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Monday, November 9, 2009

Grim Tidings #17: The Need for Selective Land Destruction in H5C

(Contributed by John Kozlowski)

Can your Deck easily respond to these six cards?



If not, you might have a serious problem.

Roadblocks
Over the last few weeks, I’ve taken it upon myself to build a second Highlander 5-Color deck to add variety to my group’s gaming experience. I think I’ve succeeded in a small part with an influx of new cards and interactions. Aside this project though, I’ve tried to pay attention to the cards that most frequently seem to clog up the tempo of our multi-player efforts, and come to this conclusion: Lands are hard to deal with.

In the overall hierarchy of permanents and how easy it is to remove them from play, I generally assign an order from easiest to hardest of permanents to deal with, based on the number and versatility of regular spells I play with in everyday games.

Artifact Creatures (Easiest)
Creatures
Planeswalkers
Artifacts
Enchantments
Lands (Hardest)

I base this hierarchy on the fact that people generally play more dedicated creature removal in their decks (Swords to Plowshares), as opposed to dedicated artifact/enchantment removal (Disenchant), as opposed to dedicated land destruction (Stone Rain). In fact, I don’t know when the last time I’ve seen Stone Rain in anyone’s main deck. It seems people generally just don’t want to run it in casual circles.

That’s fine, really. I don’t want to be on the wrong end of 4x Stone Rains, 4x Sinkholes, 4x Ice Storm, 4x Wasteland either. Most people agree it’s not very fun to not be unable to cast any of your spells when you’re just trying to kick back for a night of Magic with friends. This philosophy though has resulted in an unfortunate side effect though when problem lands, like the six mentioned above dominate a game with recursive card advantage and/or establish an impenetrable defense.

The Solution
It’s pretty simple where I’m heading with this. Unless you really enjoy spending hours upon hours in long drawn out stalemates, where people are as likely to concede due to time constraints rather than dying to lethal damage, I'm urging you to play more selective land destruction.

There are a lot of options out there to serve this role.

Land-based LD
Strip Mine: This is the best of the best., and there’s a reason it’s restricted. It can target any land, including basics. Since it’s a land itself, it has no casting cost, and can be used on turn 1. It is the ultimate for selective destruction and mana denial.

Wasteland, Ghost Quarter, and Dustbowl are the other land-based LD alternatives. I run all of them in First Reminder, as they are nearly as good as Strip Mine for the use I normally want to get out of them. Ghost Quarter is probably the friendliest of the four, as it replaces your opponent’s land with a basic to keep them from being mana screwed.

I strongly recommend that these four cards are essential for each and every 5C deck.

Creature-based LD
Let’s face facts: If you are playing a 300-card highlander deck, those four LD cards won’t be enough to take care of your problems. The six lands mentioned cards at the beginning of this article are so good, people usually go out of their way to tutor for them and get them into play as soon as possible. If you’re really hoping a lucky top-deck will get you out of this mess, you will be sorely disappointed.

I think the next best avenue to do selective LD comes in the form of creatures, Creatures with come-into-play LD abilities offer you card advantage, in the form of the creature itself. I’ve always felt one of the best creature for this effect was Avalanche Riders. It immediately fufills it’s primary purpose by destroying that pesky land. Admittedly, the Echo cost is a nuisance, but at least the Riders have Haste to attack immediately if desired.

Goblin Ruinblaster is the next best creature in this category. It’s similar to Avalanche Riders, but since the LD is tied to paying a Kicker cost, you cannot recur the effect with other cards like Recurring Nightmare or Reveillark. Its still pretty good though.

Beyond these, there is a plethora of other red creatures that destroy a land when they enter the battlefield. These are a great choices, because red is traditionally the worst/hardest color to find quality cards in 5C decks. Consider Faultgrinder, Ravenous Baboons, Goblin Settler, Ravaging Horde, and Orge Arsonist just to name a few.

Red isn’t the only color that can destroy a land either. Acidic Slime is a prime choice to fulfill the LD role. Both Angel of Despair and Archon of Justice possess the ability to remove troublesome lands from the battlefield in a pinch. Do not overlook these solutions.

Activated Ability LD
Dwarven Blast Miner has recently surfaced on my “watch list” as a potential repeatable LD outlet. Its naturally cheap, has some flexibility with Morph, and can repeatedly destroy a non-basic land for R2. Similarly, Dwarven Miner does the same thing, without the Morph.

Fulminator Mage has an attractive hybrid mana cost, yet sacrifices itself for the LD effect. I don’t rank it highly, but it gets the job done.

Legacy Weapon is another LD alternative, despite its expensive casting and activation cost. It is extremely versatile though because it can remove any permanent, so don’t rule it out as a solid option.

Spell-based LD
The problem with spell based land destruction is that it is pretty narrow. Most of them are sorceries, and only say one thing: Destroy target land. Here is a list of unique ones that contribute to some unique aspect of card advantage or versatility:

Sinkhole (Cheapest Casting at only BB)
Sowing Salt (Exile)

Wrecking Ball (Land or Creature)
Pillage (Land or Artifact)
Creeping Mold (Land, Art. or Enchantment)
Vindicate (Any Permanent)

Read and Sow (Land Tutor)
Implode (Cantrip)
Molten Rain (Additional 2 Damage)
Earth Rift (Flashback
Lay Waste (Cycling)
Flowstone Flood (Buyback)
Incendiary Command (Flexibility)


Global Land Destruction
Hey, don’t be a dick about it. Unless you’re playing in a duel, don’t be an ass and nuke the entire board. Cards like Armageddon, Catastrophe, and Ruination aren’t necessarily the best LD choices for group games in terms of having fun. Be nice.




Crucible of Worlds & Life from the Loam


I would be remiss in a focused land destruction article if I didn’t mention two of the most maligned land recursion spells ever printed. Probably due to the fact that people generally run so few maindeck LD spells to begin with, having to deal with the same land twice becomes even more difficult. If you see either of these two cards, you might want to find a solution to them first before wasting your precious (limited) LD on a Maze of Ith just to see it come right back. Crucible and LftL cause a lot of headaches.

Recommendations
So how many LD spells are too many, and how many are just right for a 300 card deck?

Honestly, I don’t know. It depends on your metagame, and your deck’s ability to draw extra cards or tutor.

In First Reminder I am running ten LD solutions: Strip Mine, Wasteland, Dustbowl, Ghost Quarter, Acidic Slime, Avalanche Riders, Angel of Despair, Archon of Justice, Vindicate and Catastrophe. I only run six in Second Reminder. I think that’s probably too few.

I’ve observed in average multiplayer game of H5C, I typically draw about 40-45 cards of my deck. With only 10 LD solutions in a 300 card deck, I am likely to only see one of those solutions per game. Of course tutors improve these odds, but when the need for a LD solution is multiplied by the number of opponents you face in a multiplayer game, the density of LD solutions is that much more critical so that you can respond in a timely fashion.

I’m going to add in a few more LD solution in the coming weeks, to see if it helps me break through the defensive stalemates or abusive recursion I’ve suffered through recently. Hopefully this article will inspire others to recognize the importance of maindeck LD in their own H5C, and collectively, we can improve the gaming experience together.

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