Compulsive Research: Fast Mana, A History In Three Decks

Tuesday, February 8 – Fast mana has been an integral part of Magic’s history – from the original Power Nine to Mox Opal today. JDB writes about this essential group of cards and how they’ve influenced formats and R&D over the years.

Fast mana cards—cards that break the rule of allowing development at the rate of one land (or mana source) per turn—have been a staple of Magic since
the beginning of the game. Also since the beginning, fast mana has been one of the most dangerous and degenerate aspects of Magic as well; it’s no
coincidence that six of the “Power Nine” cards (Black Lotus and the five original Moxen) are fast mana.

Due to fast mana’s proven potential for degeneracy, such cards have been printed less frequently in recent sets and at lower power. Nonetheless, both
early and modern fast mana cards see play in the Eternal formats, Legacy and Vintage. With apologies to High Tide and Mana Drain, powerful but isolated
blue cards, there are three major strains of fast mana in Magic—artifact, black, and R/G—and each supports a prominent archetype in an Eternal format.

Artifact Fast Mana – MUD, Vintage

No deck archetype exploits the history of artifact (and artifact-based) fast mana so brutally as a “Workshop deck” like MUD. Taking full advantage of
restricted (and a few unrestricted) cards, it accelerates out artifacts such as Sphere of Resistance and Tangle Wire, hindering the opponent long
enough for creatures such as Steel Hellkite to win the game. Recently printed Lodestone Golem is a dual threat.

Decks using black, red, and green fast mana also often use artifact mana; those cards, when not included in MUD, will be covered in decks that follow.
Specific card highlights from MUD:

Black Lotus (first appearance: Alpha)
— The granddaddy of independent fast mana, swapping one card for three mana of any one color. Zvi Mowshowitz anointed Black Lotus as the number-one artifact ever created in 2005 and proclaimed,
“There has never been a deck in the history of Magic that would not have loved to get its hand on one of these, and that’s a statement that
cannot be made for any other card.” The jury is still out on Vintage Ichorid (Mana or Mana-less?), but the point stands.

Mana Crypt (Book Promo)
— Not part of a set, specifically, but a book promotion: buy the Magic novel, send in the form, get the card. (If anyone has actually read Clayton
Emery’s Final Sacrifice, let me know how it is.) There’s a coin flip on the upkeep to see if your Mana Crypt deals three damage to you, but the
card is free to cast and nets two colorless mana on the spot. That’s “restricted in Vintage, banned everywhere else” territory.

Mox Emerald, Mox Jet, Mox Pearl, Mox Ruby,
and Mox Sapphire (Alpha) — As noted previously, six of the “Power Nine” cards are fast mana. Black Lotus is first, and these are the other five,
costing nothing and tapping for one mana of the designated color. While the five see varying levels of play in today’s Vintage—Mox Sapphire the most,
Mox Pearl the least—all are restricted Vintage staples and too dangerous to be let loose anywhere else.

Sol Ring (Alpha) —
One colorless mana to get two colorless mana immediately and every turn thereafter—does that make Sol Ring a better card than any of the original
Moxen? Zvi thought so, ranking it the number-two artifact of all time. He wrote, “The
only reason we talk about the Power Nine and not the Power Ten is that Sol Ring wasn’t rare.” This uncommon lasted one set longer than the Moxen,
making an appearance in Revised Edition while the Moxen were out after Unlimited Edition. Still, Sol Ring swiftly joined the Moxen on Vintage’s
Restricted List.

Metalworker (Urza’s Destiny)
— This Urza Block robot is notorious for being accelerated out on turn 1 and then used to generate eight or more mana on turn 2. Legal in Vintage and
even Legacy — though an infamous showing at Pro Tour: New Orleans 2003, now nicknamed “Pro Tour: Tinker,” eventually caused Metalworker to be banned from
Extended in September 2004 (nine months after partner-in-crime Grim Monolith). Metalworker, though not restricted in Vintage, was also on the first
modern (decoupled from Type One/Vintage) Legacy banned list. A September 2009 unbanning made Metalworker legal again in Legacy.

Ancient Tomb (Tempest)
— This land taps for two colorless mana at the price of two life. Too good for Extended? Yes, said the DCI, which banned Ancient Tomb from Extended
effective January 1, 2004, along with five other cards that had made a mess of “Pro Tour: Tinker.” Ancient Tomb is one of the few MUD cards that don’t
specifically reference artifacts, but it’s the least conditional land to tap for two colorless mana (a rival, City of Traitors, is discussed later).

Mishra’s Workshop (Antiquities)
— Cornerstone of the MUD deck. Three colorless mana from just one land that comes into play untapped has made Mishra’s Workshop an unrestricted “pillar of Vintage” per Tom LaPille and others, and the card is the
Workshop archetype’s namesake. Mishra’s Workshop is so filthy it’s no wonder the deck’s name is MUD!

Tolarian Academy (Urza’s Saga)
— I’ll turn to Ben Bleiweiss, who named Tolarian Academy the top nonbasic land of all time in April 2003. Lands such as
Gaea’s Cradle and Serra’s Sanctum, which grow in power with the number of creatures or enchantments on the battlefield, have nothing on the utter
degeneracy made possible by Tolarian Academy, which thrives on artifacts. As Ben notes, “This includes Mana Vault, Voltaic Key, Grim Monolith, Lion’s
Eye Diamond, Lotus Petal, the five Moxes, Black Lotus, Mana Crypt, and other mana developing cards.” He further wrote, “No card has been more
responsible for people quitting the game of Magic than Tolarian Academy…”

I can only add that more than any other card, Tolarian Academy and the resulting “combo winter” of Urza Block turned Wizards away from fast mana.
Several subsequent blocks—Masques, Invasion, Odyssey, even Onslaught—were far more fallow periods for fast mana.

Black Fast Mana — Ad Nauseam Tendrils (ANT), Legacy

Ad Nauseam Tendrils, or ANT, uses ritual effects and support cards to build up to a high-cost spell, either Ad Nauseam to refill the player’s hand or
Tendrils of Agony for a storm-fueled victory. ANT hasn’t been the same since Mystical Tutor was banned from Legacy; still, ANT, Legacy’sThe Rock or Eva Green, and a few Vintage decks like Dark Times and The Perfect Storm (TPS) suggest the power and popularity of
black fast mana, specifically Dark Ritual.

Black was the dominant color of fast mana through the early days of Magic. While there are only two major fast mana cards in black, Dark Ritual and
successor Cabal Ritual, there are also a number of also-rans in the color, starting with Sacrifice and continuing through cards such as Songs of the
Damned, Culling the Weak, and the much-maligned Carnival of Souls.

Compared to the diversity of useful R/G fast mana cards, black has limited distinct cards because Dark Ritual was reprinted so often. It showed up in
core sets through Fifth Edition as well as Ice Age, Mirage, Tempest, Urza’s Saga, and even Mercadian Masques.

Black and artifact fast mana cards used in ANT:

Chrome Mox (Mirrodin)
— All Moxen since the original come with a catch. In Chrome Mox’s case, it can tap for any color of mana—so long as the right color of nonartifact card
is imprinted on it. Chrome Mox is card disadvantage, but there are plenty of situations where the fast mana it offers can outweigh the drawback. Chrome
Mox found itself banned and restricted in the Eternal formats early on, but when the Vintage and Legacy restriction-to-banning correspondence was
decoupled in September 2004, Chrome Mox became legal in Legacy, and the card was unrestricted in Vintage in September 2008.

Lion’s Eye Diamond (Mirage)
Zvi Mowshowitz wrote in February 2005, “This card was created to be unplayable, and most people who look at it think that the design was a rousing
success.” Today, Lion’s Eye Diamond might rank a touch higher than 20th in “The Top 50 Artifacts of All Time.” In Vintage, where players can
use single copies of cards such as Yawgmoth’s Will, Lion’s Eye Diamond is restricted and justifiably so. It’s one of the format-defining cards of
Legacy, where the less degenerate environment permits the card’s continued existence.

Lion’s Eye Diamond is a format-defining Legacy powerhouse. It lets ANT cast a tutor for a game-winning card and get three mana to pay for it while the
tutor is on the stack. One-Land Belcher will gladly discard the dregs of its hand to be able to activate Goblin Charbelcher before the opponent gets a
turn. Dredge is thrilled to discard cards it wants in the graveyard while getting mana as a bonus. Even “discard your hand” isn’t enough to make a
Black Lotus equivalent balanced, though Wizards finally found the formula with Time Spiral’s Lotus Bloom.

Lotus Petal (Tempest)
— A Lotus Petal offers one-third the power of a Black Lotus, perhaps less. Of course, one-third of a Black Lotus is still extremely dangerous, and
Lotus Petal has joined the full flower on the Vintage Restricted List. It’s legal in Legacy, though, and a favorite of both ANT and One-Land Belcher.

Cabal Ritual (Torment)
— As a “fixed” Dark Ritual, costing two mana instead of one but offering a larger potential payoff with a well-stocked graveyard, Cabal Ritual did its
job in Block Constructed and Standard: it stayed out of the way. Today, it’s a worthwhile complement to Dark Ritual in ANT decks.

Dark Ritual (Alpha)
— It must’ve looked fair to Richard Garfield. Black Lotus cost zero, and it could get three mana of any one color. Dark Ritual cost one black mana and
only gave three black. Perfectly fine, right? Not so much. A banned and then unbanned card, Dark Ritual is one of the lesser “pillars of Vintage” but
still in the same conversation as Mishra’s Workshop, Bazaar of Baghdad, and Mana Drain. Aside from ANT and discard-based Legacy decks, Dark Ritual also
sees play in Two-Land versions of Belcher; the second land is a Bayou, which supports Dark Ritual and (usually) Infernal Tutor.

City of Traitors (Exodus)
— Never banned in any format, though it easily could have been the seventh card in the January 2004 Extended
bannings that took out its two-colorless-mana-land buddy, Ancient Tomb. The drawback of sacrificing City of Traitors if you played another land,
however, was enough to give it a stay. City of Traitors sees less play than Ancient Tomb in Workshop decks, due to the presence of Mishra’s Workshop
and other important lands, but the City thrived in this ANT deck.

R/G Fast Mana — One-Land Belcher, Legacy

This narrowly focused combo deck plays only one land, a single Taiga, yet it revolves around mana—fast mana, that is. It takes full advantage of the
experimentation and redundancy surrounding fast mana in red and green, chain-casting spells and reaching enough mana to cast a soon-to-be-lethal Empty
the Warrens or cast and activate a likely-winning Goblin Charbelcher.

The color of fast mana shifted decisively from black to red with Mirrodin block when Seething Song (and lesser lights such as Mana Geyser) was printed.
The red cards in One-Land Belcher tend to be newer, while the green cards are usually older and don’t reflect the current color pie. Old or new,
though, all the cards are equally legal in Legacy, and the Belcher deck is a product of their overlap.

All the artifacts in this build of One-Land Belcher have been described in previous decks. Here are the red and green cards:

Elvish Spirit Guide (Alliances) —
Now it’s a staple in Belcher decks, a free card that adds one to the mana pool and helps cast Tinder Wall. While Ice Age was Standard-legal, Elvish
Spirit Guide didn’t help cast Necropotence, and it couldn’t be exiled to cast Force of Will for free, so it didn’t see much play. In between, it
received limited use in Stompy-style decks that exploited the fast mana to accelerate out cheap green creatures.

Simian Spirit Guide (Planar Chaos)
— A “color-shifted” card in Planar Chaos, reflecting Wizards’ understanding that if Elvish Spirit Guide had been printed according to the modern color
pie, the card would have been red. Outside of Legacy, Simian Spirit Guide saw Extended play as part of All-in Red.

Tinder Wall (Ice Age)
— Like Elvish Spirit Guide, the humble Tinder Wall had to compete with Force of Will and Necropotence, and a Wall wasn’t going to win that battle.
Tinder Wall saw only limited use in Stormbind and R/G accelerated aggro decks. Tinder Wall is a more important player in Legacy than it ever was in
Standard, converting one green mana (see Elvish Spirit Guide above) into two red mana and building storm.

Desperate Ritual (Champions of Kamigawa)
— The red analogue to Cabal Ritual, Desperate Ritual converts two mana to three and features a block mechanic, in this case splice onto Arcane. The
splice ability seldom sees use, as Desperate Ritual is the only Arcane card in the One-Land Belcher list, though splicing does come into play on rare

Pyretic Ritual (Magic 2011) —
The first new “ritual” to debut in a core set since Alpha, Pyretic Ritual is Desperate Ritual minus the Arcane subtype and splice onto Arcane ability.
Several Kamigawa block cards have been adapted this way — Cultivate is a non-Arcane Kodama’s Reach; Memoricide a non-Arcane Cranial Extraction. As
“Desperate Ritual five through eight,” Pyretic Ritual made One-Land Belcher possible; previously, players had to use Dark Ritual (and second land
Bayou) to have a critical mass of fast mana spells.

Rite of Flame (Coldsnap)
— Ice Age block contains both the black Dark Ritual (color pie: 1996) and the red Rite of Flame (color pie: 2006). In Legacy, Rite of Flame’s step from
one red mana to two (or possibly more) is a key component of the Belcher deck, and while Coldsnap was Standard-legal, it interacted with Time Spiral’s
storm-mechanic cards, including Ignite Memories and reprint Dragonstorm, to create a combo deck. Gabriel Nassif and Patrick Chapin used that deck to
make the Top 8 at Worlds: New York 2007, and their semifinal meeting featured one of the most dramatic moments in Pro Tour history.

Seething Song (Mirrodin)
Seething Song’s October 2003 debut in Mirrodin signaled the shift of fast mana to red. The card had to compete with Ravager Affinity for popularity
during its first time in Standard, seeing only limited play in anti-Affinity decks, but when it was reprinted in the Ninth Edition core set, it helped
make Makihito Mihara a World Champion. In One-Land Belcher,
Seething Song generates two extra mana from one card, important for a deck that seeks to generate seven mana from a seven-card hand containing a Goblin

Other Important Fast Mana Cards

These are other fast mana cards that do not appear in any of the three decks above but play key roles in current or historical decks. The list includes
but is not limited to:

Channel (Alpha) —
Today, Black Lotus is usually sacrificed for blue or black mana. In the earliest days, red or green were more common, and Channel is why. It was the
bridge between Black Lotus and Fireball in the infamous ancient deck that led to the four-of rule and other deckbuilding restrictions. Unlike many
other fast mana cards of the Limited Editions, Channel managed to hang around to Fourth Edition, but it fueled enough turn 1 wins that it has a
permanent home in Vintage’s Restricted List.

Food Chain (Mercadian Masques)
— The one new fast mana card of Masques block was a mistake. This green enchantment fueled the vicious Food Chain Goblins deck, which made an
impression at Pro Tour: New Orleans 2003 despite not placing any pilots in the Top 8. Along with the so-called “Gobvantage” deck, which also used
Goblin Recruiter to stack its deck to nefarious Goblin Charbelcher-based ends, it was instrumental in getting Goblin Recruiter banned from Extended and
then Legacy. A Food Chain-fueled Goblins deck even made an impression in Vintage, when Mike Zaun won a StarCityGames.com Power 9 Tournament in May 2005.

Lotus Bloom
“Suspend 3” was the ticket to creating a balanced Black Lotus. Turn 4 may not count as “fast mana” in Eternal formats, but it was plenty fast enough
for Standard featuring Time Spiral.

Mox Diamond (Stronghold)
— The first of several cards after Alpha to carry on the Mox name, Mox Diamond can tap for any color of mana but requires an additional cost of
discarding a land card. While Mox Diamond is legal in all appropriate formats, it has received errata from its original wording. Discarding a land card
is now a condition of Mox Diamond entering the battlefield, so that Mox Diamond cannot be played and then immediately tapped for mana and then
sacrificed without discarding a land. (Under the original wording, Mox Diamond could be used almost like Lotus Petal.)

Mox Diamond has seen play as a four-of in multiple StarCityGames.com Legacy Open-winning decks, including Chris WoltereckLands and Pat McGregor Aggro Loam.

Mox Opal
— This Scars of Mirrodin mythic rare is the most recently printed card in the entire article and the latest to carry the Mox name. Mox Opal has already
seen play in the Tempered Steel deck, made famous by Pascal Maynard, though its potential in Eternal
formats is still being explored.


What does the future hold for fast mana? Only Wizards and the Future Future League know. Only one thing is certain: quality fast mana always holds
potential. The player who understands the history of fast mana will note Mox Opal and Pyretic Ritual in Standard and watch upcoming sets, searching for
the fast mana deck of the future.

Thanks for reading.