Superior Numbers - Let's Bounce!

And faintly bouncing 'round the room

Welcome to Superior Numbers, where I try to do numerical analysis on cards and deckbuilding trends using a little bit of math.

Alright, let's talk about bounce lands. Boros Garrison, Karoo, we all know these. In fact, I hypothesize that perhaps you stopped running them in your decks as you, what's the phrase, "got gud". I mean, sure, once up on a time they were fine. After all, they come in all the precons, and the price is certainly right. But then you got burned by them one too many times: you kept a two-lander and a rock, thinking you'd have three mana for turn three - except that bounce on turn 2 comes in tapped, preventing you from playing that Talisman until turn 3, and unless you played a 1-drop, you now have 8 cards in hand, and have to discard.

On top of that, we seemingly get a new cycle of excellent dual lands every year that don't come into play tapped. Something had to give, and bounce lands made for an easy cut (unless you're me, in which case, you probably cut basic lands). As of March 31, 2022, there were zero bounce lands cracking the top 50 lands added to decks in the last week, and zero bounce lands made it into the top 50 lands added to decks in the last two years. [/el]The World Tree[/el], which is only legal in five-color decks, gets added to more lists than the five most popular Ravnica bounce lands combined.

So those are all the reasons a lot of people stopped running bounces, and now I'm going to tell you why it's maybe worth at least considering slotting them back into decks.

After all, Magic is full of stories about perceived negatives that turned into a positive for one reason or another. Lost any life to mana burn off a Mana Drain lately? I didn't think so. The mana you get from that card might be more valuable than the actual counterspell portion; I've used it to counter spells I didn't care about just to enable a big turn, and I've probably done that more often than I've used it just because I needed to stop someone from casting a nasty spell.

Here's another downside-turned-upside example: Golgari Grave-Troll using Dredge 6 to toss cards to your 'yard was supposed to be a downside, but it's become so much the opposite of a downside that it's banned in Modern and restricted in Vintage. The 'punishment' portion of that card flat-out wins games in those formats.

Temur Sabertooth is in 27,865 decks, and none of those decks use it for its ability to become indestructible. The cost of bouncing a creature to your hand to activate the ability is actually the appeal; people pay 1G just to bounce a thing and recast it. I've seen more than one person actually forget the ability adds indestructible because they're so focused on the bounce.

The same is true here with bounce lands. We're nearing the point where the downside of the bounce lands, well, bouncing a land to your hand, is perhaps almost an upside, because it lets you reset or reuse other lands in your deck. That's always been possible, of course, but we've recently reached a density of lands worth re-using that it might be time to start looking at bounces just as a re-enabler.

The echo of whomever spoke

Future Sight gave us our first real land cycle worth bouncing. All these lands enter tapped, but each also has some added utility stapled onto each card.

In the case of Llanowar Reborn, it comes with the Graft ability, allowing you to move a +1/+1 counter from the land to a creature that comes into play. Currently in 9,283 decks on EDHREC, Llanowar Reborn is found primarily in decks with a +1/+1 counter theme of some sort.

Tolaria West doesn't have an ability that can be used once in play, but instead has the keyword Transmute that allows you to use it as a pseudo-spell instead of playing it as a land. In this case, instead of being able to use the ability twice by bouncing it, like with Llanowar Reborn, you have the option to use it as a land early, then later on when you need it less return it to your hand to search up a more powerful land, or something like a Mana Crypt. Currently Tolaria West appears in over 12,000 decks.

Similarly, Dakmor Salvage has an ability that can be used in lieu of playing it as a land, but this time the ability works from the graveyard. Of the lands from the cycle, this is the most popular, showing up in nearly 15,000 decks in our database.

And I awoke, and faintly bouncing 'round the room

The next time we saw a sequence of lands with reusable abilities was when Lorwyn gave us the Hideaway land cycle. They don't all work well in Commander, but Mosswort Bridge (47,420 decks), Spinerock Knoll (21,094 decks), and Windbrisk Heights (14,553 decks) all see a not-insignificant amount of play. Play your land tapped, and as a cost for the tempo hit, you get to play the exiled card for free at some point down the road once the conditions are met. They aren't all amazing, but there's a good bit of value to be had in them, especially Mosswort Bridge in any deck with swole, expensive-to-cast creatures. There's a lot of value to be had by dropping a Giant Adephage or Nyxbloom Ancient from beneath your Hideaway.

So how do bounce lands factor in here? Same as with the Future Sight cycle: they're a way to re-use the Hideaway and get another card worth of value for what winds up functionally being GG, RR or WW (activation cost, plus the cost of the land not being tapped for mana).

And hear the sweet sound bouncing 'round

Flash forward a couple of years and we make our first trip to Zendikar, a plane that has had a 'lands matter' theme every time we've visited it.

Zendikar gave us a cycle of common lands that come into play tapped and immediately fire off a spell-like effect. The real stars here, though, were in the second set, Worldwake. Bojuka Bog is the most well-known of this cycle, with a home in an astounding 161,921 decks, but Halimar Depths also sees a respectable amount of play, slotting into another 29,732 blue builds. Another 10,011 decks are running Khalni Garden, a green land in the cycle that makes a 0/1 Plant token when it enters play.

Additional Zendikar expansions also featured lands with spell-like ETB abilities, but none achieved the popularity of Bojuka Bog or Halimar Depths. Still, they do see some play; most notably, Mortuary Mire's slotting in just over 20,000 lists in our database.

Then before and now once more

More recently, Throne of Eldraine saw a cycle of common lands with very Zendikar-esque enter-the-battlefield effects. Mystic Sanctuary in particular is so strong that it ate a ban in Modern and still sees play in Legacy and Vintage. It also populates an eye-popping 86,783 decks in the EDHREC database.

Witch's Cottage has also found a slot in 24,841 different Commander decks as a one-off budget Volrath's Stronghold, letting you recur a body to the top of your library where you can draw it or manipulate it into play with something like Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign.

Again, the bounce lands here function to get you a second use out of lands that already have a powerful first use.

I'm bouncing 'round the room

Back to Zendikar we go, and this time the Zendikar Rising expansion introduced us to a new land type, the Modal Double-Faced Cards, or MDFCs for short. These are cards with a spell on one side and a land on the othe, allowing you to choose which you want when you play it. Need green mana early? You can drop that Bala Ged Sanctuary as a land that comes into play tapped but makes green mana. Need to get that bomb artifact back from your yard once late game rolls around? You can spring that Bala Ged Sanctuary back to your hand with your bounce land, then cast it as Bala Ged Recovery for the same mana value as an Eternal Witness.

That time then and once again

Finally, January saw the release of the busted Channel lands from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. They have nearly zero opportunity cost in EDH, not even coming into play tapped like previous spell lands, and are already filling up decks in the database. Boseiju, Who Endures is already in over 11,000 decks at time of writing, even despite currently sitting at $35, but all five see a decent amount of play.

Again, it's a cycle that you can play early when you need the land drop, and have the option to bounce back to hand with a bounce land and channel when needed in the mid to late game.

I'm bouncing 'round the room

Those are just the more obvious, common uses. There are a lot more fringe or esoteric situations out there as well, where the downside of a bounce land can be seen as an upside.

Ever play a MDFC dual land early and later wish you had chosen the other side? A bounce lets you reset the land to the currently more optimal choice. It lets you bring a Cycling land back for a desperate draw, and in a Landfall-type deck where you might not have enough cards in hand it lets you take full advantage of your available extra drops.

There are also situations where with multiple land drops you could use something like Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx or Serra's Sanctum for some large amount of mana, bounce it to hand, then play it again to tap again.

Let's Bounce

The question here then becomes whether we've hit the point where the density of reusable lands is such that you can consistently use the downside of a bounce land as an upside. I don't know for 100% certain, but for me personally, it's getting close. I'm consistently running both available Channel lands from Neon Dynasty in most of my two-color decks, Bojuka Bog in anything black, and at least one or two MDFC spells/lands in most decks, and that makes bounce lands really appealing. If you're someone using more MDFC cards than me, there's a good chance you're already across that threshold. Heck, if you're playing reanimator, maybe you even view the bounce land's 8-card-discard-on-turn-2 as an upside, too!

I'd love to hear back, though, if you think your lists have hit the amount of lands to make these using. This is very much an art and not a science, so I'm curious to hear what "feels" right to justify their inclusion.

Thanks for reading, and, as always, may your numbers be superior.

Dana is one of the hosts of the EDHRECast and the CMDR Central podcast. He lives in Eau Claire, WI with his wife and son. He has been playing Magic so long he once traded away an Underground Sea for a Nightmare, and was so pleased with the deal he declined a trade-back the following week. He also smells like cotton candy and sunsets.

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