Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The Best Mana Rocks

I am doing this as the result of a request however I am surprised that I have not embarked upon it before as it is quite an obvious, powerful and highly played group of cards to consider. The reason that I have not done this before is that there are a couple of stages of ramp cards when it comes to artifacts. It is rarely much use playing power like Gilded Lotus if you don't have any way to play it before turn five. Ramp that you can play on turns one or two with any reliability is generally not as powerful as the bigger cards but you need far more of it in decks and cubes. I will do this list based entirely on how often mana rocks are played specifically in artifact ramp decks. To do this list and include all archetypes would unfairly show up the cheaper colour producing mana rocks which are typically weaker in the decks trying to ramp up to something really big. A lot of the cards on this list are on my banned list. More oddly a lot of the cards on this list are lands, it turns out that they are some of the best and most important cards at performing the role of the early mana rock cards despite not technically counting as such.

This list includes every mana rock that I have played or seen played in the cube format and is surprisingly small as a result. Much of this is down to the imbalance of the early stuff making only the top quality fair things viable for cube use. I am starting with the best because they are much more obvious and far less interesting. When you are playing any sort of artifact ramp deck you will simply play every single card you have that is on the top 13 of this list, they are all just so nutty good. The interesting part is which of the fair ramp cards are best used to fill in the gaps your power cards are missing. 

Sol Ring1.   Sol Ring

Playable turn one for one mana and offers immediate ramp that turn and a double ramp the subsequent turns. There are no penalties, no downsides, nothing. Sol Ring is utterly unreasonably good, it is the honorary power nine that is better most of the time than the rest of the power nine. You could argue that colourless mana production is a weakness I guess... The only decks that don't happily auto include a Sol Ring when they can are those like RDW and white weenie (sometimes) where the vast majority of the cost of their cards is R or W mana and not colourless. Sol Ring is doubly good as an artifact ramp spell because most of the other artifact ramp cards are incredibly easy to cast off the back of a Sol Ring.

Mox Ruby

2.  The Good Mox

Very similar to Sol Ring in terms of power. The Mox offer the same ramp on the fist turn as Sol Ring but provide coloured mana as well allowing you to be much more flexible in what you can follow them with. On following turns they only offer a single ramp rather than the double Sol Ring offers making them somewhat less abusive. A good Mox draw is just a little unfair while a good Sol Ring draw is totally unfair. 

Tolarian Academy

3.   Tolarian Academy

The very best of the naughty lands that tap for way too much. Because of cards like Mox and Sol Ring the Academy is bonkers, it can tap for several blue on turn one and only gets more obnoxious as the game develops. It is much narrower than Mox and Sol Ring as you need support cards for it to reliably tap for loads. Despite this is it easily one of the most powerful cards in the game when you get it right allowing you to do whatever you want from turn two onwards.

Mana Crypt

4.   Mana Crypt

Sol Rings dangerous cousin the Mana Crypt is more potent ramp than the mighty Ring however it is only something you can play when you are able to win quickly. It is not a card you want with an infinite turns combo! As it is overall less playable the mana Crypt is easier to pick up than the premium mana ramp cards however when you are able to stomach 1.5 damage a turn then Mana Crypt is about as good as it gets.

Mishra's Workshop

5.   Mishra's Workshop

A land, that taps for three, from the get go, with no penalty, not even life loss or coming into play tapped. The mana is awkward to use, far far more so than with Sol Ring but when you are offered three times the usual for a land it is well worth finding things you can effectively play off the Workshop. It is fortunate for Workshop that it has great synergy with things like Tolarian Academy and the sorts of decks that want to generate lots of mana and use powerful artifacts.

Mana Vault

6.   Mana Vault

The first of the cards I haven't banned along with the power for most forms of cube play. It is not uncommon to see this banned however, it is certainly one of the closest to the line. For one mana you can ramp two right away like a Dark Ritual or you can save it for a triple ramp on a later turn. It has great synergy with sac effects and untap effects and affords you great artifact synergy simply by being a useful one drop artifact. You can get it down and power up your other stuff without ever tapping it for mana! Used more for combos and big plays and not so much as a generic midrange ramp card.

Grim Monolith

7.   Grim Monolith

Slightly safer and slightly fairer the Grim Monolith is the other Mana Vault. It only ramps one on the turn you make it so it is far less common to have it surprise someone with a big play however once it is down it is going to do a big old ramp into something scary. It can be untapped at instant speed any time you like or it can just be left tapped doing nothing to hurt anyone. Most of the "unbeatable" openers in unpowered cube come from Vault and Monolith but they do require very tailored decks to appropriately use the power they offer. They are not quite as broken as the silly Workshop and Academy yet they are basically just as narrow.

Ancient Tomb

8.   Ancient Tomb

Lands that tap for three are too good even when you can only use them to cast a small fraction of the cards in the game. Lands that tap for two are pretty darn good, most that have seen print have seen play in some form or another and Ancient Tomb is the best of the bunch. It can be used right away and costs a mere two life. Being able to play a turn one Grim Monolith or even just a humble Talisman allows for some serious things to happen very fast indeed. Ancient Tomb follows many of the same deckbuilding guidelines as Mana Crypt. You want to win fast and you want lots of cards you can play with two colourless mana. As Tomb is a land not a spell you cannot usually cast anything coloured with it on turn one making it a little more restrictive than Crypt.

City of Traitors9.  City of Traitors

The other Ancient Tomb is a lot less painful and may be tapped many more times throughout the course of a game than you are able with Tomb. Sadly the City doesn't tend to stick around long enough to get tapped more than the Tomb does. You want to make City early and get loads of ramp out of it however you also want to make it as you last land so that you don't just put it in the bin after two taps. This makes it less reliable ramp and an inconvenient card but still almost always played happily in places you play Ancient Tomb. Even making it on turn one and losing it on turn two is four mana from one card which is pretty good. Often you can use that early burst to gain enough tempo to secure the game. Someone making conventional land drops will be behind in mana until turn four overall.

Mox Opal

10. Mox Opal

Tapping for any colour is nice but does not make up for the need of metalcraft for this to do anything at all. Fortunately, as is the case for Academy and Workshop you typically play lots of artifacts in the sorts of decks that abuse many of these cards and as such you should have a pretty reliable Mox Opal, typically online from turn two in unpowered cubes and turn one in the powered. Narrow but comfortably one of the most powerful magic cards in the right environment.

11. Metalworker

Another somewhat narrow mana ramp card that not only requires you to have a heavy artifact count in your deck but also costs three mana and comes with all the drawbacks of being a dork (summoning sickness and ease of killing). The reason Metalworker sits so high on this list is simply down to the raw mana production the card offers. I have seen these tapping for over 20, I have seen them tap on turn 2 for 10. That kind of mana lets you do basically everything you could want to all there and then. Metalworker likes cards such as Lightning Greaves or even Spellskite to help protect it and speed it up. Needing cards in hand is not really a drawback as you don't need mana when you have nothing in hand to play! Even when you only tap for 2 or 4 Metalworker is still nutty good. Even the green mana producing dudes don't really compare well to metalworker.

Gilded Lotus
12. Gilded Lotus

Gilded Lotus is often the card you use your early ramp to get out. Once you have a Lotus in play you feel incredibly powerful, able to cast whatever you like and simply overwhelm your opponent. Gilded Lotus is by far and away the most common non-creature Tinker target. Three mana of any colour typically means you can do useful things immediately after making the Gilded Lotus thus effectively reducing its cost to two. While not the most appropriate comparison it would be pretty clear how overpowered a 2 mana Gilded Lotus that came into play tapped was! Likely better than Sol Ring, certainly close.

Thran Dynamo13. Thran Dynamo

Gilded Lotus's colourless little brother the Thran Dynamo is a fine card in many of the same ways the Gilded Lotus is. The difference between four and five is not actually that much in the kinds of decks you play them in. Trying to cast something actually useful off the back of a Thran Dynamo is substantially harder than it is with Gilded Lotus which means you actually do tend to pay four mana for the card rather than the pseudo two for Lotus. Dynamo typically sets you back a turn so that all your following turns are terrifying. It is almost always the second or third big ramp card used in artifact ramp decks but it sees almost no play outside those archetypes.

Everflowing Chalice

14. Everflowing Chalice

A flexible little card you can throw down as a no mana do nothing to power up other things like Academy or Mox Opal, that you can make as a standard two mana ramp for one card, or that you can scale up for later use as a slightly pricier Thran Dynamo. By far and away the best use is as a two drop where it is most on curve for power level. Artifact ramp deck's biggest weakness is consistency and the strength of the Chalice is being able to fill a couple of different roles therefore greatly increasing the consistency of the deck. Part Talisman, part Thran Dynamo and still fetchable with a Trinket Mage.

Talisman of Dominance15. The Talismans

Great little ramp cards that let you get a deceptive amount of extra work done. As with the Gilded Lotus the real cost of Talismans tends to be less than the printed cost as you use them for mana right away. It is even easier to spend one mana usefully early in the game than it is to use three when you have usually already ramped a bit. Talismans are a great way to smoothly develop the board and gain momentum without costing yourself much in the way of tempo. It is also a nice way to turn colourless mana from something like a Thran Dynamo into coloured mana which is of more use to you. If this list was accounting for actual amount played rather than amount played in just artifact ramp decks then the Talismans would be pretty near the top of the list likely just behind Chrome Mox and Mox Diamond.

Mox Diamond
16. Mox Diamond

Early game Mox Diamond is neither the biggest ramp nor the easiest to support in the kinds of deck that look to play a lot of artifact mana. Mox Diamond is outstanding in the right sorts of decks, usually blue or black ones with lots of card draw. In heavy artifact decks you have relatively few lands meaning most of your draws don't have spare land to toss to the Diamond. It does tend to become better later on in the game when you do things like Memory Jar but generally you are just better off running Talismans. Affinity decks often play it because they can't support Chrome at all and really want that early burst plus fixing. The bigger ramp decks want this a lot less.

Voltaic Key17.  Voltaic Key

Technically not a mana rock but certainly an honorary one as it is basically never used without cards like Grim Monolith and Mana Vault. Key has a lot of utility with things like Divining Top, Steel Overseer and so forth but it is most reliably a card that essentially mimics a Sol Ring rather effectively once you have some kind of artifact that taps for 3. Useful as a way to produce more coloured mana as well in combination with artifact lands or Talisman. While one of the most versatile and powerful of the mana rocks the key is even more narrow than things like Metalworker as it does nothing on its own.

Coalition Relic

18. Coalition Relic

Not exactly quick as a ramp card but very convenient. It produces any coloured mana, it can produce mana the turn you make it or it can be left to charge and provide a double ramp the following turn. Three is quite a big investment despite the convenience this card offers. It is part Talisman, part Gilded Lotus and part Worn Powerstone of which all are playable and only one isn't a good card. Sadly middle of the road cards tend to wind up as filler in the polar decks like artifact ramp. When this isn't being used as filler in artifact ramp decks it is as desperation fixing.

Mind Stone19. Mindstone

A bit like Everflowing Chalice, a nice little early boosting two drop ramp card that scales well into the late game. Chalice simply offers higher mana returns while Mindstone instead turns into a new card. When you have things like Academy it is very easy to over ramp and run out of gas making Mindstone really handy. Although reducing your mana output isn't ideal for a ramp deck that somewhat misses how those decks function. You need a stepping stone card to get you to the big stuff quicker. Mindstone can be that step and then it is pretty irrelevant, if you can make 9 or 10 mana mos of the time won't make much difference while an extra card really can.

Dreamstone Hedron
20. Dreamstone Hedron

This is the top end of the ramp, really when you can play a six drop you shouldn't need to carry on ramping. The only reason this sees play is that there are lots of cards that make playing artifacts much easier, Mishra's Workshop for one but in fairer formats there are still plenty such things. The card is three Mindstones all rolled into one which results in either a Thran Dynamo for 50% increased cost or an Ancestral Recall for 900% the cost! Draw three is a healthy chunk and can be split over two turns but it isn't a great use for an already not great card. Versatile yes but efficient no. It is not even that versatile as it doesn't work quite so well with itself as the Mindstone. This is played more than it should be simply because there isn't as much redundancy for the big mana producers as there is for the two drops ones.

Izzet Signet21. The Signets

Much as though these appear like the Talisman, better even to the untrained eye, they are quite substantially weaker. This is almost entirely down to them needing that mana input to produce further mana. As such you cannot play something off the back of one if you make it turn two. While Talisman are pseudo one drops the Signets are closer to psuedo three drops. Later in the game when the activation mana isn't an issue the Signets are sill a little awkward to use and occasionally make things a problem. While a minor drawback compared to the other problem with Signets it is still comparable to the pain you can take from Talisman. Signets are played mostly as colour fixing for artifact decks and as such you see the opposing colours played more. The blue/black and blue/white ones also see a bit of play as backup to the corresponding Talisman.

Khalni Gem22. Khalni Gem

While this looks pretty awful it is surprisingly good in the kinds of deck that want artifact ramp. On paper this looks like a two to four mana investment for something that doesn't even ramp you for following turns unless you didn't otherwise have lands to make. For these reasons you never see this played in anything but heavy artifact decks but it does have a good place in those. Being able to turn a lot of colourless mana into coloured mana is very helpful and having access to it right away is a delight. When Khlani Gem starts to really shine is where returning lands is either irrelevant or even an advantage. Commonly used with City of Traitors as a way to carry on making land without having to put the City in the bin. Also commonly used with things like Wildfire as a way of saving a couple of your lands. I have had it often enough where I am able to play the Gem with one or no lands in play, I have even cast it simply as a way to relay my Tolarian Academy so that I could tap it again for substantially more than the four mana used to play the Gem with! If your deck has the right sort of synergy the Gem can outperform some of the best top end ramp cards but it is a lot narrower than them in general. It is certainly one of the more interesting and unexpected cards on this list.

Hedron Archive23. Hedron Archive

Between the Mindstone and the Dreamstone Hedron we have this middle of the road card. You almost always see Solemn Simulacrum played over this as both ramp and offer value but Archive is one or the other while Crum is both. In the midrange decks doing several things quite well is really good but in the polar decks like ramp you want the best tool for the job which means cards like this rarely see play despite being very acceptable cards. If your deck wants these things you are playing Thrann Dynamo/Gilded Lotus and Memory Jar.

Chrome Mox
24. Chrome Mox

It seems harsh to have Chrome so low on this list but it is pretty unplayable in the decks looking to play lots of mana rocks. Generally those decks have very few coloured cards and those that they do have are either key cards to the deck or just very powerful important cards you rarely want to give up. It is also not uncommon for those kinds of decks to be several colours with just one or two coloured cards from each. As such your Chrome Mox has few imprint targets, less of which you are happy to imprint and that rarely fix the colour you need them too. A risky unreliable two for one that offers just a single ramp is too weak most of the time. Some storm decks and affinity decks will run it but primarily because it still does stuff for them without imprinting it.

Palladium Myr25. Palladium Myr

The tame Metalworker is fairly acceptable as cards go but is just wildly overshadowed by the actual Metal Worker. When dorks are fine and you want artifact ramp, odds on Metalworker is vastly better than Palladium Myr. There are decks with low artifact counts that still want some meatier ramp in which this fits the bill fairly well. The trouble is that Palladium Myr still only gets 50% of the play it should in those situations because of Worn Powerstone. As ramp cards they are pretty comparable in function and utility so it all comes down to weather being on 2/2 legs will be a help or a hindrance. You don't want your 3 drop ramp spell Shocked but then a free 2/2 can do a lot of work. Synergy with things that give haste makes this slightly better than the Powerstone but much the same sort of thing.
One thing I will say for the Palladium Myr compared to the Metalworker is that the extra power it has makes it substantially more useful as a body. It can trade fine and threaten
planeswalkers etc.

Fellwar Stone

26. Fellwar Stone

In my mind this is the sixth Talisman and is rather underused relative to its power. This can produce as much mana as a Talisman just as quickly without any pain. It can offer more than one or two colours but it is good fortune when those colours are the ones you want. Basically you play Talismans when you want to fix colour and things like Mindstone when you don't care about colours. If you care then Fellwar Stone is going to be very unreliable and if you don't then you have marginally better options. There are situations when Fellwar is the best fit but they are quite a lot rarer than for the other colour producers as it is such a thin line between caring and not caring about your colour production.

Serum Powder27. Serum Powder

There are very few cube decks that would both want this card and that can afford to exile six random cards from their list and still hope to function well. If you have such a deck then the Powder is decent filler but no where near the utility it has offered in constructed formats. A free muligan may sound nice but it does come with the cost of playing one of the worst ramp cards going.

Sky Diamond

28. The Diamonds

Slow and unexciting these little cards do still see occasional play. Almost always in mono coloured decks and usually ones where life is an issue and speed is less of a priority. The green one never sees play, I should clarify that. Primairly it is red and blue that get used but given how infrequently that is it is probably not statistically relevant! The best thing about the Diamond cycle is how lovely they all look!

Basalt Monolith29. Basalt Monolith

Slow ramp, no burst and no sustained mana yield. It is pretty obvious how much better a 1 mana Grim Monolith that untapped for 5 would be compared to what it is, or even a 0 mana cost, 6 to untap variant if you need further convincing! Basalt Monolith is in the sweet spot of weakness as any furhter reduction to the untap cost turns it into an infinite mana producer! Basalt Monolith is poor all round but does have some combo potential with Power Artifact in the manner just mentioned. That is where it gets most of its play. Some decks do play it over Worn Powerstone as it gets you to 6 or 7 a little more reliably and quickly. Given that 7 tends to be pretty near the end of the curve the Monolith therefore gives more effective burst than the Powerstone. This is a pretty minor distinction as they all pale in comparison to Metalworker.

Worn Powerstone
30. Worn Powerstone

If you really want your mid level ramp to live then Worn Powerstone is safer than Palladium Myr. Rarely is this the case, the effect is not so key you need to overly worry about protecting it and the utility loss playing Powerstone instead of the Myr is relevant. To merit playing Powerstone over Coalition Relic however you need to have a very heavy artifact deck with few coloured spells at all. It is incredibly rare for both these conditions to occur at once resulting in Powerstone seeing almost no play these days. There are time even Sisay's Ring would out perform this and that is a really weak card.

Darksteel Ingot31. Darksteel Ingot

Every now and again people think it is a good idea to Obliterate things and cast Jokulhaups. While typically a little less reliable than the Wildfire approach there are some upsides to the strategy. This is often used in such decks as it is acceptable ramp and offers another extra edge post Jokulhaups. Outside of such lists three mana is just too much to pay for a single ramp.

Thought Vessel

32. Thought Vessel

Although I don't recall this ever actually being used it does seem to offer more of the right sort of utility than many of the other cards on this list. It is also very much on par with things like Mindstone in terms of its main function. As such I am surprised I haven't seen this used as part of some Upheaval plan as yet and feel that it deserves an honorary last spot on the list. Certainly a playable mana rock.


  1. Woohoo! Thank you so much for this, I'm commenting before I finish reading because I know I'll need plenty of time to take everything in. I just got done with finals or I would have checked in sooner. Thanks again and great work as usual!

  2. So it looks like we came to a very similar list for the rocks. You listed a couple that I must have completely passed over for some reason, and I include a couple you leave out.
    Bringing up the rear as barely playable I have [Sisay's Ring] and [Ur-Golem's Eye].
    Ranked very similarly to [Thought Vessel] as 2 for untapped 1 colorless with marginally useful ability is [Prismatic Lens] and [Corrupted Powerstone] right behind those two.
    Functionally the same as the Diamonds, I have [Coldsteel Heart] and [Star Compass].
    Next, I think [Guardian Idol] deserves a spot somewhere lower than [Mind Stone] depending on how much someone values a chump blocker.
    Finally, I include [Manakin], [Plague Myr], and the colored Myr cycle somewhere above [Palladium Myr]. I appreciate that they see play a little quicker, and make 2 land opening hands slightly more comfortable.