Stop Trying To Make Fetch Happen (In Mono-Color cEDH Decks)

Polluted Delta by Vincent Proce and Regina George by Rachel McAdams

For all their myriad benefits, fetchlands have never carried so much risk in cEDH as they do right now. The rise of anti-tutor effects has given pause for thought on everyone's favourite broken land cycle, and while decks of two colors or more will remain just as reliant on fetchlands, mono-color decks have now reached a point where the risk outweighs the reward.

But before looking at why mono-color cEDH decks shouldn't be playing fetchlands, let's look at why they've played them historically. The primary reason fetchlands have seen mass play in every format they're legal in is how good they are at fixing mana, which isn't a concern for a mono-color deck. It might seem silly decks that only care about one type of mana would want them in the first place, but read on. 

Every* Color Has A Reason

While life loss and the chance to recur a land straight from the bin come up in other formats, neither ability is leveraged much in cEDH. The most common use for fetchlands in cEDH (in mono-color decks) is the ability to shuffle your library. Shuffling in and of itself is useless, but when paired with a card that cares about the top of your library, possibilities arise. Barring white, every color has at least one reason, or one card, that benefits from this.

Blue has the most reasons of any single color to care about fetchlands. Brainstorm goes with fetchlands the way peanut butter goes with jam (or jelly, as the Americans call it). This interaction is present in any format that has access to the cards. Brainstorm is more than playable in its own right, but following up with a fetchland will allow you to shuffle away whichever two cards you left on top of your library. Hey, if it's good enough for Vintage and Legacy, it's good enough for cEDH!

Counterbalance isn't exactly a staple in cEDH, but it shows up frequently enough - especially in mono-blue decks - that it's worth noting. Fetchlands are good with Counterbalance for the same reason they're good with Brainstorm. If you're not happy with the card you know to be on top, crack a fetch and get rid of the damn thing. 

Dig Through Time is a delve spell, and delve spells need things to delve. As we'll see with Underworld Breach, fetchlands help raise the count of disposable resources in the graveyard. You'll never be sorry to exile them as you're unlikely to be doing anything else with them once they enter the bin, unlike valuable snstants and sorceries.

Mystic Sanctuary is similar to Counterbalance in the sense it's a rare card to see at a cEDH table, but any list running it will make great use of fetchlands. Being an Island, it can be tutored by any of the four fetches available to blue, making it a powerful inclusion.

Black has a single reason to run fetchlands, and it has nothing to do with the topdeck. It's just another way to create a truly singleton mana base. With the proliferation of high-quality lands that enter untapped, it has never been easier to get away with a mana base with no repeats.

Dual color decks can do it handily, and we've now reached the point even mono-color decks can do it without any major concessions. New cEDH players often see Tainted Pact as a combo tool to partner with Thassa's Oracle, but it's easy to miss just how powerful the card is by itself. Fetches are just another way to enable it, though I'd note the oldest K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth list on the decklist database manages a Tainted Pact mana base without a single fetch. 

Red is unique from the other colors in that it doesn't have anything that cares about the topdeck. It's not the shuffling red is interested in, it's the fact a fetchland represents one more card in the graveyard. There's not a lot of nuance here and not much more to say. Fetchlands put cards in your bin, and Underworld Breach needs the fodder to feed Escape costs.

Whether or not the four (five, including Prismatic Vista) fetchlands available to red cEDH decks will make an appreciable difference for the sake of Breach is hard to determine, but it's at the very least nonzero.

Green, like blue, cares about manipulating the top of the deck. For all the same reasons as Brainstorm, fetchlands turn a great card into an even better card. The key difference, or bonus, is that it's a repeatable effect. Whereas Brainstorm is a one trick pony, a carefully managed Sylvan Library can influence the outcome of the entire game, particularly if you drop it early. You don't even have to pay life to look at the top of the deck, so the ability to shuffle will be useful even when you're in the red. 

Finally, the colorless options. Neither of these artifacts have seen much play in cEDH in recent years. Sensei's Divining Top lives on as a crucial combo piece for a number of decks but is rarely included for its own sake. Scroll Rack is much the same, now only seen in the occasional Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow deck.

In the right deck, with the right card at the right time, there's no denying a fetchland can make a big difference. But until recently, the inclusion of fetchlands carried no meaningful opportunity cost.

Regina George and Co.

As much as you might want to make fetch happen, there are now four Regina George cEDH staples that directly punish you for playing fetchlands, three of them printed in as many years. In order of the danger they pose, Opposition Agent makes your opponent fetch instead, Aven Mindcensor makes fetching useless unless you get very lucky indeed, Archon of Emeria slows them down to a crawl, and Archivist of Oghma gives its owner a draw every time you crack one. 

No, these cards won't always be in play, and an opening hand with a fetchland should be able to play it without fear of these cards landing on turn one, but I'd wager the likelihood one of your opponents has an anti-fetchland effect is greater than the chance you've seen the card you play that cares about fetches. The growing prevalence of these cards means fetchlands now come with a real risk, one that wasn't there until recently.

Of course, there are also dedicated anti-land cards that will crop up from pod to pod, like Root Maze and Blood Moon, but those effects are on their way out of the cEDH meta to begin with.

Mono-color decks are pretty much the only cEDH decks that can get away with a fetchless mana base, a strength that seems increasingly worth leaning into. After all, if you can avoid the taxes and tribulations every other greedy mana base will fall prey to, why wouldn't you?

What About Thinning?

Thinning isn't a reason for or against running fetchlands, but it's a persistent phenomena that deserves a mention. In short, it doesn't matter. It's irrelevant, and always a bad argument for the inclusion of fetchlands. In long, I turned to my friend Sam, a maths teacher and one half of the best drafting channel on Youtube, Draft Punks. So Sam, if you take an average cEDH deck, 99 cards and 28 lands, does cracking a fetch on your first turn make much of a difference for your second one?

Providing a 99-card deck with 28 lands, a starting hand of 7 cards will have in expectation ("on average") 1.98 lands and 5.02 non-lands. Your first draw step will add an additional lands to your hand, so we have a starting 8-card hand of 2.26 lands and 5.74 non-lands before we make our first land drop.

If we then play a non-fetch land and pass the turn back around, our probability of drawing a land is still .

However, if we fetch a land on our first turn and pass the turn back around, we reduce the number of lands in the deck by 1. This makes the probability of drawing a land .

The difference between these two probabilities is , or approximately 0.8 percentage points.

As a percentage difference, this is , or approximately 2.8%.

What does this difference look like in practice? It means that if you played 100 games without fetching, you'd draw a land next draw step in 28 of those 100 games. If you played 100 games with a fetch, you'd draw a land next draw step in 27 of those 100 games.

If you'd describe that difference as anything other than "minor", I've got a Bridge From Below I'd like to sell you.

That's just a simple scenario and far from exhaustive, but it's emblematic of the minimal impact that fetches actually make when it comes to thinning. Obviously the impact grows as you play more fetches and draw more cards, but not enough to matter.

There is the argument that cEDH players should maximise their chances and fight for every little percentage point, but I'd contend that the number of games where a fetch falls prey to any of the format's anti-fetch cards will vastly outweigh the games where this thinning effect makes a difference.

Think Before You Fetch

All this to say that if you're going to include fetchlands in a mono-color cEDH deck, you need a very good reason. Synergy can be that reason, either with your commander or with important cards in the 99, but you'll need to carefully weigh the risk and reward. Raise your hand if you have ever been personally victimised by Opposition Agent.

Obviously mileage will vary, and the value of a fetchland will revolve around the quantity and importance of cards that interact with them, but they're no longer the free inclusion they once were. Don't throw them into your mono-color deck unless they're actively benefitting your primary strategy. If they aren't, they could easily prove much more trouble than they're worth.

A Stretch?

Or am I overselling it? Do fetchlands have uses in mono-color decks that I've overlooked or forgotten about? Does your mono-color cEDH deck have a special reason for running every fetch it can possibly run? Are you making fetch happen? Let me know in the comments!

Jake FitzSimons is a writer from Sydney and a Magic fiend. He's either the johnniest spike or the spikiest johnny, nobody is sure which. When he isn’t brewing or playing cEDH, he can be found writing, playing piano, and doting on his little cat.