Ranking 2020 with EDHREC: Mana Rocks
(Jeweled Lotus | Art by Alayna Danner)
I'm Feeling... Retrospective.
Hey, y'all, I have a swell idea! Let's all go back and reminisce about what happened in 2020!
Wait! I didn't mean it like that. Come back!
Yes, yes, I'd most definitely be one of the first people to say that 2020 was... not a great year... but it did give Commander players a ton of new toys to play around with. It's easy to get desensitized due to the rate at which cards keep coming at us, but look what cards came out this year! 2020 was a great year for Commander!
And, of course, my shtick is to rank every card of a certain subtype, such as lands, mana rocks & planeswalkers (and also Equipment, but that's a tale I'm still telling). However, when I started most of those series, a lot of these 2020 cards hadn't been printed yet, or if they had, they were so new that I couldn't really judge how much play they were gonna get.
So, now that we're a fair bit out from 2020 (thank goodness), I figured it would be fun to rank the lands, mana rocks, and planeswalkers that came out last year, and see where they stack up compared to everything else that exists.
Let's start with the subset that got the least amount of cards added to it in 2020: mana rocks.
Mana Rocks of 2020
- Eligible Sets: Ikoria, Commander 2020, Core Set 2021, Jumpstart, Zendikar Rising, Zendikar Rising Commander, Commander Legends
- Previous number of Mana Rocks: 115
- New Additions from 2020: 7
- New Number of Mana Rocks: 122
First off, for those of you that are confused why Theros: Beyond Death isn't eligible, that's because I did this mana rock series back in April of 2020 after TBD had been out a while.
Now, before we touch on the new stuff, let's briefly talk about all the other mana rocks, because to figure out where these new mana rocks went in relation to everything else, I had to rerank all 115 mana rocks all over again with updated data.
Hello, yes, I am insane.
Anyway, the point is that the ranking I have now is different from the ranking I wrote ten articles about a year ago because cards are constantly gaining or losing decks for a variety of reasons. For example, Arcane Signet was 5th when we ranked it in August, but now, thanks to some reprints, it's almost doubled in decks and is now right behind Sol Ring!
I find all this super interesting, but I really want to spend time on all the new cards, so I'm not going to spend much time here talking about the old cards.
However, it felt like a waste to not do anything with this info, so for each of these articles, I'm going to link to companion Reddit posts called Odds and Ends that will go over some of the major changes in the rest of the list. It'll have the current top ten mana rocks, a check in on my Overplayed and Underplayed lists, and some other random oddities I found while updating. You don't need to have a reddit account to view it, so I hope you'll take a look!
Anyway, enough rambling. We've got new cards to rank. Seven mana rocks got printed, so let's see where they stack up, starting with...
94: Lavabrink Floodgates: 755 Decks
Is Lavabrink Floodgates even a mana rock? Am I supposed to be playing this as a four-mana ramp rock like Hedron Archive? Tapping for colored mana is kinda a plus, but I don't think it's going to be worth playing over even Gilded Lotus for just the ability to make mana.
So I guess now I'm supposed to try and evaluate the damage ability, and I have no idea where to start. I've seen this get compared to Coercive Portal, Boompile, and Nevinyrral's Disk, but the problem is that none of them match up to this nonsense. You have enough power over Floodgates to use it, but not enough to abuse it. The only way this is getting popped without your consent is if multiple opponents work together to get enough doom counters on this. However, on the flip side, you will also never be able to break this dam by yourself. You need the table, and the table needs you.
You're basically at the whims of politics here. Sometimes Floodgates will be early-game ramp that also is an emergency Wrath, which is pretty ludicrous, but just as often, it will shoot you in the foot when you're the one with the biggest board and opponents conspire to watch you burn. It's unpredictable, random, and impossible to parse without playing with it.
And I love it!
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: Live a little. Enjoy the fireworks on this thing.
87: The Crystals: 1,280 Decks
(Raugrin Crystal: 2,690; Savai Crystal: 1,272; Zagoth Crystal: 918; Ketria Crystal: 779: Indatha Crystal: 741)
The lopsided member of this cycle is exactly the one you're thinking and for exactly the reason why. Yep, Raugrin Crystal is one of the best mana rocks Gavi, Nest Warden can play because it isn't a mana rock, it's a zero-mana cantrip. You might as well separate this cycle into two: Raugrin Crystal, and the other ones.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: As for the other ones, they're fine. I originally wrote out a long entry comparing them to the Tarkir Banners, a la Jeskai Banner, but I don't think anyone is ever gonna have to make that choice. If you own the Crystals, they're totally playable, but if you don't own them, don't bother seeking them out.
80: Manascape Refractor: 1,713 Decks
As a defender of three-mana ramp, (or Manalith variants, because I am a nerd), this year kinda vindicated me by making two three-mana ramp cards that you should be playing way more of, starting with Manascape Refractor!
Sure, early on, Refractor is probably just going to be a Sky Diamond that costs one more mana. If you're really devoted to speed, you'd rather have the early game ramp, but Refractor is a way more powerful card than Sky Diamond in 99% of games. Any bounceland, or Ancient Tomb, or Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx played by anyone, and Refractor absolutely justifies the extra mana to cast.
But that's not even getting into the true power here, because Refractor is also Scavenger Grounds, or Kher Keep or Maze of Ith. It's War Room, and Cephalid Coliseum, and Strip Mine. It's Buried Ruin, it's Inventor's Fair, it's Mirrorpool, it's Alchemist's Refuge, and you don't even have to be playing any of those cards. This card has pure potential basically just by existing on the board!
In case you couldn't tell, I adore this thing. Manascape Refractor is a card for any deck that doesn't need their ramp down ASAP, and you can get it for less than a $1! When its worst case scenario is a fine if slow mana rock, why are you not playing it for the chance of doing something sweet?
Over, Under, or Just Right? Underplayed: The fact this only has 1,700 decks is a travesty. Most underplayed mana rock by a mile.
76: Bonder's Ornament: 1,949 Decks
From one of the best Manaliths of all time, to a Manalith this is totally serviceable. Bonder's Ornament is probably never going to draw anyone but you a card, so it's basically just a Manalith with a Jayemdae Tome attached.
I think I'm probably more into this card than most, but even I think the card is okay at best. It's very similar to Mana Geode for me. It's cheap, it ramps you, and it's got some minor upside. I think if you got nothing else, this is a fine space-filler, but you can also probably do a lot better.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: At least it's not Spinning Wheel.
48: Skyclave Relic: 6,276 Decks
Alright, I promise to stop rambling about Manalith after this card, but rest assured, I love Skyclave Relic, too, and I advocate for it seeing way more play. Heck, if I were feeling real spicy, I might advocate for it over stuff like Hedron Archive in some scenarios. Take Gilded Lotus, and Manalith, smoosh them together, and you basically get Skyclave Relic.
Granted, not every deck wants Gilded Lotus or Manalith, but there're plenty of decks that do. If you need to get up to seven/eight/nine or more mana, then Relic can do that for you while also being able to come down on turn three if you need it to. That's not even thinking about stuff like Esix, Fractal Bloom or Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer that synergize with the weird quirks of this thing. I honestly think there are some decks playing cards like Star Compass that could be playing this instead. Again, if you don't need to get to four mana ASAP, then the flexibility and power of this card is worth the decrease in speed.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Underplayed: It's a lot easier to argue for three-mana ramp when cards like Skyclave Relic exist.
46: Chromatic Orrery: 6,424 Decks
So Chromatic Orrery is really two cards stapled together. One card is a mana rock that costs a super amount of mana and makes a stupid amount of mana. Not as good as something like Boundless Realms, but one that can go in any deck, and is an artifact for your Bosh, Iron Golem, or Daretti, Scrap Savant to abuse. Boring, but fine.
The second (and vastly more interesting) piece of our Orrery here is basically the third (and third most broken) ability on Mycosynth Lattice. I'm always a little surprised how much of a market there is to spend mana as though it were mana of any color. It's not even entirely weird stuff like Rasputin Dreamweaver. Like, Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix is a "real" commander, and she loves this thing. The difficulty with Kydele isn't the amount of mana, it's the fact that she only makes colorless mana, and Orrery just throws that problem in the garbage. There are a surprising number of decks that can make a bunch of colorless mana, and Orrery is not only an outlet for that mana, but it leads to some incredibly stupid turns. I almost wonder how much more play Orrery would see if you removed all the text except for that first ability, and made it a creature that cost, like, three mana. I'm glad they didn't, but I find the idea very funny.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: Only place I'm not into Orrery is in decks like Golos, Tireless Pilgrim to activate the WUBRG ability. Just run Chromatic Lantern.
35: Jeweled Lotus: 10,143 Decks
Honestly, one of the advantages of doing this series months after these cards come out is that it makes me sound a lot smarter than I actually am. When I first saw Jeweled Lotus, I definitely thought it was a completely busted mistake with no positive attributes. Can you blame me? They made Black Lotus Commander-legal, for crying out loud!
Even after cooler heads prevailed and plenty of people outlined why Jeweled Lotus was actually way more niche than it first appeared, I still wasn't happy about it. Yeah, there's tons of commander-supported or commander-agnostic decks where Lotus doesn't do enough to be worth the slot. I acknowledged the card isn't actually broken or worth banning, but what did we gain by this card existing? Now some games are just going to start with turn one Urza, Lord High Artificer or even a turn two Chulane, Teller of Tales. Even if that's only gonna happen, like, 1 out of 100 games, that's still 1 out of 100 games that are just depressing to participate in. I pretty much concluded I was never gonna even consider playing this card.
And then, months later, I was writing this article, and as I was thinking about Jeweled Lotus, and a thought started to percolate in my head:
This would be really funny in Braids, Conjurer Adept.
Yeah, when I think about Jeweled Lotus in the context of dumb, stupid, and downright janky commanders, I actually kinda like it. Turn 1 Urza is a depressing end to a game before it begins; turn 1 Gallowbraid is a story that makes the game memorable, and any good playgroup is going to respect that difference. I wouldn't put Lotus in my Xenagos, God of Revels deck because that deck does not need Lotus to be good, but I could absolutely imagine putting it in my deck where every card begins with the letter J because that deck needs all the help it can get. I can't say anything about this card's impact on cEDH, but for casual EDH, I think it can be fun in very specific decks. You ever heard the sentiment "use powerful cards for stupid things"? Treat Lotus like that.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: Look, I'm still not happy the card exists, but there's nothing we can do about that now, so let's see if can people do something fun with it.
That's My Garbage Take for the Evening!
One down, two to go! Next time we'll be looking at the planeswalkers of 2020! In the meantime, check out the Odds and Ends reddit post for this article, and let me know what you think about these rocks. Can we let Jeweled Lotus out of jail? Is the age of the Manalith finally upon us? Let me know in the comments. Until next week!