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Dandân, the original “scary beast under the water

Lands can do some pretty ridiculous things, and Dark Depths is among the most bizarre land effects. It can create the largest natural creature in the game, a behemoth 20/20. This effect is so powerful that Dark Depths is banned in Modern and still gets played in Legacy in land-based control and combo decks.

Of all the cards that see regular play in Legacy, Dark Depths is the one that players understand the least. It interacts bizarrely and unintuitively with many commonly-played cards. I’m going to clear up some of this by explaining how this card actually behaves. I’ll slow down the rules interactions to give you a better idea of when and how to disrupt Dark Depths. By the end of this article, you should feel more confident playing with or against this card.

The card itself:

dark-depths

It’s always good to start by reading the card.

Legendary. This land is Legendary, so if one player ever has more than one of these on the battlefield, they will have to put a copy of their choice into the graveyard. This is called the “Legend Rule”. This is a state-based action, so the game is constantly checking if one player has two Dark Depths. As soon as it happens, the game will not let another player take actions until they’ve chosen one copy to get rid of.

Snow. This is a supertype that means Dark Depths is affected by cards like Into the North and Balduvian Conjurer. If it produced mana (which it normally doesn’t), then it would produce snow mana, which can be used to pay for things like Boreal Centaur. The fact that it is Snow almost never comes up in Legacy.

Doesn’t produce mana. Normally, you can’t use this land to help pay for your spells, as it does not produce mana. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is a common card that will give this the ability to tap for (black, snow) mana. It doesn’t even have to be your Urborg!

10 Ice Counters. Dark Depths enters the battlefield with 10 ice counters. This isn’t a triggered ability. When played as your land for turn, it shows up with 10 counters, and there’s no moment when it is on the battlefield and doesn’t have counters.

Sacrifice trigger. “When Dark Depths has no ice counters on it, sacrifice it.” This is probably the weirdest part of the whole card. I’ll explain it below in the context of other cards that help you cheat off the counters.

Marit Lage. We’ll talk about the actual creature below, and how to interact with it.

Weird Cards That Don’t Help Dark Depths

Vesuva. If you play a Vesuva and have it come in as a copy of Dark Depths, then the Vesuva will come into play with 10 ice counters as well (regardless of how many are currently on the one on the battlefield). Since the Vesuva will now be a Legendary Land named “Dark Depths”, if you control another Dark Depths you will have to send one of them to the graveyard before you get a chance to play any spells or abilities. In short, Vesuva doesn’t let you cheat with the counters.

Blood Moon. Blood Moon turns Dark Depths into a Mountain. It doesn’t change supertypes or names, so Dark Depths becomes a Legendary Snow Land – Mountain with the name “Dark Depths”. This means that it can tap for snow red. It also means that if you play another Dark Depths, the Legend Rule will kick in. Blood Moon doesn’t remove the ice counters from existing Dark Depths, and new Dark Depths still come into play with ice counters on them. Since Blood Moon makes Dark Depths lose all its abilities, you won’t be able to activate Dark Depths to remove counters, and if you somehow manage to remove the counters while a Blood Moon is on the battlefield then Dark Depths won’t sacrifice itself to create Marit Lage. If you do get all the ice counters off under a Blood Moon, and then the Blood Moon leaves the battlefield, the sacrifice ability will trigger as soon as the Blood Moon is gone.

“Going Manual”

The honest, hardworking way to unlock Marit Lage is to invest 30 mana in chunks of three across many turns. This does actually happen in Legacy, although it is usually the product of a very stalled board.

Removing counters manually. This is an activated ability that removes a counter each time it resolves. Like any other activated ability it can be responded to.

Sacrifice trigger. “When Dark Depths has no ice counters on it, sacrifice it. If you do, [get Marit Lage].” If you’re going manual, once the last counter is removed, this ability triggers and goes on the stack. This is a state-based trigger, means that the game looks for a particular state (no ice counters); when the game finds that state, it puts a triggered ability on the stack. If the state is reached, but there is already an instance of this ability on the stack, the game won’t add a new one until the old one goes away. More on this in a moment!

When a triggered ability is placed on the stack, the game gives each player a chance to take actions, and if neither player wants to respond then the ability resolves. (Players generally seem to be unaware of this “trigger window” for responses.)

When the ability resolves, you try to sacrifice Dark Depths, and if you do you get a Marit Lage. If for some reason you can’t sacrifice Dark Depths when the ability resolves (perhaps because you don’t control it any more) then you don’t get a scary monster.

Preventing a Manual Dark Depths

Wasteland. This is the most common way to interact with Dark Depths. Destroying Dark Depths while its sacrifice trigger is on the stack will ensure that the player can’t sacrifice their Dark Depths since they won’t control it when the trigger resolves. You can also use your Wasteland in response to the activated ability of “Remove a counter”, but this gives them the opportunity to reactivate that ability and “go off” in response to your Wasteland activation.

Venser, Shaper Savant. Using Venser to bounce Dark Depths while its sacrifice trigger is on the stack will mean that the Dark Depths will be in their hand when the trigger resolves, so they won’t be able to sacrifice it. The other points in the Wasteland interaction apply here as well.

Stifle and Trickbind. There are two abilities that are relevant here: the activated ability “remove a counter” and the triggered “sacrifice” ability. Stifle can target both of them, but it doesn’t do anything meaningful against the triggered ability. Once Stifle resolves, Dark Depths’s state-based trigger will see that Dark Depths still doesn’t have any ice counters on it and there is no instance of itself on the stack, so it will trigger again. You effectively got nowhere. Stifle and Trickbind can shut down a single counter removal, though, and Trickbind stops the activated ability from being used again that turn. Using Trickbind on Dark Depths won’t stop its abilities from triggering; it only stops them from being activated.

Combos with Dark Depths

Vampire Hexmage

This all seems like too much work. Only chumps spend 30 mana to get a Marit Lage. Let’s start cheating.

Vampire Hexmage allows us to bypass 10 activations of Dark Depths and get Marit Lage for the low, low price of two black mana. Historically, this was the first use of Dark Depths. It was included in a powerful Black Green combo deck aptly named “Hexdepths”. This combo is much less popular now, but still happens occasionally.

Most of our previous discussion from “going manual” still applies. The fact that it’s a creature’s ability being activated and not Dark Depth’s ability doesn’t change the forms and timing of our interaction. In reality Hexmage is more vulnerable to interaction because using Stifle or a similar effect on the Hexmage’s activated ability completely shuts down the combo.

Thespian’s Stage

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Thespian’s Stage changed everything by giving us another way to cheat away the ice counters. This is a common combo finisher in the land-based combo deck aptly called “Lands”.

The combo adds a little more complexity than just going manual. If you have a Thespian’s Stage and a Dark Depths on the battlefield you activate Stage, targeting Depths (this is an activated ability that can be responded to). When this activated ability resolves, your Thespian’s Stage will now be a Legendary land named “Dark Depths”. Since the Stage is already on the battlefield, it doesn’t get any ice counters. Now you have two Dark Depths and must choose one to keep. You keep the Stage copy, which has no ice counters, and then the game sees that the Stage copy doesn’t have any ice counters. This triggers the “sacrifice” ability, and gives both players a “trigger window”. When the ability resolves you try to sacrifice your Stage copy, and if you do you get a Marit Lage.

Preventing the Dark Depths/Thespian’s Stage Combo

Wasteland. Wasteland can interact in the same ways as the “manual” removing of counters, but can additionally interact with the Thespian’s Stage. Destroying the Stage in response to its activation will stop the player from getting a Marit Lage, but they will keep their Dark Depths. The best practice is to let Thespian Stage’s activated ability resolve, transforming it into a Dark Depths, and then Wasteland the Thespian Stage-Dark Depths while its sacrifice trigger is on the stack. Acting in this window will force the opponent to lose their Dark Depths (to the Legend Rule) and their Stage (to the Wasteland).

Stifle and Trickbind. These can target the Thespian’s Stage activation to prevent a Marit Lage for one turn.

Going Deep – Two Thespian’s Stages. If the lands player has two Thespian’s Stage (and 4 extra mana), they can respond to your Wasteland in the “trigger window” and go over top of you. This second Stage can copy the Stage currently under siege from the Wasteland. When the original Thespian Stage copies a Dark Depths, it takes on all the copiable values from Dark Depths (including name, type, subtypes, supertypes, and rules text), and then anything that copies that Stage will copy those copiable values. Because of this, their second Stage will become a Dark Depths and they will get a Marit Lage. Of course, if you have two Wastelands…

Going Deep – Your Stage, their Depths. In the mirror match, you don’t actually have to control a Dark Depths for the combo to work. If you control a Thespian’s Stage, copying an opponent’s Dark Depths will do the trick!

Going Deep – Pithing Needle. An early Pithing Needle naming “Thespian’s Stage” is usually a good tactic to avoid the combo. Be careful, though, because Pithing Needle stops cards with a specific name and Thespian’s Stage can change its name! By copying another land – say, Taiga — the Stage will become a card named “Taiga” with the ability to copy lands. A Pithing Needle naming Thespian’s Stage won’t be any protection in that case.

Marit Lage

Now we get to the best part: the scary monster! Let’s read the card closely.

Legendary
. You can only have one Marit Lage at a time. This is also a very real drawback because Marit Lage is vulnerable to the ubiquitous Karakas.

Black
. Mostly a drawback, this could become relevant if the opponent has a Flickerwisp holding a Sword of Light and Shadow, which would allow a Flickerwisp to stall Marit Lage.

Avatar. Marit Lage has the creature type Avatar, joining other creatures like Autumn Willow, Death’s Shadow, and Excruciator.

Token. This means that bouncing, exiling, or phasing out the token will stop it from existing.

Flying. In Legacy flying is almost as good as unblockable. There are definitely creatures that can block it (like Delver of Secrets or Flickerwisp), but generally they are road bumps.

Indestructible. Marit Lage can ignore Murderous Cut and deathtouch. Notably, Marit Lage doesn’t have to worry about The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. This extremely strange and powerful land gives creatures the ability “at the beginning of your upkeep, destroy this creature unless you pay {1}.”. The controller of Marit Lage doesn’t have to pay this because it can never be destroyed. Dealing with Marit Lage usually involves bouncing it (Karakas, Venser), exiling it (Swords to Plowshares, Flickerwisp), putting it on the bottom of its owner’s library (Terminus), or making its controller sacrifice it (Liliana of the Veil, Smallpox).

Contact Me

Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think; I’d love to hear from you. Did I miss any interactions with Dark Depths? Do you have any good Marit Lage stories? What token do you use?

Catch me at Face to Face Games Toronto for Legacy FNM, send me a message on reddit /u/mpaw975, or send me an email at mpawliuk@gmail.com.

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