Balancing by wildlands / land requirements

Aquablad said something at the end of his last stream about how balancing by land requirements doesn’t work because lands don’t really have a cost.

I’ve been thinking about this for a bit, and I think that’s more or less true, but it’s a bit more nuanced. I think 3 wishes used to be a balanced card and it used to be balanced by its land requirements, not anymore (or rather, it needed a nerf after oversky was released). So lets take a look at why:

If you try to value the card based on what it does it
1 makes you draw 3 - that should be worth 3f, except it’s from opponent’s deck and some could be unplayable duds, so lets make that 2f
2 gain 3 life, lets be generous and say 1f
3 discounts 3 cards by 3 each - 9f

So in total, it costs 3f and gives you about 12f worth of value so 9f net value.
Now if you’re playing a desert just to play that wishes it is going to cost you some tempo, faeria, and/or cards. If you’d ordinarily need 3 special lands and now you need 8, that’s 5f that you paid up front to get that 9f value. That’s no small matter, and it does a lot to balance it. Each extra land is a 1f investment that yields about 2f return for each wish played (so if you play them all, you’ve invested 5f and neted 9*3=27f). That’s a huge return and well worth it, but you can’t always count on it, so it was balanced before oversky.

The same logic applies to frog tosser, 4/4 fight is probably worth about 5f. Add a 2/2 and it’s probably worth 7-8f. But you need all those lands! So if it’s your only card that needs more than 2 forests, you are spending 4f to be able to play it, and sure you should get value from it. In the end, those 4f return 12f in value which seems fair. But if you’re already spending that 4f to get a super good deal on 3 wishes, then the lands required for frog tosser and wishes are actually yielding 27f+12f in value and they still only cost you 5f.

And if those lands are also required for octopus, then that’s more extra value thrown in there, and if they’re required for whale, well, more extra value added onto that. Each faeria you spend on land now has a ridiculous return on investment, which makes elementals and any land-ramp card incredibly powerful, since they let you cash in on that investment early and not have to pay any cost in tempo.

So the thing is, the reasoning behind balancing 3 wishes and the old dual land cards was spot on and it worked - because those were the only cards of their kind. The problem is that value from such cards scales as a function of the number of similar cards that generate value from multiple lands. with the addition of oversky, the entire equation for scaling has to be rewritten, and will have to be rewritten every time new cards are added that fit those requirements. Meaning if balancing continues in this fashion, then there will need to be nerfs with each expansion, or just massive power creep. with mono-cards getting edged out in favor of land ramp and the best dual-colored cards. And these nerfs will be like the three wishes or wild-growth nerf. They will be to existing cards that either have high land requirements or offer land ramp, as ramp will continue to grow in power, and land requirements will become increasingly trivial.


That is a pretty good description of the problem. However, I want to point out a few additional problems.

Not only is it now much more efficient to build land for the hybrid creatures, but also most creatures have balanced set of land requirements. Frog tosser for example needs 2 lakes and 2 forests in addition to 2 arbitrary lands, making it quite flexible. If frog tosser needed 5 lakes and 1 forest, it would not synergise that well with three wishes, because you had to build 3 extra lands for frog tosser, when planning to build frog tosser and many green cards would not come out quickly enugh with only 1 land to build for frog tosser. So not only the amount of lands but also their distribution matters when considering costs.

Also the player fighting against the 3 wishes usually had a lot more board control in the early stages of the game, which resulted in additional value via collecting or bringing in damage to the orb, because there was no really overwhelming card which could be played between turn one and the turn where you had your 8 lands. That was different for example for the green player who had decent 3 land cost cards so that it was easier to stall the game until your tharian golems came in. So green had the waeker late game but easier to it. That is not the case anymore. The land curve to 3 wishes got a lot smoother, so that 3 wishes players now can take over the board and even if they only stall the game the three wishes generate so much value.

Also you could buff the mono cards instead of nerfing the hybrid cards. for example fireball: Fireball deals 3 damage to the mono cards and 8 damage to the hybrid cards. So for example a whale is 100% cost efficient from his stats alone and another 100% from his effect, but a fireball is now a big threat resulting in a fast release of the swallowed creature and an inefficient trade. Of course fireball would counter swallow creatures but not a frog tosser and that seems good to me. Other ideas are cards that punish you for building too many different land types, like a card 2/5 for 4 fearia but the attack gets doubled and you get 1 extra life for every land type your enemy builds and then the attack gets halfed for every land type that you build. So if you have a mono deck and are fighting a 4 colour deck, your card has 2x2x2x2x2/2=16 attack and 9 life. When fighting a 2 colour deck it has 2x2x2/2=4 attack and 7 life.

Perfect analysis, let’s see what Abrakam will do to address it.

I think that’s a pretty good explanation, although you do need to factor in that you can’t play those cards early on - the land cost’s delay isn’t reduced, and those delays have some sort of extra cost that you could (tortuously) convert to faeria.

I’d say 6f (or at least 5.5f) or more if you’re ignoring land cost. If it doesn’t die on that fight it’s an extra 4 combat damage, plus other creature advantages.

What about “costs 1f less for every card you have drawn, minimum cost X” type effects. Say the whale costs 25f initially, minimum 5f, and no land cost. Available to everyone but only works in decks that have far longer than average games. I’m not sure how people would feel about explicit game-duration cards though.

yeah, I tried to be conservative with my faeria estimates to avoid any claims that I was inflating things. Even with my conservative numbers, it winds up being an amazing value.

You are right about the land cost limiting how soon you can play it and that representing a cost, but it really depends on the card. For example, curious biomancer’s 4 land requirements makes it really limited compared to something like lore thief as the card has collector stats, but can’t really be played early. Frog tosser can consistently be played by T3-6, which is when you want to play a card like that. Whale can’t be played until T5-8, but getting a whale in your opening hand is similar to getting a last nightmare in hand because you don’t really want to play either until late game anyway.