Hold on, this may take a while.
I’ve already said this multiple times before playing my first land in the new Standard. In my testing for the Pro Tour, I’ve found that the new battlelands allow for some crazy mana bases, but they also lead to tough sequencing decisions. These decisions are impactful, too: proper sequencing and fetching can be the difference between winning and losing in this format.
In this article, I’ll take four opening hands from Adam Varner’s 4-color deck from the Top 4 of last weekend’s SCG Open, and I’ll explain how I would sequence the lands in the early turns of the game. (His deck was labeled Jeskai Black in the coverage, but I named it after my favorite Nephilim.)
We are on the play against an unknown deck and are thrilled to keep this opening hand. Which lands would you fetch on turns 1, 2, and 3?
Turn-1 Polluted Delta into Sunken Hollow, turn-2 Bloodstained Mire into Mountain, turn-3 Flooded Strand into Plains.
With this hand, we would like to play Jace on turn 2 and Mantis Rider on turn 3. Afterwards, it would be nice if we could still cast Crackling Doom off of our three lands. We would also like to get double-white in our first three lands for Gideon, but that’s a lower priority because it’s likely that our fourth land will yield the second white.
If we want to hit both our 2-drop and 3-drop, then we need to fetch two basic lands and one battleland. The battleland can come down on turn 1 or turn 3. The only combination of two basics and one battleland that allows us to cast both Mantis Rider and Crackling Doom is Plains, Mountain, and Sunken Hollow. Since we want to play Jace on turn 2, we have to crack Polluted Delta on turn 1 for Sunken Hollow. Afterwards, if our first draw step is a nonland, we’ll fetch Mountain with Bloodstained Mire and Plains with Flooded Strand. We delay Flooded Strand until turn 3 to slightly increase the probability of drawing a second white source for Gideon.
Turn-1 Prairie Stream, turn-2 Bloodstained Mire into Mountain, and turn-3 Polluted Delta into probably Island.
My solution allows us to hit the curve of Jace and Mantis Rider. The main reason for playing Polluted Delta last is that this allows us the flexibility of fetching Swamp instead of Island if our Mantis Rider gets Despised or if we prefer to play a turn-3 Crackling Doom for some reason. This land sequencing hits our curve, even if it leaves us unable to play Crackling Doom and possibly Gideon after. Then again, the probability of finding a fourth land by turn 4 is high (85% if Jace dies and 96% if Jace lives) and by that time, any of the lands remaining in our deck will allow us to cast either Gideon or Crackling Doom.
I did consider the sequence of Prairie Stream on turn 1, Bloodstained Mire fetching Smoldering Marsh on turn 2, and then Polluted Delta fetching Prairie Stream on turn 3, which would provide perfect mana for all of our cards, but I prefer to hit my curve and to ensure that any battlelands I draw afterwards will enter the battlefield untapped.
All right, a new hand. We are on the play against an unknown deck and have kept these seven cards. What do you do with your lands in the first few turns?
Turn-1 Prairie Stream, turn-2 Prairie Stream, turn-3 Bloodstained Mire into Mountain.
This ensures that we can cast Mantis Rider on turn 3, even if it means that we cannot cast Dragonmaster Outcast on turn 1. If we go for the turn-1 Bloodstained Mire into Mountain into Dragonmaster Outcast, then we cannot cast a turn-3 Mantis Rider unless we draw Plains, Island, Polluted Delta, or Flooded Strand in time. This only happens in 38% of the games, and Dragonmaster Outcast is unlikely to have a sufficient effect in the early game to compensate for that.
We are again on the play against an unknown deck with this opening hand. What land to lead with?
Turn-1 Prairie Stream.
The “obvious” line would be to play Bloodstained Mire on turn 1 so you can fetch a basic Mountain right away for Wild Slash. The downside of this approach is that if you topdeck Jace, then you will be unable to play it as Prairie Stream would enter the battlefield untapped on turn 2. At the same time, the difference between playing a turn-1 Wild Slash or turn-2 Wild Slash is minimal, so there’s not a large downside to delaying the Bloodstained Mire. Finally, in case there is a basic Mountain lurking on the top of your deck, then you gain the flexibility of fetching a black land instead.
My play is only worse if your opponent plays Monastery Swiftspear or Warden of the First Tree on turn 1 and you draw Hangarback Walker right away. Or if you topdeck another Wild Slash and your opponent has a creature on turn 1 and 2. But those events combined are less likely than the scenario in which you merely topdeck Jace on turn 2, so I prefer my play.
I hope these exercises have increased your understanding of a key aspect of the new Standard and have shown that the “obvious” sequencing of basic into basic into battleland is not always correct. Let me know in the comments below if you agreed with my solutions or if there was anything I overlooked!