I'm often asked, "Of all the things you've designed, which is your proudest?" My response is usually, "Which of my children do I love the most?" Through creative endeavors, you form emotional bonds with the items you're making, so I have great fondness for most of the mechanics, cards, and tools that I've helped create over the years. However, if I had to choose my proudest creation, it would have to be hybrid mana. It's simple in concept, flexible in use, and has become an important addition to R&D's toolbox. So, today's article is going to be a look back at the story of hybrid mana, how it was created, and how it's been used over the years in various sets.

Ravnica: City of Guilds Block

Hybrid mana came about when I was tasked with designing a multicolor block and wanted to experiment with new possibilities. So, I did an exercise where I broke multicolor down into its basic, core design principle. Multicolor is a combination of two or more colors. This spell is red and green because it has both red and green elements that don't fit alone in mono-red or mono-green. The core of multicolor was based on the idea of "and." This card is red and green, not just in color, but in effect.

I then broke down the different types of multicolor designs we make. All categories, but one, played into this idea of "and." The other, what I called "overlap," didn't really fit the description of "and." Overlap designs fit both colors individually but at a better cost because players have to use two colors to cast it. They didn't feel red and green. They did things that either color could do. That's when it hit me. What if multicolor could do "or"?

The second I asked that question, hybrid mana became the obvious answer. I even saw it in my mind as two mana symbols combined. It was one of those rare moments where the realization of what you want and the concept for it crystalize almost instantaneously. I was so excited that I mocked up some cards (more on this in part two) and showed them around. The general response from the rest of R&D was a bit lackluster. No one quite understood what we would do with this new type of mana, but I was hooked. I really felt it had amazing potential.

I ended up putting it in Ravnica. Brian Schneider, the lead developer, felt there was too much going on and pulled it from the set when it entered development. I then ended up adding it to Time Spiral's design. Brian would later come to me and ask if he could have it back. Ravnica was light on the novelty of new mechanics. I gave the go-ahead and pulled it from Time Spiral. Brian ended up making a vertical cycle (common, uncommon, and rare) for each hybrid combination, which we followed in the next two sets of the block.

Originally, hybrid cards (cards with hybrid mana costs) were the color of mana used to cast them, but that caused memory issues, so we simplified it by making them both colors. The frame we used for hybrid was a frame that I and several other R&D members had pitched as a new frame for multicolor. We thought it would be more practical if the frame displayed the colors of the card (well, at least for two-color cards; three- to five-color cards would still be gold). We had graphic designers mock up the frames and pitched them to the brand team. They were against it, but the frame existed, so when we made hybrid, I suggested we use the abandoned multicolor frame.

Market research showed that hybrid mana was the highest-rated thing in the original Ravnica block, and I believe it is still one of the highest-rated "mechanics" (it's a tool, not a mechanic, but that's what the market research called it), if not the highest, of all time.

Boros Recruit Gleancrawler

In its first outing, hybrid mana was only used in mana costs. Most of the designs were a traditional overlap design, meaning it was an ability that both colors had access to. A few of the designs at rare were things neither had done before, but the new ability was something that we felt either color could do.

Selesnya Guildmage

The most interesting design space was on the uncommon cards. The block had a ten-card cycle of creatures (the Guildmages) with a hybrid cost and two monocolor activations. You could access one of the activations in a monocolor deck, but access to both activations required a two-color deck. The overlap designs were all things monocolor designs could capture, but the Guildmages showed that hybrid mana could allow designers to make things they otherwise couldn't.

Future Sight

Henchfiend of Ukor Graven Cairns

While I removed hybrid mana from Time Spiral, it did show up on two cards in the block, both on futureshifted cards in Future Sight. Henchfiend of Ukor is technically the first monocolor card with a hybrid activation. I knew we would be doing it, so I teased it in Future Sight. Graven Cairns is the first land with a hybrid activation on it. I made a cycle of futureshifted dual lands, each hinting at a different dual land cycle. This one would be used and completed a year later in Shadowmoor and Eventide.

Shadowmoor Block

When R&D talks about a new design component, there's a scale we use to talk about it. On one end of the scale is splash. Splash is something that draws attention to itself, is usually novel, and creates much spectacle among the playerbase. The other end of the spectrum is workhorse. Workhorse is something that helps the set play well but isn't inherently exciting. Most Magic sets need both splash and workhorse components. For hybrid mana's first outing, we leaned into the splash side of it. It was a new type of mana (something we don't make very often), required a new frame, and interacted with deck building in a new way. But from the day I made hybrid mana, I knew its true strength relied on the flexibility it provided as a tool. I was eager to find a set where I could play up its workhorse side.

I would find my opportunity two and a half years later. Bill Rose, the VP of R&D, wanted to try a Magic year that had four premier sets instead of three where none of them was a core set. The last time we had done it was the Ravnica block and Coldsnap, the latter being a big bust. I said to Bill, "The next time you want a four-set block, talk to me. I'll figure out a way to make it organic."

That block ended up being the Lorwyn block. My pitch was to make two mini blocks, each with a large set and a small set. The first mini block would be Lorwyn, and it would have a typal theme. I wanted the second mini block, Shadowmoor, to have its own theme that cared about something that would exist in Lorwyn, much as how Shadowmoor could have creatures of the proper creature types. After much thought, I realized that color would also work. If Shadowmoor had a "colors matter" theme, it would work with the Lorwyn cards as they all naturally would have colors.

Once I settled on a "colors matter" theme, I started looking for mechanical components that would care. Hybrid mana came up quickly. Due to the way we ended up making hybrid mana's colors work, with hybrid mana having both colors in any zone other than the stack, it was a perfect fit. For instance, you could play a white-blue hybrid mana creature in a white deck but still have cards in your deck that are blue.

I was intrigued by the idea of hybrid being the core mechanic of the set. I asked myself, and my design team, "How much hybrid could we have in the set?" We ended up choosing just a little under one half. We initially announced the set online by showing off a booster that you could click and open. The cards in the booster didn't have any words on them, but you could see the art and the frames. The fact that roughly half the booster was hybrid raised a few eyebrows (okay, maybe hybrid had a little splash left in it).

With 20/20 hindsight, we used too much hybrid. It forced us to push designs a little further than we should have, and the set has a handful of hybrid cards that would have been more at home in a gold frame. The Lorwyn-Shadowmoor block is one of the worst-selling blocks of all time, although I don't lay most of that at hybrid's feet. We are finally returning to Lorwyn in "Wrestling," but the fact that it took so long is a sign that things didn't go so well the first time around.

Because hybrid left such a big footprint on the set, it introduced a number of new innovations.

Spectral Procession

Six of the cards in the set introduced a new type of hybrid mana, what we in R&D call "twobrid." Twobrid mana allows you to pay either one mana of a particular color or two mana of any color and/or colorless. The twobrid spells could be splashed in any deck but tended to want to go in decks that had some access to the main color. It was also another way to splash a color in a deck that didn't require lands that could cast cards of that color.

Reaper King

One twobrid card got the most attention because it used all five twobrid mana symbols in the same mana cost.

Glen Elendra Liege Gravelgill Duo

The "colors matter" theme allowed us to play around in new space. Using the Guildmages as inspiration, we made cards that had static or triggered abilities that could reference both colors of a card. Some had effects that worked the same but cared about different colors, while others had different effects based on the color it referenced. These types of spells were interesting in that they rewarded playing with multicolor cards, as a spell with both colors triggered twice.

Helm of the Ghastlord

A slight tweak on the above included Auras that worked differently depending on what color of creature they enchanted. Note that all this colors mattering made the multicolor nature of hybrid cards matter in a way that it hadn't before.

Dawnglow Infusion

Another tweak was to create spells that had different effects based on the color of the mana used to cast it. I enjoy how many of the hybrid cards allowed us to make cards that worked in many decks but were optimized in just one.

Demigod of Revenge

An interesting side effect of hybrid mana is that it lets you treat heavy mana costs in two-color decks like you normally treat monocolor. Let's say I made a creature that cost five black mana. That card can't really be played in anything but a mono-black deck. A hybrid cost of five black or red mana, in contrast, acts like a cost of five black mana in a mono-black deck, a cost of five red mana in a mono-red deck, and a cost of five black or red mana in a black-red deck. The latter wasn't something we previously had access to. One problem with making multicolor cards is that most enablers that let you play two-color decks also help you play three-color decks, so whenever we make a two-color format, it's tricky to keep it from spreading to more colors. Hybrid proved to be a useful tool to help keep this in check.

Loch Korrigan

As Future Sight hinted at, we did start making monocolor cards with hybrid activations.

They were on a cycle of commons, and one of the colors in the hybrid symbol matched the color of the card. The activations all pumped power and/or toughness, meaning you would want to activate them multiple times each turn if able. They were usable in decks with the main color but were optimized if played in decks with both colors (or monocolor decks).

Impromptu Raid

Shadowmoor was the first set to have hybrid cards with hybrid activations. This is a useful tool in that it can allow you to make overlap cards that can activate. It has a few other uses, but I'll get to those when I hit them.

Aethertow Kitchen Finks

Shadowmoor is the first set to have new set mechanics appear on a hybrid card. Ravnica went out of its way not to use guild mechanics on hybrid cards. Conspire was particularly interesting as it cared about the color of the spell it was on.

Shadowmoor also showed off another asset of hybrid, this time in Draft. Normally, it's hard to draft a monocolor deck, and it's often impossible in Sealed Deck. Here's why: Let's examine two possible decks. Deck A is a two-color deck with green and white cards. Deck B is a mono-green deck. For the sake of simplicity, think of a set as being split in five colors (yes, there are colorless cards, but let's ignore them for this example). Deck A has access to 40 percent of the cards, while Deck B has access to 20 percent of the cards.

In Shadowmoor, roughly half the cards were hybrid (we'll assume exactly half for easier math). That means, if you're playing Deck A, you have access to 50 percent of the cards, and if you're playing Deck B, you have access to 30 percent of the cards. For deck A, that's a 25 percent increase, and for Deck B, it's an increase of 50 percent. This means that drafting a monocolor deck in a Shadowmoor draft was likely the easiest in the history of Magic, and one of only a handful where you could reliably build a monocolor deck in the Sealed Deck format.

Eventide mostly followed in Shadowmoor's footsteps but did add a couple things.

Gwyllion Hedge-Mage

It had the first hybrid cards that interacted with basic land types rather than color. This allowed for some synergy with certain dual lands, although it was less synergistic with other hybrid cards.


It also had the first hybrid cards that tapped creatures of a certain color as costs. In the past, we'd used tapping colored permanents as a check to make sure a player was playing a certain color, but hybrid was allowing ways to cheat on that. For example, if you have three Crackleburrs in a mono-blue deck, you have the ability to activate an ability in red's slice of the color pie. This wasn't new to the game, but it was something for us to keep an eye on.

Figure of Destiny

Figure of Destiny was probably the most memorable card from Eventide. It has gone on to spawn many other card designs, and even some mechanics. It makes good use of heavy mana activations that hybrid shines at.

The Shadowmoor block had a lot of important lessons about hybrid, including the dangers of using too much and a better understanding of where fruitful future design veins might lie.

Alara Reborn

Hybrid's next use would come a year later in the third set of the Shards of Alara block. Alara Reborn is what we refer to in R&D as a gimmick set. The entire set consisted of gold cards. While that gives the set a cool thing to market, it makes it hard to design. Shards of Alara, the first set in the block, was fundamentally about five shards, that is, five parts of the plane that broke away from the rest. Each shard is missing two colors, so it's focused on a specific color and its two allies. Shards of Alara was the first-ever gold three-color set. Conflux, the next set in the block, was focused on playing as many colors as possible. The original idea for Alara Reborn, besides having all gold cards, is that it would focus on two-color ally pairs.

The problem was that Alara Reborn had to be drafted with a three-color set and a five-color set. As an all-gold set, all the commons had to be two-color cards. (We did talk about making the set all multicolor and allowing traditional hybrid cards, but Bill had his heart set on all gold.) It just wasn't working. There wasn't enough flexibility. The solution was to make fifteen common hybrid gold cards.

Thopter Foundry

The way it worked was that each mana cost had a colored mana, possibly some generic mana, and one hybrid mana that was in two colors that were allies of the colored mana. For example, take Thopter Foundry. It was base blue, and thus set on Esper, the blue-centered shard, with a white-black hybrid symbol. White and black are the allies of blue. This card could be played in any deck that had white-blue or blue-black in it.

While using hybrid mana in this way helped solve the design issue, we discovered that this type of mana cost caused a lot of confusion. It's not that we can't make use of it, but we wouldn't do so in as high of an as-fan as Alara Reborn did.

Monstrous Carabid

There was also a common cycle that had cycling using a single hybrid mana. The idea was that you would play it in a deck with both colors, but if you don't draw one of them, you can cycle the card away.

Shards of Alara was the first set to really lean into the workhorse part of hybrid, using it to solve various problems that stemmed from being an all-gold set.

To Be Continued …

We've come to the end of today's column, but we haven't reached the end of hybrid's story. (Perhaps the "Part 1" clued you in.) Part two will be available in two weeks, as I have a preview column next week. As always, I'm eager for any feedback on today's column or on hybrid mana in general. You can email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (X [formerly Twitter], Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok).

Join me next week for Magic: The Gathering® – Fallout® Commander deck previews and the following week for part two of the hybrid story.

Until then. May you embrace the joy of "or."