Cracking the Code on Fetch Lands

Fetch lands are a staple in Modern, and for such innocuous-looking lands, using them correctly in different situations can be much more difficult than they seem. In this article I walk you through the scenarios where cracking a fetch land - or not - can make all the difference.

Magic is a game of inches, and every small decision we make over a given period influences how well we end up playing in a game, a match, and even a tournament. In this week’s article, I want to go over the minute, yet intricate decision-making that goes into "cracking" a fetch land, a term referring to the ability of fetch lands such as Polluted Delta that allow players to search up lands with corresponding basic land types. I’ll go over specific scenarios in which we should consider whether or not to crack our fetches and, in the process, I hope that you come away with some helpful understanding about when to fetch and when not to.

Cracking a Fetch on the Play Against an Unknown Opponent

Windswept Heath

It’s the first turn of the game, you’re playing against an unknown opponent, and you have a turn-one Thoughtseize you want to cast. Both lands in your hand are fetch lands, so you know you’re playing one of them and then cracking it for a land. Do you fetch up a basic land or a shock land?

Fetch Land Hand

It may be instinctive to cast the Thoughtseize off of a Godless Shrine here, but in this scenario you’re better off fetching up a Swamp. Why? The biggest reason is Burn. One of the best ways to lose percentage points is by fetching willy-nilly against an unknown opponent, going down to 15 life after casting Thoughtseize, and seeing a hand full of Lightning Bolts and Lava Spikes. Unless there’s a good reason to be greedy about having a perfect mana base, it’s better off fetching up a basic for your first land. The second reason is the looming presence of Blood Moon. The enchantment is like Stony Silence, but for fair decks, and you’ll end up kicking yourself when you get locked out of the game because you were too greedy and wanted a perfect mana base when your hand didn’t require one.

One exception to this is if you’re playing a deck like Grixis Death’s Shadow, a deck in which you’re trying to get your life total low enough to start deploying Death’s Shadows. Another one is if you’re the deck that is playing its own Blood Moons, in which case your deck should be built well-enough that fetching for a shock land won’t punish you greatly because of the high number of basics in your deck.

Cracking a Fetch Against an Opposing Goblin Guide

Here’s a familiar scenario: turn one on the play, you play a fetch land and pass the turn. Your opponent plays a Goblin Guide and attacks you for two, putting the Goblin Guide trigger on the stack. Do you crack your fetch land in response?

The answer is, "it depends." If your hand is light on lands and you want to draw more of them, you should leave your fetch uncracked. This way, if Goblin Guide reveals a land on top of your library, you get a land. If the Guide doesn’t reveal a land on top of your library, you can fetch it away so that you can have another shot at drawing a land on your draw step.

If you don’t want lands and instead want to draw spells, you should fetch before the Goblin Guide trigger. Doing so increases the chances of putting a non-land spell on top of your deck, and even if the card ends up being a land, you’ll end up drawing it.

Cracking a Fetch After an Opponent Uses Jace, the Mind Sculptor’s +2 Ability

Magic players like feeling clever, and I came across a recent article that talked about the possibilities of bluffing your opponent with Jace, the Mind Sculptor’s +2 ability. By using the ability on an opponent that has a fetch land in play, you could convincingly leave a card on top of his or her library, have him or her crack the fetch land, and reveal that they had fetched away a good card when they look at what it was. The thinking behind doing this, I assume, is that you could then trick your opponent into making suboptimal decisions with cracking his or her fetch lands after a Jace +2 down the line.

Don’t fall for this. Just crack your fetch land if an opponent leaves a card on top of your library with Jace’s +2 ability, and if it turns out that your opponent is the kind of player who leaves good cards on top of your library, you should feel confident about winning that match anyway.

Cracking a Fetch with Serum Visions in Hand

Serum Visions

Scry effects from cards such as Serum Visions are important in reducing the randomization of your deck. A Blue-White Control player, who starts the game off by casting a Serum Visions on the first turn off a basic Island and putting two cards on the bottom of her deck, now has a deck of 50 random cards and two known cards on the bottom of her deck. Why is this significant? This information will be relevant when she decides whether to crack a fetch or not later in the game because doing so would mean shuffling those cards back into the deck. Knowing which cards are on the bottom of a deck is also important because that information will aid in deciding whether to "dig deeper" with spells that draw cards or to reset probabilities of drawing a card by shuffling the deck with a fetch land.

Therefore, in most cases, you want to crack your fetch lands before you cast your Serum Visions. The main reason why you would want to crack your fetch land afterwards is if you wanted to increase the chances of drawing a land (and even then you wouldn’t do this immediately so as to not mess up the scry) or if you wanted to shuffle back the cards you had put on the bottom of your deck.

Cracking a Fetch with a Mishra’s Bauble in Play

Mishra's Bauble

Mishra’s Bauble is played in Death’s Shadow lists that utilize the artifact to power up Tarmogoyfs, but more importantly to get away with reducing the land count in the decks. Mishra’s Bauble, in conjunction with fetch lands, allows the player using it to look at the top card of his or her deck and decide whether or not to keep it. If the Death’s Shadow player needs either lands or spells, the Bauble gives him or her a sneak peek at what he or she will draw, and the shuffle effect of fetch lands helps the player get a re-draw if need be. Just don’t forget the trigger at the beginning of the next turn’s upkeep!

Cracking a Fetch with Multiple Delver of Secrets in Play

Delver of Secrets

With the way that Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration works, if you have multiple Delvers and a fetch land in play, you can try to increase the chances that at least one of them transforms. If the first Delver trigger fails to reveal an instant or sorcery card, you can crack your fetch land to shuffle your deck and then hope to reveal an instant or sorcery with the second trigger.

Then again, this is Delver of Secrets in Modern we’re talking about – he’s never going to transform when you need him to, and the three remaining players who still play Delver in 2018 probably know this trick by now.

Cracking a Fetch Against Lantern Control

Codex Shredder

For those unfamiliar with Lantern Control, the deck uses Lantern of Insight in combination with cards such as Codex Shredder (referred to as mill rocks) to control the top of the opponent’s library by milling away his or her useful cards.

Fetch lands (and by extension, cards that shuffle the library) can mitigate the effect of mill rocks because they can change the top card of the library. However, the key in using fetch lands to shuffle the deck is to use them when you want a re-draw, not when you want to "protect" the top card on your deck.

To clarify what I mean by this, imagine a scenario in which your opponent has a Lantern of Insight and an untapped Codex Shredder. It’s your upkeep, you have a Kolaghan’s Command on top of your deck, and you have a Scalding Tarn in play. In response to your opponent activating his or her Shredder, if you were to crack your fetch land, you would get a random card on top of your deck that may or may not be good, it will get milled, and the card you will draw will be another random card that may or may not be good. On the other hand, if you let the Kolaghan’s Command get milled and wait to see what the next card on top of your library is, you will have one of two options: it will be a good card (such as your second copy of Kolaghan’s Command) that you will then naturally draw, or it will be a bad card (for example, a land) that you can shuffle away with your Scalding Tarn to try and draw a better card.

There are exceptions to this rule, and if this particular copy of Kolaghan’s Command on top of your deck is your only out, it would make sense to shuffle it away and hope for the best. However, in most cases, fetch lands should be used as a redraw in your games against Lantern Control.

Cracking a Fetch with a Tireless Tracker in Play

Tireless Tracker

Fetch lands and Tireless Tracker are a match made in value heaven, but the sequencing of triggers can catch you by surprise if you’re not paying attention. Take this board state on your third turn, where you’ve just played your Tireless Tracker and a Windswept Heath, triggering your Tracker and netting you a clue. Your opponent is sitting on a forest and a Verdant Catacombs – should you crack your fetch?

Tireless Tracker Board State

The short answer is no. The longer answer has to do with what might happen if you were to crack your fetch land and search for a land. Once you’ve activated the ability of the Windswept Heath, the ability goes on the stack, and your opponent can respond to it by cracking his or her Verdant Catacomb, triggering revolt, and then destroying your Tireless Tracker by casting a Fatal Push. Once the ability of Windswept Heath resolves, your Tracker won’t be around on the battlefield to give you a clue.

In this scenario, whoever makes the first move is going to "lose" – if you wait for your opponent to crack his or her fetch land, you can then respond by cracking your own, which would allow for the land to enter the battlefield while Tracker is still around!

Cracking a Fetch When You Need Mana

Mana Leak

The last trick regarding fetch lands has to do with cracking a fetch when you need mana and being aware of the timing. Like the scenario regarding the Tireless Tracker, fetching at inopportune times can lower your defenses and allow your opponents to land a play they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. Take a look at this board state in which you have a Mana Leak in hand and your opponent has a Lightning Bolt. Cracking a fetch here exposes you to being bolted, whereas waiting until your opponent makes the first move ensures that you have your counter ready. Don’t be the person that gets got by an opponent playing mismatched-partially-white-bordered lands and casting Premium Deck Series Lightning Bolts.

Lightning Bolt Hand Board State

That’s all for this week – were there any other tricks or tips involving fetch lands that I may have missed? Leave a comment below to let me know, and I’ll see you again next time!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

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