Singleton Shmingleton - Manalith

Manalith | Art by Charles Urbach

That's a Big Rock

Hello, and welcome back to Singleton Shmingleton, where I bend the singleton rules of Commander by building decks with as many functional reprints of a certain card as possible. This week we're taking on one of the old guards of the format, Manalith. There was once a time when you could find this rock in every unsleeved Commander deck, and I've probably tapped it for a hundred mana over the years.

Except maybe I haven't? Looking through my cards, I don't even own a Manalith, and I think my friends were probably playing Darksteel Ingot and Boros Cluestone, which is a sign that this is a perfect card for this series. It's an iconic card, one of the first ones I think of when I think of Commander, and yet I can't even tell it and its functional reprints apart. This is going to be fun.

But first I have to ask: why do stone pillars produce mana? Manalith is a pun, but it hearkens back to earlier obelisks, the first being Basalt Monolith. There's no explanation for why this mound of igneous rock makes so much mana, nor why you have to pay to untap it. Maybe you store your mana in the rock somehow? This design was repeated in Grim Monolith, which is the same idea, but I guess grim because the costs aren't balanced? You get more than you store once, but then you have to pay extra later. And it has scary art. Very grim.

Anyways, there are a lot of Manalith variants. Here's a list:

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Wanna See My Rock Collection?

Most of these have minor upsides, often in the form of a second activated ability or a free bonus somewhere. Before you fight me, I know that Heraldic Banner and Cryptolith Fragment are not pure Manaliths, as the former commits you to one color and the latter makes you lose life, but they're close enough. Also, isn't it weird that out of these thirty cards, two of them follow the naming format "[Noun] of Endless [Noun]"?

The two most-played Manaliths, by an enormous margin, are Commander's Sphere, at 399,900 decks, followed by Chromatic Lantern, at 206,935 decks. These two are staples, they've each seen multiple reprints, and have each appeared in preconstructed decks. Manalith itself slots into 9,586 decks, which puts it at twentieth out of these thirty rocks. That's pretty darn respectable, considering that all the cards it's beating out are strictly better! The least played of these rocks is Ticket Turbotubes, which only makes the cut in 304 decks. It's recent, its upside does nothing without support, and many people don't want Un-set cards in their games. Makes sense.

But I don't know if thirty rocks is enough. If we want to expand our definition to any three-mana artifact that makes one mana, here're a few more of my favorites:

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Pristine Talisman just feels so good. I've put it in way too many decks because that free life gain is more fun than winning, and 34,137 people appear to agree with me. Also, more people should play Serum Powder. I know the free mulligan is less useful in multiplayer, where you already get a free mulligan, but if your deck is built around finding one of a select few cards in your deck, this effect is still very useful. I'm not saying it should be a staple, but more than the 649 decks it currently has would be happy with the extra consistency.

Who Will Lead This Army of Stones?

Usually I build a deck and then choose a general to lead it, but this time there was only ever one choice. There's only one legend with the word Manalith on it, after all.

The womanalith herself! Svella is perfect for this deck. She provides her own rocks if we ever run out, and she acts as a mana sink later on, and we need mana sinks, because this deck has over 40 mana rocks. In fact, there's very little room for anything else. Well, we can't let Svella's second ability go to waste, can we? We'll have to add in some ramp payoffs.

Oh yeah, these cards are so big. I filled out the rest of the deck with some of my favorite baddies. I didn't include any of the Eldrazi Titans, but only because I like the less-played Eldrazi better. You can put in whatever top end you want, since we sacrificed power for theme long ago. My only rule for myself was to make every payoff cost eight or more; otherwise we wouldn't be cheating on cost with Svella's ability!

Manalith Math

One of the reasons three-mana rocks are so much less desirable than two-mana rocks is that their sequencing is clunkier. If you play an Arcane Signet on turn two, then on turn three you have four mana, which you can tap for two more two-mana rocks, which you can tap for another two-mana rocks. With a hand full of three-mana rocks, the inefficiency multiplies when we try to sequence them. On turn three we get a rock, then on turn four we can play another and tap both and our fourth land to play a third. That's three rocks on turn four instead of four on turn three.

Unless we draw Sol Ring, we won't be able to activate Svella's second ability until at least turn six, and even then it has a 47% chance of not hitting a big creature payoff. Our consolation prize is that we will almost always (85%) hit another Manalith, so at least we won't have to regret using Svella's second ability rather than her first.

Another fun part of the deck is that the abilities tacked onto our Manaliths do come up. If we don't have anything going on, Fountain of Ichor can block just fine, and Bonder's Ornament can draw into action. We can use Spinning Wheel almost as removal, and Honored Heirloom to annoy graveyard decks. This is a perfect deck to showcase these overcosted abilities since we're running almost exclusively ramp! Filling the deck with air really brings out the subtler aromas.

A Couple of Card Spotlights

Metalwork Colossus is so good in this deck. With three Manaliths out it costs two, and with four or more it's free. It can keep coming back if we run out of gas, and it's simply huge. It's worth remembering that the Icy Manalith tokens that Svella makes have a mana value of zero even though they cost three to make, so there's no discount there.

Seedborn Muse untaps Svella and all of our rocks every turn. If we have three mana rocks, we can use Svella's first ability every turn, which will quickly ramp us into using her second ability every turn instead.

The Great Aurora is perfect in this deck because we have a mix of small replaceable permanents and big payoffs. If we have no creatures out, we can cast this and not have to worry about downgrading any of our stuff. We're also running almost only permanents (you could turn this into a Primal Surge deck easily if that's your jam), so we'll get to dump more of our hand than most other decks.

The Decklist

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Until Next Time

I hope you enjoyed this truly classic battlecruiser deck. Next time I'll be going lower to the ground with Savannah Lions, the headliner of Magic's original aggro deck. Let's see if a stack of them can hold up against three opponents and 120 life!

Jesse Barker Plotkin started playing Magic with Innistrad. He was disqualified from his first Commander game after he played his second copy of Goblins of the Flarg, and it's all been uphill from there. Outside of Magic, he enjoys writing and running.

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