The 29th Magic: the Gathering World Championship, the game’s most prestigious tournament, recently wrapped in Las Vegas with French pro Jean-Emmanuel Depraz claiming the top prize and the promise of a card bearing his likeness in the future. During the Standard portion of the event, many of the game’s top players displayed their preferences by which deck they took into battle — but even more critically, they represented their more fundamental values — their aesthetic sensibilities — in their choice of basic lands.
As of writing, Wizards of the Coast has printed or revealed 1,546 unique pieces of art for basic lands, representing some of the most incredible vistas and settings in fantasy gaming, as well as many that gorgeously render our own world onto cardboard. When there are only a dozen or so dominant decks in a given metagame worth betting the event’s $100,000 grand prize on, which basic lands squeeze between layers of sleeves at the top tables are the weekend’s biggest takeaway, in this author’s much-contemplated opinion.
Unfortunately, this most revealing of choices is neglected in the otherwise-fantastic coverage of the event. The task was therefore left to us. The team here at Cardboard by the Numbers fastidiously reviewed footage from the World Championship to identify the character, the personality, the preferences of these, the greats of Magic, to understand them, study them…to know them. And the results can be found here:
1st: Jean-Emmanuel Depraz | Swamp – UGL 86
Running only a single basic in his Esper Legends list, the new Magic World Champ opted for a classic: the first suite of novelty basics, Unglued. Conceived by artist Christopher Rush and featuring vertical art, a stylized tap symbol, and a bespoke frame, this cycle has stood the test of time as one of Magic’s most iconic for good cause. The swamp in question by Mark Zug is only one of three basics the artist has been commissioned for, which is a huge shame considering the quality of this Swamp in particular.
2nd: Kazune Kosaka | Plains – ZEN 230
After coming close to walk away with a prize purse at each of the Pro Tour events this year, Kazune Kosaka finally joined the Top 8 in Magic’s highest-level competition. As with Jean-Emmanuel, Kazune’s Esper Midrange deck only features a sole basic land: the brilliantly yellow John Avon full-art from the first Zendikar expansion. Avon’s one of the game’s most prolific artists in the world of basics, and for good reason. He’s helped shape and define the majority of Magic’s many worlds since he captured the might and beauty of Jamuraa in his collection of Mountains in 1996’s Mirage.
The Zendikar full-art lands have been immensely popular with players since their release. Even during our era of “Booster Fun”, where each premiere expansion now has their own take on full-art basics, the 40 basics from the 2009 expansion show up more frequently at the top tables than any other premiere set, demonstrating their incredible staying power.
3rd: Simon Nielsen | Plains- TSP 285
In keeping with his tradition from previous high-level championships, Simon Nielsen did two things: he took third place and used Time Spiral basic lands to help him do it. Simon was running Azorious Soldiers, and had a playset of Plains to enable his critical turn-one plays. He used that slot well, in our opinion: in a competition where most players are seeking out the rarest or most popular choices in basics to bling out their decks, Simon was one of two players to use the standard-styled basic land featuring the mana symbol on the bottom, and stood out more as a result. On top of that, his specific pick from Time Spiral is one of the moodiest and darkest Plains out there, a compelling selection for sure.
Since their printing earlier this year, the full-art cycle of Phyrexian structures imposing over the scarred wastes that were once Mirrodin from Phyrexia: All Will Be One have become exceptionally popular with Magic players. While not every expansion’s Booster Fun treatment takes a place at the typical draft box, if you head to your local store for a Friday Night draft, you’re sure to see at least one player representing the same cycle as Anthony, and that’s been true of each of this year’s high-level events as well. These metallic monstrosities were the ideal thematic pick for Anthony’s Golgari Midrange list, pairing nicely with his Glissas and Sheoldreds.
One of Magic’s most recognizable faces returns to the World Championship Top 8 with his iconic basic land choice, and our favorite of the list: Ice Age. Running a Domain Ramp list, the Hall of Famer was able to show off four different land types for the cameras, classing up the top tables with some of Magic’s most evocative artwork.
“My go-to [basic land] is Ice Age, because that’s the set I started playing with, and is my favorite set flavor-wise. My single favorite basic land is the pink sky Forest by Pat Morrissey.”– Reid Duke
We wouldn’t have a most-winning basic lands list without Unstable! The first true full-art basics have traditionally been among the most popular, even out-representing the other un-sets and Zendikar with pro players and pro aspirants alike. PT champ Greg’s Bant Control features both the Plains and Island from the set. What’s particularly interesting of Greg’s choice here is that he’s the only one to opt for Unstable basics. This is the first time since our site started tracking this topic where every top 8 player had a wholly unique selection!
7th: Willy Edel | Various lands from Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan
Certainly the most unique selection on our list, Hall of Famer Willy Edel ran 9 distinct basics for his Domain Ramp deck, repeating one of his forests twice to make for 10 in total. Typically, players in competitive events try to make all their basics of the same type identical to avoid the small chance of accidentally providing information to their opponents…but if the previous top 8s of the year are any indication, it’s not a deal-breaker for making the top tables by any stretch.
Willy’s lands range from Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan without any clear theme. Our speculation is that this is because these are the basics present in land boxes used for draft construction. Ixalan block basics — particularly Rivals — have been the lands of choice for limited at this year’s high-level events, including this World Championship. As such, we believe this was not so much a “choice”, and would wager that Willy is not running these lands out of hype for the upcoming Caverns of Ixalan. It’s a lovely selection either way!
8th: Lorenzo Terlizzi | Island – BFZ 257
The lone basic Island from Lorenzo’s Esper Midrange list hails from Battle for Zendikar. Although BFZ did not engender the same degree of positive feedback as its predecessor, the 2015 set offered dramatic landscapes of the adventure world during the Eldrazi invasion and are wondrous all the same. This particular island by Adam Paquette harkens to the famous “bowl island” from Zendikar while still maintaining the jagged vistas that broadly characterized the plane’s second visit.
If you’re interested to see the power rankings over time of basic lands, we previously covered the basic lands that won PT Lord of the Rings and PT March of the Machine. Additionally, we did some investigative reporting and discovered the best-selling basics of 2023 so far if you’d like to continue your exploration on the world of Magic’s most critical resource.
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