Superior Numbers - Crucible of Worlds
"We were all forged in the crucible."
Welcome to Superior Numbers, where I try to do numerical analysis on cards and deckbuilding trends using slightly more math and slightly less snark than in my usual column.
So. Crucible of Worlds. It first appeared in Magic in Fifth Dawn way back in 2004, and it's had a couple of reprints since, namely in 10th Edition and Core 2019, as well as a pair of premium reprints: a Kaladesh-block Invention, and an old-frame judge foil. As a colorless artifact it can slot into literally any Commander deck, assuming you can afford the $25+ price tag.
Crucible is currently in 11,454 decks on EDHREC. That's not nearly enough, and I'm gonna tell you why, but first I want to talk about cards that are situationally good versus cards that are universally good.
'Universally good' cards are cards that are good in any deck regardless of how you've built your list. Swords to Plowshares is a universally good card, as is something like Demonic Tutor. There's nothing specific you need to do with your deck to make exiling a creature at instant speed for a single white mana a good card to have in hand. Sure, occasionally you'll be in a pod with no creatures, or in a situation where the lifegain puts them over the cap to activate Aetherflux Reservoir, but corner-case exceptions aside, it's always a good card without you having to do any extra work. Similarly, there's nothing special required to make Demonic Tutor useful; spending two mana to search your library for literally any card is always going to be useful. Yes, there may be a Stranglehold in play, rendering it useless, but in a vacuum it's a universally good card regardless of the situation, meta, or deck.
'Situationally good' cards are cards that are only useful in decks specifically built to utilize what they do. Parallel Lives and Heroes' Podium would be examples of situationally good cards. Both can be great, if not outright backbreaking, but only in a specific deck designed to utilize what they do. Parallel Lives doesn't do anything at all if you don't make tokens, and one or two token producers in your deck probably won't cut it, statistically speaking; you need a specific density to justify the slot for this enchantment. Similarly, Heroes' Podium can do work, but it requires a significant amount of legendary creatures to really function, and rarely sees play outside of decks like Reki, the History of Kamigawa or Arvad the Cursed. These are both cards that are only situationally good.
Okay, so what's the point of all of this? Well, for a long time, Crucible of Worlds was a card that was only situationally good. It required a density of card and effects in your deck that put lands in your graveyard, and decks often didn't reach that density unless they were trying to, say, in a Lord Windgrace Landfall deck.
I'm going to posit that we've reached a point in the game where that is no longer the case, and Crucible of Worlds has become a card that is universally good. Let's break down the exact reasons why.
1. New cycles of lands that put themselves into the yard
Amonkhet gave us a new cycle of dual lands. They come into play tapped, which is never great in Commander, two things about the cards offset the downside: they have basic land subtypes (making them fetchable), and they have Cycling, so they can be discarded to draw a card late in the game. Both of those are caveats that make the lands worth considering in our format, but the latter is what makes them relevant to Crucible of Worlds. A Crucible in play lets you spend two mana to pitch your Irrigated Farmland, draw a card, and then play the Farmland as your land drop. That's pretty solid value. So how popular are these Amonkhet dual lands? Here's a table of the total popularity/representation of the new rare allied land cycles added to the game in the last decade:
|Battle for Zendikar lands||68,649|
|Shadows over Innistrad lands||24,777|
|Scars of Mirrodin fastlands||10,398|
They're the third most popular new allied land cycle in the last ten years, and by a decent margin. That's not a perfect stat, mind you; there are probably decks in our database that were added and haven't been updated since the Battlebond lands were released, and the Scars of Mirrodin fastlands, and to a degree the Battlebond lands, are at a price point that probably hurts their representation, as well; expensive cards can see a lot less popularity on this website simply because fewer people are able to own those cards. Still, there is no doubt that the Amonkhet cycle of Cycling lands are popular, and they've reached that point despite having been released just over two years ago.
Modern Horizons also just added a full cycle of lands that can be sacrificed to draw a card, and which allows them to be replayed with a Crucible. They haven't been out long enough to get any actionable statistics regarding their use in the format, and price may as well be a limiter, but personally I intend to jam these into any deck I can. Horizon Canopy, the lone allied member of the cycle, has obviously been well represented in Modern for a long time, and it's in 1,662 decks on EDHREC despite the stiff $60 price tag.
Beyond just the rare land cycles, the Amonkhet block also added a full suite of Deserts (such as Desert of the True) that can Cycle for two mana, and they show up in more decks than the Scars of Mirrodin fastlands. This also takes us to 22 total Cycling lands available to EDH players. That's two times more than what we had just three years ago.
2. New utility lands that add to the yard
Nearly every set adds new utility lands that wind up in the graveyard, and in recent years we've had multiple powerful ones. We currently have 148 lands that may in some way sacrifice themselves, or require you to sacrifice another land.
Blast Zone has already begun popping up in Standard and Modern, and it sees play in 1,459 decks on EDHREC.
Emergence Zone is one-use version of Alchemist's Refuge that can go in any deck, and 1,594 people have already slotted it into their lists according to our database.
Lotus Field is a "fixed' version of Reserved List card Lotus Vale. It comes into play tapped, unlike Vale, but also is way harder to remove.
There are currently ten lands new to Standard that self-sacrifice, meaning we're continuously adding new, possibly playable ones to the pool with each new expansion.
3. New fetch land variants
Ash Barrens first appeared in the Commander 2016 product as a generally better Evolving Wilds and Terramorphic Expanse, and now resides in 11,646 decks, where it can be put into your graveyard to search for a basic land. It has since been reprinted in Commander 2019, and will continue to be a reasonable budget alternative to expensive fetches, if not an outright addition to a landbase featuring them.
Myriad Landscape was first introduced to the format in 2014 as a color-agnostic Krosan Verge, and since then it has found a home in an impressive 32,946 decks.
Prismatic Vista has been out for about fourteen seconds and it's already in over 3,777 decks in our database. It's a near auto-include in almost any deck that isn't mono-color, letting you magically turn it into any untapped basic land you need, fixing your mana without sacrificing your tempo at the mere cost of one life.
These three cards alone, along with things like Blighted Woodland (15,718 decks) and Warped Landscape (4,209 decks), continually create new opportunities to take advantage of Crucible.
4. New powerful effects that put lands in the yard
Search for Azcanta has found a slot in 5,183 different decks on EDHREC, and functionally lets you Surveil 1 during your upkeep. In a best-case scenario, it provides fodder to the yard for reanimation, Delve, and so on; at worst, it makes finding the cards you need easier by, for example, binning a land you don't want to draw. That land you binned, though? Crucible is a great way to still turn it into your drop for the turn.
Tectonic Reformation is an elegant little bit of design from Modern Horizons that gives all your lands Cycling, allowing you to swap them for another draw, which is hopefully not a land. As with Search for Azcanta, the land you discard can then get replayed with Crucible. As the saying goes, "all parts of the buffalo."
Underrealm Lich is already in over 3,000 decks on EDHREC in less than a year, thanks to an ability that synergizes with almost every Golgari commander. It also synergizes wonderfully with Crucible.
These cards and others like them aren't powerful specifically because they put lands in the yard, though some decks certainly appreciate that feature. Rather, the power they grant comes from putting lands into the yard, and if you're already using them in your deck, it's just one more reason to also add in Crucible.
5. Players realizing the power of looting/rummaging
This is where things get a more subjective. As player understanding of game strategy has matured, so has use of cards that enable those strategies. It's hard to find any statistical data to back up the increased use of these kinds of effects, but taking a look at the increased presence of former Modern staple Faithless Looting is perhaps telling:
Speaking personally, early in my EDH career I really didn't like the idea of discarding. I'd still rather draw raw cards, but there's a place for the efficient card quality provided by looting and rummaging. The more rummage and looting effects we're using, the more likely Crucible will be able to replay those lands we're tossing out.
6. Increased use of lands that remove lands
Strip Mine is in 28,880 decks in our database, and went from a $5 to $25 shortly after Commander players got access to budget versions of Gaea's Cradle and Tolarian Academy (Growing Rites of Itlimoc and Storm the Vault, respectively); this probably isn't a coincidence. I personally began running three land removal lands around that time, as well. What do the land removal lands all have in common? They put a land into the yard when you use one on someone else, and they put a land into the yard when someone uses one on you.
Anecdotally speaking, I've bumped up most of my decks up to three land removal lands to handle problem lands, and even if nobody else has done the same, that still is 8% of my land base that can wind up in the yard by helping me removing a problem Cabal Coffers across the table. Whether trying to reclaim your destroyed lands or trying to replay your destructive lands, Crucible of Worlds can really save your bacon here.
7. New removal spells that hit lands
Some of the best targeted removal spells added to the format in the last year hit lands. Mostly. Assassin's Trophy and Generous Gift can hit any land at all, just like Gift's older brother Beast Within. Once again, Crucible is a great way to guarantee that when your favorite lands kick the bucket, they don't stay bucket-kicked.
“The perplexity, the potential; God’s own crucible was not for angels.”
I hope the reasons above encourage some folks to take a closer look at Crucible of Worlds outside a traditional "Lands Matter" build. As mentioned at the start, this is an expensive card, and by no means is it a must-have for every single deck, especially when considering budget restrictions. I think the card is making the transition from situationally useful to universely useful; there are a lot of little corner cases where Crucible provides some solid rewards, and when there are enough corner cases, it stops being a corner and just become a good ol' regular case.
Per tradition, I’ll leave you with a decklist that has pushed me to run Crucible of Worlds. As always, if you have any suggestions for other topics to cover in a future Superior Numbers, leave a note in the comments below, and thanks for reading!
Glissa the Traitor, A Touch of Death
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer