Ranking Every Mana Rock with EDHREC – Part 0: What is a Mana Rock?
(Caged Sun | Art by Scott Chou)
A New Story Begins
If Commander is the format of intricate flashy machines, then mana rocks are the oil that makes the machine run smoothly. Even the nuttiest, jankiest combo decks have to increase their resources early on, and mana rocks are some of the bests ways to do this. While mana rocks are not as safe as traditional land-based ramp, they can be used in any deck regardless of color identity, and even green based decks will take advantage of a few mana rocks here and there. There're going to be few decks that don't benefit from playing some amount of mana rocks.
Over the years, we’ve gotten a lot of new mana rocks, and the question is constantly asked: which mana rocks are still playable, and which ones are simply outclassed in the current EDH climate? Since EDHREC continues to let me stand here and ramble, let’s walk through all 115 mana rocks and rank them by how many decks they appear in on EDHREC!
But First... What is a Mana Rock?
If you voted in the poll on my last stupid journey, you may have noticed that I originally said there were 130(ish) mana rocks. Well, I was using a rough draft of a list that had basically anything that made mana on it, but now that we’re actually doing this thing, we’re gonna need to get more specific. Before we can even start to talk about mana rocks, we need to answer the question: what are they?
(EDHREC pays someone to make these memes for me. Ain't it great, Christian?)
Look, here’s the thing. You and I already instinctively know what a mana rock is. We each have a general idea what someone means when they say "mana rock." A Sol Ring, a Fellwar Stone, a Commander’s Sphere. You probably would call these all mana rocks without thinking about it. The issue is that when you try and get all the mana rocks together, you start to realize that the reasons why we think these are mana rocks isn’t entirely clear. We could just say that a mana rock is “an artifact that make mana,” but do you really want to say that something like Prying Blade is a mana rock?
So obviously a mana rock is something more than that, but... what, exactly?
When we try and identify why we think something to be true, that's where things get muddy. Some might argue that something like Caged Sun is a mana rock because it makes mana, while others view it as a mana doubler, because it doesn't tap to make mana. These are small particulars, but when your series title is "Ranking Every Mana Rock," the particulars are gonna matter. All this is to say, there's absolutely no definition that everyone will agree on. This is the definition we'll be using:
A mana rock is a noncreature artifact that can produce its own mana as its primary function.
Due to this definition, there are probably going to be some things you might not consider mana rocks on the list, or some things excluded that you would indeed categorize as mana rocks, but we gotta draw the line somewhere. I went with the definition that included as much as possible, without letting in the things that didn’t feel like mana rocks. However, to compensate for this, our Part 0 article will walk through the things excluded by this definition and talk about them, just for completion's sake.
- Palladium Myr: 8,596 Decks
- Iron Myr: 5,642 Decks
- Plague Myr: 4,833 Decks
- Silver Myr: 4,648 Decks
- Ramos, Dragon Engine: 4,489 Decks
- Crystalline Crawler: 4,038 Decks
- Leaden Myr: 3,546 Decks
- Hedron Crawler 3,354 Decks
- Metalworker: 2,931 Decks
- Manakin: 2,811 Decks
- Millikin: 2,514 Decks
- Scuttlemutt: 1,883 Decks
- Alloy Myr: 1,875 Decks
- Copper Myr: 976 Decks
- Opaline Unicorn: 836 Decks
- Workhorse: 624 Decks
- Lotus Guardian: 38 Decks
It's pretty obvious what the “noncreature” part excludes. Most decks want mana rocks, but not every deck wants their mana on creatures. These artifact dorks are far more fragile than mana rocks, dying to any mass removal spell under the five suns, while also costing about as much mana, so without some sort of synergy with the creature aspect, these aren’t really worth playing. When they do have synergy, like when they’re extra targets for Zada, Hedron Grinder, they can be excellent, serving as an effect your deck needs, and increasing a decks overall synergy. Outside of this, they aren’t really worth it, which makes them feel very different from the typical rock.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: If we ever get around to “Ranking every Mana Dork,” these will get their time to shine, but for now, we’re interested in our non-sentient friends.
- Seat of the Synod: 16,102 Decks
- Great Furnace: 11,964 Decks
- Vault of Whispers: 7,940 Decks
- Ancient Den: 7,529 Decks
- Tree of Tales: 2,075 Decks
Really? You really want me to argue why these aren’t mana rocks? I’ve spent the past 9 months talking about lands. What can possibly be gained by me indulging this argument, other then making me seem even more pedantic than I already am? These don’t ramp you, so they don’t technically “produce” mana. Moving on.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: I can never escape the lands.
- Prophetic Prism: 3,073 Decks
- Arcum's Astrolabe: 996 Decks
- Mana Cylix: 182 Decks
- Celestial Prism: 38 Decks
- Standing Stones: 4 Decks
Before I get to this category, can we talk about how laughably terrible some of these are? Look at Standing Stones. Three mana, not to ramp you, but just to mana fix you once a turn. Nowadays, a three mana ramp artifact like Manalith is often not good enough to see play. Heck, we have the ability to fix all our lands with Chromatic Lantern, and get mana fixing too! Then the real kicker is that they decided that three mana for an Unknown Shores wasn’t enough. No, they had to make you pay life every time they use it. Just to remind you that you’re a bad person if you try not to get mana screwed in the game of Magic the Gathering. That’s not even the worst one. Enter Celestial Prism, where Wizards decided that mana fixing was so powerful, they had to make you lose mana when using it. Because clearly being able to fix your mana multiple times just needed a giant downside to compensate. No, that’s okay, Wizards! I didn’t want to be able to play this game I spent money on anyway!
What was I talking about? Oh, right! Mana filter artifacts. The whole point of mana rocks is that they should be able to produce mana. These obviously don’t do that, so they're not mana rocks. Easy enough, and it's not like anyone’s gonna cry that these aren’t on the list. Just play regular mana rocks that’ll fix your mana and ramp you. The only ones that see regular play are the ones that draw you a card like Prophetic Prism, and those are played not because they fix mana, but because they're cheap artifacts that draw a card and can be blinked with something like Brago, King Eternal.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Underplayed: That said, I need to see Standing Stones more, just for the lolz.
- Chromatic Sphere: 2,677 Decks
- Chromatic Star: 2,030 Decks
- Terrarion: 1,319 Decks
- Golden Egg: 1,122 Decks
- Guild Globe: 973 Decks
- Barbed Sextant: 461 Decks
- Kaleidostone: 147 Decks
- Astrolabe: 52 Decks
- Implements of Sacrifice 36 Decks
Artifacts that can be sacrificed to make mana, and/or draw cards are almost always fueling an unfair gameplan. Whether its some sort of infinite combo with Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle, or being cast over and over again with Emry, Lurker of the Loch, Eggs are always used simply as cheap ways to dig through a deck. However, again, these don’t actually produce mana. They're closer to mana filtering than mana rocks. No one’s playing them because they produce mana, they’re playing them to get them in the graveyard, so they’re off the list.
However, you may notice that some cards that sacrifice for mana not on the above list. Stuff like Lotus Petal and Lion’s Eye Diamond. I went back and forth on whether those were actually mana rocks or not. On one hand, they are technically mana positive, so they can ramp you for one turn. On the other hand, ramp tends to be seen as something permanent, and these types of cards are only temporary. Ultimately, I decided that if these cards could produce more mana than it cost to play & activate them, they would be left on the list. People play cards like Lotus Petal for the purposes of ramp, however temporary, whereas no one plays Chromatic Star because it can make mana. The eggs can be degenerate not on this series, while the ritual rocks can be in my decks, helping me cast my Morality Shift a turn earlier.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: Mmmmmmmmmmm. Eggs.
- Caged Sun: 21,159 Decks
- Extraplanar Lens: 7,972 Decks
- Gauntlet of Power: 5,991 Decks
- Gauntlet of Might 748 Decks
This is probably going to be the other contentious one. An argument could be made that Caged Sun does everything a mana rock does, so there’s no reason these shouldn’t be mana rocks. I get that, but I feel mana rocks differ from mana doublers in the same way that Kodama’s Reach differs from Boundless Realms. Both are technically ramp, but one is to help propel you into a position where you can start to impact the board, and the other is more of an “I win” button that is used once you’re trying to get to a point where you can end the game. Counting something like Zendikar Resurgent in the same category as Rampant Growth is technically true, but they absolutely don’t serve the same function. Hence, we’ve stipulated that mana rocks have to produce their own resources. Caged Sun itself doesn’t make mana. It allows the resources you already have to be twice as effective, so it won’t be on here.
But don’t worry; do you want to know if you should play these? Let’s see, do you want to make a bajillion mana? Yes? Then play them. I’ve now basically said what I would say if these were on the list. Wait, actually, one more thing: WotC, reprint plz. Okay, there you go.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: Also ousted by this rule of 'things that don’t produce their own mana' is Paradise Mantle. Technically since the equipped creature makes the mana, Mantle will have to wait another day.
Mana as a Secondary Function
- Ashnod's Altar: 39,441 Decks
- Phyrexian Altar: 14,855 Decks
- The Great Henge: 8,041 Decks
- Treasure Map: 4,484 Decks
- Altar of Shadows: 220 Decks
- Diamond Kaleidoscope: 39 Decks
So once we’ve struck out all the big offenders, we’re left with about five or six cards that technically fit the general outline of a mana rock, but putting them on the list just feels wrong. No one looks at Treasure Map and says, “Ah yes. My favorite mana rock.” No one’s playing The Great Henge because it taps for two green mana, so judging it on that axis just feels silly. Even Phyrexian Altar and Ashnod’s Altar are not going to be in decks that don’t want to put creatures into the graveyard. In which case, they're sacrifice outlets first, and mana ramp second. Very good pieces of mana ramp, but still only as a secondary effect. So to get all these cards out of the way, we're gonna say that mana rocks must produce mana as their primary function. They can do something else, but when they're put into a deck, it should be to make mana above all else.
I do wanna highlight two cards in this list. First, what the heck is Diamond Kaleidoscope? Have you ever wanted to make 0/1 creatures for three mana, but then sacrifice those creatures for more mana? I can’t say I have, but I don’t think its unplayable. If a deck have some way to take advantage of the tokens, it can be a second Nuisance Engine, and then I guess you can also make mana with the token, for some reason.
Second, Altar of Shadows is the type of card I really love, but cannot tell you what deck wants it. Fourteen mana to kill one creature is not a good deal. However, being able to unconditionally kill a thing once a turn, while also making more mana over time just sounds amazing. Plus, once you get one counter on it, then you can Proliferate it, and that sounds delightfully evil. I certainly don’t know if it’s good, but I do know that I want to make it work at some point.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Underplayed: I mean, it’s kinda silly to lump them all together when I’m really just trying to figure out what Diamond Kaleidoscope is, but sure!
So I think that covers all my bases, right? That should cover all of them, right? Right...?
Oh, yeah. There's still this one.
Fine. I'll adjust our definition to "A noncreature artifact that can produce its own mana as its primary function and that’s also not Prying Blade."
The Preparation Ends, and the Journey Begins
And with that, I think we can finally start this thing. Next week, we begin the actually journey of ranking every mana rock. I expect it to be a more comfortable journey than our trek through all the lands, but there’s some stuff on this list that can hopefully get some creative gears turning, as well as hopefully some general lessons on what makes mana rocks good. As always, let me know what you think about this collection of misfits in the comments. How Right/Wrong/Completely asinine is my definition of a mana rock? What's your definition? Let me know all this in the comments! Until next week!