As a wise man once said, ‘those who spend the most Mana, in the most efficient way, tend to win the most games of Magic’. I honestly can’t quite remember where I heard that quote, who said it, or whether they were indeed a man, a woman, or a very sad robot. It sounds good though, and even if I did pull it out of my ass… it’s pretty huge.
The quote, obviously.
In Constructed and Limited magic, the latter part of the phrase – ‘in the most efficient way’ – tends to be the more important part. Being able to gain incremental advantages through activated abilities, being able to 2-for-1 your opponent, trading a 2 drop for a 4 drop – there are many things which can contribute to the efficient use of Mana. In Constructed, being efficient is key, and making sure you can use all of your Mana each turn in meaningful ways is the surest road to success.
When we look at Commander, efficiency is certainly a contributor to winning, but in any meta that doesn’t revolve around the top end of combo decks, being able to cast expensive and flashy spells quickly tends to have a greater impact. This is especially true if you have an expensive Commander, for instance – getting it out quickly and before people can set up and deal with it can be crucial. The same goes for expensive, game-altering spells – Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite can feel very one-sided in Constructed, sure, but when the Praetor’s -2/-2 anthem affects three other people, it can feel enormously polarising. At the same, it probably feels just as bad if you’re about to be swarmed by a token deck and you’re stuck on 6 mana with your favourite Phyrexian Queen in hand. Getting to seven Mana can sometimes be a challenge, but if you feel like this is too often an issue, it might not just be bad luck – it might be because you’re not playing enough lands.
Not plants that are inclined to spontaneously detonate, but the ability to go grab two basic lands and get them into play for a choice four Mana. Green is, as we all know, the colour with the best access to Mana acceleration. It can play many redundant versions of the same spell, like Cultivate and Kodama’s Reach, has a whole bunch of creatures that can get your lands into play, like Wood Elves, and even creatures that let you cheat out extra land drops from your hand like Azusa, Lost but Seeking. Hell, you can even play the top card of your library if it’s a land with Oracle of Mul Daya… twice. Nice.
Land shenanigans are mostly a Green thing, though, and when playing decks without access to Green spells, accelerating your land count (or even just hitting land drops) can be a lot harder. Many non-Green players tend to resort to Mana rocks for this exact reason. Mana rocks, in their simplest form, are Artifacts that produce Mana. From the tried-and-tested Sol Ring to the $320
Nintendo Switch Masterpiece Series Mana Vault, being able to generate extra Mana is valued by Commander players of all varieties, whether they’re building on a budget or not.
Mana rocks can be good, sure. In many multi-colour decks, they can go a long way towards fixing your Mana, especially if you can’t afford to fine tune your Mana base with all of the relevant fetches and shocks. Signets are notoriously good fixing even in Powered Cubes, and in EDH they can also put the work in for little investment when you’re trying to play three, four, or even all of the colours.
There’s one glaring issue with Mana rocks, however, and that is that they can be fragile. You are very likely to see artifact destruction in Commander, as artifacts can offer so much utility to so many decks that most players will run a number of answers to artifact-based threats. Sometimes, players will be generous enough to point their single target removal at your Mana rocks if there’s nothing better on the table, too – and sometimes it can actually be the best call if it shuts you off one of your colours completely. Outside of single target removal, you also have board wipes to worry about. Red, White, and Green are all very good at getting rid of artifacts, sometimes in one fell swoop, and sometimes modally, with the Commander all-star Austere Command being a personal favourite of mine.
When I do play Mana rocks, I tend to keep this in mind, and you should too. If I’m playing a 3+ colour deck, I’ll tend to opt for either versatile options like Chromatic Lantern (which provides a very relevant way to shore up awkward/unplayable hands); rocks that can replace themselves, such as Commander’s Sphere; or rocks that will survive a board wipe, like Darksteel Ingot. All of these are budget-friendly, with Chromatic Lantern having been recently reprinted in Guilds of Ravnica and the latter two seeing yearly printings in official Commander products.
Despite your best work to avoid being blown out completely, you are still likely to see someone hit the reset button with an Oblivion Stone effect. Getting rid of all nonland permanents can really set you back, even if you did try to diversify your board to avoid type specific wipes like Merciless Eviction and the aforementioned Austere Command. When the dust finally settles, what’s left?
One of the biggest strengths of Green-based decks is their ability to recover after a boardwipe. By putting all of their ramp into the land basket, they can generally avoid the undue suffering caused by losing nonland permanents whilst still curving out. It helps, too, that mass-land destruction is generally frowned upon as an ‘unfun’ mechanic. I’d go as far as to say that this is probably the leading contributor to why people see Green as the strongest Commander Colour and White as the weakest – by neutering or straight up removing one of the ways to balance Green ramp from the table, you’re obviously going to see a knock-on effect. It’s basic cause and effect.
So, what can you do to get that sweet two-mana ramp effect in other colours?
The first card I’d like to talk to you about is Wayfarer’s Bauble, which comes in at a whopping 25 cents. This artifact comes into play for 1 mana of any colour, and you can tap it, sacrifice it, and pay 2 colourless Mana to go and grab a Basic land from your deck and put it into play tapped.
This costs 1 more Mana than Rampant Growth, sure, but you’re paying for flexibility. This little rock can fit into any deck and is a perfectly viable turn one play in a format where turn one plays aren’t that common (sure, there are some good ones outside of Sol Ring, but the typically low density of them in your deck means that you won’t draw them too often). Being able to fix and ramp with no colour restrictions is great in decks with greedy colour commitments, and the ability to crack the Bauble when it’s convenient to you means that you don’t even need to crack it on turn 2 if you draw another spell to play, or if you naturally curve out through drawing lands. Just pay that 2 mana when you have nothing better to do! It ticks the efficiency box, the flexibility box, and the budget box. What’s more, if your opponent wipes the board, you’ll already have the land. Sweet. On the cuter side of plays is being able to recur it – decks that run Scrap Trawler, Junk Diver, or even Sun Titan can always grab this from the graveyard if there’s not a better target. Wayfarer’s Bauble is a card that I think many players overlook due to its relative abundance and unassuming power level. It’s not a Mana Vault by any means, but if you’re looking to ramp and fix your colours without risking your rocks getting blown up, it’s a solid budget choice.
Whether it’s navigating a Unix system to stop dinosaurs eating your face off, or having your battlestation fully operational, ‘getting online’ is one of the more pervasive borrowed terms in the Magic lexicon, and refers to the act of getting the system up and running. In Commander, this can be as simple as getting enough lands in play to get your favourite Legendary Creature into play, or as complex as resolving multiple artifacts and enchantments to get a loop started that your enemies will wish they’d seen coming. The second card I’d like to suggest this week is a card that combines the power of Rampant Growth and the flexibility of Wayfarer’s Bauble with a giant helping of cumulative value. At this point, you might be thinking of Thaumatic Compass, and honestly, it’s not a terrible suggestion, especially as it can flip into a Maze of Ith to protect you from any nasty creatures your opponents might send your way (or just Commander damage!). It doesn’t quite do what we want though, which is putting the lands directly into play. For a similar price, I’d much rather suggest Sword of the Animist, a card that is steadily rising in price. You need to get in on this one soon if you haven’t already, as it’s never going to be this cheap again. So, what does your $3.50 get you? Well, to use another lexicon term – Rampant Growth on a stick. The sword provides you with the power of a premium Green ramp spell, but without the colour restriction and with a nice creature buff attached.
Sword of the Animist is a Legendary Artifact Equipment and costs 2 to play and 2 to equip. When the creature it’s attached to attacks, we get to Rampant Growth for free. That’s pretty sweet, and when considered in the context of what we’ve talked about thus far – the minimal risk approach to ramp – this card is pretty great. The downside is, of course, having to have a creature to equip the sword to, but most opponents aren’t going to remove a seemingly inconsequential early game body at the drop of a hat. What’s more, even if you have no profitable attacks, you can still throw away that creature to get the trigger – it only has to attack, after all! The absolute worst case scenario is that you’ve spent 4 mana to get a premium artifact or creature removal spell out of an opponent’s hand (assuming the creature you played already did what it was meant to), but on average you’ll be able to get this card to pay for itself – if you get 2 activations out of this, anything else is gravy.
So, aside from ramping out, what can this ‘Sword of Ramp ‘n’ Growth’ do for you?
- It’s easy to forget, but you do get a +1/+1 buff too. This can increase Commander damage, or let your smaller bodies get the edge they need to trade with a larger creature – like we said, the trigger will still go off when they attack, so they don’t need to survive.
- Landfall. Ohhhhh baby. Just when you thought this article didn’t concern you, the privileged Green player, you got roped back in like a Labrador hearing the sweet, sweet rustle of plastic packaging from the other side of the house. Landfall is really strong, and being able to hit those triggers more than once in a turn can be brutal. Sword of the Animist can get you there. I’ve heard Emeria Shepherd is pretty good, too, so yeah. Landfall.
- It can get you ‘Online’. Yeah, I didn’t go out of my way with such a laboured pun for nothing. There are some great cards in Commander that care about the number of Basic lands you have in play. At the low end of the curve, something like Endless Atlas needs three lands with the same name in order to activate, and at the top end, we have some cards like Cabal Coffers, which, if you don’t have your Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth in play are much less effective in a non-mono black deck. Then, of course, we have Emeria, the Sky Ruin. This card is an absolute engine. It’s dreadfully underplayed, and getting it online can be easier than you think.
- It might not be obvious, but thinning your deck of lands turn after turn is actually a really great way to improve your draws. The chance of drawing a spell instead of a land can go up exponentially the more activations the Sword provides you.
- Lots of mana is good.
Keen readers might be noticing a bit of a pattern here, in that a lot of my recommendations are sounding like a Boros player mining for that diamond in the rough. I prefer to look at it this way: through great hardship comes great strength. If it wasn’t for the weaknesses scattered throughout the colour pie, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate how powerful the strengths can be. It’s a truly fantastic system, and I think it’s probably the most impressive thing about this game from a technical and flavour point of view.
And honestly? The majority of games in which I can play Sword of the Animist or Mask of Memory, I end up as the player with the most land on the table and the most options in my hand, and the games in which I’ve deployed the two equipments are ones I usually emerge victorious from. While trying to avoid the risk of homogenizing decks, I can’t express to you enough how good these cards can be, and they are so, so cheap. I’m sure one day in the not so distant future I’ll be ruing the day I told you these cards were good (I’m already suffering from friends playing more Deserts after my previous article), but for now, I’ll spread the joy.
Go out and buy yourself some budget cards today!
If you liked this piece, hit me up on Twitter @TheKristenEmily. I know I enjoyed writing it. I’ll have more for you next week.