Singleton Shmingleton - Lay of the Land

(Lay of the Land | Art by Chuck Lukacs)

In Search of New Engines

Hello! I’m Jesse, and welcome to the first installment of Singleton Shmingleton! Since the first days of Commander, one of its biggest draws has been its singleton nature. Playing with 100 unique cards creates once-in-a-lifetime game states and stories, and everyone can find room for their favorite pet cards. Commander can be a break from every game revolving around the same few cards.

Except that’s not quite true. An equally alluring aspect of Commander is, well, the commander, the card (or two) you get to see every game. Despite raving over the variety of the format, players sure do like their consistency, and ever since the start of the format, players have sought consistency in the 99 as well as the command zone. For example, one of the early scourges of the format was Edric, Spymaster of Trest, a deck that played dozens of evasive one-drops to synergize with the commander. The deck also played enough Time Warps to be able to draw one every turn after the engine started running. By taking so many turns from then on, the Edric player could pick opponents off with the measliest of threats.

That was a blood-chilling deck that killed people with Flying Men, a French-vanilla 1/1. Other decks also rely on engines built on unassuming cards with many functional reprints. Elves decks run on Llanowar Elves and friends, Zada, Hedron Grinder decks use Expedite and its assorted variants, and Talrand, Sky Summoner decks use many different forms of Ponder or Counterspell.

In this series I want to discover new engines that use consistency to replace power. At this point there are dozens of cards with enough functional reprints that we can see a copy every game, and I’m going to test as many of them as possible. Commander is a format of dreams, and the worse the card is, the sweeter its engine will be.

Reclaim the Waste

This brings me to this week’s card: Lay of the Land. For one green mana, it searches for a basic land and puts it into our hand. A new version of this effect comes along every once in a while, and by now we have nine. Here’s the list of one-mana green sorceries that search up a basic land from our library to our hand:

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

Traverse the Ulvenwald and Dig Up see a decent amount of play, in 6,032 and 19,169 decks, respectively, but only because they can turn into better tutors later in the game. Bushwhack has only been out a few months, but is already in nearly 3,000 decks due to its flexibility. These are the best of the bunch. Open the Gates is in 9,962 decks, but that’s because it does exactly what Gates decks want to do.

The original and most vanilla version has made its way into 2,402 decks since its printing in Apocalypse, with most of them being Landfall or otherwise land-related decks. Its top commander is Sasaya, Orochi Ascendant, which makes sense, as it's a fine way to stock lands in your hand.

One card I failed to find in the High Synergy category for these effects was Goblin Charbelcher. That’s some untapped potential right there! You see, there’s a hidden mode to Lay of the Land: in addition to putting a land into our hand, it removes a land from our deck. With enough redundant copies, we can use it as a land replacement, dropping our land count nearly to zero. Once we’ve gotten almost all of our lands out, we can use cards like Goblin Charbelcher to get rid of opponents one by one.

To achieve that kind of consistency, we need a few more copies of Lay of the Land. Here’s a list of some more cards that will also put lands from our deck into our hand.

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

With this many options, we can hit our land drops easily if we draw just a single land. The Zendikar Rising modal double-faced lands are perfect here, as they give us that starting land without counting as a land card in our deck. Depending on budget, other pieces of fast mana also make the deck faster and more consistent.

And Then What?

Goblin Charbelcher is a great payoff for having a deck with no lands in it, but that’s only one card. We need some consistency in our payoffs as well, and we can draw from "Oops! All Spells" decks in other formats.

With very few lands in the deck, these cards (and their underrated cousin, Avenging Druid) will put large chunks of our deck into the graveyard, which in turn can enable some fast wins as long as we put some recursive critters in the deck.

Once we get three of these cards back to play, we can cast Dread Return for free. From there, Laboratory Maniac can get the job done, or if we have enough cards left in our deck we can use Necrotic Ooze with Walking Ballista and Phyrexian Devourer in the graveyard to turn our library into damage.

The Decklist

Lay of the Land Combo

Commander (1)
Creatures (23)
Sorceries (29)
Enchantments (1)
Artifacts (25)
Instants (11)
Lands (9)
Planeswalker (1)

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

This is a combo deck, and like any combo deck, it will get old, but what I like about it is that there’s a stage when it plays like a midrange strategy. It can get down to five or six lands in the deck pretty fast, so for a while Goblin Charbelcher deals about 15 damage and is best used on creatures. Hermit Druid will almost never mill our whole library at once on the first go, and we’ll end up with half our recursive creatures out with no payoff yet. Going off halfway paints a big target on our backs, and we have to get scrappy to survive with whatever we have until we can go for the full combo. Shout out to @bwheelermtg for being the first person I had ever heard of playing Belcher in 100-card Magic!

Until Next Time

This week I focused on a combo deck, but next week I’ll look at a much fairer engine centered around Ravenous Rats and its horde of functional reprints. Make sure to tune in then for some more Singleton Shmingleton!

Jesse Barker Plotkin started playing Magic with Innistrad. He was disqualified from his first Commander game after he played his second copy of Goblins of the Flarg, and it's all been uphill from there. Outside of Magic, he enjoys writing and running.