It is rare in 2017 for a fact to escape notice. It is rarer in 2017 for a fact about a Magic card to escape notice of the people reviewing the Magic card. But somehow, a fact about Field of Ruin either escaped notice of reviewers or wasn't considered worth a mention:
Field of Ruin is the first fully playable card that forces your opponents to shuffle their libraries.
Why is this relevant? Because it hoses anything that puts cards on top of your opponents' libraries. We'll talk about that more in a moment, but for now consider that:
Sheldon Menery reviewed it but didn't mention the forced shuffle.
Rachel Agnes liked it, but this aspect wasn't talked about.
Adam Yurchick discussed its "unique advantages" but not this advantage.
On the flipside, one guy on Reddit mentioned it.
How in the universe is the score Reddit Guy 1, Experts 0? Is it because Field of Ruin's forced shuffle ain't no thing? I'd say it's because, way too often, Magic players review cards based entirely on their experiences with other cards.
Same Slot, Different Effect
Field of Ruin gets compared mostly to Ghost Quarter and Tectonic Edge, both of which are uncommon nonbasic land destruction included on lands that make colorless mana. In formats where Ghost Quarter and Tectonic Edge get played, Field of Ruin is competing for those slots to some extent. The competition is rougher in Modern than in Commander, of course, since Commander players are devotees of Whynotbothism.
So the easy thing is to look at Tectonic Edge's one-for-one versus Ghost Quarter's flexibility and see how Field of Ruin's mana activation and self-replacement factor in. Field of Ruin entered an existing context, so it got folded into the context rather than shaping it.
I don't run many Ghost Quarters or Tectonic Edges in my Commander decks at the moment; traditionally I've been queasier about hitting tough color commitments than most players. But I'm high on Field of Ruin where I've been middle-to-low on the others because that slot now has the utility of forced library shuffle, as opposed to Ghost Quarter's optional shuffle.
Pay attention to your next Commander game and see how many times players put things on top of their library. Here are some of the pesky cards that do that:
- Enlightened Tutor
- Mystical Tutor
- Liliana Vess
- Vampiric Tutor
- Brutalizer Exarch
- Worldly Tutor
- Congregation at Dawn
- Conduit of Ruin
- Scroll Rack
- Sensei's Divining Top
- Academy Ruins
- Unholy Grotto
- Volrath's Stronghold
That list has quite the pedigree, and there hasn't been a single answer to them before. Mindlock Orb and Stranglehold deal with the tutors, but they don't deal with Scroll Rack; Rest in Peace deals with the lands, but it doesn't deal with the tutors; almost nothing deals with Sensei's Divining Top. Field of Ruin deals with all of these cards by serving as a Standstill against tutoring — you can go ahead and put something on top of your library, but I can waste your tutor by keeping you from drawing what you tutored for. Beyond that, Field of Ruin also blows up a nonbasic land, so it deals with the lands on the list in two ways.
That's a set of utility Magic literally hasn't had before — destroying a Maze of Ith and wasting a Vampiric Tutor in the same ability. And if you're thinking, "Well, aren't there some instant-speed forced-shuffle cards that are playable?", the answer is yes, but most of the good ones are instants, like Chaos Warp, Obliation, and Mnemonic Nexus. Here's the list of permanents that can force instant-speed shuffling:
Cranial Archive — Not usually worth it.
Fertilid — Not typically how it's used, although it's nice to know you can use it that way.
Lantern of Insight — Wrong format.
That's the entire list of permanents that punishes a manicured top of the library by shuffling it. To understate, that list is less robust than the previous list. Milling cards can accomplish some of the same effect, but: A) putting things in an opponent's graveyard is usually worse than making them shuffle the cards back in; B) mill cards aren't generally useful unless they're a path to victory; and C) they're almost all in Blue.
Do you see how Field of Ruin has a new role in Commander? It fights nonbasic lands and several premier tutors and recursion engines, it takes up a land slot instead of a spell slot, and every deck can use it. Experts have intentionally or unintentionally disagreed with me, but I think Field of Ruin will be one of the most impactful cards in Ixalan because of this combination of factors and the multiple types of problem cards it addresses.
How It Will Play Out
Since everybody's thinking of Field of Ruin as a Ghost Quarter, and since almost nobody's ever had to play around forced shuffle, you are likely to have several months of free tutor-hosing in your group. I've seen people do the end-step Vampiric Tutor followed by automatic card draw a bajillion gazillion times. It's so automatic they don't even bother to put the card on top of their library; they just tell you they're tutoring and then of course they draw it. To the extent that move's muscle memory for a lot of players, but it will take time for those players to adjust automatic actions, and when it's all due to a random land on the back of the battlefield, that might be a long time.
Some of that is counteracted by Field of Ruin's ability costing two mana; you can't always leave mana open for it. But as the game goes long, you'll almost definitely have mana for it, turning some of the best topdecks of your opponents into sadness. And if you're facing a Spikey enough deck whose presence automatically turns the game into Archenemy, you can leave mana open more often for the effect as a contribution to your de facto teammates.
On that subject, while you can destroy anyone's nonbasic land, destroying the nonbasic land of a tutoring player has a bonus effect of giving your less obnoxious opponents another basic land with which to gang up. Field of Ruin is the group-huggiest Ghost Quarter, but that doesn't make it a group hug card; it's an Archenemy-style card masquerading as group hug. And that makes the tutor-hosing all the more relevant, as it turns out that many players with glitzy tutors also tend to have glitzy lands. I've never seen someone play a Gaea's Cradle and then think to myself, "At least they'll have to wait for Craterhoof Behemoth to show up in the natural course of drawing cards." Field of Ruin looks at the player with the best cards and threatens to deal with that player in two different ways. That will be true even when people get used to playing around it.
New sets wouldn't be fun if cards never were underrated. Boros Reckoner wasn't a preview card; LSV gave Sylvan Advocate the same Constructed rating as Ruin in Their Wake; and so on. But while it's one thing to underrate how much a card has to offer, it's another thing to read past what the card does, and thanks to context Field of Ruin has suffered that fate. As always, the nuances of cards make a big difference, and Field of Ruin's got several new nuances. I don't know if the mana needed for activation will make forced shuffling an occasional gotcha rather than a frequent one, but I'm excited to find out, and I hope you are too.