Pattern Recognition #91 - Mana Denial
22 November 2018
22 November 2018
Good day to you all! My name is berryjon, and this is Pattern Recognition! TappedOut.Net's longest running article series. Each week, I endeavor to come to you all with something new and interesting to talk about, be it the history of the game, mechanics, the backgrounds of individual cards, or something a bit more esoteric. I always try to be educational, and am quite willing to listen to your feedback. After all, I can't know everything at all ever!
Well, I can try though. So do share your thoughts on my subject matter at the end of the article!
Today's subject is a matter of some contention. I would say this among players and among the designers of the game. It actually came to me when I was reviewing and critiquing one of the cards sent to me some weeks ago, and it is a subject that has been percolating in the back of my mind for quite some time now because it's not an easy subject to cover.
So let's talk about Land Destruction and Mana Denial.
Now, some of you are wondering why this is a big deal. Sure, Lands get blown up, but that's a rare thing. Mana is supposed to be quite sacrosanct, and taking them out is a big deal. I mean, when Unmoored Ego was revealed, the fact that not only could it target lands, but also Basic Lands was, and is a huge thing.
You just don't have the same scale and perspective that I do. So it's up to me to share!
So let me first ask and answer for you all, one simple question. What is Land Destruction? Well, in the larger sense, it is the ability to target and destroy a player's lands in order to deny them the mana they can use from it. Cards such as Stone Rain through Ajani Vengeant and beyond all do this.
Now, Land Destruction and Mana denial, as I will demonstrate, is a predominately Red part of the color pie. Black gets into the swing of things as well, as does Green on occasion. Blue would rather manipulate or bounce lands back into a player's hand with cards like Boomerang while White is less willing to destroy a land, and instead jsut blow everything up, a la Armageddon or take the opportunity to get more lands, such as with Knight of the White Orchid if they're behind.
And it is because of this that I tend to view Land destruction as a vital, but hard to implement, section of Red's segment of the color pie, one that can't be taken away without taking out one of the few reliable pillars of that color with nothing to replace it.
But what of the cards themselves?
Well, let me work with the non- cards first, as they will be far quicker to cover.
gets one of the most under appreciated, but completely amazing cards in the game - Creeping Mold and its functional reprint of Reclaiming Vines . Not only can this card target lands, but it can also hit artifacts and enchantments - which basically prices the chance to take out a land at over Naturalize .
Now, Green's Land destruction is almost an afterthought. After all, is the color of growth, and that doesn't lend itself to blowing up lands often. Indeed, when it does, it's either an option to other choices, or part of a multi-colored card that also blows things up, so Green brings something to the table, like Drain the Well , or Frenzied Tilling .
Well, that last one might not be the best example, as it's doing the destroying, and getting a land for yourself.
Anyway, Black! Here, we get cards like Choking Sands , a fun little thing that is color-hate, and non-Basic land hate all rolled into one. The supremely cheap Sinkhole , and the slightly more expensive Rancid Earth .
Black, to put it in the parlance of Wizards, has Land Destruction as a Tertiary mechanic or ability. Meaning that for Black, it can get dedicated Land destruction spells, but they won't be commonly printed (but can be printed at Common, such as with Polluted Dead ). Rather, it's something that's available to fill a gap in the color in any given set, or more likely, to cooperate with another colour in blowing up a land.
Now for the star of our show, the real God-King of Land Destruction, .
And for that, I want to pick out the one card that I think sets the standard in terms of Land Destruction in Red. And that is Stone Rain . For those of you too horrified by the card's name to check that hyperlink for the card image, it is a Sorcery that says "Destroy Target Land" for .
That's it. It's Murder for Lands!
But that's just the card that I view as the baseline for Land destruction. For you see, outside of gimmick cards like Crack the Earth or Stoneshaker Shaman , Wizards now views destroying a land at a cost of or greater.
For in the place of Stone Rain , it is now Demolish that is the go-to standard for destroying a land. Which is kind of hilarious as both of those cards were printed in 8th and 9th Editions! Meaning that for two full rotations of Standard, Red had access to multiple Core Set cards that blew up lands in the Common and Uncommon slots!
And this doesn't get into cards that can blow up multiple Lands! Such as Wake of Destruction , or Thoughts of Ruin , or Flashfires or Boil or the Bust side of Boom , or Ruination if you like playing Commander and want to punish them for all the non-Basics they control.
Let me reiterate this. If Red wants your lands gone, then they are gone. No two ways about it.
So please, allow me to ruminate on something about all this.
You see, Land Destruction in Red has slowly gone up in price over time, and that's because it's too good. I've made no secret of the fact that I view Magic as a game of resources, and that your primary resource is your mana base - your lands. And attacking that resource base directly is something that can break the game if it gets out of hand.
And unlike, say, Graveyard recursion, Wizards has kept a far better eye on this mechanic and its repercussions over the years. They keep a tight lid on the genie that is mass Land removal. But they will never get rid of it either.
That's partly because of something I've talked about earlier. The cost of blowing up a single land in Modern has moved from a cost of to a cost of . This is partly because Wizards is keen on the idea of letting players build up their resources first before depriving them of their lands, and years upon years of experimentation, game statistics and calculations have shown that, at least in the Modern format, Magic is a 4 Turn game, in which the game is made or broken on that turn. By moving Land destruction from Turn three - where you can hit a person on their turn 2 - to turn 4 - where the hit is on their third turn - you slow down the arrival of the crippling blow that can turn the game in ones favor.
On the other side, hitting a player that's on their turn 4 with your turn 3 can help equalize, but that's a harder distinction to make.
Regardless, this is the decision that Wizards has made, and I am in agreement with it. Land Destruction is not something that should come quickly or cheaply, not without some drawback to help balance it out, like, say, taking out one of your own lands in the process.
Another thing to consider when we talk about Land Destruction is not that someone is losing a single card on the board, but rather, what is the innate value of that card? And no, I'm not talking about $$$ here. Rather, I want to raise the point that not all Lands are created equal. Even discounting Basics, what is the comparison between, say, a Battlefield Forge and Sacred Foundry ? Or Temple of Triumph ?
Well, some lands are simply more valuable than others to destroy. These include those that produce multiple colors, or, like the Ravnican Bounce Lands, can produce multiple mana at once. Targetting key components to a Mana base, including limited sources of a single colour in a multi-color deck, hitting one of the three UrzaTron Lands, or perhaps a utility land, like pre-banning Ramunap Ruins is far more useful than taking out a more typical, dare I say, basic Land?
Land destruction harms these more advanced targets and the decks that support them disproportionately, and that is certainly something that Wizards has problems keeping straight. But thankfully it's not a large problem. Just one kept in the back of their heads whenever they (re)print a card that can blow up lands.
However, this is not the end of the discussion. Recall that I am talking about Mana Denial here, and while Destruction is a large and vital component of this, it's not the be-all, end all of what's going on.
As a way to limit mana growth, Wizards has started to experiment with allowing Red the ability to tap down mana, and keep it locked down for a turn. I say "started" and "experiment" as Stensia Innkeeper is a card that, while Common, has an ability that hasn't been seen since. There's been no followup on it to see if it's something that really adversely affects Standard or even Modern. It was just a flash-in-the-pan that if I hadn't been told was a case of Wizards making the attempt, I would have aggressively pegged it as a Color Break out of !
In fact, I did, and had it pointed out to me already by players more versed than I. Or with fresher memories than I for newer cards.
Rather, when I think about mana denial, I have a couple of examples that I like to keep in mind. The first doesn't look like denial, but in reality, it's one of the most vicious pieces of punishment for playing the game ever devised.
You start the game with 20 life. And what makes you think that a Red deck is going to wait for this card to drop before reducing it even further? This card punishes the player for playing the game, although non-land sources, like artifacts and creatures are protected, it's not like mono-Red has options for those. Lightning Bolt Shatter .
Here is Mana denial taken to its most extreme. By tying the amount of mana you can use in total to your life total, unless you have a reliable way to regain your life, you are massively hamstrung in what you can do. After all, what's the use in casting your super-amazing winning card, or Storming out when simply tapping the mana to cast those spells will kill you?
The other one is a bit more subtle, and isn't Red at all. In fact, when it was printed, it seemed like a quaint little thing that was a second-rate card in its own set, but as part of larger formats? Well, Damping Sphere is actually pretty neat. While the anti-Storm measure is neat, it's not the focus. Rather, it's the ability to punish a player when they tap a land for more than one mana that's the real gem here.
In larger formats, most notably Commander, the Ravnican Bounce Lands are a prime target for this artifact. That they naturally tap for multiple mana is something that players want, so this card targets them for being greedy. Or you know, the UrzaTron.
But if you really want to punish the greedy and deny them their mana, it's real effect is aimed straight at and their ability to use Auras as mana multipliers. I mean, Dawn's Reflection , or Fertile Ground or Overgrowth or Wild Growth all exist, right? This card, while printed in a Standard set, was aimed squarely at Modern and Commander, and there, it does its job with aplomb - slowing down those that are going too fast!
In summation, Mana Denial and Land Destruction is something that is comfortably in 's slice of the color pie, but for good reason, Wizards can't really make it a primary aspect of that color. It's not a solution to the problems inherent in , but it is a key piece of the puzzle in the long and short term.
I would like to see more of it, but not as a constant thing. It needs to be present in the back of player's minds when facing Red, but not so in your face that cards like Crucible of Worlds become mainstays of a sideboard.
And, as a celebration, here's a Deck I cooked up that helps make light and fun of people actually trying to play the game! In fact, by playing this deck, I can all but guarantee you that someone will hate you forver and ever if you used it against them!
SCORE: 5 | 3 COMMENTS | 274 VIEWS | IN 4 FOLDERS
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I love this article.
I would mention that on matter of mana denial, and tying of mana base to other resources, Burning Sands is another little oddity in that it disproportionately affects token strategies
November 22, 2018 1:43 p.m.
In combination with Trinisphere, LD can be a permanent lock.
November 22, 2018 2:28 p.m.
I think that the last land-destruction decks that I remember being viable in Standard were the U/R Wildfire decks of Kamigawa standard. Cards like Boomerang, Eye of Nowhere, Stone Rain, Annex, and of course Wildfire made it an extremely punishing deck to play against. I also think that deck is why Wizards seems to have restricted bounce spells from being able to target lands. Playing first and being able to bounce an opponent's first land on your second turn with Boomerang is a ridiculous tempo advantage.
The original Mirrodin standard did have the mono-red Arc-Slogger decks too, which used artifact mana ramp to cast turn 2 Stone Rain and Molten Rain to stall for time until they could drop Arc-Slogger.
November 22, 2018 11:07 p.m.
November 24, 2018 9:49 p.m.
On today's Blogatog, MaRo admits that the experiment in this alternate Mana Denial didn't do what Wizards wanted, so it's dead.
November 26, 2018 8:24 a.m.
I will say, land destruction is my least favorite mechanic. I understand why it exists, and in some cases it is necissary. that said, blink-riders in standard was one of the few times that I ended up taking over a year long break from magic.
oddly, land hate wans't always (or even primarily) red. black and blue had some solid hozing abilities right at the start.
Erosion and Psychic Venom were punishing as hell for early game, and while it may not destroy the land, Phantasmal Terrain does mess with mana bases pretty well. Evil Presence and Blight helped round out Sinkhole for black. red had Stone Rain, Boil, Flashfires, and Fissure. blue had Volcanic Eruption and Acid Rain, (to counter act green's Tsunami, or Desert Twister). White had color hate for days with Drought and Conversion to name a few
oddly enough, the color pie was really into opposing color hate and ally color help at the start.
I don't think it was really until urza's block that red came to the forefront. and what a forefront it was. Wake of Destruction. as in, "see that mono colored deck over there? END THEM."
November 26, 2018 2:34 p.m.
November 26, 2018 4:49 p.m.
Now my stance on land destruction is that of scarcity. Certain lands may needs to be dealt with and for that I wholeheartedly enjoy the Wasteland- and Tectonic Edge-esque type of lands. The choice is to blow up your land with your opponent's land so you're likely only doing it if that trade is favorable to you. For instance if your opponent has a Gaea's Cradle then you will easily trade your Wasteland for their Cradle unless they cannot utilize it at all. In that situation I say it's a tech choice. You include Wasteland to get rid of annoying or greedy lands.
Cards like Stone Rain are a lot worse (for the game) in my eyes because you don't trade resources. You trade a card versus your opponent's land. There's no limit to how many Stone Rains or similar you can play, given you have the mana and cards for it while lands are usually locked to once a turn.
I am mainly a multiplayer (Commander) player and therefore single-target land destruction is not really something people can efficiently run because they have multiple opponents. However land destruction in those formats are usually attributed to continuous land destruction, like that on Numot, the Devastator or mass land destruction, like that of Armageddon. Both types have attributes in common; they affect their opponents far more than they affect the player.
Land destruction is not really an integrated part of Magic's repertoire and therefore there exists very few cards that deal with that situation and in even fewer colors - white being the one that has most effects that hinder their loss of lands, through cards like Sacred Ground or Faith's Reward or Teferi's Protection. Because there's little counterplay to land destruction, I find that those who do use it are disproportionately capitalizing on a gameplay with limited or weak counterplay.
If Wizards printed an Artifact that said the exact same as Sacred Ground AND replaced itself for a semi-small cost of 3-4 CMC, then I figure land destruction would take a heavy toll on its effectiveness. Add an instant in black that makes your lands or even non-creature permanents indestructible and hexproof and retaliate if an ability or spell would destroy your lands, do so against the controller of that ability or spell.
Wizards will unlikely do this as those would be a primary direct countertool to land destruction which as said before is not an integrated part of Magic. The existence of such cards are not to be utilized in their own rights but rather to remove/keep away land destruction as a viable option. However if land destruction would ever become a more integrated part of Magic, counterplay would need to follow. And to be honest, most of such effects I figure would be either too hamstring on counterplaying land destruction that their uses for anything else is rather limited or useless, or they manipulate lands in a way that is otherwise unhealthy whether for direct resource manipulation or they provide those greedy lands (Gaea's Cradle Cabal Coffers UrzaTron) too much protection that those tech cards you have a few of to dispose of those greedy lands, suddenly ain't cutting it.
There's so little recursion of lands from the graveyard and they are such an integrated part of being able to play the game that land destruction on a scale that becomes a lock/hindrance to play the game and not a technical countertool is not fun for the receiving party.
Imagine if creature removal didn't exist. Auras and equipment would become so broken. Or they would take into effect that nothing could really stop them and be made useless.
It's a fine line between providing win conditions or advantageous effects and appropriate countermeasures and I think land destruction is a REALLY crappy one to balance out. And for that I am thankful that Wizards largely have avoided land destruction as a viable tactic.
November 27, 2018 10:21 a.m.
November 28, 2018 6:58 p.m.
An article on mana denial and no mention of Blood Moon, which restricts both the amount and type of mana nonbasics can produce?
My absolute favorite land destruction spell also wasn't mentioned: Mwonvuli Acid-Moss.
Finally it seems odd to talk about mana denial without mentioning the auras that turn your opponent's lands into Islands like Spreading Seas, which restrict color and type and also support an islandwalk game plan.