Block of the Week: Soul Soil

You’ll nether grow plants in that

Seasoned Minecraft players will be well aware of soul sand – the screaming brown block that lives in the fiery caverns of the Nether. Not sounding familiar? Have a read of the Block of the Week column on the subject that my erstwhile colleague Marsh wrote a couple of years back. 

In the Nether update, released in June 2020, we totally rebooted Minecraft’s warmest dimension to add a bunch of new biomes. The new biomes include the Warped Forest and Basalt Delta, but it also includes the Soul Sand Valley where you can find oodles of soul sand, obviously, but also a new block – soul soil, which also happens to be our block of the week. 

Soul soil and soul sand have some similarities and differences. They’re both brown, for starters. They’re both found in the Nether. They both create soul fire when they catch alight, and can be used to craft soul torches and soul campfires. They can also both be used to summon a Wither, which is a terrible idea. Under no circumstances should you place four soul soil blocks in a t-shape and then put three wither skulls on top. 

But! There are differences too. Soul soil has a bit more internal structure, making it easier to walk across. You won’t slow down when you’re on top of it. It also doesn’t create bubble columns underwater like soul sand does. So what does it do? Well, it’s a key component of basalt – when lava flows on top of soul soil and is cooled by blue ice, it’ll turn into basalt. Nifty! Especially if you need a lot of basalt in a hurry. 

So how do you get some? Well, the easiest way  is to track down a soul sand valley biome and dig it up with a shovel. But in a pinch you can also craft a soul campfire with some soul sand and then break it. It’ll drop soul soil, thanks to the way that the soul fire ash fertilises the sand.

In the real world, the closest thing we have to soul soil is peat. Peat is made up of partly-decayed vegetation and other organic matter, and accumulates in huge peat bogs that once covered large areas of land. It’s useful stuff – very good for growing plants in, a handy fuel, and it’s also the most effective natural carbon store on the planet.

But all that decaying vegetation gives off flammable gases (called marsh gas), and sometimes those gases ignite, creating blue-ish flames, depending on what the gas is made of. This, not surprisingly, terrified people travelling through marshlands at night – who gave it all kinds of names, most popularly will-o’-the-wisp. 

In Minecraft, there are no will-o’-the-wisps, so if you’re exploring a Soul Sand Valley and you see something approaching through the darkness, then it’s probably a good idea to turn around and run. You never know what it might be...

Duncan Geere
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Duncan Geere