Tuesday, 10 December 2019
Top 8 Mana Sinks
Mana sinks have always been a good thing to have for most archetypes. We have a lot more now at a higher power level than ever before but at the same time they need to be more powerful as the bar for such things has risen too. Games tend to be games for longer and tempo is of greater importance. You tend to find mana sink cards used only out of necessity prior to resources running out and you tend to find most games over before resources run out. Partly this is because of all the various mana sinks getting used a little before the hand is empty all just spreading the game duration out a bit. Mostly it is due to there being much more value generally, much in part due to planeswalkers. More value means more cards to play with meaning your resources run out slower and you need dedicated mana sinks less. Any card with varied or repeatable costs is a mana sink of sorts and with such things being generally good for a number of reasons there are a lot of these cards in cube decks! This amplifies the effect of making the purer or more dedicated mana sinks less valuable.
With that being said mana sinks are still great tools to have access too. With the arrival of things like Wilderness Reclamation, Nissa, Who Shakes the World and Fires of Invention a discussion regarding the best mana sink cards seems fairly pertinent. I wish to look at the purer end of the spectrum for these types of cards. This means being both repeatable from turn to turn and it means being able to consume effectively endless mana. An X spell will use all the mana up in one turn but fails to help you out next turn and so fails on the first requirement. You don't need your mana sinks to fulfill these requirements by any means. If that is the only reason you are playing the card then you probably want it to do that job the best and so these things are more important. Mostly however you are just looking to make a rounded deck with the most powerful cards. For those you don't need pure mana sinks and you can just get happily by on some flashback cards, a level up dork, a bit of card draw, some variable cost cards and the odd activated ability on things.
Ideally a purer mana sink wants to be both useful and reliable as well as ongoing and unrestricted. By useful I mean that the spending of mana does something helpful towards winning the game. You can dump all the mana you like into an equipment or Divining Top for example but it doesn't do all that much! By reliable I simply mean how easily you are able to turn mana into advantage with the card. Some need things in play or other resources or conditions. The fewer of these the better. The Scarab God is a great card and decent mana sink but it does need targets to recur. Pack Rat needs cards in hand to ditch etc. Good cards but less reliable as pure mana sinks You could argue that you needs card in library in order to continue abusing cards that draw but in practice if you have drawn all your cards and have spare mana and cannot win the game that is not the fault of your mana sinks!
A lot of the best mana sinks are found on lands. The new Castle cycle in Throne of Eldraine is a great example of this. These are great because they cost so little to include and as such are the most commonly used form of mana sink in my singleton and cube builds. Mana sink cards are a little polar in that they often do little to nothing but the times that they do get put to use they are game winning. Being able to minimize the cost of including these mana sinks is where you want to be. Most of the commonly used mana sink lands however fail to qualify for this list as they can only sink a certain amount of mana each turn. For this list I will be taking strength of card heavily into account once they have sufficiently qualified on the other metrics. Much like using lands as mana sinks, using cards that are entirely powerful and playable outside their capacity as a mana sink means you are effectively adding in an extra dimension to your deck for free.
8. Pia Nalaar
Hardly a bomb nor really even a card you would consider a mana sink but it does qualify on all the metrics. You can dump as much mana as you have turn after turn into making a really high powered thopter token. You don't need any other cards and it is pretty direct and valuable work. It is not the most efficient mana dump but it is highly versatile and on a card that is a great stand alone in a wide array of lists. Basically any Firebreathing effect is a qualifying attribute and this is one of the best in cube. Inferno Titan might be more powerful but you typically are not in need of mana sinks when you have a rampant Titan! Pia is just a card that does a lot of work early and still puts in the work late where other three drops can become lackluster.
7. Lavaclaw Reaches
Another Firebreathing card. This is correctly regarded as the worst of the cycle of dual manlands but it is still a fine card. Where this shines is exactly where a mana sink shines, where both players have lands and nothing else and are in a top deck war. Lavaclaw Reaches can close a game really fast and represents a pretty lethal threat. It is still good in all the ways the rest of the cycle are good in that it is fixing and a highly resilient threat you get for nearly free. Yes, it is worse in the early and mid game but it does have one of the highest ceilings.
6. Recurring Nightmare
For a long time this was the premium card when it came to mana sinks. It was infinite value and loads of utility and it still is all those things. Nightmare has just slipped over the years for all the reasons I stated in the intro as to why mana sinks have had the bar raised. Unless you are cheating out really powerful EtB effects and massive dorks Nightmare is just a mana sink. Paying three mana for the EtB effect of most things in the cube is pretty fair and reasonable. On average you are below the curve on tempo using Recurring Nightmare. It is still more efficient returns than most mana sinks as a mana sink but not more so than playing other stuff. Recurring Nightmare is basically just a mana sink with a bit of utility thrown in. Unlike Pia you do not want to make this on turn three in a midrange deck, it wants to be one of the last things you get to doing. The card has lost a lot of ground to alternatives that are good in their own right prior to their end game potential. Further to that Nightmare is less reliable than many other cards on this list as it needs things in the bin and things in play and as such is a bit more easily disrupted than some alternatives. It might be the most efficient card in returns for sinking (non-infinite) mana on this list but it is one of the worst for initial investment hence being so low.
5. Skargan Hellkite
A surprising new card that has been performing well in cube. This isn't any where near the power of a Glorybringer and it lacks the punch of a Thundermaw or Sarkhan the Masterless. What the Hellkite does really wall is provide options and a mana sink. If it is all about the tempo then you can have yourself a Glorybringer without the exert. You will take out walkers or shoot ahead in a race and that is a great option to have even if it is a little below par. Alternatively you can counter up and Fire things for twice the price for as much as you have mana for. That is a lot of control and a lot of reach. Even just using it once a turn and doing nothing else can be pretty effective so in the extreme late game cases where you have silly mana such that you can fire this off two or more times a turn it is reliably game winning. Just a reasonably high power card with a lot of utility.
4. Urza, Lord High Artificer
The mana sink ability on Urza is a bit quirky. Sometimes it is a lot better than drawing a card but it can also be worse should you hit reactive things that it is not the time for or lands you can't play. On average it is better than drawing a card for 4 mana but it will have an effect on your deck design and could be considered restrictive. You could certainly build a deck with Urza where the ability was worse than drawing a card for 4 mana. Ultimately it is not this ability that will change your build when it comes to Urza it is the Tolarian Academy effect! Unsurprisingly it is also that which is why Urza is so far up this list. It turns out having one of the best mana producing effects in the game is a pretty good thing to pair with a mana sink! Even in my cube with relatively little artifact support Urza has been most impressive. He pretty much just does everything and he does so very well with surprisingly minimal help.
3. Kessig Wolf Run
One of the best finisher cards in the game. It is so hard to deal with a Wolf Run and it turns every dork into a terrifying threat and all extra mana into more pressure. Wolf Run is a low cost inclusion and ensures you have a really scary late game with inevitability and reach in abundance. The only thing keeping this from being higher on the list is that it is somewhat of a gold card and cannot be used much outside of green decks. It is certainly one of the most splashed for cards in my cube alongside Lingering Souls. Primeval Titan and Wolf Run has become a more scary and infamous combo than Stoneforge and Batterskull. It is Urza like in that it is both an abundance of mana and useful things to do with it.
This unassuming little card is pretty nuts it turns out. It provides massive armies of fatties on the ground or thopters in the sky as you require. It provides ongoing value and the ability to hold up mana to react to everything. It can perpetually fog lifelink effects or a Jitte charging up. It is super tedious to play into with instant speed creatures entering and leaving play negating so much. It is not just that it is a good mana sink but that it is also quite efficient. Just dumping mana into it every turn winds up being a relatively good deal for your returns. Further to that it is all in pretty small increments allowing you to weave in activations alongside other things. Foundry gives you massive amounts of late game action while also offering plenty in the lead up to it as well. Generally best in more reactive decks but if you have things that happen to generate thopters or servos then Foundry is pretty nutty in any build. It has some added value in being a super low cost card than can win the game allowing you to easily resolve it in a control mirror.
1. Walking Ballista
One of the cleanest best all round cube cards. I will happily first pick this and I will happily play it in most decks. It is great on turn two and just gets better the longer the game goes. It is pricier per ping than Skargan Hellkite but then pings is what red does. Ballista gives that effect to all the colours and at a very competitive rate when you consider the ability to charge it up over time and twice as efficiently on cast. Ballista is massively option dense. It offers great board control and has a dominating effect on combat. It is probably a little too good given how universally playable it is but at least it was a very easy choice for the number one spot on this list!
Here is a list of some of the cards I considered for this list that didn't quite make it;
Leyline of Abundance
Theater of Horrors
Oketra the True
Arguel's Blood Fast
Ishkana, the Grafwidow
Shalai, Voice of Plenty
Knight of the Ebon Legion
Tasigur, the Golden Fang