Mass Land Destruction Isn't the Problem; You Are

Dana Roach • July 7, 2021

Mass Land Destruction (MLD) is not well liked in our format. It's the Game of Thrones season 8 of EDH, the Jason Todd of of Commander, our very own version of the year 2020.

I get it, too. Nobody like their Magic game to consist of not playing Magic. It's the same reason why things like hand hate, stax, heavy creature theft, and "lolz this Baral deck has 43 counterspells" aren't terribly beloved ways to play the game.

But I'm not sure the problem is the destruction of all your lands so much as it is the when, why, and how it often gets done. Don't misunderstand; I still don't like losing my ability to cast things. That's not the real salt in the wound, however. It's thta MLD evangels are often their own worst enemy when it comes to giving MLD a bad reputation with how they play.

That's something that's entirely solvable. So if you're someone who wants to see MLD become less taboo in EDH there are some things you can do to make that pill easier to swallow.

First though we should look at what kind of land destruction tends to generate problems with people, and what doesn't.


Not All Destruction is Created Equal

Targeted land destruction is not the same as mass land destruction. Sure, on occasion you'll see someone blow up an opponents land in a way designed to keep them off a card. I myself have hit an opponent's one blue source during my upkeep to keep them off a possible counterspell. I can think of incidents where I've removed a source to keep a player from being able to cast their terrifying commander as well.

Things like Maze of Ith and Glacial Chasm are also common targets. Both will making combat step wins very difficult.

By and large, targeted land removal is used to deal with problem lands that will create an insurmountable advantage. If you don't have a way to deal with a Cabal Coffers most of the time you're just going to lose. The same is true of Gaea's Cradle, Serra's Sanctum, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, etc. Anyone upset you're trading a Tectonic Edge for a Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle in a landfall deck probably isn't someone worth taking seriously.

Things get a little more gray when you're talking mass land effects. Yes, Blood Moon and Back to Basics can shut you down, but they're also fairly easy to dodge. I personally can't think of a time when I've gotten wrecked by either where it wasn't my fault for not running more basics. That's a little trickier in a four or five-color deck, but maybe folding hard to a Magus of the Moon is the price you pay for having a perfect mana base and access to every legal card in the format.


Make MLD Okay Again

We're talking Mass Land Destruction here, meaning you're getting rid of all the lands. This isn't a precise surgical strike with a cutting instrument; it's putting half a ton of dynamite in a whale carcass. Everyone at the table is going to get hit with raining chunks blubber.

How unpopular is MLD in Commander? As far as I can tell, Armageddon is the most popular land sweeper online, and it's in just over 5,300 decks on EDHREC. There are 16 cards from Zendikar Rising in more decks than Armageddon, a card that has been in print for 28 more years.

So how do you minimize the fallout from such a blast and make getting covered with bits of whale more palpable to folks in your pod? Well, you can start by paying attention to the following axioms.


1. Use It To Win the Game

As I mentioned, there are few things less fun to do in Magic than watching someone else play Magic while you're helpless. This right here is the root of the problem; people who blow up lands with no way to close things out.

Nobody wants to watch you fiddle around with your cards. You aren't that interesting frankly, and people wasting time is IMO the main reason Paradox Engine ate a ban.

My rule of thumb is that you should be able to end things in three turns. At the very least make it real clear that it's going to be ending shortly thereafter. A Zurgo Helmsmasher might take a couple extra swings to polish everyone off, but the writing is pretty clearly on the wall. Where things tend to go pear-shaped is when the lands go bye-bye for no reason other than a soft reboot. At that point you're adding an extra game's worth of time to your game. That extra game tends to be pretty uninteresting as everyone struggles to rebuild.

And no, MLD with no win plan isn't a way to "slow up green ramp" either. They'll just start ramping again, Heroic Intervention through it, or just start using MLD better than your non-green deck ever possibly could. The A's weren't the only team that could play Moneyball, and the rest did it with 10x the payroll. Plus you'll just wind up screwing over every other non-green deck at the table further enabling Rampy McRamperson.

Often people who dislike MLD cite experiences with this sort of thing as the reason they don't like it. Give them less examples of this reason, and you may see the tides shift.


2. Give Advanced Warning

We should all be having the Rule 0 conversation before every game no matter what. A few months back I went over in detail just what info I like to share during this conversation. You can find the article here.

This is especially important when playing with MLD, and more so when playing with people you don't know. I understand how it may seem unfair to be expected to give away a win condition. Isn't the end goal here to make MLD more acceptable though? What do you think is going to help with that, warning people in advance or just blowing up their lands out of nowhere?

You don't need to go into great detail or anything. Simply tell your opponents that your deck has ways to destroy all lands. Let them know it's part of your strategy to win shortly thereafter. This gives them a chance to opt out, and it paints you as an honest person. Is that going to cost you games? Maybe. Is it going to keep from creating more anti-MLD people? Probably.


3. Be an Ambassador


This section was originally titled "Don't be an eggplant emoji." "Be an ambassador" is more apt, if less funny. I see people who stray from this all the time when they talk about MLD on Twitter.

"They can't cast spells if they don't have lands, lols".

"Nothing is more hilarious than Armageddon into Tabernacle."

That's not to say you shouldn't talk trash to your friends if that's what y'all are into. You absolutely should do whatever is appropriate to your friend group. But what is appropriate to them might play a whole lot differently to a stranger. Nothing will cement someone's position against losing to MLD faster than losing to someone who mocks your inability to play.

Being a good ambassador probably applies to most situations, but it definitely applies to one where you're about to unleash one of the most hated playstyles in the format.


4. Roll With the Punches


If you want other players to not be salty about losing their lands to mass land destruction, you need to make sure the NaCl doesn't flow when your plans backfire. One of the worst reactions I've ever seen in a game was when I single-target Cyclonic Rifted the caster's Avacyn, Angel of Hope in response to her MLD spell. It wasn't just a spite play, either; I had four rocks out and another in hand along with my next two land drops. She had no artifact mana and an empty grip. I was able to turn her spell into a win within a few turns, but she was vocally not happy about it.

Similarly, cards like Teferi's Protection (34,379 decks on EDHREC) and Heroic Intervention (54,217 decks) turn most advantages you might gain into more advantage for them.

When any of these things happen, the onus is on you to be the good sport, fairly or unfairly.


This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land

If you follow these four guidelines am I going to enjoy playing against Mass Land Destruction? No, not really. It still feels pretty bad. I'll play against you though, and I'll have a good attitude, and I think that's true of most people.

If you have any comments or suggestions for what people can do to make the MLD medicine go down a little smoother please sound off below, and thanks!

Dana is one of the hosts of the EDHRECast and the CMDR Central podcasts. He lives in Eau Claire, WI with his wife and son where he has been playing Magic so long he once traded away an Underground Sea for a Nightmare, and was so pleased with the deal he declined a trade-back the following week. He also smells like cotton candy and sunsets.