Getting Ahead Part IV: Play More Snow Lands
Andifeated already told you about bluffs in a previous past article, but he didn't show you how to bluff with your basic land choices. Learn why Snow-Covered Basic Lands are better than the regular Basic Lands that everybody uses for tournament play.
In June 1995, the Ice Age expansion hit the shelves. The story happens on a Dominaria stuck in perpetual winter after the events in the brother's war. It's best known, of course, for introducing snow-covered basic lands:
They're almost identical to normal basics, but there are cards that have unique interactions with snow permanents. Some of these cards are tournament playable and, as a result, every deck builder has an interesting decision to make when deciding what basics they'll use.
When I started playing Storm in Modern, I quickly added one Snow-Covered Island to my decklist as Gifts Ungiven asks for four different names and when I want to tutor for an untapped land, having two islands I can get helps out at no cost to the deck. I felt pretty smart. After thousands of games played with Modern Storm, I have yet to search for four untapped lands and had it matter, but it taught me a lot about snow-covered lands and I ended up thinking a lot about them.
Another card where you need to name a card and can benefit from Snow-Covered Lands is Predict. Legacy Miracles plays this card and there might be a game where the Miracles player needs to blind Predict someone in order to cycle their cantrip and use up their mana. When you're playing against a deck that runs a lot of basics of the same type, it might be correct to Predict on them and name their most common basic. Death and Taxes, for example, plays 10-12 Plains. If they split them between Snow-Covered and regular Plains, the chance of getting successful blind predict decreases by about 50%.
Miracles, therefore, probably doesn't want to split their basics, because it immediately tells the opponent that they aren't on Predict.
Pretending to be Another Deck
When Snow-Covered Islands became a popular inclusion in Gifts Ungiven Decks, I realized how many players would go “I see you're on Storm” when I played my snow land and cast Serum Visions. All of a sudden, it became a disadvantage since many Modern Decks start with Island and Serum Visions and most of them demand a different play pattern from opponents when compared to Storm. However, if you incorporate Snow-Covered Islands in all your decks that start the game with a blue cantrip, all of a sudden your opponent puts you on Storm when you're playing Izzet Phoenix, Jeskai Control, Grixis Control, Blue Scapeshift, Grixis Death's Shadow, or Blue Moon, which can be a huge advantage.
When I realized this, I stumbled upon many more decks where snow lands can make your opponent think you're an entirely different deck and I started to wonder why I wasn't seeing snow lands far more often.
In fact, the first time I saw a professional Magic player mention this subtle deckbuilding topic was Pascal Vieren's deck tech for his Izzet Pyromancer deck at Pro Tour Ixalan where he explained his Snow-Covered Basic Lands as a bluff to pretend to be Storm. But even after this, snow lands were a rare sight at tournaments.
Izzet Pyromancer, Pascal Vieren, Pro Tour Ixalan February 2018
|22Lands||10Creatures||28Instants and Sorceries|
|3Field of Ruin||4Snapcaster Mage||1Abrade|
|2Flooded Strand||3Thing in the Ice / Awoken Horror||3Cryptic Command|
|1Misty Rainforest||4Lightning Bolt|
|1Polluted Delta||1Logic Knot|
|4Scalding Tarn||2Mana Leak|
|1Spirebluff Canal||1Spell Snare|
|3Steam Vents||3Ancestral Vision|
|1Abrade||2Anger of the Gods||2Ceremonious Rejection|
|1Crumble to Dust||1Disdainful Stroke||2Dispel|
|1Relic of Progenitus||1Spell Snare||1Vendilion Clique|
There are many more decks that benefit from bluffing this way. I'll just mention a few more examples to give you an idea of how you might bluff and gain an advantage.
In Legacy, there is a Combo Deck called Turbo Depths. It tries to put a 20/20 Marit Lage Token onto the battlefield as quickly as possible with the combination of Dark Depths and Vampire Hexmage or Thespian's Stage. Since Dark Depths is a Snow Land - you can search it up with Into the North. Some versions of the deck run this card as a result. Of course, they obviously, in this case, run snow basics as well in case they need to find a mana source and not Dark Depths. Therefore, whenever you're playing a Deck that runs Duress or Thoughtseize alongside Swamps, you might consider running some Snow-Covered Swamps instead as an opening of Swamp into Thoughtseize will make your opponent think you're on Turbo Depths when in fact you're playing Storm, Grixis Control, Pox, or another black deck.
In Pauper, there has been a very popular Izzet Delver Deck that plays Skred because a playset of Lightning Bolt isn't enough. If you're on burn say, where you run bolts but no Skred, you still might consider snow mountains to make them think you're going to be playing tempo when you're actually much more aggressive. The same is true for Modern. Mono Red Prison uses Skred as removal and Scrying Sheets as a card advantage engine. It might not be popular anymore but if you're also on Lightning Bolts and Mountains, you may be able to convince your opponent that a turn two Blood Moon is coming their way when you have zero copies of the card in your deck.
Gaining from your Opponent's Snow Payoffs
Back before I got into competitive Magic, I was a big Commander addict.
I loved my Monoblack Chainer, Dementia Master deck that played every card that doubled your mana. One of the best cards in that deck was the then format staple Extraplanar Lens. Since I didn't want the other players at the table to have their Swamps produce twice as much mana, I played Snow-Covered Swamps instead. Extraplanar Lens is still a very popular card in Commander and most mono color big mana decks use it as a broken ramp card. Therefore, you have good reason to play snow basics in most or all of your Commander decks (especially now that there are full arts), as you may benefit from others use of the ramping artifact.
Of course, this only works if a minority of players do it because the Extraplanar Lens players will adapt and switch back to regular basics if everyones running around with sweet full-art snow lands, but that's true for this whole article. All of those mentioned bluffs decrease in value if players are catching up and starting to add snow basics to their decks but at least so far, it's been a pretty good guess that players won't be doing that.
I already told you that you're in danger of giving away information to smart opponents by playing snow basics instead of regular ones. For example, I believe that it's wrong to play Snow-Covered Islands in Modern Gifts Ungiven Storm at this point. The upside of being more likely to successfully search for four different untapped lands doesn't outweigh the disadvantage of your opponent immediately knowing what you're on. On another note, there are cards that punish snow permanents. I haven't seen a decklist with Avalanche or Freyalise's Radiance yet, but you should be aware that those cards exist. All downsides considered; I still think convincing your opponent that you're on another deck outweighs the disadvantages of a snow mana base. I have won games against Jund because my opponent didn't tap out for Tarmogoyf in the face of my Snow-Covered Island to hold up Abrupt Decay in case I try to go off with Baral, Chief of Compliance on my third turn. In fact, my Grixis Control Deck wasn't playing any good targets for Decay and the gained time made me the winner of an otherwise lost game.
Some players have told me that they know about this bluff but they simply don't own Snow-Covered Basic Lands and don't want to spend resources on such marginal value. I'm baffled by this argument because as a competitive tournament player I always want to have the perfect version of my deck that gives me the highest chance to win. The comparison might be extreme, but players don't play Shock if they can run Lightning Bolt instead because it's obviously strictly better. Snow-Covered Mountains might not be that much better than Mountains, but I hope that you've been convinced that there is some benefit to bluffing with them. Players should take this edge and use it to their advantage. In the end, margins are narrow in Magic and if we want to win a larger percentage of our games, we need to look for every tiny edge that we can find and use them. Snow-Covered Lands offer opportunities to do so. Also, with Modern Horizons, snow lands are more accessible than ever and there are plenty of new payoff cards that might add to your deck, which takes running them from a buff to a potential full-on advantage.
Tell me in the comments what you think about snow lands. Do you think players should use them more and have you run into any strange situations where having snow lands mattered?
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.