Pro Tour March of the Machine wrapped this weekend, with reigning World Champion Nathan Steuer taking home first place. Much has been discussed about the event already — the impressive performances of a new generation of Magic pros, the absolute dominance of Rakdos colors in the Standard portions of the event, the big changes to Standard announced just after the event — but one critical element has gone all but undiscussed: which basics were the best players running?
Basic lands are the most iconic and identifiable pieces in the game of Magic: the Gathering, and especially in highly tuned formats like Standard has been for most of the Arena-era, one of the few ways to provide a personal touch to your 75 in high-level constructed play. Sure, you can pick green sleeves or may have seven different variations of a given Elesh Norn to pick between, but there are just around 300 unique pieces of art for each type of basic land. Do you want to be like LSV and intimidate your opponents with a grip of Terese Nielsen’s unbelievable Guru lands, or relive your childhood just a little every match like Reid Duke with his Ice Age classics? What basics won the Pro Tour?
The original purpose of this article was to conduct statistical analysis on which specific basic lands performed the best at the Pro Tour in Minneapolis this weekend, but after trawling through each Tweet with a relevant keyword or hashtag, every public Instagram account, and the ~25 hours of footage from the event uploaded onto Twitch, I had only been able to identify about 20% of the basics used among the 252 for constructed. Luckily, though, that included 14 of the top 16 performing players, and I was able to discover a 15th through asking directly on Twitter. So while I was not able to determine the relative performance of each basic land used in PT March of the Machine, I can show off what the best of the best at the event employed in their winning decks, starting with the Top 8:
If you had asked me prior to researching the topic of which basics I anticipated to see most frequently among the top 8 players, I would have immediately jumped to Unstable or Unhinged, some of the most iconic and beloved full-art lands, and a common choice amongst my own limited experiences in the world of high-end play. I would certainly not have jumped to Jumpstart 2022 of all expansions! Unlike the original Jumpstart expansion, the 2022 iteration of Jumpstart did not feature bespoke basic lands made custom for each booster’s theme. The basics are entirely reprints!! However, they’re both quite handsome reprints, and quite easily available, so it’s not so strange that both the event’s champion, Nathan Steuer, and the third-place finisher, Autumn Burchett, sleeved up Jumpstart 2022 lands with their respective midrange decks. Personally, I was just happy to see basics with the big mana symbol on them at the winner’s table.
Second-place Cain Rianhard had my pick for the classiest choice of basics: the 1996 Arena League promos with art by Tony Roberts. In addition to being the first promotional basic lands introduced to the game, the five basics in the 1996 round of Arena League promos are notable for being the first panorama featuring different land types in Magic, making a set of Cain’s Swamps and Mountains line up perfectly on the battlefield. Aesthetic excellence.
Autumn Burchett and Karl Sarap eschewed conventional wisdom with their basic land choices at the event: neither stuck to matching basic lands in their Standard decks. Typically, in professional-level events, players try to employ the same artwork and styling across every card in their decks to minimize information for their opponents in situations with targeted discard spells and other similar circumstances. While the amount of games where this is relevant tends to be quite small – as evidenced by a quick review of the event’s footage – it’s interesting to see these top eight players give up any amount of potential information in their deck construction. However, particularly in Autumn’s case, with at least six unique Plains that I could spot, the end result is quite delightful to behold, and shows off much more of Autumn’s personality than monotonous basics would provide.
The other notable choice from the top tables was in Simon Nielsen’s Rakdos Midrange deck: Time Spiral Mountains and Swamps. D. Alexander Gregory’s TSP-295 in particular is an excellent choice, with eerie greens and heavy shadows that are scarce with modern sets’ stricter art direction. Time Spiral’s spires-for-mountains accomplish something truly unique while still feeling red, a hard balance to strike in the world of less-structurally-mountainous-mountains. Great taste here, Simon.
From their on-camera events, I was able to identify most of the remaining top 16 players’ basics, and was equally amazed at the diversity in choice extended from the top 8. Only two basic land arts were repeated among the top 16 players (NEO-284 and UST-215), an even more impressive feat when you consider that 10 of them were on Rakdos Midrange of one variety or another.
I want to call particular attention to David Inglis’s daring use of white-bordered lands in the form of the excellent Portal: Three Kingdoms basics, as well as Alex Poulosky’s use of the retro-bordered Brothers War lands from its Commander decks. While yes, the majority of players were slinging full-art lands as one would expect, I’m quite pleased to see such a surprisingly strong appreciation for the more classic styles as well.
The Pro Tour, alongside the World Championships, is Magic professional play at its highest level. Do you think the choice of basics helped these players make the top 16? What cardboard do you seek out for your lands when it matters most? Let us know in the comments, and thanks for reading!
PS: Strangely, all the draft footage seemed to use Ixalan basics. Why they wouldn’t use those for March of the Machine at a Pro Tour that bears its name is beyond me!