Friday, September 6, 2013

Why the Scry Lands are Rare

As soon as the scry lands were revealed in this week's Latest Developments, there was a massive outcry that these cards had the wrong rarity. After all, look at Kazandu Refuge, Gruul Guildgate, Savage Lands, and Highland Weald. Don't they establish that a dual land which enters the battlefield tapped with some minor benefit is common or uncommon?

Well, maybe. But there's a much more important convention which takes precedence over that one:

The best cycle of dual lands in every set is rare.

Don't believe me? Let's look back at the best dual lands in each set:
  • M14: -
  • Dragon's Maze: Stomping Ground
  • Gatecrash: Stomping Ground
  • Return to Ravnica: Temple Garden
  • M13: Rootbound Crag
  • Avacyn Restored: -
  • Dark Ascension: -
  • Innistrad: Clifftop Retreat
  • M12: Rootbound Crag
  • New Phyrexia: -
  • Mirrodin Besieged: -
  • Scars of Mirrodin: Copperline Gorge
  • M11: Rootbound Crag
  • Rise of the Eldrazi: -
  • Worldwake: Raging Ravine
  • Zendikar: Arid Mesa
  • M10: Rootbound Crag
  • Alara Reborn: -
  • Conflux: -
  • Shards of Alara: Savage Lands
  • Tenth Edition: Karplusan Forest
  • Eventide: Rugged Prairie
  • Shadowmoor: Fire-Lit Thicket
  • Morningtide: Murmuring Bosk
  • Lorwyn: Wanderwine Hub
  • Ninth Edition: Karplusan Forest
Aside from Shards of Alara, every single set since Ninth Edition has had its best dual lands at rare! This is a simple fact of how Wizards does business. Rare dual lands sell packs.

Would it make sense to print Temple of Silence and its ilk at uncommon? Only if there were a more powerful cycle of dual lands at rare. And that's an unrealistic prospect for several reasons.

First, a set doesn't contain two cycles of dual lands unless there's a specific reason for it. Either it's a multicolor block (both Ravnicas, Alara) or a land-themed block (Zendikar).

Second, the Scry Lands are already very powerful. Scry 1 is a bigger marginal benefit than we've seen on any other dual that always enters the battlefield tapped. But don't take my word for it:
Lastly, we're coming out of Return to Ravnica block, and the power of available mana fixing is at a pretty high point. Adding more dual lands to the pool isn't necessary, which is one reason M14 didn't have them. The environment doesn't require Theros to have more than one cycle of dual lands. And, as we've seen above, Wizards does not print single cycles of dual lands below rare.

Now, one could argue that they should print single cycles of dual lands at uncommon or common, but it is completely clear that they've made a decision not to do so. It makes absolutely no sense to be surprised that Theros' dual lands are rare.


  1. I'm fine with the Scrylands, but someone's gotta play devil's advocate.

    I think the issue is that most people don't see this cycle as exciting rares that sell packs of Theros. They see the effect and power level, having never played with the cards, as Uncommon at most.

    While it's true that the most powerful lands in each set are rare, the design of this cycle don't SEEM powerful. The players harping about Uncommon were expecting something better for their rare cycle (Nimbus Maze, Snow Duals, Legendary Duals etc.) They don't accept that these are on par with the Rare lands from previous sets. If they have truly Uncommon level effects, they would prefer to have no Scry lands and something better in their place.

    1. Along those lines, I could offer the counterpoint that there is value in putting these lands at rare because it will help train players with lesser card-evaluation that these lands are actually very powerful, as many players factor rarity into their evaluations of card-quality.

    2. Exactly. If these were indeed very weak, then it would make sense to complain that these are the rare dual land cycle. And, as you say, many people do think they're weak.

      What makes no sense whatsoever is complaining that these should have been printed as uncommons. That's not how Wizards sells packs.

    3. Yes, as the outcry has proven, "Seeming is Being" for a lot of players. On the otherhand, the kind of lesson is hard to teach. You end up with a lot of noise during the process.

    4. I'm not even sure if the lesson you're talking about is really something you SHOULD be teaching your player base.

      Hav, the people who want them to be uncommon don't care if sets have strong rare cycles, so much as want this design to be used in a set with Uncommon lands. They don't accept them as pack selling lands. Saying that's not how WotC does things isn't going to change their minds because it doesn't address the larger issue of what makes a cycle uncommon versus rare, design-wise.

    5. R&D has sworn up and down that rarity =/= power level, but we all know it pretty much is.

      Another strong argument for these lands being rare is that they're not for Theros Limited, but for Ravnica-Theros Standard. They don't want players building three-color Theros draft and sealed decks, so the lands are rare, limiting their impact to constructed.

    6. It's so weird, because I would have thought WotC would want players to veer more towards mono color decks for Theros limited. More so than normal, anyway. Besides, it is very weird to me that temples to gods we haven't been introduced to are in this set. I would prefer mono-colored rare temples to the gods in the set, but that's just me.

    7. Exactly, Jay. R&D rarely comes out and says, "We need the dual land cycle to be rare because we like making money," but that is obviously the case. It's all very well for players to weigh in on what they think card rarities should be like, but they're not the ones responsible for sales figures.

    8. Nich, I believe they have to print a cycle of dual lands in every large fall set for the sake of the block constructed format.

    9. One more thing and I'm outta here: I find it odd that a Design site's main arguement for why the scrylands are rare, is centered around the proper rarity for dual land cycles in general and WotC need to sell packs. I would expect mostly a focus on why these designs are rare.

      As I said, I'm fine with them as is, but I do believe the design of them is on the bubble and that they could be either Uncommon or Rare depending on what the set needs. There is nothing inherently rare about the scope of the effect. It's foolish to argue that they couldn't be uncommon. For those people arguing power level, or whatever.

    10. Complexity-wise, they could definitely be uncommon. Maybe power-wise too, I honestly don't know.

    11. From a pure game design perspective, I don't think any of the dual lands they've printed are truly rare. I would be fine printing the shocklands, for example, at uncommon. The only things that really have to be rare are cards that are complex, narrow, legendary in scope, and/or bomby in limited. Dual lands never fit those criteria.

    12. I feel like any dual land that has some means of entering the battlefield untapped is the definition of Rare. The Scars Lands, Shocklands, Checklands, Lorwyn Tribal lands, and Sac lands all fit that bill. That's also why I can justify Shard's trilands in the uncommon slot, next to Zendikar's life lands and Champion's depletion lands. And that's why players instinctively feel the scrylands should be Uncommon. WotC is breaking a precendent with the rarity for this design.

    13. Of that list, the Worldwake Manlands are the only cards that would deserve their rarity strictly based on complexity and power-level in limited, and I could see an argument that the Scars' lands have a weird enough drawback that rare is where they should go.

    14. Ah, good point. Yes, the Worldwake manlands actually belong at rare for limited power level reasons.

    15. Nich, dual lands that can enter the battlefield untapped are extremely powerful in constructed, but that's exactly where rarity doesn't matter, except from a financial point of view; competitive decks will play four no matter what the rarity. In limited, I don't see any reason that Overgrown Tomb needs to be rare. It's not even a first pick.

      I suppose if the shocklands were uncommon, they'd probably need to get rid of Transguild Promenade or something to keep the mana fixing under control. But they're not complex, narrow, epic, or bomby. The only reason they're rare is money. Sure, there's precedent, but that precedent comes from Wizards also liking money in the past.

    16. How about a complexity argument? Usually lands are transparent to playing the game, but you have to make a complicated decision about the current and future game state every single time you play a shockland (or also a scryland, for that matter). That's not something your manabase should do to you unless you have deliberately chosen to have it do so (Constructed).

      I've also been planning for a while now to write an article about the benefits of having dual lands be rare, but I never seem to find the time when I'm thinking about it.

  2. "R&D has sworn up and down that rarity =/= power level, but we all know it pretty much is."

    For clarity, it's not _equal_. Top level decks don't consist _solely_ of rares. Lots of tournament quality cards like lightning bolt, llanowar elves, etc are common. But I think most tournament decks have more than 1 in 15 cards be rare, and MORE strong cards are rares.

  3. To sum up some of the discussion above:
    1) Dual lands don't need to be Rare from a strictly game design perspective. But it has become a thing for WotC to put constructed-viable dual lands at Rare, probably to sell packs.
    2) These Dual lands do no LOOK exciting for some players.
    3) Some players will take entering the battlefield tapped as a sign of Uncommon-ness. But some cycles such as Worldwake manlands have that quality.

    1. Yeah, that's the long and short of it. And the Worldwake manlands looked a lot sexier than these.

  4. The scrylands are a lot better than they look. They could still have been uncommon but power-wise rare makes sense (money-wise, too).