, Ruination, or the new Burning Earth, running a lot of non-basics can be risky. What’s more, the overwhelming majority of land fetch mechanics only affect basic land types, making it more difficult for those who seek to accumulate mana via land ramp if they opt for too many.
If your meta is more non-basic friendly (or at least neutral), then the topic shifts to which should be utilized. The general sense seems to be that if a Commander deck is using three or more colors, non-basics should focus on mana fixing – helping the player out by increasing the odds of getting the colors they’ll need. This is where you’ll see players using the Terramorphic Expanses, the Ravnica Lands, Shocklands, Filter Lands, Hybrid Lands, Tri-lands, Core Set Lands, and so on. Having access to lots of different ones means affords you a greater realm of opportunity in generating the right colors and helps prevent you player from being shut down from lack of a necessary color.
By contrast, if a Commander deck is using two or less colors, the focus seems to shift to using “utility lands”. These are lands that have useful effects beyond generating mana, providing small but worthwhile options to the players using them. They are the lands that let you gain life, provide combat bonuses, or do things lands generally don’t do.
Of course, that’s not to say that two-color decks don’t like mana fixing just as much, or that four-color decks wouldn’t mind having a useful ability on a fairly safe permanent (they would), but utility lands have a catch. They indeed provide benefits beyond mana, but the vast majority of these utility land cards only generate colorless mana. Color-heavy decks can be hurt by that, whereas simpler color schemes don’t have to rely on fixing as much.
We saw another utility land previously shown in the form of Mystifying Maze, but Commander has room for many of them to shine. So, let’s look at another worthwhile specimen. One that makes us more creatures.
Today we have: Urza’s Factory
Name: Urza’s Factory
Edition: Time Spiral
Focus: Creature Generating
Highlights: There are only a handful of lands that can generate creatures. Partly it’s because of the philosophy that Lands are representations of the energy we planeswalkers are tapping into for our power, and they are not part of our menagerie of creatures from around the multiverse to summon.
The other part is practical: having a land make creatures is a very useful tool to have. Unlike animating land to do our bidding, creating additional creatures adds to the size of our armies.
As such, they are only done on rare occasions – a mere fourteen times, in fact. Almost half of those requiring you to sacrifice land to do it, keeping with that 1-for-1 idea of land animation as they become creatures instead. In practice, there are actually only four or five (depending how you want to count Kjeldoran Outpost) that can give you more creatures every single time with no cost besides mana, and any of those are fine choices to use.
What makes Urza’s Factory differ from the others is three-fold. First, it costs colorless mana to do. The only other colorless land generator is Springjack Pasture; the rest require you are playing with the colors needed to activate them.
Second, whilst Urza’s Factory requires the greatest mana commitment to create a token – eight including itself – it makes 2/2 creatures with it. Springjack, for example, may only cost you five, but it provides you with a 0/1. All of the others, actually, only make 0/1s or 1/1s. Now, any of them can be worthwhile chump blockers, but the Assembly-Workers are hefty enough at a 2/2 to possibly survive something. Maybe. But I’ll take ‘maybe’ over ‘no chance’.
Third, said Assembly-Workers are artifact creatures. This can afford players EDH-worthy options beyond simply making an expensive blocker, since artifacts can combo well with a variety of things depending on how your deck works.
None of these land generators are likely to create huge swings in your game, but they are useful abilities to have as Commander games prolong. Normally, eight mana for a 2/2 would be an absurd recommendation, but late in games when mana is available before your next turn, it’s a safe and an easy way to make another creature. And even if it rarely is a viable option, the worst Urza’s Factory can do for you is to simply have a colorless land for mana.
Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.
You can discuss this article over on our forums!