Clear the Land and the Fundamental Turn

By Zvi Mowshowitz : 31/12/00

Editor’s Note: A long time ago, the first Magic website was The Dojo – a site that is still legendary for publishing some of the most fundamental principles of Magic. Almost all strategical theory can be traced back to the Dojo’s loyal writers, and any serious Magic player owes these old vets a debt of gratitude.

Unfortunately, thanks to financial troubles, The Dojo went out of business in 2000. In a last-ditch effort to save the four years of wisdom that had been collected there at the time, the editor asked the community to archive the articles for future reference. The best of the Dojo articles are reprinted here because they’re still vital to Magic today… merely reprints them, adding links to clarify older cards that new players probably won’t have seen so that they can understand some of the strategy. Many of the Dojo’s writers are still active in Magic and write for other sites; give them a shout-out for helping the community grow.

When I asked for suggestions on what card to do next, there were two main suggestions: One was Trade Routes, and the other was Clear the Land. I was even sent several deck lists abusing Clear the Land in one way or the other. The problem is, Clear the Land isn’t a very good card. Like cards that only damage your opponent, Clear the Land belongs to another group of cards that generally aren’t very good: Cards that require mana to cast and generate more mana in the long term.

When you cast Clear the Land (CtL), what do you get? At best, you get five tapped lands. Realistically, the maximum number of lands you can play in a deck is around thirty-six. After this, you’ll need four slots for Exploration and four for CtL, leaving only sixteen for other cards. With 36 lands, you’ll get an average of three lands off each CtL if you don’t stack your deck. If you do stack it with Brainstorm, the most realistic way to stack the deck for a 3rd-turn CtL, you’ll get 3.8 lands.

Meanwhile, your opponent will average around 24 lands and put two of his into play. All these lands come into play tapped. Type II doesn’t have any lands you really want to put into play because Wizards has moved away from putting costs on playing lands. So you probably just get three to four mana on each future turn from CtL, while your opponent gets two. He gets to use his mana first.

This doesn’t immediately seem all that bad; you get a card more than he does on average, two if you do something as simple as Brainstorm (or one if you play a reasonable number of lands and use Brainstorm). You can have better lands than he does, with Rishadan Ports and Dust Bowls and man lands, while he just gets two extra basics. You can use a lot of mana because you designed your deck that way, while many opponents won’t be able to. So you sit down and build the following deck:

4 Treetop Village 

4 Faerie Conclave 

4 Rishadan Port 

4 Dust Bowl 

4 Remote Isle 

4 Blasted Landscape 

8 Forest 

4 Island 

4 Brainstorm 

4 Natural Affinity 

4 Exploration 

4 Clear the Land 

4 Greener Pastures

4 Trade Routes

Or maybe you go in for the combination side, and work from this very rough sketch:

14 Forest 

13 Island 

4 Rishadan Port 

4 Vernal Bloom 

4 Exploration 

4 Clear the Land 

4 Palinchron 

4 Stroke of Genius 

2 Prosperity 

4 Brainstorm 

3 Turnabout

But either way, the decks don’t work out. Why?

The decks are going to have an all-land problem, of course. Too often, they’ll have nothing to do. Drawing all land isn’t always that bad for the first deck if it also has an Exploration or Trade Routes, but if it doesn’t or the relevant card is countered/removed, you’re in real trouble. This is the first problem with decks that use mana to get mana – they end up having to play too much mana. That’s not very surprising.

Ideally, your deck ends up like Kai’s from Worlds: Every other spell in your deck can win you the game, so your deck becomes somewhat inconsistent and has to mulligan more than you’d like, but makes up for it by being amazing with the right draw. These decks are probably not amazing enough with that right draw.

But there’s a second reason – and this one allows me to know instantly, without taking even a test draw, that the decks are unworkable. It’s the concept of the Fundamental Turn. Whenever I make a deck, I assign it a Fundamental Turn (FT). For beatdown or combination decks, the FT is the turn you kill your opponent. It’s an easy concept and you have one number. For a control deck, each aspect can be said to have an FT. But the most important one is the turn in which the deck’s strategy begins to work and you make up for any early disadvantage.

For example, an old-style U/W control deck might have FT of 4, since that’s when it could cast Wrath of God and stabilize the board. A monoblue deck from UBC might have an FT of 5, since on turn 5 it could cast Treachery and Morphling. The game may not be over then, but that’s when you win it. Similarly, any turn in which you do something that insures you will win the game becomes the FT. A Bargain deck that brings out Defense Grid on turn 1 half the time and turn 2 the other half would have an anti-control FT of 1.5 after sideboarding, assuming the control deck can’t remove the Grid without giving the Bargain deck enough time to win.

The biggest use of the FT is when planning a matchup. For example, when I was testing for the qualifiers for NY4, I needed to find a way for Rec/Sur to beat High Tide. This was before Frantic Search or Avalanche Riders. The key here was that High Tide had a very stable Fundamental Turn: Turn 4. Most of the time it would win turn 4 unless it was disrupted. Most of the time, it would be unable to win on turn 3 and wouldn’t try anyway unless it knew it needed to. If you got to Duress the Tide deck, that generally bought you a turn, and about half the time it did even if it was countered, because your opponent couldn’t use the same mana to Impulse or Intuition, although of course Force of Will was different. In addition, each counterspell the Tide deck wanted to work around generally cost it another turn.

How did I use this information? I knew my deck would have to hit the Tide deck on turn three and then again on turn four whenever I went second, and often also on turn one or two in order to get rid of Force of Will. But I also knew that I couldn’t keep up that pressure forever, so I would need something to cripple him while Rec/Sur’s slow clock worked if I didn’t draw both Recur and Survival (the infinite Great Whale combination still worked back then). The solution to this problem was: Five Red Elemental Blast, four Boil, two Thrull Surgeon, four Duress. The Surgeons allowed me to hit the Tide player’s hand for four mana, sometimes spread out over two turns while I saved mana for a blast. Once they’d been Duressed and then Surgeoned twice, a Boil took them out of the game and Ashen Ghouls or the combo killed them. If I didn’t get Survival, I forced them to work around enough counters and disruption to buy myself enough time to use my alternate plans. My deck was suddenly hugely disruptive at exactly the right time.

Game one was really bad, though, so the deck was about 55-60% for the match.

Then consider what happens when the FT changes. Tide got Frantic Search, and its fundamental turn became 3. A strategy that gave the Tide deck three turns and then demolished it wasn’t good enough anymore: You couldn’t tap out before the Tide deck’s third turn anymore. That meant less disruption later. The plan no longer worked, and Rec/Sur no longer had a practical way to defeat Tide.

The land deck isn’t killing anyone very fast. Best case scenario: Turn 1 Exploration, Turn 2 Clear the Land, Turn 3 attack for 6, turn 4 Natural Affinity and attack for ten, turn 5 win. The combination version can win on turn 3 with a great draw… But realistically, we’re talking turn 4. Turn four would normally be okay in today’s Type II, but on turn 2 you give your opponent two extra lands. What does that do to your opponent’s Fundamental Turn? It speeds it up by one, or for a beatdown deck that’s already summoning part of the kill by about half a turn. For some control decks, it actually speeds it up by two turns. Type II in general has a fundamental turn of 4 right now, which makes a deck with an FT of 4 that speeds up its opponent by a turn is unacceptable. That was a very long-winded explanation of something very intuitive, obvious and simple. But I use it a lot, so I felt I needed to pin it down.

Now for what everyone wants to know: What to play at the State Championships.

Type II as a whole is Fundamental Turn 4. There is a deck (or possibly two or more variants with the same key card) that has Fundamental Turn 3. That’s the deck to play. As for what it is, I’ll give you one guess. Don’t ask me for advice on States, since I’ve done no playtesting. Extended’s really complicated and I need all the time I can get. If I give out more advice, I’ll give it out in this column on Friday.

Zvi Mowshowitz President, The Alliance to Ban Yawgmoth’s Bargain (now in its second Pro Tour season!)