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In Development – Charting the Realms, Four Lands at a Time

 

Realms Uncharted.

It was pretty much a given that I was going to like this card.

I’m a sucker for the card its templated on, of course. More generally, I really like searching my library for stuff – I like fetch lands, and they don’t even offer particularly complex search options (“Swamp or Plains?”). I also appreciate the way the “search for four, keep two” mechanic introduces an even more robust game design element into, well, deck design, and gives you the opportunity to regularly present complex challenges to your opponents.

However, the simple act of making Realms in the image of its Kamigawa progenitor doesn’t mean that the lessons from that blue power card easily transfer over to its green daughter. Today, I’m going to try and present the options that are available to us for using Realms Uncharted effectively in contemporary Alara-Zendikar Standard.

But first

It’s no Gifts Ungiven

The most frequent complaint about Realms Uncharted is that it’s not Gifts Ungiven. While true, this is also an almost completely unhelpful remark. Unless you’re saying it as a reminder to the person who keeps trying to include Grim Discovery in their Realms split, you’re just doing the same thing as the ubiquitous complainer in every Magic forum, ever, who dismisses any new countermagic with “It’s no Counterspell.”

Sure, it’s not, but then, we’re not playing with Kamigawa cards in Standard. Even if we were, a green deck without any blue wouldn’t have the option of running Gifts for lands”¦and I suppose the mana difference might matter, too. At the moment, these are all issues we can consider when we’re looking at applications of Gifts and Realms in Extended and Legacy. In the meantime, let’s turn our attention instead to what Realms Uncharted is.

It’s a Fact or Fiction

Back in the era of Invasion-Odyssey Standard, Psychatog decks ruled the Earth, and other than their eponymous power card, they relied on Fact or Fiction to fuel their way to victory.

Although Fact, like Gifts and Realms, can be a tricky card, in the Psychatog deck its role was simply that of Atog food. There was no clever way for your opponent to split the five cards – you were pretty much just going to grab the pile with more. At the end of the day, Fact read “Give your Psychatog +5/+5.”

In Alara-Zendikar Standard, Realms is similarly positioned. Imagine that you’re playing the following deck:

Uncharted Mystic Junk (an example deck for “Realms as Fact or Fiction”)

Then, consider that the design team over there in Renton has been nice enough to give us a functional reprint of Terramorphic Expanse in a Standard environment that also has the actual card Terramorphic Expanse.

So what does the following Realms Uncharted quartet represent?

 

That’s +2/+2 for Knight of the Reliquary the moment it resolves, with the option to go for another +2/+2 in two easy payments of one fetch land per turn after that.

It’s also four Birds per Emeria Angel, spread across two turns.

Or consider this take on Mythic:

Uncharted Mythic (an example deck for “Realms as Fact or Fiction”)

In this case, a resolved Realms (for Misty Rainforest, Verdant Catacombs, Evolving Wilds, and Terramorphic Expanse) represents:

2-3 mana per turn for the next two turns with the help of Lotus Cobra.

That same +4/+4 for Knight of the Reliquary.

Four 4/4 Baloths.

Although both lists are prospective and far from optimized, they serve to demonstrate the power of Realms as a card that fuels the other cards you were already using. Realms is to Knight of the Reliquary what Fact or Fiction was to Psychatog, with the added bonus of spawning Angels, Baloths, and generating mana when coupled with the right cards.

Also, think how much fun you’ll have the first time a hapless Jund player says “Blightning you” and you respond with a Realms for any four lands, cranking your Knight’s power and toughness up dramatically in what was surely not your opponent’s desired outcome.

Speaking of Jund

It’s a Kodama’s Reach

The Gifts deck that took Makahito Mihara to thirteenth place at Pro Tour Honolulu 2006 featured twenty-three lands along with four copies of Kodama’s Reach, two copies of Farseek, and four copies of everyone’s favorite chump-blocking snake, Sakura-Tribe Elder. Frank Karsten’s Greater Good deck from Worlds 2005 had the exact same suite of mana fixers.

Lest we get too caught up in the complexities of tricky things we might do with Realms Uncharted, it’s good to remember that “getting two lands” is a fine ambition for any three-mana card. Let’s plug that idea into a control-oriented Jund deck.

Consumption Jund (an example deck for “Realms as Kodama’s Reach”)

Once again, this is just a test list, but if you give it a try, you’ll soon discover just how pleasing it is to cascade into a Realms Uncharted off of a Bloodbraid Elf. Four mana for a 3/2 with haste that fixes your mana is a great deal. This is especially important in the context of the ongoing assault against the Jund mana base. As long as you can keep a green mana open, you can manage an end-of-turn Realms for something like this:

 

In testing so far, a Jund deck packing four copies of Realms Uncharted has an uncanny ability to get out from under Spreading Seas, Convincing Mirage, and other attempts to constrain its mana development. Although Realms Uncharted does not ramp you in the same manner as a Rampant Growth, its ability to bulwark you against being locked out of one of your colors makes it the superior choice.

It also offers the added benefit, described above, of giving you additional defense against Blightnings in game one of the mirror.

Notably, Rise brings us another card to go along with Realms Uncharted in this fixing role, and it does ramp your mana. As a spiritual successor to Farseek, Growth Spasm provides a nice combination of fixing, rampiing, and chump blocking – all of which are helpful in a control-oriented Jund build.

Casual observers will notice that I’ve pushed the Blightnings to the sideboard. I think this is the likely direction for more control-oriented Jund decks. A two-for-one is good, but it’s probably better to be selecting a positive two-for-one that fixes your mana preferentially over an aggressive two-for-one that often doesn’t do enough to change either your board position or your opponent’s ability to win.

I think Sarkhan the Mad may not fit in this revision of Jund. Here’s why:

It’s a Mana Severance

We usually make too much of the idea of “thinning your deck” via fetch lands, Rampant Growth, and other spells that pluck out a card at a time. Indeed, if you’re going into to your fourth turn, thinning in this way before you draw probably changes your chance of peeling a land from about 39% to about 38%. The effect is certainly there, but is it worth a point of life, or perhaps a shift in overall tempo (from using a Terramorphic Expanse, for example)?

However, if you cast a Realms Uncharted ahead of that fourth-turn draw, your odds of drawing a land move from about 39% to about 34%, and if the lands you’ve searched for are fetchlands, you can continue to noticeably bulk up your chances of drawing non-land cards over time.

To be clear, this is never going to be the sole reason to put Realms Uncharted into your deck.. However, you want to keep it in mind when you’re designing a deck. For example, I mentioned my concern about Sarkhan the Mad, above. Since Realms Uncharted both thins your deck and lets you run fewer lands in the first place, the average converted mana cost of your cards goes up, and Sarkhan gets fewer free draws. Conversely, it also becomes another tool that can facilitate mana-source-heavy decks such as Mythic, by giving you the ability to clear lands out of your “draw queue” as you go along.

It’s a Gifts Ungiven

Didn’t I say that Realms isn’t Gifts up above?

Well, it’s not a literal carry-over of the card, but it can serve similar, if land-focused roles, in modern decks. Imagine the following build:

Uncharted Polymorph (an example deck for “Realms as Gifts Ungiven”)

So what’s better than a deck that can Polymorph an Emrakul onto the battlefield? What about a deck that can Polymorph that Emrakul out or just hard cast it?

Last week I explored some options for combining Realms Uncharted with [card]Grim Discovery[/card] to allow a Gifts Ungiven-style use of Realms. If we are planning on abusing Realms Uncharted in this fashion, we will want to have either Grim Discovery or [card natures spiral]Nature’s Spiral[/card] in our deck, depending on the mana base and the other needs of the deck. Unlike a Gifts Ungiven deck, you want to max out on your recursion card of choice since you can’t include that card in your Realms package.

In the Polymorph list above, Realms can hunt up a number of useful cards. Here’s one obvious configuration:

 

If your opponent ditches the Eldrazi components – congratulations, you now have a Polymorph target and a way to reach three cards into your deck to find a Nature’s Spiral that you can use to get them back later. In using Realms Uncharted in this “Gifts-style” tricky role, we want to try to find these interactions that make life difficult for your opponent and leave you in a good position no matter how the set gets split up.

The many lives of Realms Uncharted

The upshot of this exploration of Realms Uncharted is that it, like its ancestor, is a remarkably powerful multi-role card. Although I addressed these areas in isolation, they don’t operate that way. When you draw that Realms Uncharted off the top, you have been given the option to fix your mana, power up your “land matters” creatures, meaningfully thin your deck, and present your opponent with a tricky puzzle that will generate the kind of opposing Slow Play that veteran Gifts players have come to expect.

Although it’s no Gifts Ungiven, Realms Uncharted is a powerful card that will likely be a major engine in Standard in the months to come.

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