Looking at a Random Card: Rain of Tears
(What am I doing here? Read here!)
Rain of Tears: Another non-creature! In the long term, you can have faith in randomness.
Obviously, I will talk about land destruction this time. I’ll start with summarizing my point of view: Used as utility, or in a supportive role, LD is perfectly fine, even essential for healthy environments. As a main strategy, it is suppressive and really frustrating to play against.
Land destruction is maybe the only thing casual players hate more than counterspells. At least there is an objective reason to do so, because it can prevent a player from participating in the game at all… but on the other hand, casual players seem to have no problems casting Reap and Sow entwined, or reanimating annihaliting eldrazi on turn 1… While a true land destruction deck is built on the premise on preventing not just interaction, but even action in general from the opponent, which is certainly a recipe for bad, frustrating gameplay, causal players really overreact towards it. That is partly due to the general hype, but another reason is that casual decks tend to neglect consistency, efficiency and resilience, foregoing robust manabases in favor of a higher spell count and squeezing more colors and/or utility lands in, and they also tend to ignore the mana curve and fill their deck with expensive high-impact spells. Even a single land destruction effect thus will often mess up their game plan.
However, that is just what LD is for! Aside from the obvious role it plays in dealing with problem lands, it is an important weapon for faster, more consistent decks against slower, more flexible and more powerful decks whose advantages are access to more colors and to a stronger lategame. Both a too high mana curve and a too greedy manabase are fair game for getting punished by land destruction, which serves to preserve the balance between consistency and speed on one hand, and flexibility and power on the other hand. When LD is used to delay the lategame and to keep greedy mana bases honest, it is a boon to a constructed environment. If it is consistent and fast enough to build whole decks around it and pose problems even for consistent and reasonably fast decks, it is a curse.
The power of LD has dramatically decreased over the years. From Strip Mine to Wasteland to Ghost Quarter / Tectonic Edge, from Sinkhole to Rain of Tears to Caustic Rain to Maw of the Mire – land destruction has become ever more situational and inefficient. Effects which can destroy basic lands have a minimum price tag of 4 mana nowadays, and effects which would be maindeckable due to offering more flexibility often even push 5 mana. Of course, this means that land destruction in a supportive role has completely disappeared from constructed environments, with the consequence that the balance between consistent aggro decks and lategame decks (most dramatic during the Lorwyn / Shadowmoor / Alara era) had to be restored by the means to which WotC lately always resorts if an objectively better solution isn’t popular: by power creep (Tempered Steel, Hero of Oxid Ridge etc…)
The ideal price tag for LD which can hit basic lands is three mana: That’s cheap enough that it can be used to support fast, consistent decks, but expensive enough that it doesn’t become suppressive. There’s a catch, though: Since two mana is just too cheap for generally usable LD, decks with access to mana accelerators like Birds of Paradise or Llanowar Elf can make three-mana LD into a problem. Actually, the issue lies with the 1-mana accelerators here, but since those have become an integral part of Magic, and since even the power of other 1-drops has increased lately to the point that they can compete with this acceleration, 3-mana LD will likely not return anytime soon in significant numbers. (In an ideal world, instead the elves would disappear, but this will probably never happen.)
Still, I will not hold LD spells responsible for a poor strategical choice of development. LD is correctly priced at 3 mana and serves an important function, so Rain of Tears gets a high mark for constructed purposes from me. Also, it is a great option for limited environments, for exactly the same reasons why it does constructed environments good: As a pinpoint solution to special lands, to punish greedy mana bases and too high mana curves, and to support fast, consistent strategies by delaying the lategame. Actually, I even acquired a Sinkhole for my limited pool, since there is no danger in limited that an actual LD strategy will emerge, and thus the more efficient card serves me even better: Dedicated LD is very narrow – although sometimes needed – in limited, and I see no reason to add the further disadvantage of clumsiness to this. (That’s why I also use Ice Storm and even Strip Mine.) I concede that Rain of Tears is the better design overall, but Sinkhole happens to be the better choice in limited.
My grade for Rain of Tears might come as a surprise for some of you, but I am firmly convinced that land destruction is an integral and essential part of Magic. The issue of threatening to become suppressive if good mana acceleration is available results in a slight downgrade, but that’s it: Overall this is a B- in my book.