Mechanical Engineering - Does Your Mana Rock?

Commander Mechanic • June 17, 2021

Sol Ring by Mike Bierek

Hey folks, I’m Chris and I’m YOUR Commander Mechanic. You may recognize me from my YouTube Channel or from guesting on major streams around the community—I’m a deck builder and brewer with a very analytical view of the format of Commander.

Some have said I take a competitive mindset and apply it to casual Commander, but I prefer to think of it as taking an efficient look at deck building. More of the game is played before you ever sit down at a table with other players. There’s a lot to be said about other players’ impact on play experience. Expectation mismatches, lack of communication, and differing opinions on what constitutes ‘fun’ can all play a part in how much you enjoy Commander. Throughout this series I want to take a look at how you can improve play experience—your own and that of others—before you ever play a game. Avoid not being able to play the game due to deck building issues, avoid imposing poor scenarios on others, and ensure you have concentrated efforts in mind when deck building.

But, as always, Commander is about having fun YOUR WAY—don’t let anyone tell you there’s a right or wrong way to play this game.

Get Your Rocks Off

When building a deck for Commander it’s important to eat your veggies before getting to your dessert—meaning there are cards you should be including that get you to that end point. If your whole deck is game-enders with no way to get you there, a deck isn’t going to provide a good play experience.

So what are your “veggies”? Well the classic Sol Ring is a member of this family—in particular the group of mana acceleration cards known as mana rocks. Called this because, well, the majority of them are just stones:

We’ll take a look more at what veggies are in later articles, but mana rocks are a crucial part of ANY deck list. These provide valuable mana advantage and other great effects throughout a game, and help smooth early plays into later-game threats.

For non-green decks this is often the only route to ramping your mana curves (talked about in my previous article). If you can start playing 4-mana value spells on turn 3, you’ve ramped your curve. And rocks provide that for ALL colors.

Breaking the Rules

Magic’s core game rules assume linear progression—one land per turn, should you draw enough lands. Mana rocks provide ramp to break that core game mechanic—it’s a small break but it’s still a break. If you’re casting an Insurrection on turn 5 it’s a bit bigger of a break, so it’s always important.

But unlike land ramp, mana rocks aren’t as sacrosanct in the format or the eyes of players. Someone won’t think twice about blowing up a Talisman of Curiosity, but will feel endlessly guilty about blowing up a Cabal Coffers.

This may lead players away from including rocks in their decks, and makes green inherently stronger in our format—just based on player behavior and the assumed social contract. But stop! Regardless of the risk it’s crucial to run these pieces, especially when there are other benefits to them. Even if there’s a chance of them being destroyed, being able to create a more permanent advantage off of the back of them is essential.

This raises a question we’ll answer in a later article, but SHOULD land ramp be as “off-limits” as artifact mana ramp is? I’d love to know your opinion!

Throwing (Mind) Stones

Even if mana rocks are seen as temporary and vulnerable, the biggest benefit is that they provide a value immediately and can provide upsides beyond mana generation. Take Mind Stone for example—later in the game where the mana isn’t as necessary it buys you another redraw, essentially cycling itself for 3. In the early game it makes you mana, in the late game it draws you a card.

One of the newest mana rocks to join the crew is the new Liquimetal Torgue out of Modern Horizons 2. It’s 2 mana, it comes in untapped and makes a colorless mana right away, and later in the game it can provide some BIG benefits. Turning any non-land permanent into an artifact is a huge advantage for colors like red, that excel at removing artifacts but not enchantments.

Is this a combo?

So once we’ve shed the stigma of mana rocks, let’s take a look at what makes a good mana rock.

Polishing Rocks

So much like with our previous discussion on mana curves, rocks need to be taken into consideration with your deck and what you’re trying to do. If you have a 3-mana commander you’re going to want 1-mana acceleration: Sol Ring, Mana Vault or even zero-mana acceleration like Chrome Mox. But the lower your ramp is on your curve the more expensive (dollar-wise) these options become.

However if your commander and your curve trend higher—say a 5-mana commander—then we can be a little more flexible. A mana rock cast for 2 or 3 mana still gets you to your commander a turn early.

Here’s a list of mine I built recently around Rionya, FIre Dancer out of Commander 2021: a 5-mana value commander in mono-red. So how do we ramp to this crucial part of our gameplan?

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

This deck is crammed full of rituals like Seething Song and Pyretic Ritual and is STILL running SIX mana rocks—because while rituals are great you only get that mana that turn, where rocks can get you accrued value over the course of a game. An Arcane Signet cast on turn 2 will generate you 6+ mana over the course of a game, where a ritual will only produce 3 mana, ever.

So while building a deck and weighing your mana options you MUST take into consideration what you’re doing to springboard ahead. If you aren’t in green it’s not going to be from lands—and mana rocks will be your best friends.

The higher the mana curve in your deck the higher you can push your mana rocks on your curve. A Thran Dynamo or Gilded Lotus is FINE if your deck requires you to hit 7 or 8 mana to do its thing. But you’ll get a lot more value out of an Azorius Signet over the course of a game than you will taking a more crucial turn like turn 4 or 5 “off” to cast a mana rock.

The more immediate value a rock can provide you, the more mitigated the assumed risk of playing a mana rock is. If you can cast it early and use the mana it generated? Then who cares if it gets destroyed. If you cast a Chromatic Lantern while your opponents are casting their commanders and your mana rock gets destroyed… that’s going to feel a lot worse.

Knowing when to spend your turns progressing your gameplan and when to spend your turns progressing your board state are important parts of having a successful, satisfying game experience. Are you playing your rocks and ramp while others are slamming threats? Are you going to play your first creature while your opponents are already running you over?

Remember that your play experience starts with your deck building choices!

Did you eat your Veggies?

So this brings us back to our veggies—the necessary elements of a deck that make it move. We can’t neglect these and we can’t expect our deck to work or our play experience to be better if we don’t start with them. If we don’t eat our veggies we never get our dessert.

We’ve talked about lands and ensuring we’re not opening ourselves up to poor play experience via our mana base.

We’ve talked about ramp and where it needs to fit on our curve with our gameplan in consideration.

We’ve talked about mana rocks and the benefits to strategy and vulnerabilities they open us up to.

So coming up we’ll discuss our next veggie—card draw. How much is necessary, where it should fit, and what value looks like accrued over the course of a game.

Let me know in the comments below what you think of mana rocks—what’s the best 2-mana rock and which rocks are you sure to include in every deck you build?

Until next time folks, good luck & have fun!

"I'm Chris and I'm YOUR Commander Mechanic!" A die-hard Commander player, Chris is a brewer, deck builder, and player experience advocate. Check out YouTube for Tune-Ups, Twitter for hot takes, and catch him on streams all over the community!