It’s no secret that we are devotees of Marit Lage here at the Library. Tom Kellock has been going to time for years with various flavours of Thespian’s Stage / Dark Depths lands control, most recently playing RG Combo Lands to a Top 8 finish at the BoM Tour Invitational Super Final. The rest of the London crowd are now highly adept at remembering their Tabernacle triggers, playing around Crop Rotation, and being Wastelanded out of the game.
I ended up taking a somewhat unconventional Lands control deck *undefeated* through a recent Dark Sphere Tuesday night Legacy event:
3 Crop Rotation
3 Life from the Loam
1 Entreat the Angels
4 Mox Diamond
3 Sensei’s Divining Top
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
3 Tropical Island
2 Misty Rainforest
4 Flooded Strand
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Riftstone Portal
3 Maze of Ith
1 The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
2 Thespian’s Stage
1 Dark Depths
3 Krosan Grip
2 Mindbreak Trap
2 Vendilion Clique
2 Swords to Plowshares
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Karmic Justice
1 Surgical Extraction
The original idea for the list came from Callum Smith who sent me a spicy-looking Bant/Miracles deck, albeit one that was a little closer to Mentor Miracles splashing for the Stage/Depths combo. I really liked the interaction between his one-of Maze of Ith and Terminus. Maze forces an opponent to commit multiple threats to the battlefield, which can then be efficiently cleaned away with Terminus, leaving you with an on-board answer (Maze) to their next threat. Most sweepers in Magic cost 3+ mana so don’t really combo that well with a land that can’t tap for mana. Terminus, however, is very reasonably costed at one white so can play quite nicely with spell lands like Maze of Ith. Thanks Wizards!
From the RG Lands side, it feels like Punishing Fire is worse these days with the printing of Leovold, Emissary of Trest and the upswing in True-Name Nemesis‘s popularity. Terminus is an efficient answer to both threats.
In fact, there are a lot of neat interactions and synergies between many of the core Miracles cards and the core Lands cards. Sensei’s Divining Top combos with Life from the Loam since you can dredge Loam to clear three duds from the top of your library. Top also protects Loam from Surgical Extraction-style effects, which, thanks to the RB Reanimator deck are one of the more common sideboard answers for the Loam engine at the moment. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a convenient way of turning raw resources from Loam into business spells.
The idea of a Lands/Miracles hybrid was exciting — Terminus, Top, Jace and the rest of the Lands deck seemed destined to fit together — so I continued to mess around with the deck on-and-off over a few days before settling on the list above.
It’s worth pointing out that Bant Lands isn’t entirely new. Kasper Euser made top 64 at GP Paris in 2014 with a list that leveraged a sweet Living Wish sideboard to assemble and protect the Stage/Depths combo. Earlier versions of ‘Eternal Garden’ also ran Moats and Plows. Despite that, I’m not aware of anyone else trying to run Terminus in a Lands shell.
In terms of the deck itself, Intuition is the glue that holds everything together and effectively constrains us to running all of the three-ofs. A lot of the time you’ll simply Intuition for Loam/Stage/Depths to set-up the combo, but you sometimes need to fetch a control element: for instance, a Maze against an opposing Angler, the missing piece of the Counterbalance/Top against Storm combo, or a Jace against Miracles. Earlier versions of the list ran a Noxious Revival in an effort to trim the three-ofs (while also rebuying the miracles!), but that felt too clunky in testing.
I was initially very skeptical of Counterbalance in this deck. While it’s obviously great with a Top in play, there are so many zero CMC cards in the deck that I felt it was pretty unlikely to counter much of relevance off a blind flip. For a while I was running a couple of Dazes and an extra land in the Counterbalance slot. The tempo loss from returning a land is partly mitigated by Exploration and Mox Diamond and the deck does attack the opponent’s mana-base so a free Force Spike can sometimes be relevant. I was “getting” a lot of people in testing with Daze, but that’s because my opponents weren’t expecting it. The truth is that Daze is a weak card in a control deck. Tom Kellock eventually pointed out that we almost had as many one drops as a typical Miracles deck — 15 here, vs 16 (Brainstorm, Top, Ponder, Swords to Plowshares) in Miracles — and countering zero CMC spells is actually somewhat relevant against combo. Counterbalance is a little greedy in terms of mana since we only have 15 blue sources from the Mox Diamonds, fetches and duals — I’d prefer 18+ to support the turn two ‘balance. Loam and, at a push, Thespian’s Stage copying a dual can sometimes help to hit the second blue.
Notably Force of Will is missing. Earlier versions of my list ran 3-4 Forces, but I found it difficult to cram in enough blue cards to properly support it. You either have to cut lands, which makes Mox Diamond and Exploration worse; cut Tops, which make the miracle cards worse; or cut green cards, which, by doing so you just make the whole deck worse. -3 Counterbalance, -1 Loam, +4 Force might be the place to start with a Force build. At the moment the plan against combo is to lose game one, then bring in enough sideboard cards to take games two and three.
I’d also like to run a basic land, but it isn’t clear what to cut or even which basic to run. The deck is fairly blue-heavy in terms of mana requirements, which suggests Island, but a basic Forest helps to keep Loam active vs Wasteland and opens up Krosan Grip post-board against Blood Moon. It would also be useful to be able to use Ghost Quarter to fix our mana. I’ve had to use Ghost Quarter as a shuffle effect in a few games and double Stone Raining yourself just to shuffle your library is about as much fun as it sounds.
The sideboard likely needs more work, but I can waffle about my board in its current form. Against main-deck Counterbalance a (Storm) combo opponent should be bringing in permanent hate like Abrupt Decay or Krosan Grip so I want to fight on the stack post-board if possible to sidestep their sideboarding. Vendilion Clique does get hit by Decay, but it’s an additional threat and the enters-the-battlefield ability can provide some value even if they have the Decay. (Technically, we have Karakas to protect the Clique too). I considered running Force of Will in the board, but the blue count is likely still too low so Mindbreak Trap gets the nod against ultra-fast combo. There should probably be three ‘Traps here to turn Intuition into a counter. Flusterstorm is just great stack interaction that has value against a lot of decks. Grip deals with a lot of problem permanents and Plow adds extra removal vs the creature decks. Another option for the board would be Knight of the Reliquary as an additional threat that can assemble the Stage/Depths, but I couldn’t figure out how to make room for a couple of Knights.
Round 1 vs James on Punishing Maverick (2-0)
Game 1: I think I durdle around with with Counter/Top. Terminus his guys, then get Loam/Stage/Depths/Wasteland going with two Explorations.
Boarding: +2 Plow, +1 Clique, +1 Karmic Justice, +1 Bog, +1 Surgical; -3 Counterbalance, -1 Loam, -1 Jace, -1 Intuition. (I don’t have high confidence in this plan and my actual sideboarding could have differed by a card or two. Counterbalance definitely seems bad against his highish curve and extra removal is obviously great. Punishing Fire is good against Jace, so at least one answer to that seems good and he’ll likely bring in ways to interact with my graveyard so trimming Loams also seems reasonable.)
Game 2: He makes a Sylvan Library, which is a little worrying, but Mazes, Plows and Terminuses deal with all of his threats. I manage to land a Vendilion Clique backed up by Karakas, which James concedes to because we’re low on time.
Round 2 vs Alex on Friedman Delver (1-1-1):
Game 1: I mull a 6 mana source, Terminus hand into Maze of Ith, Tabernacle, no other land, which I then keep. Turn 1 Tabernacle on the off-chance that he’s playing creatures. He’s on Delver. Eventually I get a Loam going and try to hit enough Wastelands to let the Tabernacle do its work, but he had a very land-heavy draw and manages to get there.
Boarding: +2 Plow, +2 Clique, +1 Karmic Justice, -2 Jace, -2 Intuition, -1 Loam. Again, not sure if this is correct. Intuition feels too durdly as a 3 mana spell that doesn’t affect the board, Jace is awkward to resolve through Daze/Spell Pierce. They’re likely boarding out a lot of their removal, so Cliques seem decent.
Game 2: I keep a classic Lands hand of Top, Counterbalance, Tundra, Fetch, Brainstorm, plus some stuff I don’t remember. Counter/Top controls the game for a bit until I eventually assemble the Stage/Depths combo.
Game 3: Time is called pretty much as we’re shuffling up.
Round 3 vs Patrick on BG Contamination (1-1-1):
Game 1: I make a turn two Jace thanks to Exploration. He drops Bitterblossom. Multiple Maze of Iths help to keep the Jace alive for a bit against an army of Faeries, but I eventually die to Helm/Leyline. It’s possible that I punted this game since I had Counter/Top in play and had been floating a Jace on my library, but then shuffled Jace away trying to dig for a Terminus to clear a path for Marit Lage.
Boarding: -3 Counterbalance, -1 Loam, +3 Grosan Grip, +1 Karmic Justice. I didn’t bring in Cliques because they’re bad against Bitterblossom, but that could have been wrong.
Game 2: Back to the usual Jace vs Bitterblossom fun. At some point, I manage to Terminus his Faeries mid combat and have the Stage/Depths combo on board, but don’t have enough mana to make Marit Lake that turn. My plan had been to make Lage on his next turn, then clear a path for her to attack with Jace, but he drops a second Bitterblossom post-combat, which scuppers that line. Thankfully a bit of Brainstorming yields another solution: Entreat the Angels.
Game 3: He opens with Leyline of the Void, then casts a bunch of discard. I manage to assemble Stage/Depths, then Krosan Grip his Helm of Obedience (should probably have gone for the Leyline), but sadly (for me) we run out of time before I can make Lage and attack.
Round 4 vs Mateusz on ANT (2-1):
Game 1: If I remember correctly, I think I had a Exploration/Top type hand, dropped a bunch of mana. He went for a turn two Ad Nauseam, but didn’t draw enough to kill me that turn. My last card in hand at this point is Intuition which he knows about and attempts to Cabal Therapy with his remaining mana. I fire off the Intuition for Loam/Ghost Quarter/combo piece and then hope to Ghost Quarter him off black to at least make his next turn slightly awkward, which it does, but I still die. (Loam/Stage/Depths would have been too slow given the draws from Ad Naus.)
Boarding: +3 Flusterstorm, +2 Trap, +2 Clique, +1 Surgical, +1 Bojuka Bog; -3 Terminus, -3 Maze of Ith, -2 Jace, -1 Life from the Loam.
Game 2: Turn 1 Counterbalance, but no Top. I eventually draw a third mana source and Intuition for the missing Top, then land a Clique to start pressuring him. He casts Ad Nauseam in response to the Clique trigger and kills himself.
Game 3: I keep a hand with Mindbreak Trap, Counterbalance, Exploration, Mox Diamond, but, awkwardly, no second blue source. He has the turn one Probe, but thankfully doesn’t seem to have an answer to the Mindbreak Trap in his opener. We play a weird game of draw/go for a bit. I eventually draw into Flusterstorms and a Clique which gets there in turns.
I personally haven’t played that much Lands combo before so I don’t know how this build compares to the more common red/green or older red/green/blue builds. The “Top Bants” build definitely seems like a good choice if you want to get your money’s worth out of a tournament since, if this event is anything to go by, you’ll get to play Magic for every minute of every round. The deck is definitely capable of some very powerful plays — turn two Jace isn’t out of the question — and the combination of tutors (Crop Rotation and Intuition) and library manipulation give the deck a lot of play.