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In the Margins – Evolving Wilds/Terramorphic Expanse
Welcome back to In the Margins, a periodic column where I tell you how 100,000+ decks are doing it wrong. Also, my car is powered by my own sense of self-satisfaction.
Let’s get any caveats out of the way early. Yes, there are plenty of legitimate reasons to run both of these cards. I opened my very first article with that inflexible opening statement, and even though it may be hyperbolic, I’m sticking with it. If Velveeta can say their product is cheese and The Chainsmokers can say they make music, I can exaggerate a little, too.
That said, these two lands – which will henceforth be known as ‘E&T’ – absolutely have their uses. I’m running both in a Mina and Denn, Wildborn Landfall deck because I want as many Landfall triggers as possible, I’m not interested in spending $65 on a Scalding Tarn just to put an extra counter on an Oran-Rief Hydra. They’ll also get you the exact basic you need in a 3+ color deck, whose mana bases can be tricky. Some decks also want an extra shuffle effects, or perhaps want to crack lands to trigger abilities like The Gitrog Monster, or maybe even want lands in the graveyard for Delirium or Threshold limits. Budget constraints are also absolutely valid, and I won’t begrudge someone who can’t afford a pricier alternative. Altogether, there are plenty of legitimate reasons to run E&T.
I guess the question is this: Who really shouldn’t be running E&T? The answer: Two-color decks. Unless you’re looking for specific situations like the ones listed above (Landfall, shuffle effects, etc.) you shouldn’t be using E&T in two-color decks decks just to fix your mana. At the moment, however, a surprising amount of decks are doing exactly that.
We will rule over all this land! And we will call it… this land!
So what do E&T do? It’s pretty simple. When you play either land, they come into play untapped. You may then tap and sacrifice them to search your library for a basic land card, which you put directly into play tapped, after which you shuffle your library. Simple. It’s a land that automagically turns into a tapped basic land of your choice, and possibly triggers Landfall, Revolt, fuels Delirium, and many other keywords while doing so. That’s neat and clean.
So what’s the problem? Well, a lot of cards mostly accomplish that first part – fixing your mana – and they do it more efficiently if you don’t need those keyword interactions. E&T get you a tapped land of one color. In a two-color deck, you could run a simple Guildgate, which would also give you a tapped land, but it would be a land for both of your colors.
Note before we begin: I’m going to skip cards that cost more than $5 dollars as of the writing of this article. It’s really easy to just say, “Stop being a poor and buy ABUR dual lands,” but I’m not sure that does anyone any good. Now, let’s get to some alternatives you should play instead of E&T.
We sniff the air, we don’t kiss the dirt.
Ash Barrens is a better E&T. You spend a single mana to search your library for a basic land, put it into your hand, then play it untapped. Spending one mana is the equivalent of the land from E&T coming into pay tapped, so the net to your mana pool is the same. However, with Ash Barrens, you get the color fixing right away. Plus, if you don’t need the fixing, you can just play it untapped as a colorless mana source and go on with your day. You can also use the landcycling ability as an instant on someone else’s turn, or in response to something on your turn, though I’m struggling to come up with a reason you’d do so. Still, the option exists. Additionally if you’re playing a cycling-heavy deck with cards like Fluctuator or New Perspectives, you can just pitch it to get a basic of your choice for no cost.
Ash Barrens had crept up to around the $8 mark prior to the reprint in Masters 25, but now it’s back below $2, and should absolutely be a land you run before E&T. It’s currently in 11,635 decks, which is a fraction of the amount of those running the two inferior fetches. Astral Slide Zur the Enchanter is the most well-known cycling archetype, but for some reason, of the 129 Zur decks running Fluctuator, twenty are running Evolving Wilds instead of Ash Barrens, and sixteen are running Terramorphic Expanse over Ash Barrens, even despite its obvious synergy in a cycling-themed deck.
No one is setting foot on that fancy rock.
The Mirage fetchlands: This is the cycle that often gets referred to as the “bad fetchlands,” despite being the original fetchlands. This cycle consists of Bad River, Flood Plain, Grasslands, Mountain Valley, and Rocky Tar Pit. So what’s the difference between E&T and the Mirage fetchlands? The former enter untapped, but fetch you a land tapped. The latter enter tapped, but get a land untapped. Neither fix your mana until next turn. The primary difference? These fetches don’t say “basic.” You can get an ABUR dual land if you happen to have one in your deck, or you can get a shockland (like Breeding Pool), a battleland (like Canopy Vista, an Amonkhet cycler (like Fetid Pools), or even something like a Mistveil Plain or Murmuring Bosk. Plus, while these lands only come in allied pairs, they are actually legal in enemy color decks, so even in an Orzhov deck you can use Flood Plain to get a Godless Shrine.
One small downside of the “bad fetchlands” is that, because they enter the battlefield tapped, there’s a window of one full turn cycle around the table where someone could Strip Mine or otherwise remove your land before you can actually fetch anything with them. That isn’t an issue issue with E&T. Still, I’d argue that if you’re playing in an environment where people are using land removal on a “bad fetch” instead of saving it for a Cabal Coffers, then things are probably at a level where you’re not running either option. Your mileage may vary, though.
Combined, the five Mirage fetches are in 90% less decks than E&T. Now, some percentage of those decks are surely more than two colors, thus needing more alternatives, and some percentage also use E&T for things like Landfall… but certainly not all of them. For example, Brago, King Eternal is the most popular allied-color commander of all time, with 2,038 decks on EDHREC. Generally speaking, he’s not a deck looking for specific Landfall triggers or even to proc Revolt effects, yet of the 876 Brago decks running Evolving Wilds, only 101 are running Flood Plain, and of the 659 decks running Terramorphic Expanse, only 110 are running Flood Plain. Looking at the five most recent decks in the database that fit that criteria, 4 of the 5 also have fetchable duals like Hallowed Fountain and Irrigated Farmland, which E&T can’t find for you. In almost all of those cases, switching to Flood Plain would be an upgrade over E&T.
Could have been meditating on the wonders of your rock garden right now.
The Odyssey filterlands: Much like how the Mirage fetches are called the “bad fetchlands”, this cycle of allied lands are called the “bad filterlands,” despite being the OG filters. Darkwater Catacombs, Mossfire Valley, Shadowblood Ridge, Skycloud Expanse, and Sungrass Prairie are the five lands in this series, and all are available for less than three dollars, so they fit into our budget as a replacement.
So why are these the “bad” filters? Well, you need another tappable land in play to make them work, and they also only provide you with one of each of their respective colors (unlike the Lorwyn filters, like Mystic Gate, which lets you vary your colors). Still, it’s not like you’re going to keep a one-land hand very often, so you’ll always have more lands to help activate these. These hurt your tempo way less frequently than the always-enter-tapped land that E&T fetches for you. If you’re in allied colors and running E&T, these are a better choice.
The five Odyssey filters are in just over 18,000 decks combined on on EDHREC, which isn’t nearly enough.
What? What kind of crappy planet is that?
The pain lands: I don’t need to talk about pain lands, because obvio . . . wait, what’s that? The ten pain lands are in less decks combined than Evolving Wilds and Terramorphic Expanse? That can’t be right. This is probably why HR keeps telling me to stop huffing Wite-Out.
The numbers don’t lie, E&T are indeed in more decks than all ten pain lands. And listen, the exact numbers aren’t everything. Pains probably don’t go in a five-color deck the way E&T can, since those can magically become any basic. People don’t like losing life, either (though I’d argue it’s a resource and you shouldn’t be afraid to spend it). Still, all ten of the pain lands shouldn’t be in 20,000 fewer decks than E&T. That is nostrils-crusted-shut-with-liquid-paper level nuts.
In a two-color deck, pain lands fix your mana perfectly while entering untapped. What’s not to love? Fairly often they wind up not needing to be tapped for a colored mana at all, minimizing how much life you actually lose. On top of all of that, they can tap for a true colorless mana if you need one to power that Eldrazi Displacer or World Breaker.
Meren of Clan Nel Toth is the most popular two-color commander in the EDHREC database, and it has nine decks running World Breaker and Evolving Wilds but not Llanowar Wastes, and eleven with Terramorphic Expanse but no Llanowar Wastes. Now, Meren did come with both E&T as part of the stock out-of-the-box deck setup, so it makes sense that some people haven’t changed it around. World Breaker, however, was not part of that stock list, and even today remains around $3 to buy. I would have thought if you were tweaking your deck enough to add an Eldrazi beater like World Breaker, you’d also adjust your mana base by including an even cheaper land that works better than E&T while activating your monster’s recursion ability, but apparently 20 people disagree.
Planet’s coming up a mite fast.
There are a lot of cycles of lands we could talk about here. The checkland cycle (such as Sunpetal Grove) are still sub-five dollars, as are the Amonkhet cyclers, Battle for Zendikar lands, Battlebond lands, and Shadows Over Innistrad lands. I don’t need to go into each specifically, but what I want to impress upon you is that there are enough other options that there’s just no need to run E&T in a two color deck unless you’re looking for those specific caveats like Landfall or Delve.
If you’re still running E&T, odds are one of these options will work a little better for you, and over time, a bunch of ‘little betters’ adds up to a lot better.
That’s gonna wrap it up for this edition of “Feed Dana’s ego by telling everyone they’re doing it wrong.” I’d love to hear your perspective on all the alternatives, as well as any suggestions for future cards to cover in the column in the comments below. Any commentary is also appreciated, particularly if it’s really complimentary and agrees with me and overall makes me feel better about my childhood. Until next time, I’m Dana, and I’ll see you In the Margins.
(PS: I’ve included one of my two-color decks below, to help demonstrate all the allied-color alternatives to E&T we’ve discussed in this article. Enjoy!)