Rant of Valakut: I Got a Rock – Part 2 Ben Iverach-Brereton April 10, 2017 Rants of Valakut 2 In the last Rant of Valakut we talked about mana rocks and their casting costs. This week I’d like to continue by examining some of the drawbacks these artifacts might have, as well as some of the extra utility they might provide. If you’d like to catch up with PART 1, here’s a link. When you’re all set, let’s dive right back in: Not every mana rock is as straightforward as the Manalith. Some of them have some sort of drawback intended to compensate for a cheaper casting cost or extra utility. Often the drawback for a mana rock will be as simple as the artifact entering the battlefield tapped, but it could be more severe. Some artifacts won’t untap unless you pay a cost, while others deal damage to you each turn. Then there are the restrictive mana rocks that can only be used to cast certain kinds of spells! TAPPED: Artifacts that enter the battlefield tapped, like the Diamond cycle and Prismatic Geoscope, really aren’t so bad. This drawback of course means it is more difficult to play the mana rock alongside another spell, and while that is unfortunate, it isn’t always the end of the world. The mana rocks that don’t untap on their own, like Basalt Monolith and Mana Vault, are a bit trickier. Often, they will produce a large amount of mana but need to be ‘reset’ through an activated ability. With a bit of support from cards like Voltaic Key, Brago, King Eternal, and Derevi, Empyrial Tactician, these artifacts are truly absurd. DEALS DAMAGE: There are only a few mana rocks that deal damage to you, but they typically have a lower casting cost to compensate. The Talismans are a good example of this, costing only 2 mana and coming into play untapped. What you get for the mana cost is excellent: usable mana straight away, and you only take damage if you make coloured mana. In commander this drawback is negligible; starting at 40 life gives you a large buffer to eat through, and it doesn’t take much to include a way to regain some life in your deck if you are really worried. What I’m interested in seeing is some way to turn this drawback to your advantage, with cards like Darien, King of Kjeldor, Gonti’s Machinations and Dissipation Field. The Field is particularly interesting, since it would return the artifact to your hand when it dealt damage to you. If you could somehow reduce the cost of casting a Talisman to 1 or less, the mana it generates would be enough to pay to recast it. This would allow you to keep triggering various effects or to generate extra mana. An interesting notion, to be sure. CONDITIONAL MANA: The mana rocks that can only be used to cast certain spells don’t have as many opportunities for abuse as other artifacts, but in the right deck they can still be a good addition. Obviously Altar of the Lost will only be useful in a deck filled with Flashback spells, and Myr Reservoir needs a sufficient density of Myr to be decent. That said, Myr Reservoir could also be useful in a deck full of Changeling spells, since they are also technically Myr cards. In any case, if this is the kind of deck you are looking to build, these situational artifacts are worth considering. It’s the latest installment of these restrictive mana rocks that I’m having a hard time evaluating. Inspiring Statuary really shines when you have several of artifacts to fuel it, but in a deck with a lot of artifact spells you will often run into situations where it will be unsuable. It seems that for it to be really useful it needs to go into a deck that produces artifact tokens from non-artifact sources. There are several cards with Investigate, Fabricate, and some other one-off abilities that create artifact tokens, which might make for an interesting deck, but it’s far from my initial plan of putting Inspiring Statuary into my equipment-based Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer commander deck. While it was great to be able to tap my equipment to cast my spells, there were too many times when I found myself with a hand full of artifact cards and no way to cast them. Inspiring Statuary has the potential to be one of the most explosive mana rocks in recent history, but it clearly can’t do that in just any deck. SPECIAL DRAWBACKS: There are still more mana rocks with their own odd little drawbacks, such as Khalni Gem‘s need to return lands to your hand, or the limited number of times you can use Sphere of the Suns. Both of these artifacts’ drawbacks could be turned to your advantage, with a little bit of work. Khalni Gem is naturally good in a deck that is looking for consistent Landfall triggers, but returning lands to your hand could also protect you from a spell like Armageddon or even let you cast a spell with Retrace. Sphere of the Suns might be a good source of counters to move around with a Power Conduit or Thief of Blood. Alternatively, the Sphere could at least be refuled by effects like Proliferating. UNRELIABLE MANA: It is a lot harder to work around the more unreliable mana rocks that produce a variable type and quantity of mana. For instance, Star Compass, Corrupted Grafstone and Prismatic Geoscope seem to be fairly reliable, only depending on your lands and graveyard for their abilities, but they have their limitations. Star Compass can’t produce a colour you don’t already have and requires you to play a lot of basic lands. Corrupted Grafstone is vulnerable to cards like Bojuka Bog, Relic of Progenitus, and other effects that remove cards from your graveyard. Prismatic Geoscope suffers from similar problems as Star Compass, but is slightly more consistent in that it can produce any colour so long as you control at least one basic land type. The bigger problem with Geoscope is that, because it costs so much mana, you need it to produce more than 1 mana for it to be worthwhile. Generating 2 mana is alright, but it’s when it generates 3 or more that it becomes a great mana rock. This generally won’t be a problem for most decks, but there will inevitably be times when the Prismatic Geoscope will be nothing more than a pretty paperweight. Charmed Pendant, by way of comparison, is perhaps the more unreliable mana rock ever. Because it depends on the mana cost of whatever card is on top of your library a certain amount of deck manipulation would clearly be in order. Nothing would be worse than tapping your Charmed Pendant in the hopes of generating a lot of mana only to flip over a land or a colourless spell. And while there are several ways to guarantee that you’ll have a suitable card on top of your library, if your deck isn’t built around these effects then the Pendant will almost certainly be too inconsistent to be of any real use. Don’t worry, It’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to mana rocks. A lot of these artifacts have some sort of upside to them, be they drawing cards, the ability to become creatures, or some other unique ability. There is sometimes a bit of an extra mana cost involved in these bonuses, but for the most part these still cost 3 to cast. They don’t always produce the same variety of colours you get from a Manalith, but their abilities usually make up for that lessened versatility. CARD DRAW: A good number of mana rocks can be sacrificed to draw a card, like Commander’s Sphere. The Cluestones from Dragon’s Maze were really the first big cycle of mana rocks with this ability. (A note: Eggs, as one-use-only artifacts, aren’t really in the same family as reusable rocks like Manalith, so I won’t be addressing them here.) These Cluestones each required mana of 2 different colours to sacrifice them, and they all cost 3 mana to cast, typical for a mana rock. Their downside was that they could only produce two colours of mana themselves (we touched on why this could be a problem in Part 1). Later on, in Khans of Tarkir, another very similar cycle of mana rocks was printed: the Banners. These were harder to sacrifice, since they needed 3 colours instead of 2, but they could produce a third colour. If you were to draw one of these artifacts when looking for a creature or some other spell it would be very mana intensive to cast it then sacrifice it right away; 5 (or 6!) mana to draw one card is not exactly what you want to be doing on your turn. Still, the fact that you can replace a Cluestone or Banner right away makes these cards a bit more appealing than your basic Manalith. Ideally, you would cast one of these artifacts early on for extra mana then later sacrifice it for a card when you no longer needed it. In that way the Cluestones and Banners are alright, but they aren’t necessarily the best tools for the job. Commander’s Sphere is likely preferable to the cards in these cycles, since it can be sacrificed for free to draw a card, but some decks may want multiple cards with this kind of ability. Mind Stone, Hedron Archive and Dreamstone Hedron form another cycle of colourless mana rocks that can be sacrificed to draw cards. Mind Stone, unlike the Cluestones and Banners, only costs 2 mana to cast and 1 mana to sacrifice, which is a bargain in both cases. Hedron Archive and Dreamstone Hedron do cost significantly more mana both to cast and sacrifice, but the trade off is pretty reasonable. Not only do they produce more than 1 mana each, but you also draw more than 1 card when you sacrifice them. In decks that struggle with card advantage, having a card that can greatly accelerate your mana and be used to draw multiple cards might be just what the deck needs. BECOMES A CREATURE: The risk with traditional ‘mana dorks‘ is that they are very vulnerable to removal. Most ‘board wipes‘ in commander destroy all creatures, and there are plenty of burn spells and targeted removal that take these dorks out. Most spells that destroy all creatures, however, are sorceries, so noncreature permanents can usually survive longer. If these artifacts can become creatures temporarily then they can get in some damage while avoiding the threat of a Day of Judgment or similar card. The Keyrunes, Monuments and Totems are all reasonable inclusions for decks that need a mana rock. None of these ‘creature rocks’ turn into a huge threat, but each one provides its controller with an extra blocker or attacker, one that can sneak in for damage after everything has died, so long as you have mana to spare. Cultivator’s Caravan is perhaps the most interesting addition to this collection, since it doesn’t require any mana to become a creature. Granted, a crew cost of 3 is not insignificant to have to pay, but neither is a 5/5 that can avoid the most common mass removal in the format. UNIQUE UPSIDES: There are quite a few other mana rocks that do something completely different. Pyromancer’s Goggles forgoes a low mana cost in favour of some extra utility in a deck full of red spells. Pristine Talisman and Paradise Plume slot in nicely to any life gain decks, providing convenient and consistent triggers. Honor-Worn Shaku could certainly find a home in a deck full of legendary permanents, though it may not prove to be much better than some of the other mana rocks we’ve examined; it would depend greatly on what legendary permanents were being included. On the other hand, Coldsteel Heart would be an obvious addition to any Snow deck, but it is also good enough on its own to warrant including it in almost any deck. Personally, I have a soft spot for Meteorite. Its high casting cost makes it a poor choice in most decks, but I love the comical image of this giant rock falling to the earth and crushing some poor creature under it. It could be good in a deck that could flicker it in and out of play repeatedly, or if could be used to consistently destroy a 2 toughness creature. I hate to admit it, but even in decks and matchups like that there are probably better things to do with 5 mana. Well, at least Meteorite doesn’t come into play tapped, right? So, after all of that, why did I decide to include the mana rocks that I did in my Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer commander deck? As you saw from my decklist in Part 1, I included Sol Ring, Boros Signet and Hedron Archive. The Sol Ring is extremely efficient, allowing this aggressive deck to get out multiple threats early. It’s also a cheap artifact which helps the deck get to Metalcraft. The Boros Signet helps with colour fixing, since there are a fair number of colourless utility lands in the deck. A Talisman might have been a nicer choice for the deck but unfortunately there isn’t one that taps for both White and Red, so the Signet will have to do. Finally, the Hedron Archive was a tough choice. Another low-mana artifact was certainly worth considering, and I almost included Mind Stone for that very reason. In the end, however, I valued the extra card draw that the Archive provided more than the discounted mana cost of the Mind Stone. Dreamstone Hedron was too much for the deck to cast, but the Archive felt just about right; not too much mana, but a noticable benefit over the cheaper alternatives. I suppose if Sol Ring ever gets banned in commander I could put in a Mind Stone as a replacement? That seems alright to me. This concludes our epic review of mana rocks. Congratulations on making it to the end. I hope you found this discussion interesting. Did I miss anything important? Do you have a favourite mana rock? Let me know in the comments; I’m always happy to hear from you. Until next time, may you find a way to work around your drawbacks and exploit your upsides. Oh, and watch out for falling Meteorites! FacebookGoogle+Twitter 2 Responses James LaPage April 11, 2017 These two articles are – by a large margin – my favourite articles you’ve written so far. Your classifications are logical and your ideas about turning downsides into upsides are some of my favourite parts about EDH deckbuilding. Outstanding work. Reply Ben Iverach-Brereton April 13, 2017 Thank-you, James; that’s very kind of you to say! Figuring out how to exploit a card’s drawback has always been one of the big reasons why I enjoy building decks in general. A deck that takes this approach always feels unique and clever to me. I would say that Commander is one of the best formats for these kinds of decks; being a large deck singleton format, players can usually justify including a couple of ‘pet’ cards with weird interactions while still ensuring that their deck is as competitive as they need it to be. I do wonder if the same holds true for Canadian Highlander, or if the format is too fast…? Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName Email Website Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.