The History of Mana Symbols

Posted in Arcana on May 26, 2011

By Monty Ashley

It's Mana Week, so let's talk about mana symbols! The basic five look, as you may already know, like this:

But that's not how they've always looked! The white mana symbol used to look different:

The card on the lower left (a Benalish Hero, apparently) has the original white mana symbol, which was less defined than the current one. The new mana symbol was introduced in Ice Age, except for Fylgja and Prismatic Ward, which used the old symbol. That's weird, right? Especially because the Gatherer image for those cards shows the new symbol. Kelly Digges explained this situation back in 2007, and it's worth reprinting in full here:

January 26, 2007

Q: Q: What's the deal with Fylgja? The printed card has a mana cost of {W}, and the mana symbol on the card is the "old" white mana symbol even though all the other cards in the Ice Age set feature the "modern" white mana symbol. Further, in Gatherer (as of 1/4/07), the Fylgja image shows up with a mana cost of {1}{W}{W} (using "modern" mana symbols), even though the clearly correct casting cost of {W} is displayed in the Oracle and Printed Text info boxes to the right! What is the story behind these very weird errors?
Urbana, IL

A: From Kelly Digges, Magic Editor:


Ideally a question like this would be answered by someone who was there, but in this case the events in question took place over a decade ago, and nobody who was there is available. Senior Magic Editor Del Laugel hooked me up with some truly ancient email messages and card files, and I took these primary sources and my two semesters as a history major and set to work piecing together what happened.

I quickly discovered that Fylgja was not the only card in Ice Age to be printed with the "old" white mana symbol; Prismatic Ward shares that honor. However, all electronic images, even the printed images in the old Magic Encyclopedias show them with the new mana costs. This is despite the fact that, according to sources that provide collectors' info, neither of these cards were ever physically printed with the new mana symbol. And until recently (we'll get there), every image of Fylgja bore the wrong cost, again despite the fact that no physical card was ever printed that way. So how did this happen? Settle in, kids, 'cause I am about to tell you more about Fylgja than you ever wanted to know.

According to a spreadsheet dated January 1, 1995, eleven Ice Age cards were selected for magazine preview cards. In those days, magazine previews were physical promo cards that had to be typeset before the rest of the set in order to get to the magazines. There are only two white cards on the list of previews: Fylgja and Prismatic Ward.

According to an email message dated January 30, 1995, the magazine previews couldn't be typeset with the new white mana symbol (the reasons are unclear; perhaps it simply wasn't ready yet). The "unhappy decision" was made to print Fylgja and Prismatic Ward in the set with the old mana symbols. Having all the printed copies of a given card match was viewed as more important than consistency within the set.

Okay, so that explains the old mana symbols, but how did the electronic images get the new mana symbols? And how did Fylgja wind up with the wrong mana cost?

Though most of the design card files are grouped together in large documents, Fylgja appears alone in an undated card file at a cost of 1WW, which seems to have been its original mana cost. Perhaps it was left out of a larger file?

An email message dated January 3, 1995 contains comments on a large number of Ice Age cards, and the entry for Fylgja reads: "Weren't we chopping the casting cost of this one?" It would seem they did just that: Fylgja was printed at a cost of . And there the story might have ended....

When the Magic Encyclopedia was put together, however, the original printer files were either not available or not usable, and the cards were retypeset from card files and printed straight to the Encyclopedia working file. Not only did this mean that Fylgja and Prismatic Ward wound up in the Encyclopedia with the new mana symbols, but apparently the typesetters had the wrong Fylgja file - perhaps the file I have with only Fylgja in it? - with the original mana cost.

When Gatherer was programmed, the Encyclopedia was the best compendium of card images available, and it was reasonably (and necessarily) assumed that the Encyclopedia card images were correct. The mana symbol isn't really distinguishable at that resolution (though it's easy to see in the Encyclopedia itself), but the wrong mana cost on Fylgja has always been quite evident to the tiny subset of people who actually look up Fylgja on Gatherer. And that's where things stood for many years...

But this bizarre story has a happy ending! Overhearing Del and me discussing this question, editor Mike Mikaelian created a new image of Fylgja with the correct mana cost by seamlessly pasting in the upper right corner of an Ice Age card that costs . Granted, it's the new mana symbol rather than the old, but at that resolution it's pretty hard to tell. I sent that image to the Gatherer team, and they plugged it in.

And that's the story of how, after more than a decade with the wrong mana cost everywhere but on the actual card, Fylgja finally got fixed.

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