How do you build a great dual land?

The easy answer is to make it tap for one mana of one color or another and not enter the battlefield tapped. Ask anyone who owns an original dual land if they think it is a good card, and most will put them at the top of the lands that tap for mana. Less restrictions make the land better.

But let's step away from that for a minute – Wizards has shown that they aren't going to do that. If a land is going to give you two or more colors of mana, it has to have some drawback. You need to come up with something else. How do you build a great dual land that Wizards will print?

Let's make the land enter the battlefield tapped. It has a minor drawback, particularly in long multiplayer games, but Wizards will be happy with it. Give me a land with land types, so it is a little easier to fetch them or just search for them. And how about we give the land cycling, so later in the game when you don't really need the mana, you can just cycle the card away into a card you might actually use?

Congratulations, you just built the new cycling lands from Amonkhet! These are solid new dual lands that are almost universally loved.

Almost.

I don't think these duals are as good in multiplayer games as they appear to be. Let's take a deep dive into the multiplayer pool and see how the differences between multiplayer and one-on-one games make the cycling lands a little less impressive than they appear at first glance.

The Good

If I'm going to lay out my issue with this cycle of cards, I should explain what makes them good. And to be fair, these are good lands – Better than most of the dual lands available.

The first reason this cycle is good is because the land types are listed. Showing Irrigated Farmland as a Plains Island means that you can fetch it out of your deck with the fetch lands. Flooded Strand and the rest of the lands that let you search for a particular type of land means that you are going to be able to play this more often early in the game since the fetch land acts as a second copy of the card, doubling the chances of getting it onto the battlefield. Other cards like Farseek, Gift of Estates and Spoils of Victory can also find this dual land – good luck doing that with any of the Temples from Theros block!

The second reason this card is good lies with the cycling ability. If you draw it at the end of the game, it isn't that dead land that you fling onto the table with disdain, frustrated that you've drawn yet another land when what you really wanted was an action card to save you.

The Bad

The cycle enters the battlefield tapped. I've already said that I don't think this is too big a downside. Multiplayer games tend to be very forgiving, so missing a single mana for one turn isn't always a nightmare. You don't want to have too many lands that enter the battlefield tapped, since that can really hurt your game if, for example, 30% of your lands enter the battlefield tapped. You'd certainly prefer to have the land available to use right away, but when you realize just how many dual lands enter the battlefield tapped, it becomes obvious that this limitation is very common.

And the Tricky

The ability to cycle the card is good, but how good? When you no longer need the mana, you'll be able to cycle the card to draw a new card. That sounds good, but let's remember the format. Multiplayer games are longer games. Players tend to ramp up, trying to get to at least 10 mana, and often, much more. This is a format with Eldrazi, Avenger of Zendikar and Genesis Wave for 12. Add to that the importance of playing more than one spell per turn or having mana available for activated abilities or keeping mana up so your opponents don't think your shields are down, and you start to see just how many land you want on the battlefield each game.

How often are you going to draw your cycling land and actually want to cycle it? Will it take 10 or 15 turns before that happens? It seems the likelihood that you draw your Scattered Groves and don't need the mana will only happen in the last few turns of games that can last 15 or 20 turns. Now add in those fetch lands you are running to find more lands, and realize that even if you didn't draw it in the first 90% of the game, you probably drew a fetch land and went searching for the cycling land, further reducing the likelihood that its ability to cycle will be relevant.

Still not convinced? Consider Slippery Karst and Tranquil Thicket. These are both nonbasic lands that cycle. The Thicket costs two colorless to cycle while the Karst costs only one green to cycle. These aren't dual lands, but they do cycle. They are hard to search out since they are nonbasic lands and don't list Forest as a land type, so they get searched out far less than the new cycling duals will. I ran these cards in both green and multicolored decks for a long time, mostly because I was addicted to putting nonbasic lands in my deck. The cards did something more than a basic land, so they must be better than a basic land, right? What I found was these cards were essentially Forests that entered the battlefield tapped. I almost never cycled them, preferring to always have another land and more mana. If I'm not cycling a card that doesn't even fix my mana, when will I cycle one that will help my mana base? Cycling on a land just isn't as valuable in multiplayer games as it is in one-on-one.

Comparisons

To be clear, I'm not saying these lands are bad in multiplayer. While cycling won't happen often in games, it will happen. Add in the ability to search for the land to fix your mana, and you have a solid cycle of dual lands that easily ends up in the top 10 of types of dual lands. I run duals that enter the battlefield tapped and gain me one life, and these lands are definitely better than those. I'm just concerned that some players are seeing these lands as the best duals in the game, and it simply isn't true.

I asked people on Twitter where they thought the new cycling lands ranked among some of the other options out there, and received all sorts of responses:

Filter lands are a set of lands from Lorwyn/Shadowmoor block that enter the battlefield untapped. They can tap for colorless mana or tap to turn a generic mana into any variation of the two colors of mana the land offers. These work really well with basic lands to produce two mana of the colors you need. They are particularly good in multicolor decks with high mana requirements since a Plains and a Mystic Gate can give you mana for a Counterspell, or a Swamp and Graven Cairns can give you two red mana for a Firebreathing dragon. I'll take that flexibility over a late-game cycle.

The Temples from Theros block also enter the battlefield tapped, and they can't be fetched or searched the same way the cycling lands can. While I'll normally choose to draw a card over scrying once, the Temples offer a scry whenever they enter the battlefield, rather than the rare draw the cycling lands offer. Even without the ability to search, I'll still take the Temples over the cycling lands even though most people who responded chose otherwise.

Ravnica duals offer the same land type benefits the cycling lands do. The difference between the cards lies with the Ravnica duals being able to enter the battlefield untapped versus cycling. Given that being untapped is a decision to make every time you play a Ravnica dual, while cycling is only a real decision towards the end of games, the shock lands are far superior and most people believed they were the best option of the four I listed.

Wrapup

Again, this isn't saying the cycling lands aren't good. I'm comparing them to what I consider to be among the best dual lands out there. We are talking about scoring them an eight out of 10 rather than nine out of 10. This is a set of duals that are likely going to be in most of my decks. I simply don't believe they are as good in multiplayer games as many players seem to think since the cycling ability will only be rarely used. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Bruce Richard

@manaburned