Landfall. The word that inspired an entire Bond film...
...I'm being told that was actually Skyfall, my bad.
Landfall. The returning all-star mechanic in Battle for Zendikar is ever appealing as a build-around. Just as the last time around, landfall works as a cohesive strategy because each landfall ability stacks which allows one resource to generate larger and larger outputs. I can certainly run one or two landfall cards without dedicating my entire deck to the strategy. During the last Standard season, to feature landfall, many aggressive decks played Plated Geopede and Steppe Lynx simply because they were some of the best rate creatures available for the job.
That said, there were also decks that jammed as many landfall creatures into a single deck and then looked to abuse the synergy there. For example, one very aggressive red/white deck used both Plated Geopede and Steppe Lynx in addition to cards like Zektar Shrine Expedition. It would then use a ton of fetch lands in addition to Flagstones of Trokair, which at the time could be legend ruled, allowing you to sacrifice both Flagstones and therefore getting three landfall triggers.
I mention this to point out that there was a spectrum. This time around there are less things with landfall that will see play on their own. Undergrowth Champion is a great example of one of these few cards that is fine on power level all by itself. But if you look at most of the common and uncommon landfall dorks, they are typically worse than the cycle from Zendikar. Scythe Leopard is a fine card but, compared to Steppe Lynx, it lacks some pizazz. The same can be said of Makindi Sliderunner and Snapping Gnarlid. All of these cards are fine in a world where you are always breaking a fetch land or making an extra land drop, but are lackluster in a fair world of one land per turn.
Once you make that Leap, it makes sense then that including one landfall creature in your deck means you should support it with enough fetch lands and synergy to make it worthwhile. Once you go through that effort, it makes sense to see those rewards more often by including more landfall creatures so that the synergies you built in come up all the time. This is the path I went down at least and it gets you to a place where you are running 16-20 landfall creatures, even if they are a little subpar on their own.
So, I wanted to take that knowledge and explore some landfall strategies. There are certain cards that jump in appeal as soon as you know you will be running a ton of landfall creatures. Blighted Woodland is perhaps the biggest winner here as the card allows for a ton of landfall triggers in a turn. Swell of Growth and Atarka's Command are also both excellent enablers though. Those cards along with the aggressive landfall creatures all being concentrated in red/green makes the deckbuilding here much easier.
First up, I wanted to take an honest look at an aggressive landfall deck that was as light on the gimmicks as possible while still having a clear landfall identity. This isn't to say that the gimmicks are necessarily bad here, but starting from something that is at least a little known is nice.
As you can see, our game plan here is rather simple. Cast creatures and put lands into play following that. The only real differentiation from this is when you "combo" off with Temur Battle Rage. Our creatures get really big, really fast. Let's just take one of our two-drops, which is a tame body to choose. On turn three we can play a fetch land, attack with Snapping Gnarlid, break fetch, play Swell of Growth, play another fetch land, break that, and then Temur Battle Rage on our now 8/8 creature. If you had a Scythe Leopard on turn one, you actually have now deal a minimum of 23 damage on turn three, using a bunch of draft cards.
Things get more explosive when Valakut Predator gets involved, which is why he made the cut. Fetch lands turn into +4/+4 with Predator making it the ultimate target for Temur Battle Rage. In that same scenario from above we get to add a Looming Spires into the mix thanks to having an extra land drop and that gets Predator up to a 13/13 double striking trampler.
This combo explosion is nice, but I don't expect it to be the most consistent thing in the world, which is where the redundancy in our creature base comes from. Double strike is powerful, but attacking with a second creature that is growing in size just as quickly mimics that effect quite well. So, we jam as many landfall synergy creatures into the list as makes sense. This actually pushed some creatures that seem great in the deck to the sideboard. Nissa and Dragonmaster Outcast are probably the two standouts here.
While both of these creatures make perfect sense in a heavy land strategy, they do not make sense in a deck trying to optimize a turn three or four win. In that world, Outcast is a useless 1/1 for one and Nissa is a Grey Ogre that gets us a land drop, but it isn't even the land drop we want as we would much rather be playing a fetch. If either of those cards are turning out, we have conceded that we lost the early game which is where 90% of our strategy is focused. Making that concession is kind of awkward, especially considering that by doing so, we are weakening our early game further and sort of creating a self-fulfilling Prophecy. Instead, I prefer to streamline our aggressive strategy in game one and then include tools for winning the long game in our sideboard where they can come in against appropriate matchups.
We could also just ignore the long game altogether. While I am not sure that will give us the best chances of winning, it does streamline us even further. This allows us to explore our limits and to then build from there.
So what would an even more extreme version of the landfall shell look like? Well, it might just include 40 or so lands...
This is a deck that certainly enjoys the new mulligan rule. While we are not going to actively mulligan looking for the scry, we will incidentally mulligan a lot due to needing a few key pieces in our hand to get off the ground. We literally have 20 nonland cards in the deck and only 12 of those cards are attacking our opponent's life total. What this does is lower our consistency at securing a threat, but increases our consistency in those threats being huge. Look at the additional landfall synergies we were able to include:
2 Blighted Woodland
3 Evolving Wilds
4 Animist's Awakening
2 Looming Spires
Almost 20% of our deck has been enhanced to make those early turn plays explosive. We lose the Battle Rage combo, which could be worth including, but instead we have the explosiveness of Animist's Awakening. Unfortunately, those lands are going to come into play tapped much of the time due to spell mastery being difficult to achieve. This makes the explosiveness a little less reliable. I think this shell puts out an exciting dream, but ultimately does not deliver nearly often enough.
Forty lands is a bit extreme anyway. While we do want access to many lands to ensure we hit our landfall triggers, we don't need 2/3rds of our deck being mana. Our first deck had 26 lands, which is pretty heavy for an aggro deck. If we then wanted to slow that shell down, we could probably justify up to 30 lands.
Slowing It Down
Our first list was probably the most streamlined aggressive version of the deck, but with cards like Nissa and Dragonmaster Outcast sitting in the board, I wanted to look at a list that would better utilize them in the main. I think that this naturally leads to a deck that is slower and uses incremental advantages built up through landfall synergies to pull ahead in a game. The deck would still be able to attack the opposing life total early, but it would not be solely focused on doing so.
This should lead to a shell that supplies much fewer early game kills but also a deck that can secure late game wins, whereas our first shell theoretically struggles mightily there. In general I think the landfall cards in Standard favor a more aggressive style, but there are a few gems that we can use in our more midgame approach.
I think this list is pretty neat in that it slows down the landfall archetype and then has the option of slowing it down even further once the sideboard is introduced to the fray. We get to be a little slower than something like Atarka Red in our maindeck, which allows us to generally go over the top, but we do risk being rushed down early before cards like Dragonmaster Outcast and Nissa can come online. In those situations, we get to swap into a more Jund-style deck, with Radiant Flames and a bunch of life gain to extend the game and turn on our late landfall synergies.
In terms of our maindeck, Sword of the Animist is a card we can consider running now. I think it was too slow for either of our previous options, but in this list, the incremental advantage it provides is exactly what we want. It also gives our early Dragonmaster Outcast a real use whereas otherwise they can be kind of dead.
Akoum Stonewaker is a really interesting card in that it can play an offensive role by sending in Spark Elementals at the opponent, but with this many fetch lands and Swell of Growth, we can reliably create 3/1s on the enemy turn to play defense if need be. One of its main uses in this list is to create a hasted threat against planeswalkers, especially one that cannot be -2'ed by Jace.
Outside of that, we use most of the same tools from the other lists. Notably, Collected Company was probably too slow for the other decks as it would always usher in the second or third wave of offense. Here, it works out much better as we will often do just fine with only two threats in play and CC gives us an instant speed threat against control. We rock the other two copies in the board to assist in those kinds of matchups.
That's it for this week! If you have any interest in watching some of the decks from above, I plan to bust them out this Sunday during my stream, so check that out if you are so inclined! Aside from that, the Pro Tour is over and Standard is taking shape. There is still plenty of room for the brewers of the world to maneuver in, but Abzan, Jeskai, and Esper all are looking pretty strong these days. Until next week, thanks for reading!