An often overlooked way to increase your win percentage in games of Commander is by improving your ability to deal with strong utility lands. Lands that ‘do things’ other than tapping for mana are essentially free spells, and being able to play more spells in your deck is a no brainer. The most egregious use of these utility lands are exemplified by Gaea’s Cradle or Cabal Coffers, which can quickly multiply a player’s mana and allow them to take over the game – doubly so for Cabal Coffers if Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is in play.
The number of strong utility lands in Commander is far greater than just two, however. Whether it’s a Glacial Chasm stopping you from attacking, an Emeria, the Sky Ruin giving your opponent way too many second chances, or simply a Reliquary Tower allowing the Izzet player to horde most of their library in their hand, letting any of these effects go unpunished can be devastating, and I’d argue lowers your chances of winning a game massively.
So, what can be done about these problematic permanents?
Fire in the Hole!
The first thing people usually think of when they think of land destruction is bad feels. There’s a reason cards like Armageddon and Jokulhaups don’t see much play, and it’s not because they’re bad cards – it’s because resetting a game of magic isn’t fun, and unless you’re planning on winning very quickly after that, it’s often a huge mistake. I’d go as far as to say that if people used land destruction properly as a means to win the game, it wouldn’t have nearly as bad a reputation. I’ve once been in a game where someone just did it for ‘the lolz.’ I was certainly not laughing, I can tell you.
Putting aside mass land destruction, the most obvious place to look is ‘Strip Mine’ effects. These are colorless lands that give you the ability to take out an opponent’s land (usually only nonbasic lands) at the cost of one of your own. Most seem easy to slot into an EDH deck until you look at their price tag.
The most flexible of these effects tend to be the priciest, with Strip Mine and Wasteland coming in way over budget at $20. Field of Ruin is currently played in Standard, so has an inflated $3 price tag. The most economical option here is Encroaching Wastes at 30 cents, with Tectonic Edge and Ghost Quarter coming in at around $2 each. I’d suggest aiming mid-tier here, so we’re primarily looking at the latter two cards. Field of Ruin is an odd one in Commander – I run it mostly because it can be used to fix your own mana in a pinch, but sometimes the downside of ramping everyone can really backfire!
Dust Bowl is also a card, but unless you’re running a ‘lands matter’ theme with the ability to deploy multiple lands a turn or recur lands, such as The Gitrog Monster, you’re probably better off not paying the $12.
Off the Beaten Track
Chances are that in a game of Commander, you’ll not always draw exactly what you need when you need it. Land-destroying effects are no exception to this rule, and unless you’re in Green with land tutors, Black with unconditional tutors, or just packing an Expedition Map (a card slowly creeping up in price – get one for $3 now!), you’ll be relying on top decks to get what you need. So, how can you get some sweet sweet land removal without relying on your colorless lands?
If you hadn’t already guessed, I am most definitely going to slap down that ‘Modal’ argument again. Before we get into it though, let’s just go through some worthwhile points: firstly, there are some tribal decks that can interact more favourably with lands. Cards like Polluted Dead can slot nicely into a Zombies deck, and Goblins have access to Goblin Gardener, the cheaper counterpart to Goblin Settler. Further, this means that reanimator style decks have good access to repeatable land destruction if they’re in the right colours.
Speaking of cards that slot into most decks – if you’re in colours that have problems dealing with lands and/or nonland permanents, Unstable Obelisk is a good option at 25 cents. Universal Solvent is another flavour of this, trading in the ability to tap for mana with the ability to drop it on turn 1-3. I’d say it’s probably worse, but hey – it might be good for you. Lux Cannon is a card that is starting to creep up in price – it might be at the top of your range right now at $5, but considering it just got featured on Game Knights, I wouldn’t hesitate too long.
White occupies the unfortunate position in the colour pie of being a ‘fair’ colour. This means that land destruction in White tends to favour equaling the odds – cards like Cataclysm and Armageddon are reasonably representative of your available options. The closest you’ll get outside of artifacts that fetch you the lands you need are cards like Weathered Wayfarer, a pricier but good card that lets you go and grab a land of your choice, provided you’re behind on lands. Adding Green to your deck tends to help improve your options, giving you access to cards like Benalish Emissary or Knight of the Reliquary, but White doesn’t really do targeted land destruction well on its own.
Blue isn’t hugely better off than White in this department – it usually has to stick to tapping lands down or bouncing them back to hand. It does have a few nice tricks up its sleeve, though. Playing an Annex to steal an opponent’s utility land is really sweet – imagine grabbing a Dark Depths with only a few counters left on it, or taking someone’s Thespian Stage when you’re spoilt for choice. Spicy. It’s 39 cents and pretty niche, but give it a whirl some time. If you’re at all bothered about Islandwalk, you can perhaps look at Spreading Seas, a card that both shuts down the fancy lands of your opponent and gives you a backdoor to success.
Reality Acid is perhaps the most flexible card on offer here, though – you can enchant any permanent, including lands. It’s a little slow, given you have to wait a few turns to see any return, but it does get rid of lands and punishes players who drop them too early. If you don’t have access to better removal, it’s definitely a good option.
Black land destruction also comes in the form of Auras, with Brink of Disaster offering a way to discourage opponents from tapping their lands or creatures. It’s modal and cheap, but if you’d rather just be done with it, you can do (mostly) the same at sorcery speed with Befoul. Choking Sands and Desecrated Earth can also get rid of lands, but they’re not quite on the same level.
Adding White provides us access to effects which remove any permanent, such as Vindicate, which is currently pretty cheap at under $4. Adding Red or Green gives us even better access to land destruction effects, such as those discussed below.
Red has access to perhaps my favourite way of removing lands outside of land cards themselves, Volcanic Offering (though some Red lands lend themselves nicely to hating on opponent’s lands – Memorial to War may have been unplayable in Dominaria draft, but it sees play in EDH). Volcanic Offering allows us to remove up to two nonbasic lands and two decent sized creatures if we’re good with the political side of things.
You also have access to Aftershock, which removes an Artifact, Creature, or Land for the low cost of four mana and 3 life. It’s flexible, and I think it could definitely see more play. For one fewer mana, you can save yourself the three life at the cost of giving up some flexibility and play Pillage. It’s still a solid card. Incendiary Command and Fissure Vent round out the budget cards available to us here.
If you’re truly wanting to embrace the chaos, consider Steam Vines, a much cheaper version of Kudzu. It’s probably not worth it, though. You do want to keep your friends, right?
Green has arguably the biggest suite of cards that can deal with problematic lands, which is to be expected. From more flavourful cards like the Desert Twister I play in my Rhonas, the Indomitable deck(which is actually solid unconditional removal in Green, something mono-Green in particular often has issues with), to more straightforward staples like Acidic Slime, Green has it covered.
One of the less frequently played but interesting answers to lands is Bramblecrush. For four mana, you can destroy any noncreature permanent. That covers most things you’re likely to be worried about with a little more reach than Reclaiming Vines, being able to hit Planeswalkers; take note, however, that Reclaiming Vines will destroy an Enchantment Creature or Artifact Creature, whereas Bramblecrush won’t. It won’t come up all too often, and you can probably fit both effects in Mono-Green, but keep it in mind. If you’d rather pay a little more, you can pay six Mana for Rain of Thorns and do all three modes instead.
Speaking of less frequently played cards, I’d highly advocate considering Mwonvuli Acid-Moss if you’re playing only one or two colours – for four mana, it provides an admittedly more limited version of Farseek which, for the two extra Mana, also allows you to destroy any land. Pretty sweet. If that wasn’t enough value, check out Reap and Sow. The two modes on this can be entwined, and being able to search for any land is a really strong effect. Nuking someone’s Gaea’s Cradle and grabbing your own is pretty damned effective.
Adding Red gives us access to Decimate, a great way to even the board state at under $2 thanks to its recent re-printings.
The Promised Land
There’s a bunch of ways to deal with problematic lands, so what’s your excuse? We didn’t even cover such staples as Terastodon, Mold Shambler or Angel of Despair. Whilst you might have started reading this article expecting to read only about cards like Ghost Quarter, I hope I’ve helped you discover some more exciting and worthwhile additions to your decks. You can’t deny that being allowed to run unchecked with a Cabal Coffers or Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle is often game ending. Likewise, more and more utility lands are seeing frequent play in Commander, whether through reprints or through cycles of cards like the latest flip cards from the Ixalan block. A flipped Hadana’s Climb, Dowsing Dagger, or Search for Azcanta can do some serious work!
That’s all for today. Is there a card you think I missed? Did you enjoy this piece? If so, as ever, hit me up on Twitter @TheKristenEmily to let me know.