Welcome to MTG Meta Breakers! This series is devoted to helping you take on some of the most common decks in your favorite formats (aka “the meta”).
Whether you’re looking to grind competitive events on MTGO, want to win your local Friday Night Magic (FNM), or are just sick of getting beat, you’re in the right place.
For the purposes of this series, we’ll assume that all games are in best-of-three format. This allows you to sideboard against your opponent. When hoping to take down the metagame, sideboarding is your best friend.
Without further delay, let’s dive in!
Lotus Field, also known as Hidden Strings, is a Pioneer deck that’s been around for almost as long as the format itself has existed. Its popularity has waxed and waned over the years, but it’s still a defining pillar of the Pioneer metagame and you should be prepared to play against it if you’re interested in the format. It can be daunting to try to beat a deck without knowing how it works, so let’s take a look at how Lotus Field wins.
Understanding Lotus Field Decks in Pioneer
Lotus Field is a combo deck that aims to get two copies of Lotus Field onto the battlefield as soon as possible, then use cards to untap those lands and create a huge amount of mana.
The most common way Lotus gets going is by playing two lands, then a Lotus Field, sacrificing those first two lands because of Lotus Field’s trigger. Then, a Thespian’s Stage is played and immediately copies the Field.
Arboreal Grazer helps accelerate the game plan and provides an early blocker, and Sylvan Scrying finds a copy of Thespian’s Stage or Lotus Field that’s needed.
Once two copies of Field are in play, the deck can utilize cards like Hidden Strings and Vizier of Tumbling Sands to generate extra mana while continuing to dig through the deck with Impulse and Pore Over the Pages. Once one of the payoff spells like Emergent Ultimatum or Behold the Beyond resolves, the game is usually over.
The deck normally wins by retrieving Approach of the Second Sun from the sideboard and casting it twice, but has several other ways of using its mana advantage. Cards like Dragonlord Dromoka, Sphinx of the Final Word, and Thought Distortion are nightmares for blue decks trying to utilize counterspells and Zacama, Primal Calamity ends the game on its own against aggressive creature decks.
Because the deck has multiple finishers, it’s hard to focus on one card that needs to be answered. An Omniscience or Emergent Ultimatum resolving will almost always win the game, so counter one of those if you can!
Lotus Field and Thespian’s Stage are the core of the deck but can be very difficult to interact with. Lotus Field has hexproof, and Thespian’s Stage will usually copy a Field as soon as possible. There’s a window to target and destroy a Stage in response to it trying to copy a Field, but experienced players can wait and force you to hold mana open.
The deck sometimes plays a handful of creatures, and outside of Arboreal Grazer should be dealt with as soon as possible. Baral, Chief of Compliance reduces the cost of instants and sorceries, and Lier, Disciple of the Drowned gives cards in the graveyard flashback. Vizier of Tumbling Sands is usually cycled but can untap Lotus Field every turn if played as a creature. Hope Tender is another creature that occasionally shows up and allows you to untap up to two lands with its exert ability.
Cards that Beat Lotus Field in Pioneer
Damping Sphere is the one card that all decks (other than Creativity) can play that completely shuts down Lotus Field since the Fields will only ever tap for one colorless mana. But beware, a well-timed Boseiju, Who Endures can leave you out of luck as your opponent combos off.
An early Pithing Needle can name Thespian’s Stage, preventing it from copying a Lotus Field. Your opponent can still play the Stage and use it for mana, or find more lands and another Lotus Field, but this prevents them from copying one. Note, though, that a Pithing Needle played after a Thespian’s Stage has already copied Lotus Field doesn’t have the effect you want. If you’re already shutting down Lotus Field with another effect, consider naming Boseiju or Otawara with Needle since the channel portion of both lands is an activated ability.
Alpine Moon is the perfect answer out of red decks, since it works both before and after your opponent gets a Lotus Field into play. Boseiju is still an issue here, though.
Silence is a way for white decks to “counter” Emergent Ultimatum since the extra cards all get cast once the Ultimatum resolves. Deafening Silence essentially shuts down the entire deck, since most expensive spells will need some way to untap lands to generate enough mana.
Hand disruption like Thoughtseize and Duress from black decks can buy a lot of time, but it can be difficult to know what to choose. If your opponent is missing either half of the combo, taking Sylvan Scrying can slow them down. Pore Over the Pages is usually a good choice if you can’t disrupt them fast enough, since it draws the most cards and creates mana.
Effects from cards like Necromentia and The Stone Brain are great, but the named card changes depending on where the game is. If your opponent doesn’t have both Lotus Field and Thespian’s Stage on the battlefield, naming one of those lands makes it very hard for them to win. Lotus Field should be the first choice, since Thespian’s Stage won’t have a good target to copy, and your opponent could find multiple Fields if the game goes long. If they already have multiple copies of Lotus Field out it becomes trickier to know what to name. Naming an expensive card can be questionable since they have several different payoffs and can easily win with any of them. Hidden Strings can be a good choice, because it’s very hard to generate much extra mana, or the right colors, without at least one copy. If the game goes late and your opponent already has enough mana to cast a finisher, it might be worth naming Pore Over the Pages or Emergent Ultimatum, since they play more of them and are more likely to draw one.
Finally, graveyard hate is somewhat effective against Lotus and is worth bringing in after game one in place of extra dead removal spells if you have them. The deck utilizes its graveyard more than you might realize. Bala Ged Recovery is a Regrowth when not needed as a land; Lier Disciple of the Drowned is a payoff card that uses the graveyard to win; and Dark Petition can’t add the extra three mana without a graveyard. By no means is a random Tormod’s Crypt going to win the game on its own, but it’s worth it to bring in a card like Rest in Peace if you have it in your sideboard.
Tips and Common Mistakes Against Lotus Field in Pioneer
The biggest mistake players make while playing against Lotus Field is thinking one early Damping Sphere or Alpine Moon is going to win the game. Most lists play up to three copies each of Boseiju, Who Endures and Otawara, Soaring City, and your opponent will have answers in the sideboard like Tear Asunder or Cyclonic Rift to bring in or wish for. You need to close out the game against Lotus Field in addition to your disruption. Every extra turn you give your opponent is one more to find an answer or draw into a way to start the combo. It’s usually worth it to be very aggressive, especially in game one. In sideboard games sweepers and removal spells make it tougher to toe the line between overextending and racing, but giving your opponent extra time can always backfire.
If your opponent is resolving an Emergent Ultimatum and gives you the option, it’s normally correct to allow them to cast Omniscience. It might not feel great, but allowing them to search for any three cards with Behold the Beyond will probably let them win on the spot. The best you can hope for is that they whiff on Pore Over the Pages and can’t find any action for the rest of the game. It’s not optimal, but the game is almost always over following a resolved Ultimatum anyway.
If you have a way to destroy a Thespian’s Stage, like Boseiju or Assassin’s Trophy, make sure your opponent doesn’t have the mana to activate it and copy Lotus Field! If they do, they’ll just activate the Stage’s ability in response, and the new Lotus Field will have hexproof and won’t get destroyed. As mentioned earlier, experienced players will either copy Lotus Field immediately if you don’t have mana available or wait if you do, forcing you to hold that mana up.
Don’t cut all your removal, especially if you don’t have better cards to bring in post-board. Not only can a removal spell kill one of the few creatures the deck plays, like Lier or Baral, but many lists play Hope Tender in the sideboard and might bring it in if they’re expecting fewer ways to kill creatures. Removal can also take out an Arboreal Grazer to push more damage through early.
Best Matchups Against Lotus Field in Pioneer
Decks that can win quickly are the best matchups against Lotus Field. Lotus can consistently “go off” by turn five, or on turn four with an Arboreal Grazer. Any deck that can’t win this fast needs help in the form of hand disruption or counterspells.
Mono-White Aggro is a great matchup, thanks to its fast clock and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben taxing all the noncreature spells Lotus wants to play. Mono-White’s creatures grow too quickly for Lotus to answer, and even an early board wipe is sometimes not fast enough.
Spirits decks have tons of ways to interact. Mausoleum Wanderer and Geistlight Snare can counter Sylvan Scrying as Lotus tries to set up or payoff spells late. The deck is also able to abruptly present lethal damage thanks to Supreme Phantom pumping the rest of the one- and two-mana army.
Greasefang is also favored, but only if it can bring back a vehicle early. Lotus has no good way to interact with the combo outside of possible sideboard Pithing Needles, and Greasefang has access to Thoughtseize and Duress. A turn three or four Parhelion II attack is usually enough to win, but Arboreal Grazer can change the math.
Sample Lotus Field Pioneer Decklist
It can feel daunting playing against a combo deck that’s almost impossible to interact with, but remember to be aggressive! The best way to beat Lotus Field is to keep the pressure on. Many cards can help in the matchup, but be aware that your opponent will likely have answers for whatever you bring in. When in doubt, keep attacking and make them figure out how to survive.
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