Ranking Every Mana Rock with EDHREC – Part 8: Two Ramp, or Not Two Ramp?
(The Great Henge| Art by Adam Paquette)
Editing is Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaard
One quirk about writing these articles where we rank some subset of cards based on how many decks they have on EDHREC is that I am at the complete mercy of the numbers to decide what cards I'm writing about, and how interesting they are. Now, it's very rare that I’ll have nothing to say about a card, but sometimes I’ll get a list of ten cards, I'll say everything I wanna say with minimal cuts, and we get out of here in about 1,700-1,900 words. Today, though, I'm looking at my list of ten cards, and I could probably write 1,000 words about most of them. Were I less restrained, I could easily write a double length article here, but ain't nobody got time for that, so I'll probably be condensing a lot of my thoughts to save space.
Although now I realize that making this intro about saving space... has taken up some space. Whoops.
40: Manalith: 6,833 Decks
If you're new here, I talk about "Manalith variants” (a three-mana rock that taps for any color, usually with more upside than Manalith) a lot on this series. It might sound strange to put this much importance on a random common, but I think that Manalith is really one of the first places people can learn how to evaluate cards for their decks.
Because if you look at Manalith in isolation, it's really not a terrible card. Given two identical decks except one's running Manalith, and the other is running Mana Geode, the second deck is maybe 1% more powerful. Most Manalith variants we talk about will function identically to Manalith 95% of the time, and that's all they really need to do. So why are most of us so eager to supply new players with substitutes to Manalith? It's not like replacing it is going to make those decks substantially more powerful.
No, we tell people not to play Manalith because it's a super easy switch to make. Literally any player can look at Manalith, then look at one of the many three-mana rocks with upside, and say, "This one is better in my deck." It's a tiny thing, but this type of thinking, where you evaluate a card against other options for a specific purpose, is what makes people better deckbuilders. It's the same thinking needed to realize when a deck wants Heraldic Banner over Geode for the power boost, or more generally, when a deck should cut the Boundless Realms that isn't ramping into anything. Having archetypes like "The Manalith variant" makes it very easy to not view cards in isolation, but within a specific deck, and against other options. This guideline is one of the biggest ways I've personally gotten better at deckbuilding.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Overplayed: And if you think after this I'm done talking about Manalith, you obviously haven't heard me talk about Wastes yet.
39: Blinkmoth Urn: 6,940 Decks
I can sum up my experience with Blinkmoth Urn as such: I find that it’s always really impressive for me when I'm playing against it. Sure, Blinkmoth Urn can make a million mana for you, but if an opponent is even slightly interested in artifacts, it's probably making them a million mana, too. This has kept me from putting it in random artifact decks over more one-sided ramp-like cards like Unwinding Clock, but there's faster decks that could take advantage of it. Some colorless decks will happily give opponents extra mana for the benefit of casting their big scary monsters faster.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: There's also some benefit if you can tap it, but I rarely see that happen outside of Urza, Lord High Artificer.
38: The Diamonds: 7,226 Decks
(Fire Diamond: 10,707; Sky Diamond: 8,838; Charcoal Diamond: 8,134; Marble Diamond: 6,826; Moss Diamond: 1,624)
Oooookaaaaay. I've danced around it for a while, but I guess it's time to have the two-mana ramp discussion, and why I think it's not quite as good as everyone says it is.
Two-mana rocks like the Diamonds can definitely be very powerful. The less mana you can pay for the same effect, the better. That's just simple math. A mana rock on turn two can get you four mana on turn three, and for some decks, that is a magic number. If your commander costs four mana, that means it's coming out a full turn earlier, and that's huge. Or if your curve is low enough, that four mana can let you consistently cast multiple two drops, which other ramp can't do. There's a ton of flexibility and power that these rocks can provide. They can be the best ramp for a lot of decks.
However, somewhere along the way, the above statement turned into, "Two-mana ramp is the best ramp," and eventually, "Ramp that costs more than two is bad," and here's where I have to disagree. There's lots of decks where the Diamonds are on par with or worse than other rocks. If your commander costs five or six, what do the Diamonds actually do for you? Often they can come down on turn two, but if you can't actively take advantage of that fact most of the time, why are you playing what is essentially a bad Manalith?
To say that two-mana rocks are the default ignores a lot of decks where two-mana ramp doesn't do much. Some decks, like The Ur-Dragon, would rather play ramp that makes more mana. Some decks, like Nezahal, Primal Tide, don't care about getting to four mana and can afford to play a bit slower. Even some decks that have a four-drop commander, like Zedruu the Greathearted, would rather wait to play their commander until they can take advantage of it. If these decks consider what the purpose of two-mana ramp is, I think they'd find that other ramp meets their needs better.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Overplayed: I could be wrong. This is ultimately just my opinion, but I implore you to consider if the upside of cards like the Diamonds giving more mana early on is worth the downside of them entering tapped and doing absolutely nothing else.
37: Dowsing Dagger: 7,259 Decks
I am definitely not going to say having this on a list of mana rocks isn't a bit weird, but I will say that this is one of my favorite pieces of ramp in the past five years, and I'm happy to talk about it. There's almost always someone you can give the dorks to that will not care. There's almost always someone on turn 3-4 that won't be able to block, so as long as you have dorks to Equip to, this can consistently be a cheaper Gilded Lotus. Actually, sometimes it can be better than Lotus because you don't have to pay all four mana upfront. I think this should be on a similar level as Sword of the Animist. It's a top-tier piece of ramp for any deck that can attack.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Underplayed: Two dollars already? Goodness!
36: Mana Geode: 7,942 Decks
I'm going to come off fairly negative on Mana Geode, but I do think that the card is totally fine. In fact, I think it's the baseline for the "Manalith variant." It's $0.25, and has pretty vanilla upside, so it’s playable in any deck.
But also, ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. It's just not exciting. Even Commander's Sphere replaces itself and works well in decks like Daretti, Scrap Savant. There's just other, more relevant rocks that you could play. Maybe if you're on some sort of top deck matters deck, Geode is the best rock for the job, but even there, it's just so bland.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: It's not bad to run this, but man, I hope you're looking at other options.
35: Pristine Talisman: 8,347 Decks
Lifegain! This card says Lifegain. Did you know about Lifegain? This Lifegain card goes in the Lifegain decks to gain life, because Lifegain! Why wouldn't the Lifegain deck run the Lifegain rock? It's Lifegain every turn! By the way, did you know that this card has Lifegain on it?
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: LifegainLifegainLifegainLifegainLifegainLifegainLifegainLifegainLifegainLifegainLifegainLifegain
34: Unstable Obelisk: 8,505 Decks
Scour from Existence sees play in 6,677 decks. This seems like way too high a number (it wasn't that long ago when we were debating if Desert Twister was playable, was it?), but it does highlight that colorless decks could really use a way to just specifically kill one permanent. Obelisk does this, and is still a relevant Magic card on turn three, so it's definitely worth considering for those decks. Some colorless decks just want to ramp, ramp, ramp, and Obelisk isn't a great rock for those decks, but most colorless decks are slow enough that they can slot this in there.
Why any colored deck is running Obelisk, I have no idea. Sure, some colors have difficulty removing certain permanents, but player removal is better than seven-mana removal.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Overplayed: And that goes for Scour from Existence and Universal Solvent, too.
33: Astral Cornucopia: 8,851 Decks
This is technically another "Manalith with upside," but stop right there before you play it like one. When people play this, they either A: can abuse the X cost, like with Rosheen Meanderer, or B: can abuse the counters like our favorite angel Atraxa, Praetor's Voice. Otherwise, have fun spending 12 mana on this and then dying.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: This is another card where what the card says does not reflect why people actually want it.
32: Coldsteel Heart: 9,887 Decks
Look, I love Coldsteel Heart. When I need two-mana ramp for multicolored decks, this is one of the first ones that I reach for, and I would love for it to get another reprint, but this is a good example of how only playing two-mana ramp isn't always the best call. Most mono-color decks don't need this card. Ignoring the million colorless two-mana rocks, if they really have to have colored mana, it's generally worth the upside of being untapped to go up to the three-mana rocks. This card is really only excellent in multicolored decks, and even then, most of those are commanders that would rather have a mana rock that can tap for all of their colors. There're times where Heart is actively worse than Manalith, and decks with Heart might want to consider a Manalith variant, unless they really need four mana on turn three.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Overplayed: Again, I like this card. There're decks where it's really great, but I think its use is limited.
31: The Great Henge: 10,578 Decks
Alright, fine! I'll talk about the stupid Great Henge!
Jokes aside, I was surprised to see a ton of people object to me leaving Henge off my list of mana rocks originally. Sure, it has the traits one might assign a rock. It's basically a Sisay's Ring with a bunch of extra stuff, but that's exactly why I excluded it. Mana rocks are primarily ramp. It's very silly to say that you're playing a nine-mana rock that makes two mana for ramp. Tapping for mana may be a reason you play Henge, but it's not the primary reason, and so to put it in the category of "Mana Rock" feels wrong. However, it's hard to deny that Great Henge meets the technical requirements, and I already talked about other cards that meet the restriction less, so we might as well talk about the Great Henge.
From my experience, people tend to fall into two different camps with The Great Henge. Either they love the coolness factor, or they despise that they somehow had room for all this generically good text. Seriously, who the crap designed this? I remember looking at Guardian Project and being surprised that they released this mono-green staple in a random Magic set, and Great Henge makes that card look like Suleiman's Legacy. There's not a word of text on this card that doesn't lend itself to your average goodstuff midrange thing, and while that personally bugs me, I do see why some people are enamored by this card. There's definitely an allure to a card that makes already good creatures into excellent cantriping beasts, and still has more text on it. Plus, while it is very good, you don't have to play it. There's Beast Whisperer, Lifecrafter's Bestiary, and I just mentioned Guardian Project. Great Henge is definitely replaceable, but man, does it just scream EDH Durdle times!
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: It's fairly low on my list of cards I want to see reprinted, but I guess they can if they have time.
The Extravagant Ring-Shaped Dirt Channel
Well, I managed to barely squeeze all my thought into this article. What do you think about this batch? Is there a piece of the two-mana ramp discussion that I missed? Are you a fan of The Great Henge? Let me know in the comments! Until next week!
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