The 5 Lands Most Likely to Win You a Game
- Gianluca Aicardi
When Magic players think of lands, they’re most likely thinking of mana sources, or the way to get to mana sources. After all, dropping a land is the first action that takes place in almost every game of Magic. But what about those peculiar lands that are game-enders rather than game-starters?
If you have to describe the basic events in a game of Magic to someone who knows nothing about the game, you’ll probably start by saying, “You play a land, then you tap that land for mana, then you use that mana to cast something that brings you closer to winning the game”. This is true in maybe 90% of the cases, but not all of them. Of course, there are decks where you never play a single land, and there are decks where you play lands almost exclusively. But sometimes you’ll just play one specific land, and you won’t care if it produces mana or not, because that’s actually the card you plan to win the game with.
Here's the 5 most successful endgame lands in Magic history from oldest to newest.
1. The Deep One
If played as written, Dark Depths would call for a ramp deck capable of generating the 30 mana required to summon the frightening Marit Lage as quickly as possible (so probably something involving Cloudpost). Of course, Magic players always try and find ways around the rules as written, and this intriguing Snow land immediately felt like a challenge: How to get to that juicy 20/20 (still the larger native body in the game outside of the Un-Sets) without bothering to remove the 10 counters individually? Early solutions to this dilemma relied on cards like Aethersnap and especially the handy and versatile Vampire Hexmage. Then Gatecrash gave us Thespian's Stage, which was able to do what Vesuva couldn’t — copying Dark Depths without entering the battlefield with its counters, therefore immediately triggering the last ability. Since then, getting our Lovecraftian horror to pop up has been a matter of having two specific lands and three generic mana, making it an endgame combo for the ages, which any deck can easily incorporate within its 60.
First Appearance: July 2006, Coldsnap.
Alternative: There’s only one other land that can give birth to a creature of comparable power and it's already part of this list.
2. The Ultimate Land Threat
When Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle was first printed, Scapeshift was already in existence since almost two years, and Prismatic Omen three months later, so it was like a puzzle whose solution was given in advance. Unlike Dark Depths/Thespian’s Stage, though, this two-card (actually one-card) combo requires a dedicated build because you want Scapeshift to find several copies of Valakut and a bunch of Mountains, and you want to ramp your land count as soon as possible. Due to the non-intuitive way in which trigger conditions are checked (according to rule 603.4), two Valakuts and six Mountains will deal a grand total of 36 damage, more than enough to insta-kill any opponent. Valakut.dek is a mad fetching affair involving lots of green tutors and Primeval Titan and has been a mainstay of Modern since it was legal, i.e. September 2012. (Valakut was initially banned when the format was first created) By the way, the fact that Valakut isn’t legendary, despite being one specific place on Zendikar, always felt to me like an awful contrivance to make the combo happen. But you can look at it the other way. They could have called it “Valakut Pinnacle” to avoid the feeling of uniqueness, but they actually created a whole cycle of unique-sounding lands in Zendikar (as well as the Guildhalls from Ravnica) that dispense with the legendary type.
First Appearance: October 2009, Zendikar.
Alternative: There’s really nothing quite like Valakut.
3. The Control Player
Manlands have existed since the dawn of Magic, when Antiquities’ Mishra’s Factory first provided what essentially amounts to a 0-cost creature that can’t be killed by sorceries. No traditional manland has ever had the impact of Celestial Colonnade, though. The Elemental it turns into is large and evasive, making for a reasonably fast clock. The activation comes in the colors of UW Control, a broad family of archetypes that’s ever been there, and particularly likes something that can dribble Supreme Verdict and then swing for the eventual win.
First Appearance: February 2010, Worldwake.
Alternative: Creeping Tar Pit is in another good color combination for control decks. Its damage is even more inescapable, but its clock is slower. Also, its defensive power is negligible, which is what relegates it to play second banana to the Colonnade.
4. The All-In Poisoner
When I talked about “traditional” manlands, I was thinking of the way Inkmoth Nexus works not just as a strong finisher, but also as a veritable endgame to the point of having an archetype more or less built around it. Granted, Infect decks wouldn’t exist without the critical mass of fast infect creatures like Glistener Elf and Blighted Agent, and pump spells like Vines of Vastwood and Might of Old Krosa. However, it’s often the Nexus who is the MVP, able to escape wrath effects and deliver its deadly infection in the air.
First Appearance: February 2011, Mirrodin Besieged.
Alternative: Inkmoth’s progenitor, Darksteel’s Blinkmoth Nexus, has to work twice as hard to kill the opponent. But it shares all the strengths of its more glamorous descendant and has a reserved seat in Affinity builds where it typically functions as a collector of choice for Arcbound Ravager’s modular counters.
5. The Big Demon’s Home
Here’s the true follow-up to Dark Depths, ten years later. Westvale Abbey / Ormendahl, Profane Prince doesn’t even actually need any combo. It sits comfortably amidst a control deck’s arsenal of tricks, creating a legion of puny Humans to chump-block with, and then when the time comes, sacrifice other lesser beings to herald the advent of the mighty Ormendahl. Ormendahl might seem like he’ll take a little bit more to seal the deal compared to Marit Lage, except not really, since he starts attacking one turn earlier, and his lifelink ensures a life redistribution that’s already close to 20 even after his first attack.
First Appearance: April 2016, Shadows over Innistrad.
Alternative: Not many lands share Westvale Abbey’s token generation prowess (Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree is one), and certainly only Dark Depths is able to turn itself (not literally as it is but bear with me) into a lights-out threat.
It doesn’t win games on its own, but Mutavault is the one major manland that wasn’t mentioned in this article. However, it’s invaluable in any deck based around linear tribal strategies, like all eternal format variants of Merfolk
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