ne of the first rules that any new player hears about limited formats is that you should always play seventeen lands. It's human nature to want to fit as many spells as possible into your deck. There's nothing exciting about lands; they're like the offensive line in the NFL. Without them, the running back would never gain any yardage and the quarterback would always be sacked; yet no one gives them any credit. Basic lands are the workhorses of Magic: necessary, but unwanted.
Spells and creatures, on the other hand, are the definition of exciting. They have possibilities, they accomplish goals, and they attack your opponent. Yet they can't do any of these things if you don't have the land to cast them, if you're "mana screwed".
On the flip side, if you have too many lands in your deck, you'll tend to stall out in the late game when you have more than enough mana and you keep drawing more. This, of course, is what Magic players lovingly refer to as "mana flood".
In each new Limited format, the mechanics and general expensiveness or cheapness of the cards in the set determine a new threshold for the number of basic lands an average deck should run. Traditionally it's still seventeen, but many players would have told you that this number was eighteen during Onslaught block. The increased mana demands of having so many creatures with Morph meant that you needed that extra land in your deck. Even missing your fourth or fifth land drop could mean a loss in that format.
In the first couple months of Mirrodin, people were leaning in a similar direction. The continual presence of equipment means that you almost always have a use for excess mana, even if it's as simple as using a Leonin Scimitar on offense and then moving it to a creature on defense. Vulshok Gauntlets and Viridian Longbow give even more compelling reasons to have a lot of mana on the table. The existence of the cycle of Myrs that produce mana meant that land counts often stayed at seventeen, but eighteen was far from out of the question.
All of a sudden, things have changed. Between the Myrs, the Talismans, and all the two mana cycling artifacts like the Spellbombs, Scrabbling Claws, and Chromatic Sphere, land counts have been plummeting. Suddenly, seventeen lands has become a rarity, and anything between thirteen and sixteen is fair game.
Mike Turian, who used to be one of the biggest proponents of high land counts in this format, now says that he always runs fifteen and occasionally even goes down to fourteen. When asked what made him change his mind, he said that he simply realized he had been wrong, and that games come down to mana flood more often than he originally thought. "In a lot of the games in this format, the player who wins will be the one who draws the last spell," he added. Also, people play so much artifact removal these days that equipment often doesn't stay on the table.
Gary Wise usually runs fourteen to sixteen lands, depending on the number of mana-helping artifacts he's managed to pick up. He starts with the number seventeen and then subtracts one from that for every two of Myrs, Talismans, and Spellbombs in his deck.
Richard Hoaen also runs fourteen to sixteen, but has been known to go down to thirteen when he's going with his Turbo Lasher strategy. His deck from the second draft today has four Nim Lashers and a Chrome Mox in the maindeck, with a Platinum Angel bench warming from the sideboard.
Nathan Heiss subscribes to the new theories more than anyone, with his land counts ranging from thirteen to fifteen. Incredibly, in the first draft he ran only fourteen lands in a deck with both Platinum Angel and Bosh, Iron Golem. He did, however, have six Spellbombs and two mana Myrs. Unfortunately, he ended up 1-2 with that deck, but he's had a lot of success with low land counts in the past.
Gerard Fabiano simply asked that I let the ladies know that he's single, and that his cell phone number is 201-207-8849.
Gabe Walls and Terry Tsang both fit into the middle of the road, with Gabe running fifteen or sixteen and Terry usually running sixteen. When asked the maximum number of Myrs he would run, Terry answered, "Five, with thirteen lands. On second thought, maybe fourteen lands. Depends on how many Spellbombs I have."
Finally, there are a few players who are still in the old camp. Diego Ostrovich runs seventeen lands, although he'll go down to sixteen if he has four Myrs or Talismans. He never really goes below sixteen. Craig Krempels usually runs seventeen as well, although he has sixteen along with two Myrs and a Viridian Joiner in his current deck. He often drafts Green, so some of it depends on his curve, or in other words, how many Fangren Hunters are in his deck.
This is just another example of how crazy this Mirrodin format really is. As weeks go by, perceptions are still changing and new discoveries are still occurring. The next time you're drafting Mirrodin and someone tells you to play seventeen lands, you might want to tell them to think again.
The pros certainly have been.