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Yesterday I was opening some boosters from the new Oath of the Gatewatch expansion, and got Sunken Hollow as a rare.

(Tap: Add Blue or Black to your mana pool.) Sunken Hollow enters the battlefield tapped unless you control two or more basic lands.

To be honest I was kind of dissappointed to get a land for a rare (then again, I also got Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, so I can't complain), but it also made me wonder why it is a rare? What are the exact advantages of this card? The gatherer website has some rulings on this card, but I can't really make much of them, or see how this would affect a game.

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I don't have time to research and provide a full answer, but keep in mind that some of the most sought after cards for tournament play are rare lands, like shocks and fetches. Many modern decks have a very expensive landbase because the cards that help fix your colors tend to be rares. – SocioMatt Jan 28 at 20:18
Because its an incredibly good card? – Waterseas Jan 28 at 21:56
Given the relative low price of the cards in this set, I'd be very happy with a $4 card.. – corsiKa Jan 28 at 23:05
@IvoBeckers It couldn't have been that either - Oath's Expeditions are an entirely different set from the BFZ expeditions, and Sunken Hollow was already an Expedition in BFZ. – Steven Stadnicki Jan 29 at 1:29
Take a look at some common modern decks and their pricing. You'll notice that the mana base (the lands) make up a significant portion of the cost in each deck. As a new or casual player this is less important, and the lands seem less exciting. However, part of the reason that they're valuable is that they're so versatile; almost any deck in those colours can use several of them. – Samthere Jan 29 at 10:00
up vote 17 down vote accepted

The land is a rare for a couple reasons:

  1. It is a land that can provide two colors and it has the chance to enter untapped. Entering untapped is important for maintaining tempo.
  2. It is a dual land*, in the classic sense of having two basic land types(Island Swamp). Lands with two basic types are very important, especially when fetch lands are currently in standard. A Plain-Island fetchland could get a Sunken Hollow, allowing the player access to black mana.

*I call it a dual land, but there are many lands that can be considered dual. Any land that produces two (or more) types of mana may be considered dual, even if they aren't a basic land type (e.g. Llanowar Wastes produces green and black, but isn't a forest nor a swamp, and costs life to make colored mana). Many dual lands enter tapped, which trades mana fixing for speed. Some do give you a slight benefit (1 life, scry 1, relevant land type).

And of the dual lands with two land types, each of them is slightly different. The original dual lands always entered untapped. Shock lands enter tapped unless you pay 2 life but it can be untapped the first or second turn. The dual land you have won't normally enter untapped until the 3rd turn or later.

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To be clear, "dual land" is not a technical term, but is jargon that the land has multiple basic land subtypes. – Hao Ye Jan 28 at 20:39
@HaoYe "dual land" means it produces two colors, not that it necessarily has multiple basic land subtypes, right? (e.g. Llanowar Wastes is also a dual land, though it has no subtypes) Though this answer indeed uses it to mean the subtypes. – Jefromi Jan 28 at 20:41
You might expand a bit on what the original duals are and what fetch lands and shock lands are by providing example cards. Maybe also talk about the monetary value of those cards to give a picture of how good and sought after they are by experienced players – Ivo Beckers Jan 28 at 23:05
It's not confusing, because the answer explains what it means. I guess I just don't get the point of saying "a dual land, in the classic sense of having two basic land types" when you could just say "it has two basic land types." The term isn't the important thing, the characteristic of the card is, so using the term just creates a momentary distraction for people who don't understand the term the same way - and propagates a meaning of the term that's different from what Wizards uses. – Jefromi Jan 29 at 1:01
Thanks for the answer, it's very clear. I didn't actually realise it had multiple types as well, so that's interesting. The comments were also very helpful in seeing how it can be combined with other cards. To make your answer even better you might consider putting some of those examples in :) – Bono Jan 29 at 8:17

The short answer is that it's because of the New World Order, the massive redesign of how complexity was handled in MTG releases from late 2011.

The things that now cause a card to be put at a higher rarity are:

  1. Strength of the card overall. More powerful cards are rarer so it's harder for someone to just load their deck up with them and crush people unlucky enough to not have those cards.
  2. How complex the card is to understand, in terms of its actual behaviour. So a card that requires a lot of text, or careful understanding of priority, is more likely to be rare.
  3. How complex the card is to understand strategically. So a card that has simple mechanics but looks "useless" might be rarer to make you think about what's so special about it (because at a common you might just think it was a rubbish card used to bulk up the set).
  4. How complex the card is, in terms of interactions with other cards. If there's a three-card combo that results in a crazy chain reaction where you have to carefully pay attention to the order of execution to understand what's going on, at least one of those cards is probably going to be put at rare.

So rare cards are ones that either feel special to get in a booster (because they're that good), or that you have to think about how to best use (and so you don't get cognitive overload with lots of complicated cards at common). In the case of a dual land, it's usually a bit of both. The ability to choose which colour of mana you're producing is incredibly powerful, because it makes it easier to mix two colours in your deck without worrying about mana screw, or to splash a colour you wouldn't otherwise include. Imagine if your opponent was playing an apparently straight black creature deck and suddenly dropped a couple of these. Why would he need blue mana? Is he going to summon a massive creature, or maybe he's got some spell counters available?

As pointed out in other answers, the fact that it can be played untapped means that you don't sacrifice tempo to get the dual land out, either. With many dual lands, the bonus of having that flexibility is countered by needing to wait an extra turn to make use of it (barring some ability to untap a land). So as long as you've already got a couple of lands out, this is a penalty-free dual land, meaning that it's at full power by turn 3 in many cases (and potentially earlier if you can get around the one-land-per-turn rule somehow).

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Haven't dual lands (the "good" ones anyway) pretty much always been rare, even before New World Order? They certainly still make sense as rare with New World Order, of course, not disagreeing with that. – Jefromi Jan 28 at 23:16
@Jefromi the original article states "something R&D has been up to for over three years (and the work leading up to it for three more), a little something we call New World Order.". New World Order wasn't made up in an instant, it was built over Magic history to balance flaws in the original design. It did not take much time to notice the power and complexity of the original dual lands, I guess. – Mephy Jan 28 at 23:30
True. Also, I think NWO made more of a difference based on complexity than based on power in general. – Jefromi Jan 28 at 23:57
That's true. Power was probably always a factor in rarity, but moving complexity to the rarer cards was a deliberate choice in NWO. – ConMan Jan 29 at 0:36
Nothing about Dual lands is to do with NWO. NWO is about complexity at common only, so you'd still have to explain why they aren't at uncommon. Also, the Duals aren't that complex, as they already put Gates and Tarkir Lifegain Duals at common within the last 3 sets. Heck, Unknown Shores and Holdout Settlement are both at common in Oath of the Gatewatch and are significantly more complex. – deworde Jan 29 at 15:45

As you learn more about magic, you're going to learn that land choice is one of the most important things.

It's rare because it is a land that offers you more than one color and CAN come in untapped. It's all about the speed.

In standard play this is important, but not game-breaking by itself. If you shift to more open formats you learn very quickly the difference it makes to have a land come in untapped and offer two or more colors.

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