Last updated on December 16, 2022
Squandered Resources | Illustration by Romas Kukalis
There are so many viable strategies and themes in Magic, and that’s core to its appeal. One strategy that I’ve found to be particularly powerful that doesn’t always get the respect it deserves is land recursion. These decks focus on sacrificing and bringing back lands from the graveyard to generate extra value and out-maneuver opponents.
How does sacrificing a land work? Which are the best cards that do it, and which great payoffs can you get from it? Let’s find out!
What Is Sacrificing a Land in MTG?
Dreamscape Artist | Illustration by Jim Murray
Sacrificing a land is whenever you’re forced to (or choose to) sacrifice a land through another card. It’s usually put on cards as a serious drawback, often to extreme value like a massive flier for a low mana value.
It’s also a major player in a lot of Golgari () strategies in Commander, which revolve around putting things into and pulling things out of the graveyard to benefit from some other kind of effect.
I’m only looking at cards that have the text “sacrifice a land” on them for these rankings. If the card doesn’t have that, I won’t be looking at it.
Best White Land Sacrifice Cards
#3. Chain of Silence
I’m not lying when I say that practically all the white sacrifice a land cards are terrible, with one exception. Chain of Silence is one of the barely playable cards. It negates damage a creature would deal and allows its controller to copy the effect.
I can think of plenty of situations where I’d trade a land for that sort of combat trick, but that doesn’t mean I’d want to play this in the 99 any time soon.
#2. Pegasus Stampede
Pegasus Stampede makes a 1/1 flier for and has the buyback mechanic, which allows you to put it in your hand to be cast again another time. I could see this being decent in a tokens deck where you get multiple Pegasi for the original cost, but nothing outside of that.
#1. Aura Fracture
Aura Fracture is the exception: it’s actually a good white sacrifice a land card. It’s an enchantment that has you sacrifice a land to blow up any target enchantment you’d like.
There are certainly better ways to do this, especially in white, but this is undoubtedly the best white card that sacrifices a land.
Best Blue Land Sacrifice Cards
#5. Psychic Vortex
Psychic Vortex is a 3-mana enchantment that draws you a card on your upkeep, but it requires that you sacrifice a land and discard your hand on your end step.
This is the definition of gimmick. This is worth looking at if you already get your mana from nonland sources, and whatever strategy you’re playing is often hellbent. Otherwise, move along.
#4. Mana Vortex
Mana Vortex requires you to sacrifice a land when it’s cast, and it slowly chips away at all lands on the battlefield until there are none left. Blue doesn’t usually have this kind of land destruction. This is much more of a red or white card.
I don’t see too much use for it in blue decks, but it may have potential if you’re playing some kind of aggressive big-mana Temur () deck.
Excavation is yet another enchantment, and it gives any player the ability to pay one and sacrifice a land to draw a card.
That’s a valuable ability. There are already lands like Sunbaked Canyon, and this is just a better version since you can sacrifice the land you tapped to pay the mana cost with. I just think it’s neat.
#2. Dreamscape Artist
Dreamscape Artist is a 2-mana 1/1 human spellshaper. It has an ability that costs , tapping it, discarding a card, and sacrificing a land to tutor out two basic land cards from your library onto the battlefield.
That’s pretty good ramp but the costs are just too high, mostly because this card is blue. Green already does this better.
#1. Chain of Vapor
Chain of Vapor is by far the most powerful blue sacrifice a land card. It bounces a nonland permanent at instant-speed with the caveat that the permanent’s controller can copy the spell by sacrificing a land.
This has the potential to go on and on as players sacrifice more and more lands to try to out-tempo one another. The secret is to almost never copy the spell and just take the loss.
Best Black Land Sacrifice Cards
#5. Foul Spirit
Foul Spirit is up first, and worst for black. This 3-mana 3/2 flier forces you to sacrifice a land when it enters the battlefield. 3-mana fliers with these kinds of stat lines already exist on rate, so this card is just bad all around.
#4. Agent of Shauku
Agent of Shauku is a 2-mana 1/1 mercenary with an ability to pump a creature if you pay and sacrifice a land. It has some infinite potential if you have infinite land recursion, but I’m not exactly sold on this one.
#3. Bog Glider
Bog Glider is another 3-mana mercenary. This one tutors out other mercenaries if you tap it and sacrifice a land.
I’m not too keen on mercenary tribal, but this could be a very valuable tutor for certain combos in a shapeshifter tribal deck.
#2. Bog Elemental
Bog Elemental is a 5-mana 5/4 that forces you to sacrifice a land on your upkeep or lose it. It also has protection from white.
This could be good tech in some kind of Commander 1v1 where you know mono-white decks are prevalent. That’s pretty niche, so I’d stay away from this unless you’re in the land-recursion side of black.
#1. Demonic Hordes
Demonic Hordes is the best in black, a 5-mana 5/5 demon with the ability to tap to destroy target land. That’s powerful land destruction, but this card is basically just a worse Strip Mine.
Its other ability forces you to pay and tap it unless you let an opponent chose a land for you to sacrifice. This is great if you’re ahead on lands, but I see this putting you in a spot where you just want a creature to die while you and your opponent are both locked out of the game.
Best Red Land Sacrifice Cards
Red is one of the colors best suited for land destruction and sacrifice. Raze is a great example as a 1-mana spell to trade lands with an opponent.
It’s quite literally Strip Mine on a sorcery.
#4. Goblin Razerunners
Goblin Razerunners is a 4-mana goblin that can accumulate +1/+1 counters if you pay and sacrifice a land. Its other ability deals damage at your end step to target player or planeswalker equal to the number of +1/+1 counters on it.
Even outside of the land sacrifice mechanic, this is a good aggressive card. Red has plenty of solid ways to grow this card and begin slinging Lightning Bolts or higher the next turn, especially when paired with white.
#3. Custody Battle
Custody Battle isn’t particularly exceptional on its own, but it leads to some funny and unique interactions. It basically forces players to either give up their lands or their creatures.
This could even be used to pass control of a particularly bad creature off to an opponent who’s already missing land drops. How annoying (devil emoji).
#2. Aggressive Mining
Aggressive Mining is a 4-mana enchantment that lets you sacrifice a land to draw two cards once per turn. The downside is that you can no longer play lands.
You’ll be burying your opponents in card advantage before you (or they) know it if you can work around that.
#1. Hammer of Purphoros
Hammer of Purphoros is undoubtedly the best red card for sacrificing lands. On top of being an enchantment and an artifact and giving your creatures haste, this bad boy lets you put 3/3 golem creatures into play for the price of a sacrificed land, tapping the Hammer, and paying .
I’ve personally never even activated that ability, but the haste going to all your creatures is really quite powerful for most red Commander decks.
Best Green Land Sacrifice Cards
#7. Edge of Autumn
Green is the undisputed king of lands, and that extends to its sacrifice department. Edge of Autumn is a 2-mana instant that lets you tutor out a basic land and put it into play tapped as long as you have four or less when you cast it.
It also has cycling at the expense of your land, which makes it a great nearly-free card draw spell for later in the game.
#6. Sylvan Safekeeper
Sylvan Safekeeper is a 1-mana 1/1 with the ability to sacrifice a land to give target creature you control shroud. This is great for land-based green decks with just one or two creatures to protect that can easily replenish their land sources.
#5. Elvish Reclaimer
Elvish Reclaimer is somewhat infamous. This elf warrior becomes a 3/4 when you have three or more lands in the graveyard, but it can also be a way to tutor out lands into play tapped at the cost of sacrificing another and paying .
It’s just great for getting Gaea's Cradle out, so what else needs to be said?
#4. Springbloom Druid
Springbloom Druid is just a worse version of the next card, Roiling Regrowth. It isn’t instant speed, but the small upside is that this is an elf creature and has a home in elf decks.
#3. Roiling Regrowth
Roiling Regrowth is a great instant-speed ramp spell. Unfortunately the lands come into play tapped, which knocks this down in the rankings.
Harrow is a 3-mana instant that tutors out two basic lands into play for the cost of sacrificing another. This is instant speed and the lands come into play untapped, so I’m all for it.
#1. Crop Rotation
While Crop Rotation doesn’t bring out more lands than you put in to cast it, it tutors out any kind of land, not just basics! It’s a premiere land tutor for grabbing things like Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Dark Depths, and Thespian's Stage.
Best Multicolored Land Sacrifice Cards
#4. Goblin Trenches
There are actually a few great multicolored cards that involve sacrificing a land. Goblin Trenches is a simple enchantment that turns lands into 1/1 goblins. You can never have too many goblins!
#3. Uurg, Spawn of Turg
Uurg, Spawn of Turg is a 3-mana legendary frog beast whose power is equal to the number of lands in your graveyard. It can put cards into the graveyard from on top of your library, but it also turns lands into life for just .
I wouldn’t necessarily want to run this as my commander but it would be great in a deck with The Gitrog Monster in the command zone.
#2. Squandered Resources
Squandered Resources is a 2-mana enchantment that lets you sacrifice a land to get back whatever mana it could have produced. This effectively doubles your mana once per land, and it could be really powerful in land recursion decks (which Golgari loves).
#1. The Gitrog Monster
The obvious winner in multicolor is The Gitrog Monster. This infamous Golgari commander is the ultimate land-sacrificing and land-recursion commander and has been terrorizing casual pods for some time.
It acts as a recursion engine in addition to a sacrifice outlet and allows for great card draw with its third ability. It’s basically just all the pieces you want jammed into one card’s oracle text.
Best Colorless Land Sacrifice Cards
#3. Zuran Orb
Zuran Orb is a free artifact that lets you sacrifice lands whenever you want to gain two life. This isn’t too much to get excited about on its own, but it’s a great outlet for land sacrificing in general because it doesn’t limit you to once per turn.
#2. World Breaker
World Breaker is an Eldrazi creature that exiles an artifact, an enchantment, or a land when it’s cast. Its sacrifice aspect comes when you want to return it from your graveyard, which you can do by paying c and sacrificing a land.
This one just won’t go away.
#1. Glacial Chasm
Glacial Chasm is quite incredible, especially in lifegain and pillow fort decks. It has the cumulative upkeep of paying two life which is easily mitigated, and it requires you to sacrifice a land when it enters the battlefield.
In exchange you get prevention of all damage that would be dealt to you and your creatures can’t attack. There are plenty of ways to win without creature damage in Magic, especially in a format like Commander.
Best Land Sacrifice Payoffs
The best payoffs for any kind of sacrifice effects are cards that do something when that kind of card is sacrificed.
One of the best ones for when you need to sacrifice a land is The Gitrog Monster. It works as an outlet itself, draws you cards, and even brings back lands from the graveyard to keep the engine running.
I’d also highly recommend Crucible of Worlds and cards that let you play more lands per turn like Azusa, Lost but Seeking. That’ll grease your wheels for as long as you need and you’ll never run dry.
Can You Sacrifice a Land at Will?
No, you can’t sacrifice a land at will. Sacrificing anything in Magic needs another card or effect that requires (or allows) you to sacrifice a land as a cost or as an ability itself.
Can You Sacrifice a Tapped Land?
Yes, you can sacrifice a tapped land. That’s very important when it comes to getting extra value out of your sacrifices.
Crucible of Worlds (Worlds Promo) | Illustration by Ralph Horsley
Sacrificing lands is quite the underrated ability in Magic. Like most land strategies it’s critically underplayed and difficult to deal with.
What do you think of my rankings? Are there any cards I missed, or rankings you disagree with? Let me know in the comments below or come chat about it in the official Draftsim Discord.
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