LD for the Whole Family

Posted in Feature on April 4, 2002

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

First, a note about last week's article. A very small, but very vocal, minority have written me assuming my point was that white should have been in Pro Tour - Osaka. Rereading the article with Regionals fervor in mind, I can see the confusion.

House of Cards is meant to 1) provide deck IDEAS to you and 2) remind you of the fun of deckbuilding. I will be barraging you with wacky deck concepts each and every week with these goals in mind.

If your personal nirvana is the Pro Tour, I am guaranteed to frustrate you. Last week was a good reminder to me that a column on deckbuilding -- however irreverent -- runs dangerously close to the crosshairs of a hardcore “strategy” article. Rest assured that I, like all of MagicTheGathering.com, have no mission other than to remind you how fun Magic can be.

Now, land destruction... ho!

Land destruction (LD) is second to combo as the most un-fun way to lose. You won’t make any friends playing LD, and it is the worst thing to pull out of your backpack versus a friend excited about his new deck. Want to quash her enthusiasm? Want to watch his face turn as red as the cards in your hand? Want her to refuse to play you again? Play LD.

For this reason, I’m not the best person to be discussing how to build a solid LD deck. Oh sure, I’ll use Stone Rain on occasion as disruption, but I rarely go out of my way to dedicate a deck’s core strategy to LD. I have this weird hang-up about wanting everyone at the table -- my opponent included -- to have fun during a game of Magic. If I can win with Nantuko Shrine, then my opponent will lose grinning. Big thundering fatties are fun too. LD = not fun. You can probably guess the frequency with which I play pure combo, too.

LD is so frustrating to play against because central to its strategy is denying an opponent mana to play his or her spells. Lose versus a LD deck and you will lose with a hand full of your best spells mocking you.

Deservedly so, red is considered the LD King. It has targeted spells like Avalanche Riders and Pillage. It doles out widespread carnage with Wildfire and Devastating Dreams. Very clearly, red is the color most naturally suited to the LD strategy.

But red isn’t the only color capable of frustrating an opponent’s mana development. Indeed, all five colors can deny an opponent the ability to play spells. Today I’ll focus on some of these non-red LD strategies. My hope is that in the future you will begin to think more broadly and creatively when you think LD.

The colors I list below are roughly from most to least natural in terms of building a dedicated LD deck. As you move down to the bottom of the article, your decks are going to require an increasing amount of innovation to make LD work.

The sample decks within each color are built for Extended for no good reason whatsoever. I figure doing so gives me access to a large card pool and that I haven’t listed Extended decks for a while. So there.

BLACK

Black was born with the most efficient LD spell ever in Sinkhole. More recently, Sinkhole has been replaced by the significantly-neutered Blight. But black still has a host of spells: Rancid Earth, Rain of Tears, Choking Sands, and Icequake, along with some 4cc beauties, like Befoul and Despoil, to blow up land. Add some weenies or a fattie to go along with black’s targeted removal and you have yourself a fine LD deck.

Recurring and widespread LD is something at which black is also proficient. Desolation, Minion of Leshrac, and Trench Wurm can eat land after land. Desolation Angel can blow up all land on the table with a little help from white. And the turn-your-land-into-a-creature-and-Eradicate has always been a fun trick.

But black’s ability to deny mana is surely not restricted to targeted land destruction. Pox and Contamination, for example, need decks built around them but can be hugely proficient at keeping an opponent from playing good spells.

And then there’s the newest LD on legs: Braids, Cabal Minion. Braids can not only rampantly destroy lands, she can actually attack.

(insert evil chuckle here)

Rotting Earth

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GREEN

Green is so good at LD that it even has an Extended LD archetype -- Legion Land Loss (LLL). LLL relies on green’s targeted land destruction like Creeping Mold, Thermokarst, Plow Under, and Winter's Grasp. Certainly such a deck is possible because green has access to as many dedicated LD spells as red and black. Unfortunately for green, it isn’t really allowed any widespread or recurring destruction. Still, toss in a few cheap weenies like River Boa -- or a big fattie like Argothian Wurm -- and you pretty much have yourself a deck.

A few choice artifacts allow you to expand green LD into more creative territories. Imagine, for example, a low-land deck with 1) mana-producing critters like Llanowar Elves, 2) supremely annoying tempo-spells like Fallow Earth and Plow Under and 3) Ankh of Mishra. Oooo... scary.

Or, better yet, imagine a green deck with Smokestack. Like Braids, Cabal Minion, the Smokestack creates an arms race for who can get out the most permanents each turn. Green is not only good at destroying land, it also has the entertaining ability to virtually explode with permanents. For these reasons, I often think of Smokestack as a green spell. Observe...

Green Smoke

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WHITE

White has the single best LD spell ever: Armageddon. You can pretty much include Armageddon as your only LD spell in a deck and still win through the denial of mana. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s pretty good. Armageddon’s little brothers, Catastrophe and Global Ruin, are fairly decent alternatives too.

In addition to the almighty Armageddon, white can use the children of Balance -- Balancing Act and Cataclysm -- to greatly reduce an opponent’s resources. Apparently, white has a bit of a “macho” attitude and forgoes all of that wimpy targeted land destruction for big, splashy effects.

The reason white is so difficult to build around is that apart from the earth-shaking stuff, white is anemic at LD. Benalish Emissary is the only “destroy target land” spell in white, and it requires a green kicker. Limited Resources is interesting but difficult to effectively build around, as are Karmic Justice and Kismet. I’ll even lump Graceful Antelope in the mix as one of white’s only ways to deny mana. Graceful Antelope! It hurts to even think about.

Back to an Armageddon-based idea...

MystiGeddon

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BLUE

Let’s face it, blue pretty much stinks at destroying land. It has the Rishadan crew: Rishadan Cutpurse, Rishadan Footpad, Rishadan Brigand, and Rishadan Port, which can go a long way towards eating land... slowly. Blue can also temporarily get rid of land with spells like Parallax Tide and Shimmer. Other than that, though, blue is pretty much out of luck. Relying on Misdirection, Teferi's Response, and Divert versus opposing LD spells does not count as a LD strategy.

If you extend the idea of LD to mana denial -- following the same thinking as Contamination in black -- then blue starts to look a lot better. Stasis, Rising Waters, and Opposition are probably the best examples, although considering them LD spells is more than a stretch. In fact, don’t do it.

More appropriately, blue can bounce land into an opponent’s hand (and yes, I rhyme all the time) with spells like Boomerang, Hoodwink, and Sunder. Since each player can usually only play one land a turn, this strategy can be just as frustrating as conventional LD.

Because it isn’t getting rid of land for good, blue LD usually needs to rely on artifacts like Ankh of Mishra, Viseling, and Iron Maiden to make its tempo effects sting. But in the right combination, blue LD can really sting...

Blue LD

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Instant (12)
4 Hoodwink 4 Boomerang 4 Sunder
Enchantment (8)
4 Legacy's Allure 4 Parallax Tide
Land (21)
4 Volcanic Island 4 Wasteland 13 Island
Other (4)
4 Fire/Ice
60 Cards

What is particularly fun about blue’s path towards LD is that it requires the most creativity to use well. Unlike a lot of other strategies listed above, it also can be reasonably made without rares:

The Vice

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These are merely some mono-colored ideas. Combining two or more colors leads to a near infinite possibility of LD spells and win conditions. I have even seen a very effective 5c “Domain” deck built with land destruction as its core strategy. Opportunities for creative ways to demoralize your opponent abound.

LD decks can be immensely satisfying to play when they work. They are also an interesting deckbuilding challenge because a) the first several turns usually dictate whether an LD deck will win or lose, and b) LD decks can rely on a variety of different win conditions.

Just remember that building a good LD deck is like hanging a sign on your back that says “smack me in the nose, please.” Enjoying playing LD by cackling with glee is like hanging a sign that says “smack me in the nose HARD, RIGHT NOW!” Many playgroups I’ve seen frown heavily upon LD unless it is both kooky and inconsistent (the same guidelines usually apply to combo decks). Buyer beware.

And for goodness’ sake, don’t play against me with your maniacal contraption. If you do, I’ll probably read that sign on your back veeeery carefully.

Next week: Back to basics.

-j

Jay may be reached at houseofcards@wizards.com.

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