There’s been a nice influx of new players on the scene in our FNM, and I noticed they play lands whenever they can, so I thought this might be an interesting topic to discuss as a sort of primer on the subject, because it might not always be clear when to keep those lands in hand.
There might be a variety of reasons here, but I’ll break them down to four different cases. There’s a chance I’ve just forgotten something important here, but we’ll see.
If you are new, this might feel pretty innocuous, but once you can identify it, knowing when not to play lands can actually decide quite a few games. More than you’d think actually. Some of my biggest punts have been not playing lands, but you’ll have to learn much of this the hard way. I can only give you some examples of when to actually think all of this through.
Case 1: Bluffing
This is the major reason, especially in limited, where you might be playing a variety of combat tricks. You’re opponent might make mistakes if they try to play around something you don’t have, or you might just be able to buy some time to do it.
So, when to do this?
The rule of thumb is this: If your curve stops at six, play only five lands until you draw the card that requires six. You’ll be able to play the land when needed.
Of course, this isn’t quite this simple, as there are situations where you want to play two spells in a turn cycle, so know your deck and play accordingly. I know I lost one match back in the day, because I didn’t play a land, because I didn’t foresee needing seventh land with an aggressive GW deck and needing to play [scryfall]Advent of the Wurm[/scryfall] after opponent sweeped the board.
Still, even in this case, I could’ve played the land and still had one land in hand for bluffing purposes. But again, know your deck. Its going to be a recurring theme in this article.
Case 2: Cards as a Resource
Do you play [scryfall]Tormenting Voice[/scryfall], [scryfall]Cathartic Reunion[/scryfall], [scryfall]Faithless Looting[/scryfall], [scryfall]Smuggler’s Copter[/scryfall] or say [scryfall]Merfold Looter[/scryfall]? You need something to discard to them. If you’ve already played enough lands to get you through the rest of the game, feel free to keep them in your hand, although even in this case, think it through first, because there might be situations where you draw a couple of cards to play right away, if you only have the mana.
Of course, there are other situations, where you’ll be happy to have saved some cards. [scryfall]Olivia, Mobilized for War[/scryfall] gives haste and a +1/+1 counter with discard, [scryfall]Stromkirk Condemned[/scryfall] can pump your whole team. Of course, you’d much rather use these cards to fuel madness cards, but since that’s not always an option, extra lands are the next best thing.
Again, know your deck here.
Case 3: Wheeling
This is a red thing, mostly, like the previous, but sometimes blue, or you might be hit with these effects sometimes, but cards like [scryfall]Collective Defiance[/scryfall] and [scryfall]Chandra, Flamecaller[/scryfall] will require fuel. In each case, you need to play plenty of lands beforehand, but sometimes you are flooding and then you’ll be happy to just ship those extra lands to your graveyard and get new ones in their stead.
Case 4: Opponent’s Discard
This one depends on the format wildly, but take [scryfall]Liliana of the Veil[/scryfall], for example. If you are playing against it, you’ll often be happy to discard a land. There are other cards. I play a lot of 8-Rack in tournaments, so I see my opponents keeping lands in hand all the time and for a very good reason. I have [scryfall]Smallpox[/scryfall], [scryfall]Wrench Mind[/scryfall] and [scryfall]Raven’s Crime[/scryfall] which can also make you discard, and in each case discarding lands is pretty good.
On the other hand, in these cases, its also a very good idea to just play them, if you don’t have anything to protect in your hand. Think it through, because these games can be pretty hard to navigate, although your opponent is going to make easy for you soon, after you don’t have any cards in hand to think about.
One way to use lands in hand is to entice your opponent to use their [scryfall]Thoughtseize[/scryfall] and [scryfall]Inquisition of Kozilek[/scryfall]s then, costing them a card when they might not be able to take anything, but they pretty much have to use them whenever they have the window, because there might not be another.