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The Truth Behind the Surveil Lands

Skura
23/02/2024 · 6 min read
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Quick Intro

Murders at Karlov Manor has introduced a new land cycle. While new lands are printed relatively frequently, this one had caused plenty of controversy before the actual release.

In today’s piece, I want to delve deeper into them, the reason why they were disliked at first, and why they are admired now.

these lands might be one of the most influential cycles in recent months

The Complete Cycle of Surveil Lands
The Complete Cycle of Surveil Lands

The Cons

Enters the Battlefield Tapped

The first glaring issue is that they are tapped. If you play multiple copies, you need to contend with the fact that your mana will be considerably slower than it was before. It, therefore, means that you can only do so in:

  1. Decks that can accommodate slow mana
  2. Slow formats

Both don’t have to be true but then it’d be perfect. Predictably, you want to minimise the downside as much as possible. It’s similar to shocklands where the big question you have to ask yourself how much the 2 life matters.

On top of that, if you play multiple copies (like with shocklands), the downside always compounds. So your draw might easily accommodate one tap land (or 2 life) but it gets trickier when you need to deploy 3 of them in a single game. And the more you play, the higher the likelihood of this occurring.

Alternatives

Another issue is that some decks already run tap lands, so there is a clear conflict: you either play the new lands or keep the old ones.

Esper Midrange. Builder: Caganer.MTGO - Magic Online
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in MTGO Standard League #7944 19-Feb-2024
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Creature [19]
2  Dennick, Pious Apprentice   $0.69
4  Deep-Cavern Bat   $0.69
3  Faerie Mastermind   $15.99
1  Ertai Resurrected   $0.99
2  Aclazotz, Deepest Betrayal   $7.99
4  Raffine, Scheming Seer   $5.99
3  Tishana's Tidebinder   $12.99
Instant [12]
3  Cut Down   $1.49
1  Destroy Evil   $2.29
2  Make Disappear   $0.59
3  Virtue of Loyalty   $16.99
3  Go for the Throat   $1.49
Enchantment [4]
4  Wedding Announcement   $13.99
Land [25]
1  Deserted Beach   $6.49
2  Restless Anchorage   $1.99
2  Underground River   $4.99
1  Seachrome Coast   $3.99
3  Caves of Koilos   $0.79
1  Otawara, Soaring City   $27.99
4  Darkslick Shores   $2.99
2  Plaza of Heroes   $9.99
1  Plains   $0.01
1  Restless Reef   $1.49
1  Swamp   $0.01
2  Shipwreck Marsh   $6.99
3  Shattered Sanctum   $21.99
1  Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire   $9.99
Sideboard [15]
2  Duress   $0.35
1  Negate   $0.35
2  Destroy Evil   $2.29
1  Cut Down   $1.49
2  Loran of the Third Path   $5.49
1  Gix's Command   $1.99
1  Anoint with Affliction   $0.35
1  Temporary Lockdown   $7.49
1  Path of Peril   $6.99
3  Disdainful Stroke   $0.35
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Let’s use Standard Esper as an example. Here you see Restless manlands as the tap lands of choice. They fit the overall plan as they can be turned into damage output but they also dodge a lot of format-relevant interaction like Leyline Binding or Sunfall.

In such a case, you’d need to drop them for a mere surveil 1 effect which is lacklustre in comparison. I doubt anyone would make such a swap.

Domain Ramp. Builder: Maciej Chomicki.MTG
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100%
in NRG Series $5,000 Showdown - Chicagoland, Illinois (Standard) @NRG Series [135 Players] 18-Feb-2024
MTG Decks Maindeck (60)
Creature [11]
3  Atraxa, Grand Unifier   $27.99
4  Archangel of Wrath   $0.49
4  Topiary Stomper   $2.79
Sorcery [9]
4  Herd Migration   $0.49
4  Sunfall   $8.49
1  Depopulate   $0.59
Enchantment [11]
4  Leyline Binding   $7.99
4  Up the Beanstalk   $2.29
2  Temporary Lockdown   $7.49
1  Case of the Locked Hothouse   $1.29
Battle [2]
2  Invasion of Zendikar   $0.35
Planeswalker [1]
1  Nissa, Ascended Animist   $4.49
Land [26]
4  Spara's Headquarters   $17.99
4  Ziatora's Proving Ground   $12.99
4  Cavern of Souls   $44.99
4  Jetmir's Garden   $23.99
1  Boseiju, Who Endures   $54.99
3  Plains   $0.01
3  Forest   $0.01
1  Island   $0.01
1  Swamp   $0.01
1  Mountain   $0.01
Sideboard [15]
1  The Wandering Emperor   $32.99
1  Case of the Locked Hothouse   $1.29
2  Destroy Evil   $2.29
2  Jace, the Perfected Mind   $9.49
2  Temporary Lockdown   $7.49
2  Knockout Blow   $0.35
2  Tishana's Tidebinder   $12.99
3  Negate   $0.35
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Here Maciej Chomicki placing in the top4 of a recent NRG Series tournament piloted Domain that is known for playing a ton of taplands - perfect case study for the ‘can accommodate tap lands’ category.

The lands played currently are triomes - they have three basic land types that makes cards like Leyline Binding considerably stronger.

If you swap some of them out for surveil lands, you lose out on Binding discounts which can in turn make the deck worse. You could add surveil lands on top of triomes already played but that might slow it down too much, tipping the scales on the critical mass of tapped-ness.

Clearly it’s a tough choice and in both the Esper and the Domain case, I think surveil lands fare poorly.

The Pros & Brews

I have not shown these lands in the greatest light but fear not - I am about to flip the script. Let me present the upsides of including them in your strategy.

Card Selection

Let’s address the keyword in the room - surveil. We have had Temples in the past that did see Standard play a good bit.

The reason why they were played is the card selection they provided essentially for free. If you have kept a two-lander, you don’t have to play any spells to actively dig towards more land drops. This dynamic happens a lot in Rhinos for example.

Temur Cascade. Builder: BlueLips.MTGO - Magic Online
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in MTGO Modern Preliminary #12613736 [31 Players] 20-Feb-2024
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4  Violent Outburst   $3.49
3  Flame of Anor   $6.99
4  Fire/Ice   $0.35
4  Force of Negation   $49.99
3  Dead/Gone   $0.35
1  Dismember   $6.49
Sorcery [8]
4  Crashing Footfalls   $4.49
4  Lórien Revealed   $2.79
Land [21]
1  Steam Vents   $17.99
1  Breeding Pool   $19.99
2  Island   $0.01
1  Forest   $0.01
1  Mountain   $0.01
4  Wooded Foothills   $34.99
1  Otawara, Soaring City   $27.99
1  Boseiju, Who Endures   $54.99
1  Thundering Falls   $9.99
4  Misty Rainforest   $23.99
2  Mutavault   $11.99
1  Stomping Ground   $14.99
1  Hedge Maze   $7.99
Sideboard [15]
1  Flame of Anor   $6.99
3  Mystical Dispute   $0.39
4  Endurance   $29.99
3  Magus of the Moon   $10.99
1  Tishana's Tidebinder   $12.99
1  Ertai's Scorn   $0.35
2  Brotherhood's End   $7.49
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This deck revolves around hitting that third land and deploying cascade but you cannot play any draw smoothing mechanisms like Preordain, since they are incompatible with the cascade restriction.

Thankfully here, you can just play lands and try to make sure you do get to that coveted third land. It helps in other aspects as well such as finding interaction or a hate card from the sideboard.

Fetchability

Let’s now take a look at the only argument that makes them so good in Modern specifically while they see no significant play in Pioneer or Standard.

All the surveil lands have got basic land types e.g. Hedge Maze is a Forest and an Island. Therefore, you can find them with any blue or green fetch land. Since fetch lands are already widely played in the format, you don’t have to warp your manabase around it too much.

Almost every deck that plays fetchlands has already accommodated or is trying to accommodate some surveil lands - Murktide, Rhinos, Creativity, Living End among others.

Virtually a Dozen Copies

Another key element that’s an extension of the argument above is that when you play a single surveil land, you virtually play 1+N, where N is the number of fetch lands. In simpler terms, you can play a single copy but you can find it way more often thanks to fetches.

As discussed at the beginning of the piece, if you played too many of those your deck would become slow and unreliable. Here you get the cake and eat it too - have access to it at any point of the game but only play one.

Curve Filler

This is an important argument that shows why surveil lands don’t see extensive play in aggressive strategies but are a mainstay in combo, ramp, midrange, or control.

Sometimes you pass the turn and you either don’t intend to do anything or your opponent doesn’t present a threat that needs reacting to. In such a case, you’d normally fetch out a tapped shock land, untap, and go business as usual. However, with the presence of these lands, such ‘empty’ turns can actually be beneficial to you.

Izzet Murktide. Builder: TheKG.MTGO - Magic Online
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3  Murktide Regent   $17.99
4  Dragon's Rage Channeler   $0.99
1  Brazen Borrower   $6.49
3  Ledger Shredder   $17.99
Artifact [4]
4  Mishra's Bauble   $0.79
Instant [16]
3  Spell Pierce   $0.59
4  Lightning Bolt   $1.29
4  Counterspell   $1.99
4  Unholy Heat   $0.35
1  Stern Scolding   $0.79
Sorcery [8]
4  Preordain   $0.99
4  Expressive Iteration   $0.79
Land [18]
2  Flooded Strand   $27.99
3  Spirebluff Canal   $3.99
3  Steam Vents   $17.99
3  Island   $0.01
1  Otawara, Soaring City   $27.99
1  Scalding Tarn   $22.99
1  Polluted Delta   $37.99
3  Misty Rainforest   $23.99
1  Thundering Falls   $9.99
Sideboard [15]
2  Subtlety   $23.99
2  Engineered Explosives   $13.99
3  Flusterstorm   $27.99
1  Cast into the Fire   $0.49
2  Blood Moon   $7.99
1  Brotherhood's End   $7.49
1  Pithing Needle   $0.69
1  Spell Snare   $0.69
1  Stern Scolding   $0.79
1  Dress Down   $1.79
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For example in Murktide, a highly reactive strategy, you will have Flooded Strand on the battlefield, holding up Unholy Heat or Spell Pierce, waiting for the opponent to do something. They, however, might play a tap land and pass or maybe play something inconsequential. At this point, you find Thundering Falls on the end step and get that free card selection in.

Other Uses

There will be other niche uses that are very deck specific. There will be certain builds of Creativity where you can surveil away Archon of Cruelty and Persist it - all thanks to those lands.

Another good example is this deck seen in an MTGO League that brings back Counterbalance and Terminus! It tries to abuse them with a combination of Meticulous Archive, Omen of the Sea, Brainstone, and fetch lands in a way reminiscent of the legendary Counter-Top.

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2  Brainstone   $0.35
Instant [8]
1  Logic Knot   $0.35
4  Counterspell   $1.99
3  Opt   $0.35
Sorcery [8]
4  Oust   $0.35
4  Terminus   $0.99
Enchantment [8]
4  Counterbalance   $6.49
4  Omen of the Sea   $0.35
Planeswalker [7]
3  Jace, the Mind Sculptor   $23.99
4  Teferi, Time Raveler   $8.49
Land [23]
4  Meticulous Archive   $9.49
1  Thundering Falls   $9.99
1  Plains   $0.01
4  Island   $0.01
1  Hallowed Fountain   $11.99
4  Flooded Strand   $27.99
4  Polluted Delta   $37.99
4  Scalding Tarn   $22.99
Sideboard [15]
3  Stern Scolding   $0.79
2  Pithing Needle   $0.69
3  Wear/Tear   $0.99
3  Dovin's Veto   $4.49
1  Kaheera, the Orphanguard   $0.59
3  Subtlety   $23.99
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Another popular case at the top tables is what Living End gets from the surveil.

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4  Subtlety   $23.99
4  Grief   $29.99
4  Oliphaunt   $0.35
4  Generous Ent   $0.69
4  Shardless Agent   $0.49
Instant [8]
4  Violent Outburst   $3.49
4  Force of Negation   $49.99
Sorcery [4]
4  Living End   $8.99
Land [15]
1  Forest   $0.01
1  Island   $0.01
1  Stomping Ground   $14.99
1  Steam Vents   $17.99
1  Breeding Pool   $19.99
2  Boseiju, Who Endures   $54.99
1  Otawara, Soaring City   $27.99
1  Commercial District   $5.49
1  Hedge Maze   $7.99
1  Thundering Falls   $9.99
4  Misty Rainforest   $23.99
Sideboard [15]
1  Ingot Chewer   $0.35
2  Mystical Dispute   $0.39
1  Bonecrusher Giant   $0.49
1  Mine Collapse   $0.35
1  Foundation Breaker   $0.35
2  Brazen Borrower   $6.49
2  Endurance   $29.99
3  Force of Vigor   $9.99
2  Leyline of the Void   $3.49
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As the deck aims to put as many creatures into the graveyard as possible, your land can do the job for you instead of having to spend mana on cycling. Hence, you’re both fixing the mana painlessly and fulfilling the central plan of the deck.

Conclusion

As you can see, these lands do a lot for what seemed to be just ‘new Temples’ or ‘just Gulidgates’. Surprisingly, they are much more powerful in older formats like Modern than Standard or Pioneer, all thanks to their fetchability.

All in all, I expect them to see play in top decks regardless of the metagame, similarly to Kamigawa channel lands. They are going to become evergreen and they are here to stay!

If you liked this article maybe you will also find interesting on of the following ones 7 New Standard Decks Featuring The Lost Caverns of Ixalan by Mogged, 3 Best Dominaria Standard Decks You Should Know

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Skura
Skura - IslandsInFront
Skura, also known as IslandsInFront on Twitter and YouTube, started his career a decade ago and has been passing the turn in all formats ever since. He coaches, creates written and video content, and is a mainstay caster on the European scene, casting the LMS series (GP equivalent), Eternal Weekend, and many other. He's passionate about game theory, decision making, and a methodological approach to Magic

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Published: 2024-02-23 00:00:00
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