Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
What Are Deserts in Magic?
Like Magic's other lands, deserts tap for mana, fueling your spells. Unfortunately, many deserts can only provide colorless mana or require you to pay life for colored, but they compensate with unique abilities most lands lack. Additionally, controlling deserts powers-up certain spells.
So whether you're running desert-empowered cards or simply looking for lands with bonus effects, today we'll help you pick from the ten best deserts in Magic: The Gathering!
10. Ramunap Ruins
Ruins is red's entry in a series of deserts that can either tap for a colorless mana, or for a colored one if you pay one life. While you can get a red without losing life with a basic Mountain, Ruins also has the bonus ability to spend four mana, tap, and sacrifice a desert (possibly itself) to deal two damage to each opponent.
While a poor deal for four mana, it's a nice option to have available if you're out of spells, potentially delivering the killing blow against weakened adversaries.
9. Ipnu Rivulet
Rivulet does for blue what Ruins does for red, tapping for either a free colorless mana or a blue one if you spend a life point. Its unique effect taps, sacrifices a desert, and spends two mana to mill the top four cards from any player's deck.
This is the cheapest bonus ability in the set and makes a nice coup de grâce in millstone decks. You can even target yourself if you like, perhaps hoping to set spells with graveyard-activated flashback or aftermath.
8. Shefet Dunes
Dunes gives the white faction its specialty desert, again tapping for either a colorless mana or a white at the cost of one life. Additionally, Dunes can exhaust, sacrifice a desert, and spend four to grant your creatures +1/+1 for the turn.
Like the other unique effects, that's a rather expensive price (especially since you lose a land) for a minor effect, but if you've been swarming white's creature tokens, it can reinforce your army just enough to score the win. That said, note that unlike the previous abilities, you can only do this at sorcery speed.
7. Hashep Oasis
Oasis gives the expected options for either a colorless or life-draining green mana. Then, its unique trait taps, sacrifices a desert, and spends three mana to grant a creature +3/+3 for the turn, offering a generally-superior version of white's effect. Note the sacrifice helps empower cards like green's "Ramunap Hydra," who benefits from having a desert fielded as well as one in your graveyard.
6. Ifnir Deadlands
The final card of its set, Deadlands can tap for a colorless mana or a black by spending one life. Alternatively, it can tap, sacrifice a desert, and spend four mana to place two -1/-1 counters on an opposing creature.
You can only do this at sorcery speed, but it's a great last-ditch effort to weaken big threats or outright kill small ones. Bonus points if used alongside proliferate cards like "Atraxa, Praetors' Voice," which multiply the counters.
5. Painted Bluffs
Even the best rainbow decks often find themselves lacking the right mana types; six red and green mana doesn't do anything if your spell needs one blue. Painted Bluffs can help, tapping and spending any mana to produce one from a color of your choice.
This takes two lands but outputs whatever color you need, protecting against stale land draws. And Bluffs can always tap for a single colorless if you're already satisfied with your production.
4. The "Cycling" Deserts
Like basic lands, these cards produce one mana of a given color, but they enter tapped. However, they make up for it with not just their desert subtype but also cycling abilities, letting you discard them from your hand and spend two mana to draw, useful when you're hurting for spells more than lands. Here's the specific card for each faction:
- White: Desert of the True
- Green: Desert of the Indomitable
- Blue: Desert of the Mindful
- Red: Desert of the Glorified
- Black: Desert of the Fervent
3. Endless Sands
Endless Sands works well in decks that play for the long haul. It can't produce any colored mana, but can generate a colorless and enters untapped. You can also spend two and tap Sands to exile a creature you control. You want to do this in response to a removal that would defeat your minion anyway, since you can eventually spend four mana and tap and sacrifice Sands to return each creature it exiled to the field under its owner's control.
You can even use Sands after you play a field wipe, concealing a monster until you're ready for them to return.
2. Sunscorched Desert
If you're only running one color (especially red), consider running Sunscorched Desert, as your other basic lands will presumably meet your color demands. While it can't provide colored mana, it taps for a colorless, and when it enters the field, you deal one damage to a player or planeswalker.
Use this to stall opposing planeswalkers or scrape adversaries directly—which works great for triggering the reduced prices of cards with spectacle. Particularly useful in 20-life formats like modern, Sunscorched has saved my bacon more than once and costs well under a single dollar!
The aptly-named Desert carries its trademark subtype and can tap for a single colorless. Or, it can tap at the end of a combat step to deal one damage to an attacking creature. This can mean the difference between successful stalling an enemy or suffering its damage, and savvy players might even use the trait to nick their damage-triggered dinosaurs, like "Needletooth Raptor" and "Siegehorn Ceratops."
Desert-Related Spells in Magic
While deserts offer various effects, remember they also empower certain cards, mainly from the Hour of Devastation set. These include "Ramunap Hydra," "Sand Strangler," and "Wall of Forgotten Pharaohs."
Whether fortifying desert-based spells or providing variety in other themes, deserts offer a unique mechanic to any deck. But for now, as we await Wizards of the Coast's next expansion of arid lands, vote for your favorite card, and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2019 Jeremy Gill