Mana Maze Solitaire

Posted in Arcana on August 28, 2012

By Monty Ashley

Way back in 1995, the fourth issue of The Duelist published an article by Mark Rosewater showing how to play a solitaire version of Magic. It looked like this!

That's probably a little small to read, so here's a more Internetty version of the rules.


by Mark Rosewater (with help from Gene Rosewater)

Two people can play a traditional Magic duel, and three or more can play any number of multi-player variants, but what do you do if your only company is your Magic cards? People unable to find competitors have refused to let this stop them from playing. Creative inspiration has led to the evolution of solitaire Magic.

Most solitaire variants mimic a two-player duel, with one player playing both sides. Other versions pit the player against a pre-set, standing "phantom" opponent. These types are interesting, but the solitaire version offered here is a bit different. To mix the essence of traditional solitaire with a flavor of Magic, the "Mana Maze" solitaire variant requires a slightly different set of rules.

The object of the game is variable. As described below, you might have to destroy a particular card in play, or remove all the cards in the layout from play without running out of life points.

Mana Maze alters the following basic game concepts:

In Play: In normal Magic, a card is considered "in play" as soon as its casting is resolved. In Mana Maze, cards are stacked as in traditional solitaire, and are brought into play by being exposed. That is, if a card is in the game and is not covered by any other card, it is considered in play. Cards in play are "active" or "inactive".

Active: Active cards are all permanents that can exist independently of other cards: creatures, artifacts, land, and general enchantments (that is, any enchantment can stand alone and need not be cast on something else). An active card is considered to enter play "pre-cast" - its abilities can be used freely without paying the casting cost. Treat active cards like any cast permanent in a normal Magic game. Any activation costs must still be paid. A newly exposed Prodigal Sorcerer, for example, may immediately poke for its one point of damage, but you must tap it to do so.

Passive: Passive cards include the following: sorceries, instants, and interrupts, as well as enchantments that must be cast on creatures, artifacts, land or enchantments. A passive card comes into play uncast; you still must cast it in order to use it. However, passive cards are still in play and may be targeted by spells. For instance, this allows a Northern Paladin to destroy a passive Terror. The casting of passive cards follows all normal Magic rules, requiring appropriate mana and an available target in play. You may be a target yourself if the spell can target players. Also, for game purposes, when an enchantment is placed on another card, both cards are still considered exposed and in play. Either card may be the target of a spell.

Out of Play: The graveyard starts the game empty. All cards that leave play, as explained below, are considered to have gone to the graveyard unless otherwise specified. You may re-cast any card returned to your "hand" if you have the appropriate mana (and a target for targeted spells), but it is out of play for game purposes until re-cast. If a card is brought back into play by recasting or by another card (such as Animate Dead or Regrowth), place it on top of any exposed card, putting the newly covered card out of play.

Owner/Controller/Caster: Cards that use any of these terms refer to you, the player.

Opponent: Effects that target an "opponent" have no effect in Mana Maze.

Life Points: In Mana Maze you start with only one life point. If at any time your life point total falls to zero or below you die instantly and lose the game.

Mana Burn: The final step before the game ends is clearing the mana pool. If you have any mana remaining in your mana pool, you suffer one point of mana burn for every leftover point of mana. If mana burn reduces you to zero life points, you lose the game.

Getting Rid of Cards In Play

In Mana Maze, cards can be removed in five different ways:

  1. Tapping A Card: Whenever a card is tapped, it is destroyed and sent to the graveyard. Any effect from tapping occurs before the card is removed from play. For instance, tapping a Mountain would add one red mana to your mana pool and would remove the Mountain from play.

  2. Casting A Spell: If a spell is cast (with a proper target and a paid cost), it is removed from play and put into the graveyard unless otherwise specified. The effect of the spell occurs before the card leaves play. Casting a Healing Salve, for instance, would give you 3 life and remove the Healing Salve from play.

  3. Destroying A Card: The destruction of a card removes it from play and puts it in the graveyard unless otherwise specified. For instance, casting Disenchant on an Iron Star wuold remove both the Disenchant and the Iron Star from play.

  4. Killing A Creature: If a creature is destroyed by any means normally available in Magic, it is removed from play and sent to the graveyard unless otherwise specified. For instance, casting a Lightning Bolt on a Hill Giant wuold remove both the Hill Giant (having taken 3 damage) and the Lightning Bolt from play.

  5. Sacrificing A Card: Whenever a card is sacrificed, it goes to the graveyard unless the card says otherwise. Any effect from the sacrifice occurs before the card is removed from play. For example, sacrificing Gaea's Touch would add two green mana to your mana pool and would remove the Gaea's Touch from play.

Getting Started

Now it's time to start a game. First, build a Mana Maze solitaire deck, then decide what kind of Mana Maze game to play, as follows:

Layout: As in traditional solitaire, the cards are laid out in a pattern. With sixty cards, there are several layouts to choose from.

  • Six piles (ten cards each), no hand
  • Seven piles (seven cards each), eleven-card hand
  • Eight piles (six cards each), twelve-card hand
  • Eight piles (half seven cards, half eight), no hand
  • Nine piles (five cards each), fifteen-card hand
  • Ten piles (six cards each), no hand
  • Pyramid style (with base of eight exposed cards), twenty-four card hand

When a layout includes a "hand", that simply means that you have extra cards left over to thumb through, one or three cards at a time, to break logjams. This Mana Maze "hand" is not to be confused with the Magic "hand" that a card goes to if Unsummoned.

Open Or Closed: In an open game, all cards are laid out face-up at the start. The open game is less prone to luck and therefore requires more thought. In a closed game, only the top card of each pile is visible. This takes a lot of pressure off, because you don't have to take all the extra data into account.

Goal: Many goals are possible. The following are just a few potential goals.

  • Destroying A Particular Card: This is the simplest goal. Put one or more cards in your deck and then find and remove them. The more targets you have, the harder the game will be. If you use multiple targets, it's fun to pick cards that fit a particular theme.

  • Destroy All The Cards: Simply put, win by destroying everything. This is the hardest variation, as it requires the careful matching of all your resources so as not to strand yourself with a card that you have no way to get rid of. You should play this variation open-handed, because you will need all the information you can get.

  • Get To A Particular Life Total: This variation requires that you pepper the deck with lots of cards that give and take life. The goal is to get to the life-givers and reach a certain life total.

Any goal is fine, as long as it requires you to work through the cards to accomplish it. You can define any objective, such as getting seven blue cards in your hand, but remember to build your deck to make such a goal possible.

One Final Word

If you're winning too easily, throw a few curves into your game: Add some big creatures to your deck, play a closed hand, or make the goal destroying all the cards. If you're getting frustrated, check your deck. It is possible to create an unwinnable game.

The fun of Mana Maze depends on you. A Mana Maze game will only be as challenging as the deck you construct, the layout you choose, and the goal you define.

Building a Mana Maze Solitaire Deck

Just as in the basic Magic game, the key to success in Mana Maze is deck construction. You want to create a deck that is challenging, yet not so much that winning becomes impossible. Because the rules work differently, several cards have altered functions (a Paralyze destroys creatures) whereas others become pointless (a Royal Assassin's power is redundant). Always keep possible card interactions in mind.

When creating a deck, here are some factors to think about:

Colors: As you begin playing Mana Maze, try using all five colors. A five-color deck is the easiest type of deck to build and the most varied in play.

Mana: The mana mix is roughly the same as in a normal game (30% to 40%). The balance for each color should be determined by how many passive cards and cards with colored activation costs you have in each color. If you find yourself always short or flush with mana, change the mix accordingly.

Creatures: Creatures are an important part of Mana Maze and will typically make up at least a quarter of your deck. Remember to add a significant number of creatures with special abilities, as they tend to make the game more fun.

Artifacts: These add some spice to the game but are not needed in quantity.

General Enchantments: These don't tap and aren't cast, so they are the hardest cards to get rid of. Use enchantments that have an impact, and keep them down to a handful.

Passive Cards: Active cards (permanents) tend to be the obstacles in the puzzle, and passive cards provide most of the house-cleaning needed. This means that your passive cards should be close in number to your active cards. Also, try to include a lot of other passive cards that destroy a lot of other types of cards, because these provide the nuts and bolts of Mana Maze.

Healing/Damaging Cards: These cards can be left out entirely, but if you do use them, try to balance the deck with an equal number of healing and damaging cards.

Other Tips: Make sure every card can be destroyed by at least two other cards in the deck. Also, throw in three or four spells that provide mana in some way, such as Llanowar Elves or Sacrifice.

When creating your first deck, here is a good checklist to follow:

  • Four of each type of basic land (twenty cards)

  • Three creatures from each color. One creature should have a toughness of 3 or greater, and the other two should have a toughness of 1 or 2. Make sure at least one of these creatures has a special ability, such as the "poke" of the Prodigal Sorcerer (fifteen cards).

  • Four spells of each color. Make sure at least two of each color can be used to destroy another type of card (twenty cards).

  • Five artifacts. Make at least two of them creatures, and throw in at least one artifact that provides mana (five cards

Okay! That's all the time we have for today, but tomorrow, we're going to dip into Duelist #4 again, because Mark created a puzzle based on the Mana Maze Solitaire rules. See you tomorrow with that!

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