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Sorry I... Didn't Finish Your Land Cycle (Bonus)


Hey! You all seemed to like the first two articles, and popular demand, uh, demanded that I address some of the other almost-cycles of lands. I'm going to focus on the ones that actually produce two colors of mana, because otherwise, you could argue for just about any land cycle that has its members doing different stuff, like Tolarian Academy or Tolaria West. Or Tolaria, the anti-banding land that somehow has two of the best places to visit as part of it while still managing to be the one of the most useless lands in all of Magic. Kind of like Dominaria's version of Italy.

Also, turns out you all like the Odyssey filter lands like Sungrass Prairie way more than I do. Apparently, most two-color Commander decks hate basic lands in the same way Wizards hates enemy colors, and we haven't yet hit dual land super-critical mass, so these are still in a lot of decks. Even some three-color Commander players chimed in to defend them and said they'd run three of them if they could, but those people are clearly the grand-nephews of Evel Knievel or something. So, overall, I'd upgrade those to a 6 out of 10 on the reprint scale. Which means it'll now be a full 10 years before we finish the good unfinished cycles!

But wait! After reading my first article, Wizards sensed what cycle I would rate as most-wanted and held several all-company all-nighters to add the enemy-color fast lands into Kaladesh at the last minute. So, they preempted me a bit there, but that does get them back down to (probably) less than a decade to get all the lands we want, so there's that.

 

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The Tainted land cycle is kind of great, but having an uber-cycle for the other colors just isn't going to happen. Here are a couple of reasons why:

1) Wizards can't give us five enemy-color Mirage fetch lands after 20 years. There's no way they'll be able to find the time to give us the full 16 (!) lands and base a cycle around each color.
2) We'd probably need four separate sets each focused around a different color, and Wizards just doesn't do that anymore.
3) The color white in Magic ruins everything.

We can imagine how lands become tainted with black mana. You know, it just happens sometimes, like to Bad River. One minute, people are taking Sunday pleasure cruises on them, and the next minute, they're stealing Grandma's silverware to sell for more black mana, and then it's vultures eating corpses everywhere. The flavor of becoming tainted really works, and in the "black set" that Torment was, they fit great.

Similarly, I could imagine how overgrown stuff could be infused with green mana, how lighting everything on fire could infuse it with red mana, and how flooding it could infuse it with blue mana. Though having a flooded mountain is kind of odd, and a flooded swamp is basically just a Swamp, though it does kind of make me think of a backed-up sewer. That's a freebie, flavor guys. Anyway, there are a few weird-flavor ones, but if you squint, you can probably make it work.

But not for white. What could you possibly have the color white do to all of the other landscapes that would make them obnoxiously infused with white's philosophy? Here's what I could come up with:

  • Paved Forest: We paved over your forest, so now we have a place to park our rideshare Volkswagen van.
  • More Boring Island: We bought all of the waterfront property to set up beachfront communes. Sorry that it's a more boring island for the rest of you.
  • Gentrified Swamp: We gentrified your bio-diverse swamp, and now it's a thrift store and a food co-op.
  • Leveled Mountain: We decided your mountain was inconvenient both to look at and drive across, so we spent 10 years leveling it and turning it into hand-made artisan jewelry.

These are just some of the ways in which the color white sucks. You totally know this is all stuff that white would get up to if the other colors let it. White compulsively needs to civilize everything and make it more boxy-shaped for the people it likes. Somehow, I don't think Wizards is going to go for any of these adjectives, so the cycle can never move forward and all of the other colors know who's to blame for keeping them from getting cool uncommon lands.

Art-wise, they're all pretty cool except for Tainted Field, because again the color white sucks. The others, you know, actually show us landscapes that resemble their names and stuff. But no, white has to use its art history degree and be all, "if it's not inspired by postmodern Pre-Raphaelite impressionism, it's crap." We get some kind of abstract thing where maybe it's a field or maybe it's a naked cyclops-woman lying on her side with some spilled ice cream next to her. No one knows, and that's on purpose because this is ART with a capital "A," baby. All we really needed to see was some rotted corn, Tainted Field.

To do the uber-cycle, you'd really need another four sets that are each heavily based around a single color like Torment was, but MaRo has said they are done with the "gimmick" sets like Torment and Legions and Alara Reborn for all time. (Though if "All Your Friends Get to Open Expeditions" and "Everything's Colorless, Even Though It Clearly Isn't" aren't gimmicks, I'm not sure what is.) So, really, mono-color Commander decks are the only "mono-color-focused" thing they do anymore where these lands could possibly fit... but, uh, you might want to sit down. I have some bad news about the Commander rules...

FINISH THIS CYCLE!: 2 out of 10. Also, technically, this cycle was complete. The missing member is Cabal Coffers, which is like the swampiest Swamp that ever swamped. (Before the angry posts, yes, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth can share the crown of swampiest Swamp that ever swamped.)

 

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This land is absolutely gorgeous. It's one of my all-time favorite dual land arts, and it was even my desktop for quite a while. So, that part's all good. The design is also fine. It's very similar to the Tainted lands—it comes into play untapped, makes colorless mana for Eldrazi, and has a reasonable chance of sometimes making colored mana. It also apparently saw some recent Modern play in U/W control builds. At least, it jumped from $8 to $35 in the span of 10 days in June for no other reason that I can figure. Maybe some rich guy decided to wallpaper his den with them and bought everyone out. If I were rich, I'd definitely consider it.

So, it's great, right? Well... the problem is more one of initial concept than execution.

So, you're a mighty wizard and you've just made an awe-inspiring maze in the sky. Based on the flavor text of "To find its center is to find one's own," you actually do want actual people to actually walk through this maze and receive some kind of vague spiritual enlightenment if they finish. Just a few small issues that I see.

1) Your maze is a couple of miles up in the sky.
2) Your maze is made of clouds.

So, first, you'll need to float whoever you want to walk this maze up into the sky. Then, you need to somehow make their floating powers very specific, so that they can only walk along the plane of the maze and not float over or under it. Then, you should probably give them some extra oxygen to breathe, since they've likely already fainted.

Then, after all that is done—and I can't stress this enough—you absolutely have to give them a "Can't Walk through Water Vapor" charm so they can't, you know, JUST WALK DIRECTLY TO THE CENTER OF THE MAZE BECAUSE IT'S MADE OF FRICKIN' CLOUDS.

Making a maze out of clouds is like trying to make a maze out of "the concept of fortuitousness" or "great Irish political speeches" or something. It's kind of nebulous by definition. Unless this is a maze for baby mosquitoes suffering from vertigo, I don't think you could have chosen a less practical place or less practical material to construct your maze out of.

FINISH THIS CYCLE!: 5 out of 10. That being said, from a design standpoint, it is one of the more practical cycles to actually finish someday if they get bored. Hmm... you know, reading this article series, you might think I have something against clouds, but that's just not true. I know many nice clouds. Clouds have been, and will always be, our friends. (PAID FOR BY THE AMERICAN COUNCIL ON CLOUD RELATIONS)

 

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Ah, River of Tears. Truly one of the weirdest dual lands ever made. Some people ask for this cycle to be complete, fully aware that it would take 19 (!) more lands to complete this cycle. Those people are living on the knife's edge of sanity. At the rate that Wizards completes land cycles, you would have enough time to awkwardly date for years, mess that up, awkwardly date again, fall in love, get married, have children, and have them go to college before we get half of this cycle.

It has an astonishing 19 other possibilities because this cycle is truly unique among dual lands, in that it doesn't have the symmetric property. You can't exchange the two mana symbols and end up with the same land. Somewhere out there, some insane person's life won't be complete until they own a land that adds black mana—unless you played a land; then, it adds blue.

Also, it seems to me that no one has ever really been sure what to do with this land. Is it good? How many should you run? No one ever seemed to conclusively figure it out. Some people swear it's the greatest thing since Underground Sea and put it into all of their Faerie decks. No one sits with these people at lunch.

I just literally don't believe that Wizards can come up with 19 more dual land names. They just don't have it in them. They just decided to call a white / black FAST land Concealed Courtyard—on purpose. That's what we've come to. That's pretty much throwing in the towel on trying to match dual land flavor right there.

FINISH THIS CYCLE!: 1 out of 10. First, all of the current members of Wizards R&D would have to be hit by a bus. Then, that bus would have to be hit by another larger bus. Then, the passengers on that larger bus would have to be Magic players on a field trip from the psych institution where they spend their hollow lives waiting for land cycles to be completed.

 

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Nope. Just nope. "Hey, you remember that land that led to years of repetitive, unfun board states and almost entirely banished small creature decks in several formats? Well, they want NINE more of them!" *uproarious laughter from the dev team*

Yes, yes, you can blame it on Punishing Fire all you want, but there's inherently something broken about giving your opponent a free resource every time you tap a land. Forbidden Orchard has the exact same problem, only it wins Vintage events instead. You could design a land that gives your opponent a +1/+1 counter or an energy counter or a Clue or even a nickel every time you tapped it, and there's still a Magic card somewhere, now or in the future, that will make it into a combo-riffic drawback.

The existence of this one land already hampers design and development moving forward. They need to be careful about effects that punish an opponent's lifegain for pretty much the rest of Magic's entire existence. There's just no way that Wizards wants to allow you to be able to run entire decks with this effect. The dev team has probably already spent hours making sarcastic memes for MaRo.

Also, how would the flavor work on the rest of this cycle? It's not exactly like they hit it out of the ballpark the first time with Grove of the Burnwillows. "Uh, there's a bunch of trees that have, like, fire or something instead of leaves, and like, using this burning-tree mana somehow gives your opponents some life, I guess?" How did the red / green land—when red would rather punch itself in the face than give anyone life—end up as this design, when the art and name of Horizon Canopy—the green / white land (you know, the lifegain colors)—could easily have been switched with this one? No one knows.

And, man, how annoying would a full cycle of these be in Commander? "Ok, I'm going to attack and kill Johnny." *pause* "Mmm... nope, sorry, you all can have five life from my lands, again." *pause* "Oh, you're attacking Johnny? Here's three more life from me, I like Johnny." *anguished shriek from attacking player*

FINISH THIS CYCLE!: 0.01 out of 10. I think Wizards would have to be swallowed up by a magical hyper-intelligent whale that hates fun before they go back and make more of this disaster.

 


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Speaking of the devil, here's yet another super-expensive combo-riffic land. A Mana Confluence that doesn't give you three of the colors and has the amazing bonus ability of  "cycling from play" for the same cost that "cycling from your hand" would normally run. Yeah, it's great in just about any non-control deck, which is basically the definition of the Modern format. If they made a full cycle, it might be the only cycle ever in which the blue lands are not the best ones by default.

Again, I'd like point out how Horizon Canopy talks about nice "sweet and spicy scents" yet costs you life instead of gaining it, and Grove of the Burnwillows literally has giant flaming lava trees on it yet doesn't cost anyone life but gains life instead? Did the text boxes get switched and the flavor guys just sort of shrug and go back to trying to register Wizards as a medical research company so they could order pet monkeys by the dozen?

Here's its sister card from the kind-of-fun Planechase thing, where they decided that what Magic was really missing was the ability to spend your entire turn paying mana to roll dice. (To be fair, they weren't 100% wrong.)

So I looked up "Pyrulea" in the Magic story wiki. Turns out it's neither Angel's "Pylea" nor Link's "Hyrule" nor some kind of awesome mash-up between them. Though, man, how great would a Zelda game set in the Buffyverse be? Anyway...

Turns out it's a good thing that "The great leaves are resilient underfoot and that heavy steps do not bruise them." This is not a normal giant-tree planet like I had always assumed it was. No, this is a Dyson sphere made entirely of giant trees and their interwoven leaves that completely surrounds their sun at a distance of several million miles. That's why it's all curving up in the distance. So, if you did step through the leaves, you would probably be sucked into interstellar space, and so would all of the other birds and people in the immediate area. So yeah. Mr. Planeswalker, maybe try not to bruise the only thing keeping everyone you've met from inadvertently staging a re-creation of the end of Alien. Or Aliens. Or Alien: Resurrection—take your pick. Man, that series had a thing about being sucked into space.

I have been *ahem* known to gently poke fun at Magic flavor in my day, but I have to give them props here. Impracticalities aside (Do the leaves turn brown once a year and shrivel up and then everyone asphyxiates? Do the tree roots just sort of hang out in the interstellar void?), this is pretty awesome and way more interesting than just another giant-tree planet. Gold star, flavor guys. Have your mothers hang it on the fridge.

Also, the clouds [CENSORED BY THE AMERICAN COUNCIL ON CLOUD RELATIONS' MILITANT ARM—THE CLOUDNISTAS]

FINISH THIS CYCLE!: 3 out of 10. I do think this is less harmful and more likely than Grove of the Burnwillows to be printed, but I still don't think it's going to happen. This land is pretty great in constructed by itself, and casual players hate spending life. And, you can only add so many of these to a deck before you're at 10 life on Turn 4.

 

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This one really annoys me. Yes, it was Lorwyn and everything tied flavorfully to creature types whose secondary colors were chosen dartboard-style, but c'mon, couldn't you at least have tried to balanced the colors? Just a bit? Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash managed to mix ally- and enemy-color lands in the same set and managed to keep everything balanced. Here, for some reason, we have three black lands but only one green land. That's just... very irksome.

To print more of these, all we really need to think about is what creature types we'd want, and then what nursery-rhyme words like "Stinkdrinker" and "Feudkiller and "Oona" we need to make up for the flavor text of the missing lands, but we can have our three-year-olds work on that later. (Cheer for Fartsmasher the Ugly!) Now, Lorwyn very specifically used "creature types" and not "classes" like Wizard, Soldier, etc., so we should probably try and stick with that.

  • White–Black: Angel. No Clerics. Maybe you could squint and do Zombies? They're certainly one of the top creature types without one of these lands. But that doesn't feel great; there are not a lot of white zombies. So, I think you need to use Angels here. Sorry, Zombies and other black races like Vampires and Demons and Horrors. Blame Faeries (we all do) for taking an extra black land.
  • Green–Blue: Snake. The only other realistic possibility is Shapeshifters, but people like their Snake decks.
  • Blue–Red: Dragon. The Dragon colors are all confused after Dragons of Tarkir, but in general, blue was the secondary Dragon color for a long time. I would say Elementals, but they've already got TWO lands like this one, somehow (Primal Beyond and Flamekin Village).
  • Red–Green: Beast has the most members by far. Werewolf has gotten enough love recently that it's also a decent option.
  • Green–White: Human. Yes, Lorwyn doesn't have humans, but it doesn't have Angels or Dragons or indoor plumbing either. There are enough Humans in existence that this may actually see play somewhere. You could also do Spirits—way back when, they were green / white-focused in Judgment and Kamigawa blocks, before Innistrad introduced us to the fact that mean, trickster Spirits are somehow actually blue. And not red... or black... or even green. Blue always seemed to me to be the least fitting secondary color for Spirits. Do they spend the afterlife catching up on their reading in-between trapping people in mirrors and eating their souls and stuff? (I would totally spend the afterlife catching up on my reading, by the way.)

FINISH THIS CYCLE!: 4 out of 10. Eh, some people are still really insane about tribal decks and would love them. The majority of the Magic playing public would give them a pass, since Cavern of Souls is probably better 95% of the time.

 

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As we began with Torment, we end with Judgment, Magic's other color-unbalanced set. As Torment was into black mana in a serious way, Judgment was into green and white mana. So... which of those two Magic sets would you want to hang out and party with? Yeah, that's what I thought. The mild amusement the color green provides can't possibly balance the boringness of the color white. Really, everyone at Wizards just wanted to do the "black set" because black is awesome, and then they all resignedly said, "Uh, I guess we should balance it out and give green and white a set"? A lot of unenthusiastic mumblings of "I guess" followed.

Despite Judgment being a terrible idea in general, both of these lands are pretty great. Or at least, they would be great in other colors, because green already gets all kinds of awesome land search and color-fixing effects. They tried to satiate the Krosan Verge fans with Myriad Landscape, but Magic players know the difference between a silk purse and a sow's ear. (Turns out, it's like totally different animals and totally different objects, so the amount of confusion should be negligible even to non-pig farmers. What a weird idiom.) Myriad Landscape only gets basic lands, and they have to match, so it's not actually a dual land at all. Krosan Verge, on the other hand, can get four different colors via shock lands out of your deck all by itself! Plus, it ramps you a mana along with the quad-fixing! It's kind of the greatest, so of course, we can't have nice things and we'll never get any others in the cycle.

But they've just straight up ignored the pleas of Riftstone Portal fans for the past 15 years. Legacy Lands (and sometimes Dredge) decks do run this, not because they care all that much about green or white mana, but because they just want their lands that have no mana ability to stop loafing on the couch and start contributing. And, there are plenty of those that see play: Dark Depths, The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, Maze of Ith, Glacial Chasm, Bazaar of Baghdad, etc. Riftstone Portal does have the Time Spiral problem, though. Really, your opponent should probably not have to constantly check your graveyard for hidden mana abilities on your lands. It's kind of a feel-bad in competitive play when your opponent pays for your Mana Leak by tapping Dark Depths with a card that was visible at the bottom of his or her graveyard the whole time.

FINISH THIS CYCLE!: 2 out of 10. They're undoubtedly way too good for Standard, and it's not clear Wizards would even want to add more of them to Legacy or Commander. We all would love them to do so, but we're super greedy. They're the kind of designs that work well enough for "one-offs" but start causing larger problems when you expand them to other colors, especially colors that don't naturally have good ramp or free fixing.

OK, last article in this series, I promise. Thanks for reading. New series in a few months!


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