Modern is Magic: the Gathering’s second most popular format, and it features cards from all Magic sets stretching back to Eighth Edition and original Mirrodin block. There are hundreds of different playable archetypes, both mainstream and fringe, constructed of thousands of set-legal cards, with only thirty-five currently on the banned list. In this series, I’m going to explore Modern in-depth, looking at the format in its current state, analysing what existed in the past, and giving you an idea of what sort of cards to play, or play around.
In this third instalment, I’ll be discussing the best 5 “utility” lands. this is a difficult thing to define, and so by this, I’ll say that I mean lands which are not purely for mana-fixing like fetches and shocks, but have an on-use ability or other static effect which advances the game state in a certain way, or which makes a particular deck work the way it does. There will be many different interpretations of what exactly constitutes a “utility” land, but this list is based on my personal definition above.
There are many of these types of lands to be found in Modern, both intended to further your own advancement and to stunt your opponent’s development. Lands are a fantastic place to put spell-like effects, as your opponent can neither counter them nor respond to you playing them, and they have the potential to be very powerful tools in your arsenal. Here, I will discuss which are, in my opinion, the 5 most influential and important utility lands in Modern, and why.
BEAR IN MIND: Despite the definition given above fitting man-lands also, I will not be including any of those in this particular article. There are two reasons for this; firstly, half the list would be “man-lands” as there are some excellent and versatile options for these in Modern, and not only is it hard to compare a card with creature-like tendencies to one that has a static effect, but it would take away somewhat from the uniqueness of the list to just be describing P/T and combat tactics. Each of the lands described below have very different effects on the game, and it seemed like a much more interesting read when man-lands were excluded. Secondly, I plan to include the good man-lands in a later instalment of this series, so hold tight for that one.
Now, on with the show!
The Best 5 Magic: the Gathering Utility Lands in Modern
Gavony Township is an often-overlooked land which, until recently, had only seen a lot of love in the more fringe decks in Modern. However, since the banning of Splinter Twin, in the last year there has been a resurgence of Abzan Company and Kiki Chord decks, both of which love to run this card as a way of generating advantage, even when they are not looking to combo off. It’s an easy and reliable way to add to your board, can make even a creature like Birds of Paradise or Noble Hierarch a credible threat and, in a grindy board-stall situation, can be exactly what you need in order to overwhelm your opponent.
The best part about this card, though, is that it can be done at instant speed. So, though you can use it during your own attack step to add counters if you want to, you can also hold back and bluff a Path to Exile, Restoration Angel etc., and still have a way to use your mana efficiently in their end step if they don’t play anything into your untapped lands. As many of the decks that use it are very combo-oriented, it serves as a perfect way of forcing your opponent to use their removal up on big creatures before unleashing the combo, or even generating enough advantage to be able to win without it, if they have found some sideboard hate. Many people are so wary of being combo’d out that they will not pay attention to something like a Township until it’s too late. It’s also handy, of course, that it’s a way of removing Persist counters off a Kitchen Finks, to be able to keep gaining life and value from the same creature.
In long and grindy mirrors, or even for midrange decks which are looking to out-value their opponents’ plays, Township is a fantastic addition. The only thing holding it back is the G/W requirement in its mana cost, otherwise it may well have seen play in a lot of other decks such as Elves or Merfolk. I predict that it will continue to see a lot of play in the colours in which it fits, however, the strict mana requirement is an issue, as well as the fact that it can only tap for colourless, making it rarely more than a one- or two- of, despite its efficiency and value.
4. Cavern of Souls
Cavern of Souls has always been the go-to card for tribal decks. In addition to providing excellent fixing, you can use it to bypass opponents’ counterspells, and on turn two or three, if they have held up mana to Remand your play, this can be a huge tempo swing in your favour. It is also a mainstay in creature decks in Legacy and Vintage for the same reason; counterspells make people feel safe, and when they suddenly can’t use them, you may render part of their hand useless or force them to take turns off not doing anything and throw off their tempo severely.
Until recently, in Modern, Cavern only saw play in Merfolk, Elves and the odd Goblin list. It was a great card, but very specific, and so it garnered more attention in Legacy and Vintage, where counterspells are far more devastating, and in Commander where tribal decks are more common. It began to rise in power in Modern when the old Amulet Bloom lists employed it to create uncounterable Azusa, Lost But Seeking and would then bounce it and name Giant for Primeval Titans; however, since the banning of Summer Bloom, those decks have somewhat dropped out of the meta.
Then came the Eldrazi.
In addition to being able to tap for a colourless mana to add to the Eldrazi’s “Wastes” mana cost in a pinch, it can also be used as part of the generic mana cost, to ensure that Eldrazi are uncounterable if necessary. This is a huge bonus to the Bant Eldrazi lists, which are already tight on mana requirements, having to run essentially four colours with so many colourless costs. Having a land which taps for all four, as well as providing additional bonuses, is fantastic, and Cavern quickly became a four-of in the top Eldrazi decks.
Cavern is a very specific land, but when it’s good, it’s great. Merfolk, Elves and Goblins would certainly be a lot worse off without it, as they give the aggro decks a great chance against early control. As for Eldrazi, it’s certainly one of the best lands that the deck could have asked for both fixing- and utility- wise, and is part of the reason for the deck’s success. It will certainly continue to be around for as long as tribal decks are playable.
Eldrazi Temple is a very specific land, but one which generates absurd amounts of value. It was printed in Rise of the Eldrazi, but didn’t see any play until the recent Eldrazi printings in Oath of the Gatewatch, which broke open the Modern meta and skyrocketed the prices of both Eldrazi Temple and Eye of Ugin.
After “Eldrazi Winter”, when Wizards had made the decision to ban out something from the Eldrazi deck, there was a lot of speculation whether it would be Eye or Temple. There were arguments for both, as they could in some ways be considered equally powerful, but it was decided that Eye of Ugin would allow for faster starts and a better “god hand” than Temple, so Wizards opted to ban that. Temple was allowed to remain in the format, and though the Eldrazi decks have now been tuned down and morphed into the Bant Eldrazi lists we know today, Temple is still a prominent standout for the best land in the deck.
Although it only taps for colourless, which can be a serious disadvantage in a deck requiring three different colours of mana, the fact that it can still allow for turn-two Thought-Knot Seer into turn-three Reality Smasher is an absolutely absurd curve for a format where fast mana is generally considered too powerful. It’s essentially an Ancient Tomb that doesn’t cost life, which nobody but the Eldrazi decks have access to; and that is what makes Bant Eldrazi still extremely competitive in the current aggro-oriented meta.
Without Eldrazi Temple in their opening hand, the deck can be surprisingly slow. Playing a Thought-Knot Seer on turn four just isn’t good enough, when most of the time your opponent is either winning by then or has already won. The Temple, though, allows the deck access to the starts where it simply bursts out of the gate, gets ahead on tempo and can beat down the aggressive decks and outsize them before they can get any damage in. It’s quite literally the MVP of Bant Eldrazi, and without it, the deck may not even exist.
Ghost Quarter is an extremely important card in Modern. Efficient land destruction is difficult to come across in this format, and this is one of the exceptions. It’s incredibly versatile, allowing you to either disrupt your opponent or, in extreme circumstances, fix your own mana. There are very few decks against which Ghost Quarter is ineffective, meaning that having one or two in your maindeck is usually recommended.
There are many greedy manabases in Modern at the moment, such as the Death’s Shadow lists which run very few lands in a lot of colours, and which can be easily disrupted with a Ghost Quarter or even cut off of a colour. This is particularly good when combined with Path to Exile, as they do not run many basics, so you can build-your-own-Wasteland. Jund, too, has a very awkward manabase which can be set back severely by this card.
Even besides cutting your opponent off of colours, you can also target important utility lands with it. The obvious deck to target is Tron, as you can cut them off of their Tron pieces efficiently and easily, and they, too, tend to run very few basics in their decks. Having a Ghost Quarter on the table makes you immune to a Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle combo, as you can remove the Valakut in response to any spell which may produce a Primeval Titan. Against Eldrazi, if they have kept a hand relying entirely on Temple and you can kill it, you can set them back a lot; equally, even just the threat of removing an animated Raging Ravine or Celestial Colonnade is fantastic value. If your opponent has used a Spreading Seas on you, you can even target your own lands to get rid of it, get one of your colours back and, if it’s Merfolk, be able to block again.
This land is just incredibly flexible, easy to use and good against some aspect of almost every deck. Even when it isn’t, you can use it (albeit inefficiently) to fix your own mana if necessary. Or, you can play Leonin Arbiter and watch your opponent suffer.
People may ask why I have chosen to talk about Ghost Quarter here, but excluded Tectonic Edge. The reason is that I find Tec Edge to be much less flexible, although it can hit basics, because of the four-land requirement in a meta where aggressive decks are flourishing. Sometimes it’s not possible to wait for four lands, or it’s already too late to fix the mess. Giving them a basic (and sometimes they don’t even get it) is generally better than having this restriction, despite the fact that it usually doesn’t leave your opponent down a land.
So, finally, we come to the number one utility land in Modern. I’ve actually cheated a little, as there’s three of them…..
The Tron Lands
Ever since Extended’s inception, and eventual metamorphosis into Modern, Tron has been a deck. The Urza tron pieces are exceptionally powerful, and when combined with Expedition Map, Sylvan Scrying and other such tools, it’s very easy to get a turn-three seven mana card slammed onto the board, and if you are on the play, it’s extremely difficult to deal with this. Generally, people aim to try and kill the lands before the threat comes down, but due to the lack of any really good land destruction in Modern, it’s relying on drawing Ghost Quarters or Fulminator Mages early, or having to face down Karn Liberated.
Not only that, but when Tron is in play, combined with any other land, you can play Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and completely remove the aggressive boardstate someone has desperately been trying to race you with, or with two Urza’s Towers, just play Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger (a new addition to the deck since Battle for Zendikar which has added to its endgame potential), remove their two biggest threats or two best lands, and mill them for twenty the next turn with an indestructible 10/10. Granted, there are a lot of ways to deal with Ulamog, but even if you can, the Tron player will untap next turn with 10 available mana and you have been set back immensely just by their casting it.
Of course, without Eye of Ugin, Tron is much less powerful as a deck. The ability to consistently cycle through Eldrazi and pull out Emrakuls with little effort was what lent the deck so much endgame against control lists; however, although they have had to downgrade since the banning to using Sanctum of Ugin instead, the deck is still a formidable force to be reckoned with, and all because of the Urza tron mechanic created by these three lands.
Without their presence in Modern, Red/Green Tron and all its cousins would not even be an archetype, which would have led to a very different Modern than the one we know today. Although Tron has never been the best deck, its presence has had an impact on how the meta has developed, and we may have had an entirely different format without these lands. That, and the fact that they make seven mana on turn three, is why they sit firmly in first place on this list.
So, what are your thoughts?
Are there any other lands that you would have liked to see on this list? Or do you disagree with my assessments? Please let me know in the comments section below!
My next article in the Top 5 Modern series is forthcoming, so keep an eye out!
Thanks for reading,