Am I The Bolas? - Can Dual Lands = Jank?

Mike Carrozza • September 2, 2021

Scrubland (Legacy Championship) Illustrated by Mark Poole

Hello and welcome to Am I the Bolas?

This column is for all of you out there who have ever played some Magic and wondered if you were the bad guy. I'm here to take in your story with all of its nuances so I can bring some clarity to all those asking "Am I the Bolas?" Whether it's because of a mean play or even just getting bored with your playgroup, I'm ready to hear you out and offer advice. All you have to do is email!

Who am I? 

I'm the guy who emcee'd Sorin and Olivia's wedding!

(Taking a gamble, writing this before we know what really happens in Innistrad: Crimson Vow!)

This week, something little different. A discussion with someone in the Commander community I admire quite a bit. Dana Roach of the EDHRECast (and some excellent editorials on this website).

I've been listening to EDHRECast from the start and it has come up a few times that Dana plays his ABUR dual lands when he's got them available, regardless of power level. Dana's been playing Magic: The Gathering for a long time and has these prized pieces of the game. They've gotten pricey and aren't ever being reprinted, making them scarce.  How has this affected the expectations of opponents in games?

I asked Dana a few questions about his experience playing expensive, sought-after cards in janky decks.

Mike - In your experience, as genuinely the person I've heard talk about this most, how often does this happen to you where you're considered a threat when you bust out a dual land (a land from Alpha/Beta/Unlimited/Revised set, therefore on the Reserved List, that has two land types and doesn't enter play tapped)?

Dana - I'm not sure how often it makes me a threat necessarily in a situation where I shouldn't be, but the vocal reactions from people have certainly changed. 6-7 years ago dropping a $50 Savannah in a game when Windswept Heath was roughly the same price was a much different reaction to dropping a Savannah today, for example. I get a lot more "oh wow" kind of responses, and people sit up and pay a little more attention, etc.

Mike - Do you feel the need to open the conversation with "heads up been playing a while, there's a dual in this extremely janky deck"?

Dana - Absolutely. And that wasn't something that came up even a couple of years ago. I do think some element of that is people have become more cautious of the pre-game conversation, but it's much more so that the escalating price of the cards has altered the general public perception of their power, and the power of the deck running them.

Mike - Are there other cards that draw the ire like duals that aren't duals?

Dana - Honestly, it's true of almost any expensive Reserved List card these days. They almost all draw that same reaction. I have a Grim Monolith in a lower powered deck with no way to go infinite because the deck often animates mana rocks, and it wound up replacing an Everflowing Chalice that would die if I made it a creature with power and toughness equal to the mana value. Back when I added it to the list I didn't think twice about it, but today when I play that deck (which also runs an Underground Sea) I give the heads-up that there's a Grim Monolith in the list too. The primary difference is that even in a high-powered two-color deck, an ABUR dual just doesn't change the power level. They're just functionally a skin or sleeve most of the time.

Mike - Do you have any feelings about this topic that otherwise doesn't get talked about much or didn't fit into what I was asking?

Dana - I think this is one of those things where it's easy for established players to forget that the game sometimes changes around them. I made a comment on a show recently about Swords to Plowshares being a cheap card you could jam in every white deck. Well, that was true . . . in 2018. It had a Battlebond printing, a Masters 25 printing, an Iconic Masters printing, and a From the Vault printing all in like 18 months. Today you can't find a version for much under three dollars. If you were someone playing then, you probably have a dozen copies sitting around in various piles. I certainly do. But the game has changed around me since then, and a card that was once at bulk prices not long ago is now multiple dollars. That's very much true of things like ABUR dual lands. Once upon a time it was a thing you maybe picked up just to kinda "finish" off your deck, a little something you maybe splurged on to really put a bow on something you were happy with. Today nobody is just casually picking up a Tropical Island for their Volo, Guide to Monsters list because they found they enjoyed playing it, and it's easy to forget that if you're someone lucky enough to own a Trop.

Thanks for answering some questions this week, Dana. I appreciate it. Please check out Dana's Superior Numbers series on EDHREC, follow him on Twitter, check out his work here on Commander's Herald and of course listen to CMDR Central and EDHRECast.

I've gotta admit, I'm guilty of perking up when somebody slams a dual land into play. When my playgroup migrated to online play using one of my buds decided to take advantage of all digital decklists to use cards he "will never own". That included dual lands. I razz him for it, but it doesn't bother me. If someone I'm playing against breaks out a dual land in a deck, my instinct is either this person has A. been playing Magic a long time, or B. put a lot of money into their hobby.

This is also why I've always appreciated hearing Dana say that he explains that while the deck is a jank pile that can hang with mid-powered decks, it also has a dual land which might draw some attention, but don't let that make you misdirect threat assessment.

Dana's point about Swords to Plowshares and how the philosophy applies to Reserved List cards or dual lands really resonated with me. I have so many copies of Swords to Plowshares now because it was reprinted into the ground for a while and I cracked a bunch of packs. It used to cost five or six bucks (I'm Canadian) and I had Swords in my staple binder system so I could proxy it into my decks to avoid spending on a card that I already owned. For a while, you could get a copy for 50 cents. Now, as Dana said, it's back up to $3-4 range (USD mind you!) and that's also a barrier. It's something to consider. It feels nuts to have a box of cardboard sit around and for it to appreciate over time. Wild!

The game we love (Magic: The Gathering, have you forgotten?) is getting more and more popular. A friend of mine recently told me he got into Magic through Arena and really likes Kaldheim. He asked me about Commander. I told him about some cards that he can use to upgrade a precon and showed him the tools I use (our sister site EDHREC and Scryfall). He asked why some lands are expensive, "they must be game changing, they've gotta be powerful!" Then I had to explain how an ABUR dual land could be replaced by the right choice of basic in a two-color deck. "So, they're overkill?"

Maybe? If that's your bliss and you're happy, get after it. Enjoy that. And if someone does play a card you're impressed by, you can always high five and have a chat about it. Don't let flashiness cloud your threat assessment though. Your opponent plays a Scrubland, hell yeah bud, that's great. Smooths out your game, good for you.

But If anybody snaps a Mind Over Matter though...

Thanks for reading through this more experimental version of the column. We'll get back to the regular format next week. Send in your stories to!

Mike Carrozza is a stand-up comedian from Montreal who’s done a lot of cool things like put out an album called Cherubic and worked with Tig Notaro, Kyle Kinane, and more people to brag about. He’s also been an avid EDH player who loves making silly stuff happen. @mikecarrozza on platforms