Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ramping With Mana Rocks

This post is a list of the typical mana rocks in Commander and how much mana you have access to the turn after they come into play.

What's a mana rock?

There are quite a few artifacts in Magic, going all the way back to the original set, that generate mana. Since we can only play one land per turn under normal circumstances, cards that let us "get around" that rule speed us up (ramp). Driving up the ramp lets us play bigger spells than we should be able to, earlier in the game. As for why they are called "rocks," most of the cards in question are thematically stones, rock, jewels, or something similar.

To run this analysis, we have to make a few assumptions. With 40 lands in your Commander deck and using your mulligan to get to 3 lands in your opening hand, you will almost always make your first 4 land drops. Someone who is better at math than I am can figure out the exact probability.

Here's a simple example:

Mind Stone

Mind Stone costs 2 mana to cast and taps for 1 mana. So, by turn 2, you've played 2 lands and then tap out to play the Mind Stone. Technically, you can tap the Mind Stone that turn and use the 1 mana for something else, but this analysis is more concerned with what happens on the next turn.

Turn 1: Land
Turn 2: Land, Mind Stone
Turn 3: Land

With 3 lands in play and the Mind Stone, you can make a total of 4 mana on the 3rd turn.

Here's another example:

Gilded Lotus

Turn 1: Land
Turn 2: Land
Turn 3: Land
Turn 4: Land
Turn 5: Land, Gilded Lotus
Turn 6: Land

With 6 lands in play and the Gilded Lotus, you can make a total of 9 mana on the 6th turn. (The likelihood of making all 6 of your opening land drops is low. But with some other mana rocks on earlier turns, ramping into the Gilded Lotus is more reasonable.)

To recap:

  • Mind Stone: 4 mana on the 3rd turn
  • Gilded Lotus: 9 mana on the 6th turn

This isn't meant to be a complete list of all ramp in the game. Take a look at how this works and then apply it to your own deck. You can also compare different ramp cards against each other this way.

Onto the ramp!

Sol RingMana CryptMana VaultGrim Monolith

For raw speed, these are the most "broken" of the Commander-legal mana rocks. They all give you more mana than you started with on the turn they come into play. This is sometimes called "fast mana." Most have drawbacks, except for Sol Ring. :)
  • Sol Ring: 4 mana on the 2nd turn (2 mana on the 1st turn)
  • Mana Crypt: 4 mana on the 2nd turn (3 mana on the 1st turn)
  • Mana Vault: 5 mana on the 2nd turn (3 mana on the 1st turn)
  • Grim Monolith: 5 mana on the 3rd turn (3 mana on the 2nd turn)

Mind StoneWorn PowerstoneThran DynamoGilded Lotus

In the slightly less broken category, we get these rocks. They give you less mana than you started with on the turn they come into play, but do ramp you on the next turn. These tend to not have drawbacks. Some have an upside, like Mind Stone which can be converted into a card draw or Gilded Lotus which can make colored mana.
  • Mind Stone: 4 mana on the 3rd turn
  • Worn Powerstone: 6 mana on the 4th turn
  • Thran Dynamo: 8 mana on the 5th turn
  • Gilded Lotus: 9 mana on the 6th turn

Chromatic LanternDarksteel IngotAzorius CluestoneAzorius Keyrune

The sweet spot for rocks that ramp you only 1 turn but have an upside is at 3 mana, tap for 1. These rocks give you a smaller boost than the categories above, but almost always give you a little something extra to sweeten the deal.

  • Chromatic Lantern: 5 mana on the 4th turn
  • Darksteel Ingot: 5 mana on the 4th turn
  • Azorius Cluestone*: 5 mana on the 4th turn
  • Azorius Keyrune*: 5 mana on the 4th turn
  • Obelisk of Bant**: 5 mana on the 4th turn

*There are Cluestones and Keyrunes for all of the guild color pairs as well.
**You guessed it; there are Obelisks for each of the tri-color shard combinations.

Coalition Relic

Special mention goes to Coalition Relic. It works like the rocks in the list above, except you can tap it to charge it up the turn it comes into play. This gives you 2 colored mana on the next turn.

  • Coalition Relic: 6 mana on the 4th turn

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Playing (on the edge of) Fair

So, I made someone cry while playing Magic a few weeks ago.

Maybe it wasn't my fault. Maybe they were just having a bad day. But, I'll bet that 5c Cromat Control (Burberry Cologne) wasn't helping the situation. It went down like this.


A few weeks ago, my friendly local gaming store decided to change the Commander schedule. They do this from time to time, I think to punish the players for getting into a routine. I stubbornly arrive at the old time, hoping that others will join me in a protest for changing the schedule. Instead, it's the Born of the Gods release. Everyone is doing that.

One of the guys from the store is up for a game of Commander, but he didn't bring his deck. I have two decks, so I've got him covered. One other player has dropped from the Born of the Gods release and is also up for a game of Commander. The store decides to make it an official three-person game, for prizes. Great.

My 5c Cromat deck is over 50% non-English cards so it's not super-friendly as a loaner. I don't really intend to play it "officially," but since I'm lending my Dark Eldrazi deck to the other guy, I'm going to have to. The third player drops Sliver Queen on the table. I immediately assume it's going to be combo-Sliver beatdown and I feel less worried about playing my 5c deck. You see, the 5c deck isn't a whole lot of fun to play against.

As an aside, let me just say that the 5c control deck IS a whole lot of fun to play against if you are into that sort of thing. I happen to like control match-ups, technical plays, and counter wars. But not everyone does and it may not be in the "spirit of the format." More on that later.

Sliver Queen

Back to the table. I start to make conversation and realize that the Sliver Queen player is not, in fact, playing bomb Sliver combo. She's just playing Slivers, sort of. She doesn't get to do much as I've got Stranglehold, Humility, Moat, and some other stuff out. It's bad. Bad, bad. To be fair, we both end up losing the game to my Dark Eldrazi deck off an Exsanguinate for 39. Yes, 39. Thank you Liliana's ultimate. And I don't have the counter in hand because I was stopping combo Sliver from going off (which of course it never would have, because it wasn't actually combo Sliver). Unh.

She says, "that's it?" I start apologizing and try to explain that there are normally lots of players, not just three. Not every game goes this way. I invite her to play again.

The Dark Eldrazi deck is inherently fair. When it wins, it almost always does it with attacks. Yes, those attacks often have annihilator triggers attached to them, but there are no crazy combos. The deck starts to actually do something on turn 7 or 8 and almost exclusively plays one threat per turn. It kills, at most, one player per turn. What I mean about "fair" is that it does not do the following:

Ramp --> Tooth and Nail --> Win
Ramp --> Primal Surge --> Win
Ramp --> Genesis Wave --> Win
High Tide --> Omniscience --> Enter the Infinite --> Win

Tooth and NailPrimal Surge
OmniscienceEnter the Infinite

I don't have a problem with this stuff, but it turns the game into a race to see who can hit 10ish mana first with the right card in hand. In that sense, these decks aren't playing "fair" because they aren't really interacting. They are doing their own thing, burning through 40 life, and then winning suddenly.

But! When the Dark Eldrazi deck is working, a couple of big attacks steps is tough to recover from. So, I play the 5c Control deck again thinking that I can drag the game out and see what her deck can do. Somewhere around turn 4, I have Intuition into Life from the Loam and a couple of cycling lands. Every turn, I'm dredging and cycling and drawing and there's lot of shuffling involved since I am fetching every turn, and she's just sitting there drifting away. At some point, there are tears. Great.

IntuitionLife from the Loam

See, the weird thing is that the 5c deck is technically "fair" by the definition above. There are no crazy combos. In fact, it either wins with Cromat beat down, one player at a time, or with a 10 mana, two-turn Door to Nothingness, one player at a time. It's slow. It's technical. It makes whatever you are trying to do difficult or impossible to do. It's not splashy, it's not big, it doesn't encourage interaction or bring about cool board states. So, even though it's "fair," it's not in the "spirit of the format."

Where does that leave me? Can I walk on the edge of fair?

Kozilek, Butcher of TruthLightning GreavesStrionic Resonator

I do like the Dark Eldrazi deck. And even though it will occasionally drop Kozilek, equip Lightning Greaves, attack, and copy of the annihilator 4 trigger with Strionic Resonator, that's pretty rare. It's brutal, but fair. It doesn't win me the game on the spot. At best, it puts serious hurt on one player, especially if they are light on permanents already. It does not, for example, cast Jokulhaups (which is totally legal and only 6 mana), a card that makes me cry.