Last updated on June 10, 2022
Mana. Love it, hate it, it honestly doesn’t matter. It’s a necessary evil that all of us must keep in mind and take into consideration whenever we play a game of Magic. Getting lands on the battlefield is one thing, but getting the color you need when you need it is a different story. Likewise, you don’t always need a colored mana at the ready all the time. That’s where pain lands come in.
As you can probably tell from the name, pain lands are lands that allow you to use your life as a partial payment for mana. The nice thing about these is that they allow you to keep your tempo (the “do not tap” upon entry) and you don’t always need to use your life to get mana. The colorless mana is just a tap to use, it’s the colored mana that requires a ‘plink.’ There are several different iterations of these, so let’s take a look.
The Original Pain Lands
All of these are the same concept, just with different dual colors.
Ice Age’s Allied-Colored Duals
Apocalypse’s Enemy-Colored Duals
Prices and Where to Find Pain Lands
These lands can be bought just like any other, really. A good thing to note though is that, since they’ve been reprinted several times (more on that in a bit), their prices tend to stay low. As “low” as powerful non-basic lands go, anyway.
At the time of printing, here are the general prices you’ll probably be paying for them in singles:
- Adarkar Wastes: $6 to $15
- Underground River: $4.50 to $8
- Sulfurous Springs: $7 to $15
- Karplusan Forest: $3 to $5
- Brushland: $4 to $11
- Caves of Koilos: $1 to $4
- Shivan Reef: $1 to $8
- Llanowar Wastes: <$1 to $7
- Battlefield Forge: <$1 to $4
- Yavimaya Coast: <$1 to $8
These won’t set you back much in the long term for a decent set of lands, especially compared to fetch, shock, or any land that was printed in Zendikar Expeditions. Their pricing seems to be on par with check lands in the current market.
Compared to the power of shocks, checks, and fetches, I put them more on par with check lands, but under shocklands. I personally prefer shocks and checks to the others, but I can definitely see the draw.
A History of Pain
Caves of Koilos | Illustration by Jim Nelson
Pain lands were first introduced in Ice Age (for the allied colors) and Apocalypse (for the enemy colors). They’ve all been printed several times, though. Take a look:
Much like fetch lands, they’re still being developed beyond the original 10 cards. Technically speaking, any land that does damage to you to get mana is a pain land, so cards like City of Brass and Ancient Tomb could be considered pain lands.
When these lands were first introduced, it wasn’t uncommon to see these and the original dual lands in decks since there were far less non-mono-color options back in the early days of the game. This was the same set that depletion lands came out in though, so it wasn’t a very difficult to choose which ones to go with.
Why You Should Become the King of Pain
Karplusan Forest | Illustration by John Avon
While pain lands can subjectively be better or worse than the other types of non-basic lands, they still have a place amongst them in general use. Let’s take a brief look at some other types and see how the pain lands fair.
Comes in tapped unless you pay 2 life. Able to produce one of two colors.
Able to play on tempo. Search your deck for a specific type of land card then put it on the battlefield. Gets you the color you need and allows for two landfall triggers if done on the same turn.
Comes in tapped unless you already control a certain other type of land. Able to produce one of two colors.
Comes in untapped. Able to produce colorless mana for free and produce one of two colors for the cost of 1 life.
Fast lands come in untapped if you control two or fewer lands. Able to procedure one of two colors.
Comparing Pain Lands to Alternatives
Llanowar Wastes | Illustration by Rob Alexander
There isn’t much to compare between pain and check or fetch lands since they operate on different, much more easily attached triggers. That being said, let’s look at pain and shocklands, and pain versus fast lands.
Pain vs Shock
For shocklands, you either pay the two life to get it on the field untapped (all good, if you have the life) or it comes in tapped. Boo. Pains come in untapped no matter what and you only need to pay if you need the specific colors.
There are plenty of scenarios where you may need that one additional mana this turn to survive but can’t sacrifice the life to get the shockland out. With a pain land, you can get it out and use it right away. Even if you need the colored mana, that one extra life the shock would take is sometimes the make-or-break point.
Pain vs Fast
Shefet Dunes | Illustration by Yeong Hao Han
Fast lands are only really beneficial in the very early stages of the game unless you don’t care about keep tempo. Needing a third mana and only having fast lands in hand is a horrible feeling.
Choosing whether to play these over other duals very much depends on what you’re hoping to gain/lose. If you’re playing a deck that really needs to use the mana play every turn, then having the pain land enter untapped is great. If you plan on using your life total for other means, such as some Aetherflux Reservoir shenanigans, then paying the one life each turn is going to hurt your game plan.
One thing I’ve noticed is that paying the one life to get the colored mana every once in a while is negligible and rarely ever causes a loss.
Pain lands slightly favor aggressive decks because the life loss is less relevant to you if you’re planning to be on the beatdown.
The Pain of the Formats
Underground River | Illustration by Jeff Miracola
Lightning-round time because their use is subjective and dependent on deck context.
There are no pain lands that are currently available. This may change in the coming sets.
Play them if you got them! They’re great dual lands and good for any limited mana base.
Other than the original duals, I would play these over any others that could come in tapped. The three or four life I lose over the course of the game is barely noticeable and I would rather get my spells cast.
Completely deck and meta dependent. Very up in the air and up to your own preference.
The specific pain lands that I listed above aren’t pioneer legal, but a fair number of the suggested alternatives below are. Just like Modern, your mileage may vary.
But I Can’t Find Those!
That’s ok! There have been a lot of alternatives that have come out as of the last 25 years (man, I feel old). Let’s go over the ones you can use to replace them.
Mirrodin and Modern Horizon’s Pain Mana Artifacts: Talismans
These are similar to pain lands except, of course, that they’re artifacts and have a mana cost to play. They don’t provide the tempo that the originals do. Interestingly, some of these color combinations don’t have pain land variants so, if you want them, these may be the only way to get them.
Hours of Devastation’s Pain Deserts
These are mono-color pain lands, but they also come with a bonus ability that can be very nice indeed. They’re all Pioneer legal.
Other Painful Alternatives
Only really useful if you’re playing devoid cards.
Great for decks with more than two colors.
Spire of Industry
Again, great for decks with more than one color, but you have to control an artifact to take advantage of the pain ability.
City of Brass
No free option, but it can be any color mana.
This one is interesting because it taps for a forest for free, but you pay one life for white or black. It also enters untapped if you’re running treefolk tribal and have one in hand.
A bit more expensive at a three-life cost but it can produce any color.
Other Pain Lands
These are also considered pain lands but aren’t the best in terms of alternatives for colored mana or for the untapped aspect.
It’s not colored mana, but two life for two mana ain’t bad.
Boseiju, Who Shelters All
Enters tapped, two life for one colorless but whatever spell was cast using that mana can’t be countered.
Untaidake, the Cloud Keeper
Enters tapped, two life for two colorless that can only be used to cast legendary spells.
Yavimaya Coast | Illustration by Anthony S. Waters
With an appropriate name, pain lands can be benefit to any deck they’re in. While they may not be as versatile as fetch lands or have the immediate impact of a check land, they still allow for great tempo and a small cost to use if the color is necessary. Much like fetch lands, I hope to see a return of these to the Standard rotation. We’ve seen the emergence of shocklands, so we know people are still willing to pay life to cast cards.
I hope you found some use in our little chat today. Don’t forget to keep an eye out on our blog for more stuff like this, or even consider becoming a Patron. Stay safe out there, and I’ll see you next time!
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