Mom, the Mana's Broken Again!

Posted in From the Lab on March 25, 2009

By Noel deCordova

Welcome again, fellow Johnnies and other potential Magic players across the web, to my diabolical laboratory. Today we'll be painfully dissecting, reassembling, and reanimating by lightning ... mana? I know it's a bit of a departure from actual cards, but just bear with me. Besides, I usually (read: always) stick with the biweekly themes, and Mana Fixing Week will be no different.

It would seem as though mana fixing is sort of a boring topic, when there are hundreds of exciting aspects of the game to devote a column to. However, I'm actually quite eager to discuss the joys of mana fixing, simply because it is so incredibly vital when I build decks, whether they be for this column, or just for fun. In my mind, mana fixing is an important piece of deck building for any Johnny, because you have to set up your madcap six-piece combo somehow! I'd be willing to wager that throughout the history of From the Lab (including the numerous years of it bearing the friendly "House of Cards" moniker), many of the crazy deck lists relied on some form of either mana acceleration or color fixing or both to perform the goal of the deck.

In fact, before we get to today's decks (which are appropriately mana fixing–focused) I'd like to share with you all how I figure my mana for most of my decks. The very first thing I must cite is the famous article on mana fixing written by Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar (a former author of this column!). I would highly recommend reading this if you haven't already, as it is basically the standard by which I tally my land count.

The last time I featured a Top Ten list in my column was last December, when I somewhat randomly wrote about the ten most offbeat cards from Morningtide. When I learned this week was to be Mana Fixing Week, I thought I'd bring that idea back to cover my personal Top Ten Offbeat Mana Fixers. Some of these I use heavily when formulating my ideas. Conversely, some I haven't used all that much, but I love their Johnnyness too much to leave them off. Here's my list!

10. Coiling Oracle – A crazy crossbreed between Merchant of Secrets and Elvish Pioneer (and talk about crossbreeding—look at that typeline!), the Oracle is just plain fun.

9. Llanowar MentorLlanowar Elves is obviously efficient, but I'm a wacky guy and thus love wacky versions of classics. The Mentor fuels both graveyard and token strategies while accelerating you all the while.

8. Explosive VegetationRampant Growth meets ... Rampant Growth. I can't think of a more perfectly named card off the top of my head, and it would probably have little competition after an exhausting trip through Gatherer.

7. Scapeshift – No, this isn't an accidental holdover from the previous Top Ten list. Scapeshift just tickles my brain in various ways, perhaps due to the many angles in which it presents itself as a mana fixer.

6. Yavimaya Elder – Classic mana fixing that wasn't exactly acceleration, but rather land thinning. If you run Yavimaya Elder, your deck won't face many problems mana-wise.

5. Terramorphic Expanse – This card is very useful. The only reason this didn't crack the top four was because the rest do more interesting things.

4. Gaea's Balance – Before five-color fixers such as Channel the Suns, Kaleidostone, and Shard Convergence (which Chris Millar neatly discussed in this week's feature article), Gaea's Balance was a surefire Johnny way to assemble all five land types. My favorite trick with it was outlined in Mark Gottlieb's preview article for Vedalken Orrery, in which you play Gaea's Balance, and respond to it via an instant-speed Balancing Act. Presto chango, a five-land swing!

3. Sakura-Tribe Elder – Alongside Kodama's Reach, this lowly Snake rose to become one half of a famous mana-fixing duo. It's not too Johnny-specific, but I just had to give Sakura-Tribe Elder the proper appreciation. Run four in your personal concoctions if you can!

2. Wayfarer's Bauble – It's a colorless Rampant Growth. However, it also hits the table on the first turn, allowing you to pop it at your leisure. Plus, it fits right into decks focused on Fifth Dawn's "cog" theme and is basically amazing.

1. Search for Tomorrow – This may seem like an odd choice for number one, but this suspendy fetcher happens to be one of my favorite cards ever. I love the land coming in untapped, I love the flavor, and most of all, I love paying for it at a massive discount on the first turn. Go SfT!

Now that I've spouted numerous words on individual cards, let's move on to spouting about individual decks. Conveniently, three quirky mana fixers have showed up in Shards of Alara block. Also quite conveniently, these three cards hit the three different categories of mana fixing that exist in my mind: mana acceleration, color fixing, and land fetching. (And before anyone flies off the handle and sends me a very angry email, yes, there are mana-fixers that encompass two or even three of these categories.) Basically, it was a no-brainer to discuss and build around them today. Let's dive in ... into the mana pool, that is!

    Godspeak Now, or Forever Hold Your Fatties

Sacellum Godspeaker definitely falls more under the lens of "mana acceleration" then anything else. At worst, this is a jade-tinted Grey Ogre, or a triply overpriced Llanowar Elves (although it comes with a +1/+1 bonus). At best, though, it can pay for Verdant Force all by itself. For those who desperately seek a deck built around the former, keep your chin up, as I might build around Citanul Hierophants some day. For now, I'll go with the exciting latter option.

The dream is really to tap Sacellum Godspeaker for obscene amounts of green mana, sort of like a fixed Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary. Therefore, the majority of my nonland spells have to be 5-power fatties.

What I wound up with was a deck that used Survival of the Fittest to load my hand with these fatties. Ditching excess copies of the Godspeaker or Fierce Empath is great as well, and the Godspeaker provides the green mana necessary to restructure your hand. Survival of the Fittest has historically been used to find a toolbox of creatures, which is fun anyway, so I continued this tradition. My fatties range from card-drawers (Regal Force) to green mana sinks (Wren's Run Packmaster, who can champion Fierce Empath or even the Godspeaker in a pinch) to just beatsticks (Verdant Force). Have fun tapping Sacellum Godspeaker for six!

Speak and Survive

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The snow-covered lands are for Gargantuan Gorilla, who will happily slaughter any creature it sees. Since the point of the deck is to fully rely on Sacellum Godspeaker to ramp into fatties, Edge of Autumn can cycle late at no real discount. I also added Dryad Arbors, who are creatures that you can sneakily discard to Survival of the Fittest. When playing the deck, you'll want to land Overbeing of Myth as soon as possible, so you can begin stocking your hand with 5 power creatures.

During brainstorming for Sacellum Godspeaker, I happened upon a wacky idea: Use Look at Me, I'm Ramp;D to replace all instances of the number 5 with 4. That way, you can chain Nesting Wurms and Primordial Sages to always keep your hand filled, and Thornling loves having tons of green mana available. I couldn't get around to a decklist for this, so experiment away!

    Fellwar Trees

Whereas Sacellum Godspeaker is mana acceleration, Exotic Orchard is specifically color-fixing. In fact, it's the long awaited Fellwar Stone land. In this age of Magic, in which I hear spells are cast alongside spells thanks to the interaction between Reflecting Pool (another excellent color fixer) and the Vivid land cycle from Lorwyn, Exotic Orchard has shown up at the right time.

When pondering on how to use Exotic Orchard in a zany way, I decided to make sure my Orchard could tap for all five colors to start with. But giving my opponent a City of Brass with Vedalken Plotter just to power up my Orchard seems like a poor choice.

Conflux once again provides the answer in Ancient Ziggurat. If you give a Ziggurat to your opponent with a Plotter, your Orchard will be fully charged, while your opponent's Ziggurat is creature-restrictive. From here, it was a short jump to the other restrictive five-color lands out there. Trading a Primal Beyond for your opponent's Swamp means that, unless he or she is playing with Elementals, you've neutralized part of his or her mana base. Pillar of the Paruns is even eviler, as it doesn't even have a colorless option. Unless your opponent is playing with multicolor, he or she now has a dead land.

How to round out the deck? Well, playing these restrictive lands means we're forced into a multicolor Elemental beatdown deck. And when the game plan is to give the opponent all of our nonbasic lands, is there any better home for Wilderness Elemental? Didn't think so. Crackleburr, meanwhile, provides a way to bounce and replay Vedalken Plotter, as well as Mulldrifter and Æthersnipe. It was tricky to balance the multicolored cards with the Elementals, but here's where I wound up in the end.

Primal Plotting

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Sturdy Hatchling turned out to be my win condition of choice. Mothdust Changeling is both an Elemental and a creature tapper for Crackleburr, so the fiery fox can work its magic. I initially saw this deck leaning towards a more controllish five-color Horde of Notions deck, but I like this version better. If you disagree, hopefully the above list can inspire you to build something else. Perhaps a legendary focus with Untaidake, the Cloud Keeper?

    If It Ain't Broken ...

... but it is. Knight of the Reliquary is a powerful and quirky mana fixer for many reasons: it's picky on what it sacrifices, and yet it can find any land in your deck. Oh yeah, and it gets bigger every time a land hits the graveyard. Knight of the Reliquary has already found a tournament home in the powerful Life from the Loam decks in Extended, but that doesn't mean Johnnies can't embrace it.

I decided to pair the Knight with yet another synergistic card from Conflux, Goblin Razerunners. The Goblin gives you another outlet for sacrificing lands and punishes your opponent in the process. Countryside Crusher is kind of a mix between the previous two creatures. Bramblewood Paragon was an instant addition from there, due to the two counter-oriented Warriors.

Tilling Treefolk can recycle your eaten lands, and Scapeshift just had to get the nod. Valleymaker and Shard Volley also fit reasonably well. Finally, Worm Harvest brings the synergy level to the max.


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