Last updated on October 8, 2020
Clifftop Retreat | Illustration by John Avon
If you’ve been playing Magic for a while, you’re probably familiar with fetch and shock lands and you probably know what I’m going to say next. If you’re new to the game, it’s time to pay attention because this is a valuable lesson: Lands are Good! And I do mean “Good” with a capital “G.”
When you first start playing, your eyes are probably all on the creatures, enchantments, instants, sorceries, and artifacts. I know mine were. Lands were just something you needed to play those awesome spells with the cool (and not to mention expensive) abilities. I’ve traded away a couple of great lands for medium cards in the past, which the person I was trading with was only too eager to give away.
It wasn’t until I saw the lands deck in Legacy that I started paying attention to them and the incredible power they hold. From there I started noticing a lot of pro-players really appreciating their mana bases and investing in good lands. Why? Because mana makes your deck move! Every deck needs mana, so getting yourself some good ones is a smart move.
We’ve done two other installments of lands articles and now it’s time to put the check lands in the spotlight and make you see why you should put them in your decks. So, without further ado, land’s get to it!
Sulfur Falls | Illustration by Cliff Childs
Check Lands: What Are They
Check lands go under a few aliases like “buddy lands” and “dual lands,” but their most commonly referred to name is check lands. This is because of the simple line of text that’s present on all of them: “enters the battlefield tapped unless you control X.”
Upon entering the battlefield, the land checks for certain conditions present on your board to enter untapped. Obviously, this is the result you want as often as possible and we’ll get to how to achieve that. First, let’s take a look at these bad boys.
The List of Check Lands
- Glacial Fortress
- Drowned Catacomb
- Dragonskull Summit
- Rootbound Crag
- Sunpetal Grove
- Woodland Cemetery
- Hinterland Harbor
- Sulfur Falls
- Clifftop Retreat
- Isolated Chapel
Check Lands History
The check lands were introduced in two batches. The first five in M10 in allied colors and then the second five in Innistrad in enemy colors.
There have been a number of reprints since their first release. As seems typical of Wizards, the enemy colors have seen far fewer reprints than the allied colors. But, hey, you gotta take what you can get.
Allied Colors Print Run
- Ixalan (including two Ixalan promos)
Enemy Colors Print Run
- Dominaria (including two Dominaria promos)
Sunpetal Grove | Illustration by Dimitar
There have also been a couple of singular reprints of five of the ten check lands. Take a look:
There are countless variations of decks that feature these lands since they first hit the scene. From Standard to Pioneer to Modern, a couple of check lands have turned up in many Top 8 decklists around the globe. Drowned Catacomb and Glacial Fortress are by far most often picked, but there are also lists with Isolated Chapel and many others in the cycle.
This especially comes to the foreground when you start looking at Commander decklists, where the upside of these cards can be exploited a lot easier. Plus, they’re also cheaper than, let’s say, the original duals or shock lands. The reason why they’re featured is, of course, because they’re powerful lands. Why are they powerful, you ask? Perfect timing, I respond, because we’re going to get into that right now.
Dragonskull Summit | Illustration by Alayna Danner
What’s the Big Deal?
There’s a number of different reasons why these lands are important and a lot of it has to do with their power in different formats. Let’s start with Standard.
When you think of Standard, check lands are great because they go so well with basic lands. Every Standard deck usually runs a number of basics. Having a land that serves as a dual coming into play untapped when you have two of those basic lands is great mana fixing. This allows you to play your spells on curve and have a deck that plays multiple colors easily.
So, whenever the check lands are part of the Standard meta, you can be sure to see them pop-up in decklists.
Lowdown on Limited
Check lands are major players in Draft or Sealed as well. These decks play even more basics, percentage wise, so having a dual that fixes your colors and enables you to build a better deck because of it is great.
Pioneer and Modern have a limited availability to certain lands because they each have card pools that are a lot smaller than, let’s say, Legacy. Check lands help fixing colors here. And, even more so, they go great with shock lands.
Because shock lands are two land types, you only need one of them to enable two, three, or even four check lands. Although you’ll mostly see a combination of the exact color pair, like Hallowed Fountain and Glacial Fortress.
Drowned Catacomb | Illustration by Jung Park
Ending with Eternal
Commander is another great format for the check lands. This format features all duels in Magic’s history as well as always playing a bunch of basics, so check lands shine here. The same can be said for Cube.
When you get to Legacy and Vintage though, check lands quickly start to lose ground. The competitive nature combined with the extensive lands available in these card pools makes the check lands too slow, so you likely won’t see any lists featuring them in these formats.
The Shocking Truth (Spoiler: Shock is Better)
This also taps into why check lands are inferior to shock lands. Check lands need an enabler, a land of the type named on the card, to come into play untapped. The shock lands, on the other hand, need only 2 life to be paid to come into play untapped, hence shock land.
This means that, especially on your first turn, you can have two colors of mana available to you. Compared to a check land, that will always need either a basic or dual of the land type(s) named on them to be in play. When it comes to tempo and a greater range of plays to be available to you on your first turn, shock lands are just better.
This also explains check lands prices, which are anywhere between $3 and $9 USD. Compared to shock lands this is about a 50% cut in price on average. What is great about this is that you can pick the check lands up on the cheap and use them in a variety of decks in the formats where they shine.
If you’re playing on MTGO or MTGA, they’ll cost you even less. On MTGO they can be bought for a couple tix and on MTGA you can open them from packs or use Wildcards to get exactly what you want.
Isolated Chapel | Illustration by Richard Wright
As with a lot of MTG cards, there are always alternatives for the cards you’re looking for. The effect or result is usually similar, but the way you go about achieving it is different or more costly. The same goes for check lands. Here are some cycles you can look to if you’re looking for an alternative to them:
That’s all the information you need to know about check lands and their importance! Hopefully, you’ll have picked up on how valuable they and other lands are in general, as well. Think twice before you decide to trade away that rare land that doesn’t seem to add anything to your deck. It probably adds more than you think. Or you can sell it for more than you think. Either way.
With that, we’ve come to the end of our journey today. May it have been instructional as well as a fun ride. As always, feel free to head on over to our blog if you want to read more of our awesome articles.
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That’s all for now. Stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll see you on the next one.
Rootbound Crag | Illustration by Grzegorz Rutkowski
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