We’ve all been there. You draw your opening hand, full of spells and potential, but you realize to your dismay that there are no lands. We call it getting mana screwed, and it sucks, but depending on your deck, you might not care….
I know I’ve been talking a lot about Commander, and I’ll be getting back to that again shortly. For today, however, let’s delve into the world of kitchen table magic with one of the strangest decks I’ve ever built. Before I show you the list, though, I’d like to tell you a bit about the deck and why I built it.
It all started several years ago. I don’t quite remember why I thought of it, but an idea floated into my head and wouldn’t go away. It was a simple question, but one that I needed to answer. Namely:
Is it possible to build a deck that cannot produce mana yet is still playable? If so, what does that deck look like?
I remembered hearing about that bogeyman of a deck called “Manaless Dredge” which could win without even casting a spell, but while it was fascinating it didn’t sound like much fun to me. It had almost no interaction and might just win on the first turn; there are only so many times I would want to play a deck like that. Besides, I wanted to brew up something original, and dredge had been done several times over. But if I was going to come up with something new where would I even begin?
Unlike those dredge decks, which ran the occasional land, I was looking to make something that was completely devoid of mana. This meant that any mana cost would be impossible to pay; with that in mind it made sense to start my search with spells that cost 0 mana. As it turns out, almost all of the spells with that goose egg of a mana cost are artifacts, and there are a surprising number of them. My task then became to narrow them down to a manageable list, weeding out cards that had activated abilities that required mana or produced mana themselves; after all, the idea was to make a completely manaless deck, not just one without lands!
The free artifact creatures Ornithopter and Memnite were certainly going into the deck, but I was concerned that I wouldn’t have any other creatures. Most of the 0 cost artifacts I found were trinkets and rocks, so I was quite happy to discover the existence of two more creatures I could use: Shield Sphere and Phyrexian Walker. Both of these creatures could serve as early game blockers, buying me time to do… whatever it was this deck was going to do.
It was becoming apparent that I was facing a problem with my little deck. So far I had a collection of baubles that did very little, and a set of creatures with a grand total of 4 power among them. I would need to find something to serve as a win condition if I was even going to pretend that this deck could work! So, the question became: what else could I cast without mana? Since I was including several artifacts already it made sense to take a look at cards with affinity, a mechanic that reduced costs based on the number of artifacts in play. Frogmite was great; with four artifacts it would reduce its cost to 0, giving me access to a free 2/2 creature. It wasn’t amazing, but it was already an improvement. Looking at my other options for affinity creatures my next cheapest option was Myr Enforcer, and while a 4/4 body was closer to what I had in mind, needing 7 artifacts in play proved to be too difficult to make this big fellow viable. This also meant that the much higher cost of Mycosynth Golem was right out; getting 11 artifacts into play was just an absurd notion with this deck. Unfortunately every other Affinity creature required at least one coloured mana, which I could never pay for, so they were also out as options.
In my search for usable cards with Affinity I did find two more that would fit into the deck: the Tooth of Chiss-Goria and Scale of Chiss-Goria. Not only did these affinity cards have a low enough cost, requiring only 3 other artifacts to be free, but they could be used to boost the power and toughness of my creatures! Yes, with a Tooth of Chiss-Goria even my lowly Phyrexian Walker could start swinging in for some damage.
Still, even with the extra teeth this deck was shaping up to be a bit of a disappointment. I was still missing a heavy-hitter, something big that I could cheat out early. Surely there was a card with an alternate casting cost that would fit what I was trying to do! As it turns out, there was one such card, and it fit perfectly:
Salvage Titan is a six mana 6/4 black artifact creature, and it was going to bring this whole project together. Instead of paying mana to cast this big golem you can sacrifice three artifacts. Additionally, if it gets destroyed you can exile three artifacts from your graveyard to return it to your hand, ready to get cast again. The great part is that, as a black card, it opened up a whole realm of possibilities for other cards to go into the deck which I hadn’t even considered at first.
Removal spells like Contagion and Sickening Shoal as well as the hand attack spell Unmask can all be cast by exiling another black card from your hand instead of paying mana. This means that they could all pay for each other if necessary, and a spare Salvage Titan could even be used to fuel them in a pinch! Their inclusion meant that including the card Street Wraith made perfect sense as well; while it would never be cast, the creature could be cycled away for a new card by paying life, or it could be kept in hand as fodder for the deck’s removal spells.
This dual-purpose was mirrored in cards like Urza’s Bauble and Mishra’s Bauble which could either be sacrificed to draw cards, digging deeper into the deck to find Frogmites and Salvage Titans, or they could be kept on the battlefield to help pay for those same cards. Even a Welding Jar could be kept to save a creature or disposed of to help cast it. With so many flexible cards the deck felt like it had finally come together.
Here’s the list I came up with; I call it “Completely Mana Screwed”:
Playing with the deck it has proven to be remarkably fun and dynamic. There are a lot of cards in the deck that can be used in two or more ways, and it’s always tricky to determine what the correct play is. That said, because it takes two or more cards to do basically anything in this deck, and it can struggle to answer threats; it endeavours to make up for this card disadvantage by dropping a large threat right away, trading cards for speed; turn 1 is often very explosive, playing out almost every card, and ideally dropping a 6/4 into play right away. The deck can win as soon as turn 3 with a great opening hand, but it can be somewhat fragile. If Salvage Titan gets exiled, for instance, then the deck will have a very hard time winning.
You likely won’t see it in any big tournaments, especially since it’s technically a Legacy deck, but this deck is a solid contender at the kitchen table. Its fast starts get it ahead early, but its fragility makes it surprisingly fair.
And all that without a single source of mana!