The Kitchen Table #243 – How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

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Thursday, July 24th – Welcome to the Thursday column dedicated to bringing you topics pertinent to the largest chunk of Magic players out there, the casual world. This is your pilot, cruising with you to a nice altitude in search of new worlds for the column to explore. Today I want to write about a topic that weighs heavy on the hearts of casual players everywhere. I want to talk about land destruction.

Welcome to the Thursday column dedicated to bringing you topics pertinent to the largest chunk of Magic players out there, the casual world. This is your pilot, cruising with you to a nice altitude in search of new worlds for the column to explore.

I had written my normal Five Color and casual review of Eventide, but it was on my PC, which went down yesterday. I believe it is the power supply, but after reviewing several websites, I saw that my particular PC (Dell) was hard to exchange power supplies, so I took it to the shop. Hopefully, the computer will be repaired in a week and that article will be here next week.

This article was on my laptop, ready to be submitted any time, so I went ahead and submitted it this week. I hope you enjoy it, and hopefully next week we will return to my regularly scheduled articles.

Today I want to write about a topic that weighs heavy on the hearts of casual players everywhere. I want to talk about land destruction.

Aside from countermagic, no individual mechanic gets as much heat from casual players as LD. In fact, it’s possible that LD is actually viewed more negatively than counters (I don’t know which is number one and which is number two, since I‘ve never done a survey).

I think it is past time for many casual players to embrace land destruction. Land destruction is not the negative and angry thing it once was, and I mean to demonstrate this theory in today’s article.

All of the readers who are regular writers will smile at what I am about to recount. As an Internet Magic writer, I’m often asked to look through people’s decks. Just this past Saturday I looked through three decks, and I was playing at a HeroClix tournament, not a Magic one!

I was looking through a mono-Red deck for anything that stood out to me, and I saw just one Stone Rain. No other LD cards were present. I asked the player why he ran just one copy of Stone Rain, and he said that occasionally someone will be mana-screwed, and he can punish them. I told him to pull it out for something else not related to LD.

Instead, if he had told me that he keeps a single copy for the occasional problematic land that gets played, like Maze of Ith, then it would have been fine in his deck. He didn’t want it for good casual reasons, he wanted it for tournament reasons.

If you are playing a casual LD deck that punishes mana screw, then you are giving LD a bad name. Stone Rains are very important to casual land, but you are giving all LD a bad rap. There are three decks in the history of Magic that are boring to play against. Combos that either go off very quickly (Flash) or lock and drag out the game (Stasis), counter heavy decks with just four creatures in them that take forever to play against, or dedicated land destruction decks that abuse the one-land-per-turn rule to wallop their opponent’s manabase.

These are boring decks to play against, and often a casual deck has no chance against them. Don’t bring these decks into your casual game unless your opponent agrees. Note that the second and third decks are impotent at the multiplayer table but deadly in a duel.

In a duel, every Stone Rain or Counterspell is a one-for-one trade – good to keep up tempo. However, in a multiplayer game, your collective opponents are massively outdrawing you. Therefore, one-for-one trades are officially bad (in most cases, but it’s nice to have an occasional cheap emergency one-for-one trade card, like a Swords to Plowshares or Vindicate).

My premise then is that LD is good in casual games, but only in certain cases, and not in the normal tournament tempo deck.

Situation #1 — Removal

No one would question the usefulness of removal like Eyeblight’s Ending, Crib Swap, Naturalize, and Shattering Pulse. These are cards with significant value because they can remove threats.

At the multiplayer table especially, there is value in various permanent types. When discussing the value of Joiner Adept versus Prismatic Omen, our table came to two very different conclusions. (Please note that technically these do different things, and so corner cases like the use of Corrupt or getting land walked by Sol’Kanar are part of the argument, but just barely).

One pointed out that Joiner Adept was much better since, as a creature, it could attack or block. Prismatic Omen would never block and kill a creature, or wield a Jitte and swing for two counters, or die to a Skullclamp and draw you two cards. Prismatic Omen will never kill an opponent who is open. This is all true.

However, another person at the table argued that Prismatic Omen will never get accidentally killed by a Pyroclasm, Wrath of God, Damnation, or so forth. It will never get targeted by Swords to Plowshares or Crib Swap. (Leaving out the obvious Opalescence example). It is safer than the Adept, and less likely to get hosed, because it is not a creature.

The simple fact is that Joiner Adept and Prismatic Omen are both good, but you have to ask what you want them for. If you need the mana smoothing, then you run the Omen, because it is safer. If you just want the mana smoothing, then run the Adept, because you get the added bonus of it being a creature.

Most decks run more creature removal than enchantment removal. Therefore, Prismatic Omen is safer.

Why does this comparison matter? Because casual players need to realize that lands are legitimate targets, just like enchantments and creatures.

Have you ever had an opponent drop a land against you that changed the course of the game, only you had no land destruction in your deck? It’s rare to build a deck without creature destruction, and players regularly include artifact and enchantment destruction, but it’s uncommon to see a deck with land destruction.

Players run special lands because they change the game like a powerful enchantment or artifact, yet are not targeted nearly as much. Let’s take a look at the hit list:

1. Volrath’s Stronghold – By far the biggest offender at the casual table is Volrath’s Stronghold. Giving the ability for a deck to guarantee drawing a creature every time, it also can become a minor engine with creatures like Ghitu Slinger. This is, in my opinion, the most abusable land ever printed that does not tap for multiple mana.

2. Maze of Ith – And right next to it is the first of the defensive lands. The Maze of Ith can protect you from one attacker, with the requirement of no mana. Players will drop these and hide behind them. If your deck does not have a lot of attackers available to it, then this becomes a serious threat.

3. Kor Haven – Just behind the Maze of Ith is the Kor Haven. The Kor Haven is not as good as the Maze, although it taps for colorless mana, which is good in a land. It requires you to use two additional mana, and one of it is White, forcing this to be used only in those decks that can afford the White. It is also legendary, preventing you from dropping multiple Kor Havens. It is still very annoying, and at least it does not untap the attacker and leave it as a blocker for other attackers.

4. Academy Ruins – Because of the powerful ability to recur artifacts like Mindslaver, Memory Jar, and Etched Oracle, this bad boy is another land you absolutely have to watch out for. Mindslaver plus Academy Ruins is a lock. It can even return artifact creatures so, in decks built around it, it is more powerful than Volrath’s Stronghold. Watch carefully for this.

5. Yavimaya Hollow – You’ll be surprised at how many times this little land proves useful, whether it saves an opponent’s best creature from an Akroma’s Vengeance, or protects it from a Rend Flesh. This is another powerful land that is more subtle than the first four entries, and as such, can fly under the radar.

The Next Tier: There are some cards in the next tier that are also quite broken.

Library of Alexandria (move this up to #2 on the list if it is commonly played in your group)
Bazaar of Baghdad (move this to #5 if it is commonly played)
Island of Wak-Wak – Just adds to the number of special lands that can prevent damage.
Prahv, Spires of Order – Despite the massive amount of mana, it adds to the damage prevention.
Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion – Giving a creature double strike is deadly.
Boseiju, Who Shelters All – With the rampant life gain in multiplayer, guaranteeing a crucial spell cannot be countered is very, very powerful.
Winding Canyons – Already popular in my playgroup, but Teferi taught the general casual world how useful flash can be, especially when tied to a land.
Karakas – With so many valuable legendary creatures out there, why not protect your own, or bounce your neighbor’s?

The Third Tier: Then there are some cards that are not super great, but in the right deck or circumstance, can be deadly.

Desert – An annoying way of killing attackers.
Balduvian Trading Post – Kills attackers and defenders.
Contested Cliffs – In a beast deck, this is nasty. Note that many other tribal lands will often fit here too.
Scrying Sheets – In a dedicated snow deck, this is a powerful card drawing engine.
Kjeldoran Outpost – A deck built around this is probably asking for it to be destroyed, if you can.
Diamond Valley, Miren the Moaning Well – Alright on their own, but broken in a deck built around them
Nivix, Aerie of the Firemind – If you can draw cards, then that is always strong.
Shivan Gorge – Taking one or two damage over time is okay, but when you are taking five or six or more damage, you need to pop the land.
Swarmyard, Elephant GraveyardYavimaya Hollow is bad enough, but in a deck built around these creatures types, these are strong.
Urza’s Factory – Similar to Kjeldoran Outpost, this is also a problem against decks that happily afford the mana. Vitu-Ghazi also belongs here.

With all of these lands that are often considered “safe” getting slapped down, you have to protect yourself. You need to disabuse your opponents of the notion that playing a special land is safe.

I am not suggesting that you run around with four Stone Rains in every deck you play, but you must include some land removal somewhere. Even tossing in Wastelands is an acceptable answer.

Upgrade your removal to options that can take out lands. Vindicate is a perfect example. It can off the annoying Karakas or Academy Ruins when needed. If you run artifact removal in Red, why not move to Pillage, so you can blast a land if it gets out of hand? Creeping Mold is perfectly acceptable as removal.

Make sure your deck is not surprised by a troublesome land which has some ability other than producing mana. Whether your answer is Dust Bowl or Nightscape Battlemage, make sure there is something in your deck that can handle the land.

When It is Acceptable to Go After Mana

In the casual world, there is often a taboo about going after another’s mana. Don’t mess with their mana. Personally, I subscribe to this belief, usually. If you do as well, perhaps you are losing games because of it. You need to know when to go after mana, and when not to go after mana.

Suppose you are playing against Blue/White/Green deck that drops Mirari’s Wake and you have a Naturalize in hand. Are you going to destroy the Mirari’s Wake, or will you leave it around for a few turns? Most likely, you are aiming that Naturalize at the Wake immediately, before the player can untap and use all of that extra mana.

In this case, you are going after their mana. They played a card that let them double their mana, but you destroyed it. Why would you do this? Because there is one time when you can always destroy another’s mana – when they get greedy.

There are some permanents, like Mirari’s Wake and Mana Reflection and Extraplanar Lens, that just show their controller to be greedy. You should take these out when you can. There is a difference between hitting someone’s mana and destroying their greediness. Naturalizing their Sky Diamond is one thing, Naturalizing their Gauntlet of Power is something else entirely.

There are a few lands that are greedy. You always have permission to destroy these lands:

Greedy Mana Lands:

Gaea’s Cradle
Tolarian Academy
Lake of the Dead
Cabal Coffers
Mishra’s Workshop

You also have permission to destroy any land that taps for more than one mana, except for Scorched Ruins and Lotus Vale, because hoops have to be jumped through for those. If someone puts ten counters on a storage land, you have permission to take it out.

You want to allow players to play the game, but you do not want them to abuse their mana, so you have carte blanche to end abuse. You never know when that storage land with ten counters on it will be used to Blaze you for 21 damage, or a Cabal Coffers used to fuel a Drain Life for similar damage. Take out greedy permanents from Land Tax to Carpet of Flowers.

There are some other times you can take out mana.

One important thing to consider is when it costs you nothing. If you play a Hull Breach taking out an opponent’s Sylvan Library, then take out their Thran Dynamo as well, since it costs you nothing. (Do not take out another player’s mana artifact, just theirs. For the reasons why not, check out one of my articles on multiplayer theory here.)

When it costs you nothing, there is no reason not to do it. Sure, you don’t want to play a Hull Breach just to take out a Thran Dynamo, but there is no sense not to waste the ability to do both. (There are also some in-game reasons to have two targets, such as cards like Shunt that only work if the spell has just one target.) Again, remember that you only want to target the same person, not two different people, but if you can, why not?

Another time to take out mana is when there is an in game reason for it. Just this Saturday, at a multiplayer game, Don, one of my opponents, destroyed all of the Black mana another opponent, Bret, had out, and then Capsized with buyback the Guiltfeeder Bret controlled. Now Bret could no longer play the Guiltfeeder. Since Don had no defense for the feared Guiltfeeder, he didn’t just Capsize it, but he took out the Black producing lands so Bret could not replay the threat.

This was a great move on Don’s part, and it kept him alive for a while. It made me wonder. How many times have I had the ability to put myself in a stronger position, but I didn’t see it because it involved messing with another’s mana? Have I missed opportunities similar to the one that Don took advantage of? I have no idea, but I suspect I have.

I became a better player after seeing Don do that trick on Bret, because now I will look for it more. Make sure you are not missing opportunities to win because of your biases. Don would be the first to admit that it would generally be wrong to just start destroying lands, but when there is a valid in-game purpose, then do it.

There seems to be some disagreement on the nature of artifact lands, so let’s make sure we all are on the same page here. If me or an opponent is running artifact lands, only destroy them (with Shatters and whatnot) if they are abusing them. Using them to power out Affinity after Affinity creature and pump a Cranial Plating is abusing them. I have a deck with four of them with a sole purpose of making my Nim Devourer a bit bigger in the front, and since the Nim Devourer is already a 1 toughness creature, I will get upset if you Naturalize my land. If you ascribe to the “don’t mess with mana, usually” theory, then that holds true for artifact lands.

When You Win the Game

Finally, there is a time when it is fine to destroy lands. When you win immediately by doing so. When an opponent played Obliterate, and then the game took forever, we’d get upset. When an opponent played Obliterate, and followed it with Terravore with haste because Anger was in the yard, and the game ended in three turns, then we’d be fine with it.

If you are going to win quickly, then by all means, destroy all lands. If destroying all lands is your way of slowing the game down or initiating a slow win, then don’t.

There are a few land destruction cards that are not fun to play against in a casual setting, and Mr. Sundering Titan leads the list. A few weeks ago I proposed the Titan be on the casual restricted list because all it does is hose color producing lands. It doesn’t go after the cheesy lands out there. It doesn’t hit the powerful legendary or older lands. It just hoses basics and duels. It’s not a fun thing to play against, so don’t run it.

I have a foil one, and I still don’t have it in Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy.

Remember that people are bound by different rules outside of the normal casual purviews. If you are rolling with a land destruction deck at a tournament, or while play testing for a tournament, then that’s fine. There are also some cutthroat casual players out there who do not ascribe to these rules (No uber-combo, no massive LD, no massive counters) and you may play them at a store or during recess or at the student union. That’s alright. Just smile and take it, and don’t play them again. Remember, you have ascribed to the ethic of casual play. You are already a better player because you don’t have to build Flash, Ponza, or Forbidian in order to win.

See you folks next week, when (hopefully) my computer will be back for you, and it will bring an article with it.

Until later…

Abe Sargent