Pattern Recognition #177 - Landwalk
26 November 2020
26 November 2020
Hello everyone! This is Pattern Recognition, TappedOut.Net's longest running article series as written by myself, berryjon. I am something of an Old Fogey who has been around the block quite a few times where Magic is concerned, as as such, I use this series to talk about the various aspects of this game, be it deck design, card construction, mechanics chat, in-universe characters and history. Or whatever happens to cross my mind this week. Please, feel free to dissent in the comments below the article, add suggestions or just plain correct me! I am something of a Smart Ass , so I can take it.
A few weeks ago, I talked about a mechanic that was seen, seen again thanks to Time Spiral, and then rightly tossed back into the 'mechanics that were poorly thought out and should have spend more time cooking' pile. I mentioned that Shadow was related to another, unnamed mechanic in that it was quietly removed from the game at some point thanks to being 'uninteractive' and by someone's definition, unfun.
So, let's talk Land Walk. Now, if you were to put that phrase into Gatherer or Scryfall, you wouldn't get any hits. For you see, it's not really a mechanic, but rather a name for a set of keywords that all share the "walk" suffix, and there were five versions of it, one for each basic land type.
Let's start with Righteous Avengers , a bad card that, well, look, it was a Legends Uncommon, they were pretty much all misses back then. But it was a 3/1 that has Plainswalk. And if you read the reminder text, you see that it reads "This creature can't be blocked as long as the defending player controls a Plains"
Landwalk comes in all five flavours, one for each basic land type - sorry Wastes , you may be a Basic Land, but you don't have a type, as well as a few other, more fringe cases.
When I talked about Shadow, I described how it inadvertently led to a degree of binary interaction. To whit, when you have Shadow creatures, you can only block other Shadow creatures, and nothing else. If you and your opponent are on opposite sides of that dichotomy, your creatures won't interact in the combat step at all.
On the other hand, Land Walk came first, and lasted long after. I knew it started in Alpha, where you had the first Lords of the game - Goblin King granting Mountainwalk to all Goblins, Lord of Atlantis giving Merfolk Islandwalk, and Zombie Master giving Zombies the ability to not be blocked if the defending player controlled a Swamp . It lasted... you know, I could have sworn that the last set with landwalk was Ravnica, thanks to my perennial favorite aggro card, Dryad Sophisticate .
I point out Dryad Sophisticate , not because it's actually a decent beater in a lot of formats as non-basic lands are the norm, and not the exception, but because it expanded the definition of what could be Land walked away from Basic types, as well as Zombie Musher , who cares only for the Snow super-type on any land, basic or otherwise.
But let me get back to my point; Ravnica was not the last set with a Landwalk card, nor does that honor belong to the lands matter block of Zendikar. No, it was the Innistrad block and M14, with cards like Somberwald Dryad , and Colossal Whale . It was officially rendered obsolete with Magic Origins, and discontinued in Standard products.
I was legitimately surprised at that, as I was certain it had faded out of play much earlier, which goes to show one of the issues that Land Walk has.
Landwalk is hard to design. Or rather, it is easy to put this ability onto a creature, but the mechanic doesn't lend itself to any sort of theme, no cohesive identity. There is nothing about Land Walk that makes it stand out in any way that makes it deserve a Keyword. You can replace the keyword with the reminder text, and you would lose nothing really.
Landwalk faded out because there was nothing keeping it real.
But there are still some things I want to talk about. When you look at Landwalk, the vast majority of cards that had a Land Walk ability that was tied to a basic land, not like Dryad Sophisticate or Ayumi, the Last Visitor , well, thse creatures for the vast majority of time, Landwalked on their own colour.
Looking at the stats, of the forty cards with Swampwalk, 25 are mono-, with having the most Islandwalk, and so on and so forth with Forestwalk, Mountainwalk and Plainswalk.
Landwalk then, was seen as a sort of way to break Mirror Matches, a way for players who were fighting against similar decks to have a way to push damage through the opponents boardstate. In this way, two control decks (as the most common Landwalk cards are Swamp- and Island-walk) can put down an effectively unblockable creature, and whittle away at the life of the opponent. It would be a sideboard card, of course, given that you wouldn't know about a mirror match before the cards hit the table.
Before researching this article, I thought that Landwalk was tied to the old notion of colour enemies. That being, Landwalk was a punisher for playing in colours that your landwalk creature hates. Thus, a creature would have Plainswalk or Islandwalk in order to push damage through and creatures.
Of course, that was probably just me remembering Landwalk from 9th edition, where we got Anaconda and Bog Wraith and River Bear . Eh, I can live with my memory being incomplete for a set over 15 years ago, especially for a minor detail such at that.
But Landwalk was too narrow, and that's one of its fatal flaws. If you had it, you had an advantage against that one land type, but if your opponent doesn't have it, then creatures with Landwalk tend to not have any other abilities as being unblockable is powerful enough, and you wind up with a creature that is overcosted and worse off than a vanilla creature of the same power and toughness.
There were, because this was early Magic, and everything that could do a thing also got a hard counter, also a cycle of Enchantments in Legends whose sole purpose was to remove Landwalk from a creature. Crevasse for Mountainwalk, through Great Wall for Plainswalk.
And given that there were a grand total of four creatures in the game with innate Plainswalk, you can see how well that went over.
I want to say that Landwalk, by the time it petered out and was put away for good, was something that most people never really paid attention to, unless it showed up across the board from them one day in the hands of someone who knew what they were going up against, and was prepared. It has been brought back in supplementary products - the last time it was printed was in 2018 with cards like Lord WINgrace that can make a half-dozen Forestwalking 2/2 Cat Warriors, or Inkwell Leviathan an Cold-Eyed Selkie for Islandwalk, but that's the exception, not the rule.
Wizards, for their part, replaced Landwalk with Intimidate in the same stroke that finally got rid of Fear and replaced it with Intimidate, though even that has been replaced with Menace as the game has developed, moving away from conditionally unblockable to conditionally blockable.
What that means is that Wizards has made the conscious decision to make a creature not able to be blocked in combat from an effect that is static - Tidal Kraken or Phantom Warrior , and turn it into something that can be activated or triggered on a condition, like Tome Anima being when you've drawn enough cards, or with low-power creatures thanks to Subira, Tulzidi Caravanner or by discarding a card with Ghostly Pilferer . This last card I like in Brawl and Commander as hey, guess where the Commander is? In the Command Zone and not your hand.
You should not be punished simply for playing something. It should be an active response. It needs to be a state of doing and not a state of being. Landwalk is a punisher that depends strictly on what colours you were playing, and what your opponent was playing. It wasn't a bad idea, as I can see cards that are being printed even today that would say "This creature can't be blocked if the defending player controls a ..." something or other that isn't so dependent on the most fundamental resource of the game.
And even though Wizards currently holds that lands should be sacrosanct, that nothing bad should happen to them, at worse, being replaced with a basic Land, like with Cleansing Wildfire , I can see why Landwalk died even before this thought took hold.
It just didn't make for good games, and playing the cards was very much hit or miss for the player. And mostly a miss.
Except for Dryad Sophisticate , who still works wonders in more advanced formats where non-basics are the norm, and not the exception. I'll take that punishment.
Oh, and one last thought. You know how I keep saying I'm an Old Fogey ? Well, go check what's buried in the Keyword soup on that card. :)
We're moving into Christmas season, and as people may have been aware over the past few years, I work retail, which means, well, busy season. I can't guarantee any articles over the next month as everything is completely messed up, but I will still try.
So, join me next time when I talk about something. What? I don't know yet.
Until then please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!
Aside from windgrace, I do remember the original zendikar block cared a little bit about landwalk with Trailblazer's Boots, Bog Tatters, Cliff Threader, etc. Though its definitely a dead ability aside from the odd reprint, or toss on ability for something kooky.
November 27, 2020 1:38 a.m.
I was going to mention Trailblazer's Boots but looks like I was beaten to it. But yeah... amazing card, especially in Commander where the overwhelming majority of decks have a decent number of nonbasic lands. It's been a crazy good card for any voltron builds I make.