Too-Specific Top 10 - I Challenge You To A Dual!

(Guildmage's Forum | Art by Adam Paquette)

"Bad" Duals

Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where we’re going to rank everything. However, why use the broad categories we see everywhere, like “Top 10 Duals”? The narrower the scope, the better! And if there isn’t a category to rank our pet cards, well, we’ll make one up! (Did you know that Peat Bog is the best land to feature a shovel?)

It's no secret which dual lands are the best in Commander, so why bother going over a list of the traditional stuff when you already know which ones will show up at the top? Even if you did finagle it a bit and exclude the original Dual Lands, I bet you could still create most of the rest of the top 10 list of duals in your head. Shock Lands, Fetch Lands, Check Lands... all of these are well-known and are generally the first places to look when crafting an expensive mana base for a multicolored EDH deck.

So what about the less-played, less-expensive versions of the same effect? Which of those are the most played?


Top 10 "Enters the Battlefield Tapped" Dual Lands

This week, we'll be looking at the best dual lands that enter the battlefield tapped, no questions asked. We could include things like the Shock or Check Lands here that may or may not enter the battlefield untapped, but then we're in the same old bucket of expensive mana bases. So instead, we'll only be considering those lands that make two colors of mana, have at least a full allied or enemy colored cycle, and enter the battlefield tapped without any sort of caveat.

Given that those lands that have a full cycle of both allied and enemy colors will have a natural advantage in sheer numbers, as they inherently have double the cards to work with, we're going to be ranking these duals by averaging their deck inclusions across each card in the cycle. This should even out the advantage and get us a better idea of which lands are truly being played more, not because they enable more decks, but because the cycle as a whole is considered better than the other available effects.

So without further ado, let's get to our top 10 ETB Tapped Duals!

Bounce Lands

  • Total Deck Inclusions: 147,620
  • Average Deck Inclusions: 14,762
  • Most Popular Dual: Izzet Boilerworks, 16,414

The cycle of Ravnica duals, originally known as "Karoo lands", were actually considered fairly bad when they were originally spoiled. As people played with them at prerelease and release events, however, respect for them slowly started eking up until they actually started showing up in the Standard decks of the time. While they are a slow option that not only comes into play tapped but also bounces another land back to your hand, what they offer in return is actually quite powerful. Because the lands have an additional mana stapled onto them, people found that your reward for their slow entry was that they acted as an additional land in the long run, once you'd run out of lands in your hand. This actually allowed low-to-the-ground decks to run less lands overall, and made them more confident in taking two-land hands.

As a combination of this original popularity and their low monetary cost due to their low rarity and plentiful printings, it's perhaps not surprising to see these staples of the format show up as number one on this list. Yes, they're slow, and yes, there are probably too many decks higher up in power level that are playing them but shouldn't be. That in no way means that they are a bad choice at the average table, however, nor does it mean that people aren't just fans of them despite their flaws. My guess is that we'll continue to see these played at all of our tables for a long time to come, especially if they continue to be consistently included in the Commander Precons. After all, right now they're actually the third most popular duals overall, almost going toe-to-toe with Check Lands!

Scry Lands

  • Total Deck Inclusions: 110,039
  • Average Deck Inclusions: 11,004
  • Most Popular Dual: Temple of Mystery, 13,708

Any land that enters the battlefield tapped had better come with a bonus to make it worth it, and it's difficult to find better compensation than stacking the top of your deck, at least when it comes to lands that also make colored mana. The Temple cycle are staples for decks that care about the top of the library, but these duals actually see a lot of play outside of that genre as well, functioning as a cheap option to fix both your mana and your draws. Whether or not that means that Scry Lands are the "correct" option for the average deck is up for discussion, but honestly I've always been a bit confused by that discussion when it comes to Commander. After all, if we were all playing the "best" cards, then just about every deck would be playing Mana Vault, which probably isn't the case at your local table.

Khans of Tarkir Lifegain Duals

  • Total Deck Inclusions: 98,004
  • Average Deck Inclusions: 9,800
  • Most Popular Dual: Swiftwater Cliffs, 12,152

If you're a fan of the lifegain duals, you're probably already aware that there are actually two different cycles of them. The higher-rated of those two cycles is the more recent set from Khans of Tarkir, which included all 10 possible color combinations. Given that they are more recent and are available in every color combination, they not only edge out their identical companions, but almost double their average numbers and quadruple their total numbers. As for why either version of these cards are played, however, that is a little more puzzling. While lifegain is the second most popular theme on EDHREC, it only accounts for 5,470 decks total, only around half of the average number of decks that include these lands overall. Looking at the high synergy cards for the most popular land in the cycle, however, we can see another theme among them: mana fixing on a budget. Whether it be Izzet Guildgate, Izzet Locket, or Terramorphic Expanse, they all come in at under a quarter, just like the lifegain dual cycle itself. In other words, while these may not be a staple outside of lifegain decks, they make it into enough decks playing on a tight budget that they're still extremely popular.

Guildgates

  • Total Deck Inclusions: 83,786
  • Average Deck Inclusions: 8,379
  • Most Popular Dual: Izzet Guildgate, 10,108

Much like our number three cycle, Gates also have a small theme that accounts for some of their popularity. Looking at the linchpin of that strategy, Maze's End, we can see that probably about 1,400 of the decks playing these do-nothing duals are actually using them to attempt to win the game. As for the rest, budget appears to be a factor in much the same way. Another big boon to both of these cycles is that they've also both been included in the Commander Precons (three times for the Guildgates and four times for the lifegain duals). Given how often they're played together and how close their numbers are, it would not surprise me if this was actually the main factor in the popularity of both cycles.

Cycling Duals

  • Total Deck Inclusions: 39,568
  • Average Deck Inclusions: 7,914
  • Most Popular Dual: Fetid Pools, 9,188

Further supporting the theory that the Commander Precons significantly pad the numbers of the cards that appear in them, the Cycling duals are the first set of lands that is showing a significant drop in overall numbers. At only 40,000 decks compared to the almost 85,000 decks featuring the almost-strictly-worse Guildgates, it really shows how many people are building straight off of the Precons for their commander decks. Outside of that advantage, however, the other strike against the Cycling duals that is keeping their numbers down (despite their inclusion in many Lands Matter decks) is probably their price. While most of us might not consider $1.50 to be much when it comes to pricing out a land base, for the budget players of the world that kind of money adds up quickly. Even the ability to avoid a bit of land flood while fixing your mana might not quite be worth it while under rigid budget constraints.

All things considered, however, I was surprised to see these lands this low on the list. Entering the battlefield tapped is a huge drawback, but being able to Cycle lands in the late game to find relevant answers is a huge advantage.

Zendikar Lifegain Duals

  • Total Deck Inclusions: 27,082
  • Average Deck Inclusions: 5,416
  • Most Popular Dual: Jwar Isle Refuge, 6,936

The smaller, less popular version of the exact same cards from further up the list nonetheless still exist for all of us out there that need just a little bit of lifegain and mana fixing. Perhaps you're playing Group Slug and need just a tiny bit more of a headstart on the life totals of your opponents, or perhaps you just prefer the art to the more popular cycle. Regardless of your reason for playing these versions, you are in the minority, so congratulations on that hipster status!

Oath of the Gatewatch Taplands

  • Total Deck Inclusions: 35,422
  • Average Deck Inclusions: 3,542
  • Most Popular Dual: Forsaken Sanctuary, 4,741

We've more or less established that being printed in a Commander product is sure to make a dual cycle more popular... so what gives? Well, perhaps quantity is an indicator. This second cycle of taplands was actually first printed in Oath of the Gatewatch in lieu of more Guildgates, but has actually only been featured in one Commander product, Commander 2018. Perhaps their inclusion contributed to why people were upset about the possible drop-off in card value quality in the precons at the same time that the price for them was increased. Regardless of the politics or economics of the Commander 2018 product, however, these taplands are actually strictly worse than every dual land yet featured in our top 10 list, so maybe we're making something out of nothing and people just aren't playing them because they're really not very good.

Creature Lands

  • Total Deck Inclusions: 33,559
  • Average Deck Inclusions: 3,356
  • Most Popular Dual: Lumbering Falls, 5,085

Given the existence of Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper, I was a bit surprised to see that the most popular of these dual lands that can turn into creatures wasn't Celestial Colonnade. Outside of my confusion as to why Prime Speaker Zegana and Ezuri, Claw of Progress decks seem to need creature lands so badly, however, I am also confused in general as to why these useful duals don't see more play overall. Yes, they've never been included in a Commander precon, which in itself seems more than a little odd. Even outside of that possible artificial bump in popularity, however, Commander is a format that can have excessive amounts of mana coming out of its ears. That phenomenon on its own probably explains at least a bit of the Lumbering Falls conundrum, but how it doesn't translate over into 'more decks playing these lands that can become threats in the late game' is a bit baffling. Whether it be a fresh board wipe, a discard deck ensuring that everyone is twiddling their thumbs, or just a need for a surprise blocker, the fact that these lands are less popular than a strictly worse regular tapland is a little bit offensive.

Invasion Taplands

  • Total Deck Inclusions: 5,439
  • Average Deck Inclusions: 1,088
  • Most Popular Dual: Urborg Volcano, 1,541

Speaking of circumstances, these identical allied-color-only versions of the simple "enters the battlefield tapped" duals have less than a third of the play of the taplands featured in the Commander precons. They are also double the price at fifty cents, which probably also doesn't help. Fortunately, those of us that prefer the old-school borders and more distinct dual colored text box of the older cards, these exist and are an aesthetic option. Unfortunately, they're still just... not very good, and don't quite fit the budget.

Snow Duals

  • Total Deck Inclusions: 2,825
  • Average Deck Inclusions: 565
  • Most Popular Dual: Boreal Shelf, 863

In all likelihood, the Snow Duals have seen a bump with the release of Modern Horizons and the new Snow focus that came with it. Regardless of that bump, however, the numbers are still not good for these expensive taplands in an environment where Snow decks typically lean toward a more mono-colored temperament. Perhaps someday we'll visit the plane of Kaldheim and get a bit more of support for the Snow strategy, but even in that case the odds are good that we would get a better or more exciting version of Snow Duals, and these will continue to exist in obscurity.


Honorable Mentions

It appears we may have gotten a tad too specific over here at Too-Specific Top 10, as there were literally only eleven cycles total in all of Magic that fit our criteria this time around. The eleventh was the much maligned "Tap Pain Lands", probably more commonly known as Bad Pain Lands:

  • Total Deck Inclusions: 1,303
  • Average Deck Inclusions: 261
  • Most Popular Dual: Caldera Lake, 367

Interestingly, the Tap Pain Land cycle is actually the only "enters the battlefield tapped" cycle to only feature enemy pairs. This is also most likely the reason for them being so awful. Back in the day, it would appear that Wizards of the Coast really preferred to make the division between allied and enemy color pairs much more stark and meaningful. In fact, outside of the original duals, these enemy colored duals were the only available option all the way up until Apocalypse, the set whose whole focus was on enemy color pairs.


What About You?

 

And finally, why do you play "bad" duals? Is it to save money? To keep power levels down? Because you already own them?

Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at a Kismet-themed table soon!

Doug has been an avid Magic player since Fallen Empires, when his older brother traded him some epic blue Homarids for all of his Islands. As for Commander, he's been playing since 2010, when he started off by making a two-player oriented G/R Land Destruction deck. Nailed it. In his spare time when he's not playing Magic, writing about Magic or doing his day job, he runs a YouTube channel or two, keeps up a College Football Computer Poll, and is attempting to gif every scene of the Star Wars prequels.