Pattern Recognition #181 - Land Destruction

Features Opinion Pattern Recognition


28 January 2021


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 a Smart Ass , so I can take it.

This... this isn't going to be the mist unifying of articles I've ever written. The subject matter is pretty divisive to begin with and I will probably get some of you quite worked up with my opinions and conclusions on the matter. For that, I do not apologize. This is my soapbox, and if I get you to discuss, rather than just agreeing with me, then I'll count that as a win.

Land Destruction is, simply put, destroying Lands. I've talked before about the importance of lands themselves in PR #12 - Lands Matter, and in how the presence or absence of lands can affect your mana pool, be it through Screw or Flood. But more importantly, I already addressed this topic back in PR# 91 - Mana Denial. But that was over two years ago, and things have changed in my view since then, and I want to focus the entirety of the article on this one subject, rather than half-assing it.

So, let's start again, at the beginning.

Land Destruction entered the game with Limited Edition Alpha. And while I'm pretty sure most people can name Armageddon and Stone Rain as examples from that set, given just how iconic that they became, and also got in on the act. From Alpha alone, we got Demonic Hordes , Sinkhole , Ice Storm (which is literally Stone Rain , just Colourshifted), Kudzu , as well as Flashfires and Tsunami .

In the early days of the game, when the game was far more casual, Land Destruction, especially the more mass versions, we seen as what we would now call an alternate win condition, something which it sill is to this day. But instead of winning, you are acting to deprive your opponent of the ability to win in of themselves, leaving you with a clear advantage (you hope) that will make your victory all the sooner and more sure.

This resulted in part in the printing of Pyramids in Arabian Nights, a land whose purpose was to prevent lands from being destroyed (or removing an unwanted Aura such as Blight from them). But please, do not take the existence of this card, printed more than 25 years ago, as indicative of a theme in the early game of destroying and protecting lands. It wasn't.

quickly lost access to this, as 's theme of being the great equalizer was dialed back a bit and losing out on the unique Armageddon was seen as an acceptable loss. Instead, as per the 2017 Color Pie Article put out by Mark Rosewater on the subject, is considered Tertiary in terms of Land Destruction, which is basically a way to say "Very, very rarely, and often either paired with a colour that does it more often, or as an exceptional effect." This is understandable as each colour is supposed to have advantages and disadvantages in turn. Rather, Land Destruction was moved into as a Primary ability, wherein this colour getting this effect was pretty much on a check-list of things to put into each set, and removing it was not a quick or easy choice, much as gets a boardwipe each set, and gets a counterspell in each set. It's as natural to them as breathing. In addition, and get this effect in Secondary, which is to say that it is something in their tool kit, but doesn't need to show up all the time, but doesn't require jumping through hoops to exist either.

As the game progressed, Stone Rain was seen as a staple of , seeing printings in Core Sets up until 9th Edition, where as part of the general reorganization of colours and costs in that era, it stopped being printed, even in supplementary sets.

Since that time, the retroactive dawn of the Modern Format, Land Destruction has been massively curtailed. Wizards concluded that if destroying lands was too easy or too cheap, then it became too oppressive to any format through the simple expedient of preventing someone from playing the game. You know. UNFUN.

So Wizards decided on two things. First was that Land Destruction needed to be moved out of the CMC slot, and into at the low end. This was done in order to remove the possibility of an aggressive deck going first, hitting their third land on time, and then using that to destroy one of their opponent's two lands on their turn. As a result, setting them back to one land versus the three of the player was just too much, and Modern was already a 4-turn format as it was. Giving the format a chance to push three turns was too much. In addition to the increase in the mana costs, they started to put additional options onto Land Destruction cards, such as Demolish or Creeping Mold to give them options for when blowing up a land wasn't a reasonable option. Or had additional upsides like with Rubble Reading , which Scried in addition to blowing up a land.

I will however, take a moment here to point out that giving Land Destruction additional upsides started well before this decision to dial it back. Dingus Egg (to go with Dingus Staff ) and its counterpart Ankh of Mishra were both printed from Alpha through Sixth Edition, while the Egg lasted until 9th. And the Staff was just me poking fun at the notion because I can. This card further punished not only land destruction, but land sacrifice through things like fetch lands and the like by dealing damage to the payer in the process. It was in addition to, and not part of the effect, something which I am grateful for as when damage is attached to the destruction in question, we get cards like Molten Rain , Poison the Well and Into the Maw of Hell which wins for best card name in this whole article.

So far, so good. Well, mediocre, really. On one hand, the ability to destroy lands never really went away, but it was quietly and slowly buried, despite the existence of cards like Ajani Vengeant that saw land destruction used as a "I haven't won yet, but you're so far back it's only a matter of time" button.

On the other hand, you did get lands that were designed to destroy other lands. We got Wasteland , which is not to be confused with Wastes , a card that can destroy itself to take out another land but is a little worse that Strip Mine , and was later revisited as Dust Bowl and Encroaching Wastes . You can see through these cards how the cost of destroying a land increased over time, from free, but losing a land in the process, to plus losing the land for an effective cost of , then a cost of plus the land loss.

Of course, this leads me into the next attempt to 'balance' Land Destruction. Land replacement effects. The idea is, much like how Generous Gift gives you something in return for the lost creature, Wizards took the opportunity to destroy a land and then give the poor helpless victim a replacement to help soothe over their feelings.

This started with Ghost Quarter in the original Ravnica block, then as you were losing a land and they weren't, it was eventually replaced with Field of Ruin that allowed you and your opponent to stay on equal footing where land was concerned - at the cost of your other opponents in a multiplayer game getting a small lead.

But Field of Ruin helped solidify what this sort of effect did. It took out a Non-basic land and replaced it with a Basic land.

And this makes it a convenient point to segue into the next subject. The value of Land Destruction.

There are three targets, in the broad strokes, that Land Destruction goes for. In general order of what I think the value of said targets are, they are Utility Lands, Dual Lands, Basic Lands.

Utility lands are those land that don't necessarily add mana to your mana pool as their primary effect - many of them will add for the most part, but cards like Gnottvold Slumbermound will add colored mana. Rather, the utility in utility lands, and yes, I meant that, is in their non-mana abilities. Things like Thespian's Stage or a very recent The World Tree . These are lands that have non-land effects, effects that could show up on Enchantments or Creatures or other cards.

The importance of Utility lands is in the relative lack of land destruction effects, that the effects you find on these lands are relatively protected from harm as it's not like can destroy lands or can bounce lands anymore. No more Boomerang for you, !

Let me give you an example of a powerful Utility Land, and let's talk Field of the Dead . This land created 2/2 Zombie token whenever you played a land (including Field of the Dead itself) and you had seven lands. Field of the Dead ate a Standard Ban as, well, I'll let Wizards own words on the subject matter describe what happened and why. And if you don't want to read that, which I am now disappointed in you for. But if you didn't, then know that Field of the Dead ate a ban because it was non-interactive, produced too much value over time for simply playing the game, and synergized well with Golos, Tireless Pilgrim that it became a meta-dominating force in Standard.

Now, here's the thing. There was land removal in Standard at the time, and as Field of the Dead was the lynchpin, taking it out was more important than taking out Golos, or countering Scapeshift .

Assassin's Trophy is one of the great removal spells of our time, and anyone who says is the colour of removal hasn't played the game in fifteen years, as this card exists. There was also the more expensive, but no less useful Casualties of War . There was also Bedeck / Bedazzle , Demolish , Rubble Reading and Tectonic Rift .

None of these were enough to stop Field of the Dead. The only one that saw regular play was Assassin's Trophy , and that was nowhere near enough as killing Golos didn't stop the play of the Field. And if they got two Fields out? Well, good luck with that. Heck, I've been hit with an Unmoored Ego where the opponent called Field of the Dead with me not showing a single relevant card in play, but they still went after it preemptively. It was that defining and warping.

The second target is multi-coloured lands, and the reasoning for this is quite simple, and again, ties back into why Wizards wants to keep Land Destruction tied to the mid-game or later. Simply put, the vast majority of these lands exist to fix mana colours in multi-coloured decks. A deck that wants to run Adarkar Wastes , Temple of Enlightenment and Hallowed Fountain can do so, and in the early game, the flexibility in mana production is vital to getting a board state, as well as providing options in terms of paying for casting costs means that they are a vital part of any multi-coloured deck.

But the thing is, the more colours in the deck, the more and more these sorts of lands become a requirement. In a deck with two colours, a card like City of Brass would only be considered if there were unusual extenuating circumstances. Three colours? Maybe. Four or five? At that point, it becomes an auto-include as you need to be able to generate more and more colours of mana at any time, and variety is paramount. These are called Greedy Land bases because they want anything and everything, and will do what they can to get it.

In these cases Land Destruction has the intent of picking a weak link in the on-board mana base and removing it, delaying or crippling the deck until they can recover or you gain a vital advantage. It's precision removal, not mass destruction.

Taking out a Basic Land with land removal? Well, at that point, unless it's the only source of a colour for the player, it's simply a target of opportunity, or just setting them back a turn on their curve. It has its uses, but there are usally more important targets to remove before you go for a Basic Land.

But let me back up for a moment here, and look at a design problem in the game.

Utility Lands are not as always busted as Field of the Dead , but it does represent an issue in Magic's design that I feel needs to be brought to light and addressed. There is a current that I see, that even though I can list cards that would say otherwise on the surface, play patterns show something different.

The idea is that Lands are Sacred. That nothing bad should happen to them because they are too fundamental to the nature of the game, that going after them as a form of resource denial is too much for most players. sure, losing your hand to discard effects like Duress is one thing as you can always draw more cards, but losing your lands is a lot harder to come back from. This isn't to say it's impossible, just something that the game was never meant to handle in any way. It's...

Look, Magic has problems and one of them is the mana system. Yes, I've seen a few ways to suggest trying to fix that, but the issues are so baked into the rules and the cards that the only way to fix it is to start over.

But treating lands as nonvolatile at worst, or something that needs to be coddled at best is also not helping things either. Now, making Lands Go BOOM is not, and should not be meta-defining, but it needs to be a viable option in various colours toolkits in order to deal with oppressive or greedy decks that are built around the idea that one of their pillars is untouchable.

Land Destruction needs to be a thing, and it needs to be more accessible than it is now. But in saying that, I recognize that unrestricted access to Armageddon effects would be horrible. And if anything, I think that the only lands that shouldn't have a target painted on them are Basic Lands. Not lands with basic land types, like Shock Lands, or the new Snow Duals. Rather, the good old Plains , Island , Swamp , Mountain , Forest , Wastes and their Snow-Covered alternates. Everything else needs to be fair game.

So let me take this objective I want, and make it current and relevant.

You know how people keep complaining that is getting the shaft in the game, with cards like Divine Gambit being touted as good? When it's not, and barely passable in Limited where it will see the most use?

Well, I want to bring back Land Destruction, and make it Primary in , but with two caveats. First, make it exclusively against non-Basics. You want to play with a five color Good Stuff deck? Hope you have redundancy. You play with a single color deck? Well, that Utility Land in your colour is useful, but not vital, right?

By hitting Non-Basics, you can frame it as playing to their strength, such as it is, of being the Great Leveler. Remember Balance ? And it's Time Spiral version Restore Balance ? Or Balancing Act , a card that I have used to great effect? Or Cataclysm ? Well, instead of going all-in on blowing up lands, imagine a card that just takes out non-basic lands. Here, let me demonstrate:

Divine Blast

Destroy target Enchantment, Artifact or Non-Basic Land.

Simple, concise, and yes, it breaks the 'rules' about land destruction at , but when White can once again wipe the board for thanks to Kaldheim, I think some rules can be bent or even undone. In addition, by not hitting basics, it still allows for an untouchable base of mana with which to produce mana to play the game. Players who just play Fetches, Shocks, and other lands that can be fetched?

Look, it's a problem in Modern and other eternal formats that the most expensive part of the deck is the land base. Let's put some pressure on that my making those cards less valuable in practice. Or you know, reprint the damned Fetch Lands already.

Different subject, I know.

recently - and that's a relative term, I know, touched on Land Destruction directly, rather than incidentally with Fall of the Thran from Dominaria. This callback to land-wipes of old happens at six mana, but then shoots itself in the metaphorical foot by allowing, on the subsequent two turns, each player to return lands to the battlefield from the graveyard. You know, a both a balancing factor as well as allowing players to quickly rebound from the land loss. As a way to ... Balance lands again, rather than letting someone run away with it all.

Yeah. I'm sure it looks good on paper, but the more I look at it, the more I am reminded that symmetrical effects aren't and balanced effects aren't. You can't just blow everything up then reset everything to the way it was before! That's not helping anything at all. When you destroy a land, don't give them the damned things back! Replacing with basics? Sure, I can live with that. But when you take out a land, take it out.

Oh, and let me call out Cleansing Wildfire here, as people seem to think that it's a Land Destruction card. But it's not. This card was printed in a set with Landfall. It's primary purpose is to use it on yourself to give you a card draw and an additional Landfall trigger on that turn. If you're using it against your opponent, you're either desperate, hoping to take out a utility land, or wanting that card draw more than anything else. I say this as I was playing against a Landfall deck that was stuck at 2 mana, and I was plaing a mono- deck where my opponent used two Wildfires on my Swamp s in order to try and draw into a third land. A game I won by the way.

So yes, context for cards that allow you to blow up a land is important as well. You can't just expect it to be directed at your opponent, especially with the land-replacement effects that are more common now.

So there's my use of the soap box. Land Destruction needs to come back, not as a torrent, but as a trickle and not drops. It needs to be a sword of Damocles hanging over people's heads, a threat that if they get too rambunctious or too 'smart' with their lands, that something bad can happen to them. Sometime, just the threat of a thing can be better than the use of the thing. So teach players to be more judicious with their mana base, allow for more artifact based mana production if you have to as diversity is important.

But don't try to pretend that this isn't a thing. I remember. And I'll remind people as often as needed.

Thanks for reading this week, and please leave your comments below. I enjoy a good discussion. And join me next week when I talk about a new subject. One that is hopefully more positive.

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!

This article is a follow-up to Pattern Recognition #180 - Saga The next article in this series is Pattern Recognition #182 - Flicker

FSims81 says... #1

So I love playing a level of control that isn't just countering spells. Denying the ability to even cast a spell via discard or removing targets of spells as they try and resolve. But I've never really tried it in the form of land control.

After reading this now I want to just build a land destruction deck to control the game that way. Especially if in destroying the lands I can also further punish my opponent via damage or some other effect.

Thanks for the inspiration.

January 29, 2021 11:31 a.m.

rotimislaw says... #2

Just in time with the topic berryjon! There's an ongoing discussion in the forum on why 's so weak recently. I think your idea with adding non-Basic Land Destruction there might be one of the good solutions!

January 29, 2021 noon

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