Add two lands to your deck! Whatever Constructed deck you’re about to play with, whether you built it yourself or copied it from the internet, I’m here to bet that you’ll win more by upping the land count by two.
Naturally, advice like this does have its limits. However, it’s important to realize that we’re massively more likely to make an error in the direction of playing too few lands rather than in the direction of playing too many.
Emotionally, it’s appealing to go light on lands and heavy on spells when you’re building your deck. After all, you can tell when your mythic rare Dragon wins you a game, or when your Infernal Grasp saves you from a tough spot. So every additional spell you can squeeze in feels like it’s powering up your deck. More permission spells will help you against ramp decks, right? More removal spells will help you against creature decks, right?
Missing a land drop, or taking a mulligan as a result of bad mana, these things don’t always register as problems which need to be corrected, even though they’re just as deadly as any threat your opponent might cast against you. Even harder to notice are the games where you hit your land drops, but need to make subpar plays in order to do so.
I’d love to cast Tangled Florahedron as a mana accelerator, but I guess I need to play it as a land instead.
Boy, it feels important to pass with mana open, but maybe I need to main phase Behold the Multiverse so I can hit my land drop this turn? Two great spells on top? Gotta scry both to the bottom and find a land!
When I started playing Magic in the 1990’s, the default, recommended deck configuration was 20 lands. This was an absurd underestimation, especially considering that my first deck was probably an 80-card, three-color monstrosity featuring as many Scaled Wurms as I could get my hands on!
But even now, when default recommendations are more like 24 or 25 lands, we’re still far off the mark. In the old days, Magic was much more about resource management. Games went longer, more cards traded off on a one-for-one basis and flooding out in the mid and late game was an easy way to lose. Games didn’t spiral out of control with Esika’s Chariot and players didn’t have Teferi, Hero of Dominaria to draw free extra cards every turn.
In 2021 Magic, you’ll usually lose the game if you miss an early land drop. You’ll often lose the game if you have to play a tapped land on the wrong turn, or if it takes too long to find all of your colors. Conversely, it’s much more rare to flood out because planeswalkers and other key threats create snowballing advantages, and so many cards generate card advantage or otherwise replace themselves. Even when all else fails, you can often look down at your graveyard, battlefield or companion zone and have some kind of useful ability to spend your mana on.
15 years ago, you might’ve played some creatures and gassed out quickly. Today, you’re drawing cards off of Werewolf Pack Leader and Tovolar, Dire Overlord the whole game. And when you run out of threats to play, you still need to decide whether to spend your mana pumping your creatures or activating Den of the Bugbear!
Which brings me to my final point, which is that the lands you can play are just so good right now! Speaking about Standard alone, every color has a creatureland, plus Faceless Haven and Crawling Barrens are amazing threats. Double-faced land/spells range from quality threats to removal spells to card drawing and graveyard recursion. And if your mana base can tolerate colorless utility lands, you can access Field of Ruin, Hall of Oracles, The Biblioplex or Hostile Hostel.
With options this good, I just don’t get the desire to skimp on land count. Missing land drops is a major fail case of our decks, and we have the ability to greatly minimize it at such a low cost!
A mana base of 10 Forests, 10 Mountains and four Cragcrown Pathways will have mana problems a lot. Alternatively, a mana base with 29 lands including Lair of the Hydra, Shatterskull Smashing and Kazandu Mammoth will be manascrewed significantly less often. And yet, it will also find itself less often needing to pass the turn with no play. The tools exist to minimize manascrew and manaflood at the same time. Use them!
Specifically, how many lands do I think you should play? In Best-of-Three Standard and Historic, it’s hard for me to imagine playing less than 24 lands, even in low-curve, monocolored aggro decks. For “normal decks,” I’d default to around 27, and for ramp decks I’d happily go as high as 30 or 31. Note that these numbers do include double-faced land/spells.
Many factors can influence a mana base, and this Deep Dive will set you up to answer these questions more precisely, plus offers plenty of links for further reading.
In the meantime, I recommend adding two creatureslands, utility lands or double-faced land/spells to whatever deck you play with next. See if you regret it. My bet is that you won’t notice any difference right away. Then after a handful of matches, you’ll reflect back and notice that you’re mulliganing less, curving out more smoothly and winning more matches.