Land destruction is the bogeyman of EDH. Nobody likes it, few people run it, and a lot of places outright ban it.
And for good reason – most of the time, somebody drops Armageddon or Jokulhaups, and the table grinds to a slow, tedious crawl. Even the ‘fair’ ones like Wave of Vitriol or Ruination are often passed over by people building decks, just because they skirt a little too close to the taboo of Mass Land Destruction.
Yes, this is a casual format. This is a game where the goal is making sure everyone has fun first, but it’s also a game with a clear winner at the end. Mass land destruction can make you that clear winner, but often it completely brushes aside the goal of everyone having fun.
I’m here to say that it doesn’t have to. I believe it is possible to have all of your lands blown up during a game, and still manage to have a great time.
TEARING IT ALL DOWN
In most cases, passing over land destruction when building is the right idea. We’re all here to play; taking the ability to do anything away from people is rarely a ticket to a good time. Even for you – the one who blows up all of the lands – it’s usually a queasy, guilt-ridden stroll to the finish line. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and yeah, you won, but you feel the need to apologise afterward.
This is the general consensus for most EDH players, and as a result, nobody plays against land destruction. People get lazy and run the bare minimum number of lands. They play one every turn, even when they already have enough out to cast anything in their deck. People are cautious not to overextend with creatures, artifacts, and enchantments…but not with land.
Nonetheless, everyone agrees that cards like Cabal Coffers need to die, so targeted land destruction gets a thumbs-up and most players pack a few pieces to take care of problems like that. Some lands just need to go – and that’s fine. But nobody thinks to protect basics, or hold some back in hand just in case because they are not threatened.
I want you to take a moment, and think about that.
(Bear with me; this is a dark and spooky path I’m about to lead you down.)
BURNING DOWN THE FOREST FOR THE TREES
EDH makes us soft. We’ve gotten used to being able to do what we want at a table, and only having the most egregious plays halted by a Counterspell. We expect fair answers to our ridiculously unfair threats, and we don’t like being locked out of resources. That softness and expectation of ‘fair’ play makes us worse Magic players. You simply can’t take the skills or the mindset from an EDH game to Legacy and expect to do well. Even Standard is far more cutthroat than the meanest EDH tables.
Yes, we get the flashiest toys, but having that access means we don’t appreciate them the way we should.
Land destruction, and especially mass land destruction, forces us to be better players. Knowing that your land base could be threatened forces you to make better decisions at every stage, from building to playing. You’re more likely to put some mana rocks in your deck, and pad a few extra lands in there. During a game, land drops go from “Oh, yeah, land for the turn!” to “Do I really need this extra Forest in play right now? She’s got white available, and she’s playing it conservative with her lands…” Mass land destruction forces decisions and makes you pay more attention to what’s happening at the table. Somebody is rushing out ahead? Start holding lands back; they are about to blow everything up. Let them overextend their creatures, and you can use your mana rocks to respond with a Wrath of God after they Armageddon.
Because nobody is prepared for it, the first few times you drop a mass-LD spell, nobody will be able to recover. It is vital that you handle this properly. If you’re going to do this (and I should stress that I am NOT advocating mass-LD for no good reason; it is something that absolutely has to serve a purpose) – you should do it well. Most people think of Armageddon or Jokulhaups as a nuclear bomb. It can be, but it is much more of a surgical strike. Think of Armageddon like Wrath of God; a tool that not every deck needs, but one that can be used to win games.
ERASING REAL ESTATE FOR FUN AND PROFIT
If you’re going to blow up all of the lands, make sure you can win. If not right away, then at least quickly.
If you take away everybody’s land and then lose the game, you deserve the derision and scorn that will follow. You’ve made it un-fun – and you should feel bad. But if you ramp out early and wipe all the lands while floating the mana to cast a Bloodbraid Elf, you’ve positioned yourself to win the game quickly. You’ve cleared the road, and you’ve placed your war machine into overdrive.
Even on the receiving end of that play, I wouldn’t be mad.
However, note that the land destruction was just a piece of that play. The important part of that was the spell that followed. The LD was paired with other effects, each of which advanced the game forward. This creates tension in your opponents, and sets a swift clock on the game. Facing down a 3/2 when you have no mana is no different than facing down a 10/10 trampler when you have no removal; it just feels different because of the stigma attached to land destruction.
“Oh, I could have dealt with that if I just had the mana.”
…Well, you didn’t have the mana; that’s why I took it away – for the same reason that I would counter your spell, or give my guy hexproof.
Really, it’s the ultimate Counterspell. It prevents your opponents from stopping you, and provides you with a clear path to victory. I would argue that it’s more fair than Counterspell, because at least you don’t get your hopes crushed after you cast your answer. You just know that you can’t do anything, and you’re left with the tension and excitement of trying to pull your game out of the fire.
SIFTING THROUGH THE RUBBLE
After the first few games you run mass land destruction, you will find that your group changes. They will become more cautious and calculating. They will hold back spells and not over-develop board presence, and read the table a lot better. They build up slowly, and swing in massive, sudden alpha strikes out of nowhere. It becomes less a game of who can hold on the longest, and more a game of WHO IS THE BETTER MAGIC PLAYER. And that’s really what should determine the outcome of the game.
Of course, you also run a risk here. Mass land destruction is a huge, flashy play. If you wipe all lands and then win the game, less experienced players may see that and assume that it was the Armageddon that won. This leads to people using mass land destruction incorrectly; it breeds players who wipe the board just because they can, and don’t understand why it doesn’t win them the game or why everyone stops playing with them. This is a teaching moment, and the social contract comes heavily into play here.
You also run the risk of running into a jerk who sees the Armageddon on the stack and decides to blow up all artifacts at the same time with a Fracturing Gust or similar effect. When this happens, people will look at you as the cause because of the land destruction stigma. My suggestion in this case is to calmly explain what your plan to win was, and how the other player has ruined it while gathering up your board and shuffling up for the next game.
With that in mind, I would recommend you not run mass land destruction in a new group. Or with new players. It is an advanced play, and is suited only to us old crusty players that remember playing against Ernhamgeddon and Prosbloom decks. We remember Black Summer, and we know how to play against Stax decks. This is something we learned over the years, and had we been hit with it early on in our Magic careers, it may well have turned us off the game altogether.
So don’t run it just because you can…but don’t skip it just because you’ve been told nobody should play it. It’s a viable strategy, and one you should explore when the opportunity arises. But like any other tool, it has a place.
When it is used effectively and correctly, it’s amazing.
When used poorly, it makes everybody miserable.
The trick is knowing the difference.