It’s almost impossible to imagine a Magic without dual lands. Alpha had a full cycle of ten – the originals famously have no text nowadays other than two basic land types – and they’re considered some of the most hideously broken cards in existence. Whether that’s an auspicious start or the opposite depends on one’s perspective, but in any case, just about every block since has had an attempt to refine the dual land concept by creating duals with drawbacks. Lands might never be the most prestigious cards in a deck, but there’s no avoiding that duals are critical to deckbuilding in any sort of environment, which means that dual land design affects the whole block and beyond.
And R&D might not have many elegant ideas left.
The problem with duals is that their design space is hemmed in by the sheer fact of what they have to be. They need to tap for two different colors of mana, but also have an ability that makes them not directly-better than a basic land. And there are only so many printable drawbacks to go around. Variants on “enters the battlefield tapped” and “whenever you tap this for mana, this deals 1 damage to you” have come and gone tons of times, and there’s not very much room for repeats, nor is every drawback idea a good one – Future Sight had a whole futureshifted allied-color cycle of dual lands with different designs but only one ever panned out in a “normal” printing – the Shadowmoor block duals. This is a near-constant topic on MTGSalvation.com’s Custom Card Creation forum and a wellspring of much fandom hand-wringing.
This issue has come into sharp focus with Battle for Zendikar block’s pseudo-reprinting of many dual lands past with its Expeditions promotion, so what is R&D to do?
Well, one route is also tacking on positive abilities – since “enters the battlefield tapped” is considered a drawback that more than balances a dual land at rare nowadays, we can get exciting stuff like Zendikar and Battle for Zendikar blocks’ creature-lands and, in a more prosaic sense, Theros block’s Temple cycle.
And there are still surprises R&D has left in store. The public may only think the fountain of drawbacks is running dry because it only sees Magic and its mechanics as they are – but R&D sees years ahead. Imagine a time-themed block with duals that moved an ETB-tapped one turn ahead, like this:
Amber Ravine enters the battlefield with a depletion counter on it.
Tap: Add R or G to your mana pool. If Amber Ravine has any depletion counters on it, remove them all and it doesn’t untap during your next untap step.