Painlands Return in MTG Dominaria United!

For aggro players in post-rotation Standard, the reprinting of six painlands in Dominaria United is a big deal.

The mana base is the foundation of every Magic deck. Hence, when analyzing a Constructed format, we should start by examining the possibilities defined by its non-basic lands, particularly the ones that tap for multiple colors of mana. Before putting this into perspective, let me go over a bit of history.



The History of Painlands

Throughout nearly 30 years of history, we’ve gone through countless cycles of conditional dual lands. Battle lands, bounce lands, check lands, cycling lands, fast lands, filter lands, creature lands, scry lands, slow lands, shock lands, show lands, tribal lands, the list goes on. Yet in Dominaria United, we’re going back to the originals!

Indeed, the very first set of conditional dual lands in the history of the game – discounting the overpowered unconditional ones from Alpha, such as Plateau and Underground Sea – were the allied-color pain lands: Adarkar Wastes, Brushland, Karplusan Forest, Sulfurous Springs and Underground River

Introduced in Ice Age in 1995, they offered an elegant, clean drawback. The painlands enabled players to build multicolor decks but, unlike the Alpha ones, they weren’t strictly better than basic lands (Wasteland was not introduced before 1997). This made for more interesting deck building challenges. 

For completeness, I should mention that Ice Age also introduced a cycle of depletion lands: Land Cap, Lava Tubes, River Delta, Timberline Ridge and Veldt. However, their drawback was too severe. It wasn’t until 2000 that the early Magic designers got “tap lands” right: In Invasion, they introduced Coastal Tower, Salt Marsh, Urborg Volcano, Shivan Oasis and Elfhame Palace.

But back to the painlands. At first, we only had the allied-color ones. Several years later, with the release of Apocalypse in 2001, the five enemy-color painlands were introduced. Since then, the cycle of 10 pain lands has been reprinted numerous times, and they’ve always seen a good amount of play. It’s better to lose a life and cast your spells than to risk not being able to cast your spells at all.

In Dominaria United, we’re only getting six of the 10 pain lands, but the other four will be in The Brothers’ War. That set, which will be released on November 18, 2022, is also set on the plane of Dominaria, which means that it can also feature painlands with Dominaria-specific location names.


What Do the Painlands Mean for Post-Rotation Standard?

Mana bases in post-rotation Standard will look different because with the release of Dominaria United, Pathways, creature-lands and modal double-faced cards will rotate out. Painlands will largely be worse than Pathways, barring exceptions like Jerren, Corrupted Bishop, a reprint of Thought-Knot Seer or curving Spell Pierce into Bloodtithe Harvester. But it’s better to have a bad Pathway than no Pathway at all.

Yet how much better a pain land is than a basic land depends on your turn-one color requirements and on how highly you value your life total.

Raffine's TowerShattered SanctumDeserted BeachShipwreck Marsh

For midrange or control decks, the painlands are not that big of a deal. They already have access to slow lands like Deserted Beach and tri-lands like Raffine’s Tower, which together can satisfy most colored mana requirements. For example, an Esper Midrange deck with four Raffine’s Tower, three Shattered Sanctum, three Deserted Beach, three Shipwreck Marsh and 12 basic lands can adequately support Tenacious Underdog, Raffine, Scheming Seer and The Wandering Emperor in post-rotation Standard. 

Maybe such decks will add two or three pain lands just because they can. But it won’t make a big difference in terms of consistency. Moreover, the life loss could hurt a control player’s chances of making it to the late game. Drawing multiple pain lands could be a big problem, especially when facing an aggro deck that quickly whittles away your life total. This means that you don’t want to run too many pain lands in control decks.

Needleverge Pathway // Pillarverge Pathway

But for aggro decks, it’s a game-changer. These decks generally want to curve out as early as turn one, and they don’t care about their own life total. Untapped duals are particularly invaluable for aggro decks with one-drops in multiple colors or with double-pip spells.

Take pre-rotation Boros Aggro, for example. It’s a popular and powerful archetype right now. But without Needleverge Pathway to fix Hopeful Initiate and Kumano Faces Kakkazan on turn one, it simply wouldn’t work. Taking consistency definitions from my “How many colored sources do you need to consistency cast your spells?” article, you might fall from 89 to 83 percent consistency if you had to run basic lands instead of Needleverge Pathway. Or equivalently, go from a 11 percent failure rate to a 17 percent failure rate. That is exactly the difference between a top-tier deck that regularly wins tournaments and an inconsistent deck that repeatedly loses to curve-out failures. 

If Dominaria United had not provided untapped dual lands to replace the Pathways, then multicolor aggro decks would have been effectively impossible. Post-rotation Standard might have quickly devolved into a midrange slugfest. Now, thanks to the painlands, more strategic diversity is possible. I can’t emphasize enough how big of a deal this is.

An equally big deal is which of the 10 pain lands are not included. That Boros Aggro deck I mentioned? Well, too bad – Battlefield Forge is not yet available in Dominaria United. For the first few months of post-rotation Standard, you’ll be better off with another color combination. Even if you believe that Boros cards are better than, say, Orzhov cards, it’s unlikely to make up for that 89 to 83 percent consistency drop. Over a long tournament, the difference between 13 and 11 untapped turn-one sources of a color is massive.

Instead, let me illustrate the importance of pain lands by going over two other multicolor aggro decks. In the process, I’ll highlight some of the previewed Dominaria United spells that have stood out to me so far.


Orzhov Aggro/Humans

6 Plains (Showcase)
2 Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire
4 Caves of Koilos
3 Shattered Sanctum
5 Swamp (Showcase)
3 Secluded Courtyard
1 Takenuma, Abandoned Mire
4 Hopeful Initiate
4 Evolved Sleeper
3 Guardian of New Benalia
2 Tenacious Underdog
4 Intrepid Adversary
3 Brutal Cathar/Moonrage Brute
3 Extraction Specialist
2 Wedding Announcement/Wedding Festivity
2 Adeline, Resplendent Cathar
4 The Wandering Emperor
1 Liesa, Forgotten Archangel
4 Infernal Grasp

4 Duress
3 Knockout Blow
2 Wedding Announcement/Wedding Festivity
2 Circle of Confinement
1 Elspeth Resplendent
1 Reckoner Bankbuster
1 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
1 Brutal Cathar/Moonrage Brute


Evolved SleeperGuardian of New Benalia

This deck features two sweet new Dominaria United spells: Evolved Sleeper, a powerful variation on Figure of Destiny, and Guardian of New Benalia, whose new enlist ability reads “As this creature attacks, you may tap a nonattacking creature you control without summoning sickness. When you do, add its power to this creature’s until end of turn.”  

Enlist is best when paired with high-power creatures that don’t want to or simply can’t venture into combat by themselves. Brutal Cathar is a good example, as is a boosted Intrepid Adversary or Extraction Specialist’s rescued creature. The discard ability on Guardian of New Benalia, by the way, nicely sets up Extraction Specialist, so there’s plenty of synergy. In the late game, tapping and activating a Phyrexianized Evolved Sleeper means that Guardian of New Benalia turns into a indestructible, nigh-unstoppable haymaker (well, except for The Meathook Massacre, which is a problem for this deck, but that’s what the sideboard is for.)

In terms of the mana base, Caves of Koilos is invaluable. Right now, I have 13 untapped black sources for a turn-one Evolved Sleeper (including Secluded Courtyard on Human) and 15 white sources for The Wandering Emperor. For each, that’s one fewer than my tables prescribe, but it’s close enough to 90 percent consistency that I can live with it.

Yet imagine we’d have to cut four Caves of Koilos for two Swamp and two Plains. It would be an absolute disaster! We’d now be back to 83 percent consistency for multiple cards, which means that every few matches or so, we’d fumble our curve. Without a proper mana base foundation, this deck would not perform well.


Rakdos Sacrifice/Discard

4 Voldaren Epicure
3 Experimental Synthesizer
4 Voltage Surge
4 Oni-Cult Anvil
4 Bloodtithe Harvester
3 The Raven Man
1 Virus Beetle
4 Fable of the Mirror-Breaker/Reflection of Kiki-Jiki
2 Ob Nixilis, the Adversary
3 Liliana of the Veil
2 The Meathook Massacre
1 Infernal Grasp
4 Sulfurous Springs
6 Mountain (Showcase)
2 Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance
4 Haunted Ridge
5 Swamp (Showcase)
2 Takenuma, Abandoned Mire
2 Tramway Station

4 Duress
3 Infernal Grasp
2 Sorin the Mirthless
2 The Meathook Massacre
2 Graveyard Trespasser/Graveyard Glutton
1 Abrade
1 Reckoner Bankbuster


The Raven ManLiliana of the Veil

The Raven Man and Liliana of the Veil play well together. Whether you call that a flavor win or a flavor miss is up to you, but they make for a solid mana curve. Even barring their cross-synergies, Liliana of the Veil was an essential part of Modern midrange decks for years, and The Raven Man will trigger off Virus Beetle and the second chapter on Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. Blood tokens and Channel lands also do the trick, even during your opponent’s turn!

With that in mind, I figured that starting the curve with the Blood-generating Voldaren Epicure was a sweet idea, and then an Oni-Cult Anvil shell to break the symmetry on Liliana’s -2 ability is a good fit. But can the mana base work?

Well, we can get close. The list above has 12 untapped red sources for a turn-one Voldaren Epicure, along with 17 black sources for Liliana of the Veil. Not great, not terrible. Red mana on turn one is not an absolute necessity, an a turn-four Liliana could be fine too. 

At the very least, this mana base is far, far better than the one we’d get if we had to run basic lands instead of Sulfurous Springs. I simply wouldn’t have dared this without an untapped dual land.

Another reason why I wanted to show this list is that it highlights an advanced strategic possibility in post-rotation Standard: boarding out different lands based on the matchup. If you look at the list, you’ll see that it contains 25 lands, which is a bit too high for its average mana value. But that’s intentional. The risk of flooding in Game 1 is mitigated because you can discard excess lands to Blood tokens, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Liliana of the Veil. But then after sideboard, you can board out a land or two, depending on the matchup: against control decks, you’ll board out Tramway Station because you want to rush them. Against aggro decks, you’ll board out Sulfurous Springs because you value your life total. I love little tweaks like this. 

All in all, a painland is more than just a land: It unlocks all kinds of deck building possibilities.


What Do the Painlands Mean for Pioneer/Explorer?

In Pioneer, painlands are generally inferior to Pathways, shock lands and fast lands. However, they can still play a role for decks with heavy early-game mana requirements. Battlefield Forge, for example, is a main stay in Boros Heroic. Enemy-color pain lands such as Battlefield Forge were already legal in Pioneer; it’s the allied-color ones that are new.

In Explorer, the online format with all Pioneer cards available on MTG Arena, we did not yet have access to Battlefield Forge or any other pain lands. Their introduction will act as a big boon for decks like Boros Heroic.

Karplusan ForestAdarkar WastesSulfurous Springs

In both formats, Gruul Aggro now gets to enjoy Karplusan Forest, Azorius Spirits can add Adarkar Wastes and Rakdos Sacrifice may consider Sulfurous Springs. I doubt the pain lands will become four-ofs, but I have seen the occasional two-color lists with a Mana Confluence before, and the painlands will be a strict upgrade for them.

Since only three of the five allied-color pain lands are included in Dominaria United, Selesnya Auras players will have to wait for The Brothers’ War to get access to Brushland, and Dimir Ninja/Rogue brewers will be missing Underground River as well. But only for a few months. I’m looking forward to seeing the entire cycle get completed!


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