Land Destruction Week

Posted in ARTICLES on April 5, 2002

By Randy Buehler

I’m gonna start out this week by letting you in on a secret of mine: I hate land destruction. Can’t stand it. I think I was scarred as a newbie player when I was trying to get my Lord of the Pit/Breeding Pit deck to work and my roommate had just discovered a nice little card named Sinkhole.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind playing with land destruction spells. I won the North American Type 1 Championship one year with a Necro deck sporting four Sinkholes and four Gorilla Shamans because they just seemed unfair. As a player, I sought out the unfair cards because those were the ones that gave me the best chance of beating my opponent. Even then, however, I felt a little bit guilty deep down inside because I could tell that my opponent wasn’t having any fun sitting there, letting me pluck cards out of his hand with my Hypnotic Specter even though he had CoP: Black in play because he couldn’t generate even a single mana.

In my current role of lead developer for Magic, I’m no longer primarily concerned with who wins, but rather with making sure the whole experience of playing Magic is fun. The guy who wins usually does have more fun than the guy who loses a Magic duel, but it’s not always completely lopsided. When I lose because I’m attacked with an enormous dragon, I usually can’t help but smile. Dragons are cool and fun, even when my opponent has them. Land destruction, on the other hand, is rarely either cool or fun.

Basically, I don’t think Magic is fun when only one person can play his or her spells. I also hate fast combo decks, for pretty much the same reason. Both combo decks and land destruction decks turn Magic into a solitaire game, where one person’s strategy is designed to prevent the other player from ever getting started. While I do think it’s kind of neat to have bizarre decks running around, keeping things interesting, I don’t think these particular decks make for the most fun games.

This is why, as long as I’m on watch here, you won’t see us printing land destruction cards at particularly aggressive casting costs. We don’t want a dedicated land destruction deck to become a regular feature of tournament play.

That said, I do think land destruction has a useful role to play in the game of Magic and I don’t mind when it shows up occasionally – I just want it to be the exception rather than the rule. As the occasional weird strategy that you might run into, I like the way it keeps people honest. As Anthony explained nicely, even in multiplayer you want some sort of check that prevents people from playing all bombs, all the time. I also think there should be land destruction spells around that are good enough to serve as answers to annoying lands (or enchant lands).

For example, when our playtesting of Odyssey-Torment constructed showed that Squirrel Nest was really important to the metagame, we added Rancid Earth to Torment. We wanted to make sure that if people were really worried about Squirrel Nest, there was a card available to them that could serve as a decent answer. Pro Tour - Osaka showed that we had a decent read on the metagame. Squirrel Nest was indeed very good (and showed up in the winning deck), but there were also many copies of Rancid Earth running around (including the second-place deck) and that helped keep the mono-green squirrel decks in check.

I also don’t mind when decks run land destruction as a mini-theme. Some of the funkier green decks that have shown up have used Creeping Mold and Plow Under just to disrupt the opponent and slow them down. Wildfire has also had an interesting effect on constructed tournaments over the years, as has Armageddon.

What I don’t think is good for Magic is when a single-minded land destruction deck is one of the elite decks. Twentyish land destruction cards plus the primary goal of blowing up every single land the opponent plays as soon as he plays it just isn’t fun. Magic should be more interactive than those decks allow it to be.

All in all, Stone Rain is as efficient as “destroy target land” is going to get. LD will stay red-centered, with periodic “bleeds” into green and black. Expensive, game-changing cards will sometimes show up in various colors, but the days of Sinkhole are -- rightfully -- long gone.

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