Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Magic Primer: Mana, Land and Color

Okay I explained what I consider to be the boring stuff  last time. I'm writing this somewhat assuming that you either know the game or read the last one. Anyway, on to the more interesting stuff.

Mana is Magic the Gathering's resource management system. Just about everything you can do in the game takes mana.

So let's get started

Mana Generally
So if your a gamer and you've ever played the wizard you probably know what mana basically is. For the uninitiated mana is basically the magical energy required to cast spells. The more powerful the spell the more mana it takes to cast.

I'll explain it more in a second, but generally the game expects you to have one mana for each turn. For instance on turn one the game expects you to have one mana and on turn two, two mana. In other words the game developers expect a spell cast at three mana to be able to be played roughly on turn three.

Okay again something I'm going to deal with later but there are seven different types of cards and land are one. There are a couple of different ways to get mana but by far the most common is tapping land.  You can play one land per turn, which stays on the field as a permanent, and, whenever you use a land to get mana you tap it.

An Aside on Tapping
You tap other things, but I'm going to talk about creatures in another post.  To tap a card you turn it on it side. Cards untap at the beginning of your turn, so generally they can only tap, and do the things that require them to tap once per turn. Cards often have abilities that require you tap them, denote by a little bendy arrow thingy.

Most lands have them except basic lands which are really really important and I will get to them in a second. 

Basic Land
So as I explained previously your only allowed to have four of any one card in your deck except basic land. Basic land is probably the most common way of generating mana so you will probably want to put a lot in your deck. The general rule on land is that it should consist of 1/3 of your deck if you want to draw it reliably. 

Anyway there are five types of basic lands and each generates a different color of mana. I will talk color in a sec, but anyway.

Islands generate blue mana.
Swamps generate black mana.
Mountains generate red mana.
Forests generate green mana.
And Plains generate white mana. 

Tapping a basic land generates one mana of it's corresponding color. Since your allowed to play one land per turn you generally have an amount of mana roughly the equivalent to the turn it is. And I just repeated myself. 

One thing to note is that mana only sticks around during the phase it was generated. 

Non-Basic Land
While especially if your a new player you'll probably be playing mostly with basic land there are also non basic lands. Lands that aren't the previous five I mentioned. Most of these have abilities that differ from the main five. The most common of these is the ability to choose between two colors of mana. And I will get to color in a second. 

Land Tutoring
There are also cards that will let you search for a card in your library and put it either in your hand or on the battlefield. The can fix colors or accelerate mana and I will talk about that next. 

Mana Cost
At the left hand corner of most cards except land there will be symbols denoting the cards mana cost, or how much mana it takes to play the card. 

Those are the symbols for each of the 5 colors.  Also the spell may require generic mana denoted by a circle with a number. Generic mana may be of any color color. For instance Grizzly Bears costs one green mana and one mana of any color to play. 

Mana Curve
Alright let's get complicated. A major part of deck building is mastering the mana curve. In a way a spells mana cost represents the turn it's most likely you will be able to play it. Keeping this in mind players will build their decks predicting what they will likely be able to play and when. For instance if you have deck made up of expensive spells costing lots of mana you won't be able to play those spells until later in the game, and if all your spells are too expensive you may lose the game before you have the mana to use them.

Mana/Power Ratio
Also players judging what makes a card good try to study it's Mana/Ratio or how mana efficient compared to other cards. For instance a good card from a while back is Watchwolf. Generally the developers design creatures (later) so they have 1 power per mana, but Watchwolf costs 2 mana and has three power being pretty efficent. (Okay Kalonian Tusker is probably even better, but I have a soft spot for for good old trusty Watchwolf.)

Mana Resource Trade off
One way to judge the mana efficency is by comparing mana to other resources in the game, like damage, card draws, and even mana itself. One of the greatest cards in the game ever was Black Lotus, which allowed for a trade of three mana for zero mana.

By the way apart from being banned it's also out of print making it ridiculously valuable, with Star City Games posting a hypothetical price tag of 5 grand.

Alternative Sources of Mana
While most of the mana you get especially in the early game will come from land there are other ways of getting it. Accelerating your mana is a good way to play really powerful cards before people expect you to. For instance one of my favorite cards is Birds of Paradise. It has the capacity to move my plans forward by a turn.

As I've said there are five colors of mana, blue, white, red, black and green. Each spell is considered the color of the mana used to pay for it. Why is this important? Well because each color has strenghs and weaknesses associated with it. Or put another way game mechanics tend to be associated with individual colors.

For instance drawing cards is a blue mechanic. While other colors may be able to do it, there are less cards that can in those other colors and they will probably be less mana efficent than blue cards.

Also these mechanics combine into quasi game play philosophies. For instance red has a lot of spells giving short term gains in exchange for long term opportunity, and is considered the rash color of passion.

Note: I might as well get this out of the way now because otherwise talking about game mechanics will be impossible. Often times there will be cards that do similar things, until Wizards of the Coast grants these things a keyword, players often refer to them by the card most associated with them. For instance when I say pacifism effects I am referring to effects similar to the one on the card Pacifism. In short if I say something and you don't know what I mean chances are the card I linked to will give you a clue.

Here is a quick run down

Philosophy: Nature and Growth
Basic Land: Forest
Magic 2014 Planeswalker: Garruk Wildspeaker  (The Huntsman)
Game Mechanics Most Associated: Mana Acceleration, Mana Efficiency, Creatures, Creature Tokens, Creature Buffs, Creature SupportTrample and Overrun Effects (Yeah since green's thing is mostly creatures and I haven't explained creatures yet this probably sounds Greek), Land Tutoring
Game Mechanics Least Associated: Creature Removal, Flying and Evasion Abilities (Laterz),
Creature Types (I will explain it later I promise): Elves, Beasts, Warriors

Green is the color associated growth and in terms of game mechanics this means mana and creatures. I will get to creatures later though. On the downside green is also the most straight foward color. There just aren't that many tricks.  You know that scene at the end the Firefly pilot where Mal tells Simon, "If I come at you you'll know and you'll be armed".  That's green. It gets the most conventionally powerful creatures but they are conventional. There are a few combat tricks but other than that green comes right up the middle.

Philosophy: Justice
Basic Land: Plains
Magic 2014 Planeswalker: Ajani Goldmane (The Healer)
Game Mechanics Most Associated: Mass Creature Destruction, Flying, Life Gain, Destroying Attacking Creatures, Tapping Other Players Creatures, Defensive Creatures, White Weenie, First StrikeTithing effects, Pacifism Effects, Lifelink, Damage Prevention, Protection Effects,
Game Mechanics Least Associated: Direct Damage
Creature Types: Soldiers, Clerics, Knights, Angels, Birds (I really like Suntail Hawk)

White is the color of justice. It wants to control stuff, so it gets lots of cards that can destroy or limit creatures, but those cards tend to be defensive. White cards tends to rely on the other player acting against you.  Except for white weenie. White is the master of the judo flip. Using other's power and momentum against them.

Also white gets a lot of weak but mana efficient creatures. More colloquially known as weenies. While other players gear up for power moves white may have already beaten them.

Philosophy: Knowledge and Guile
Basic Land: Island
Magic 2014 Planeswalker: Jace Beleren (The Mindsculpter)
Game Mechanics Most Associated: Extra Turns, Card Drawing, Counter Spells, Mill Stone Effects, Boomerang  Effects, Copying Spells, Redirecting Spells, Theft, Artifact Support
Game Mechanics Least Associated: Direct Damage(at least in newer cards), Creatures and Creature Support
Creature Types: RoguesWizards, Merfolk, Krakens, Leviathans, and Other Sea Monsters

Blue is the color of magic and knowledge. It often gets cards that manipulate the underlying systems of the game.  For instance counters can undo stop actions before they even take place. Also since the hand and the library represent the mind in the game blue also gets spells that effect those. That said like white, blue is a defensive color, having few cards that win the game well through conventional means i.e. dropping life points from twenty to zero.  Blue uses it's tricks to stall and frustrate until the few punches it can land can knock out the opposition.

Philosophy: Reckless Ambition
Basic Land: Swamp
2014 Planeswalker: Liliana Vess (The Villainess )
Game Mechanics Most Associated: Creature Destruction, Discard, Sacrificing, Zombification, Siphoning/Extort, Life Link, Fear/Intimidate, Dark Ritual Effects, Tutoring
Game Mechanics Least Associated:Okay I had a block and I'll describe why.
Creature Types: Assassins, Vampires, Zombies, Wizards, Horrors, Demons

Black generally is a color that will break taboos for the sake of power. This means it is the best color at killing creatures and  bringing back the dead, and destroying the mind (Discard). Also it is known for actively hurting itself in pursuit of power. Because of that I would say black is probably the most flexible color because it can do most of the stuff the other colors can if the player is willing to take a penalty. Case in point for a Phyrexian Arena and Greed are some of the best draw spells in the game even though drawing is usually a blue mechanic.

Also note black isn't evil. It's nuanced. Though its current mascot is pretty damn evil.

On the other hand Chainer was a pretty chill dude, at least until you did something to piss him off and  those guys had it coming. They tried to Uriah him!

And while crazy as all hell Braids wasn't half bad either. Sorin is close to a saint... as far as vampires go.

And as for white being the "good" color, well Gideon might be humble now after The Conflux but when introduced he was a bit of self-righteous prick. I mean he tried to kill Chandra... before she knew how roast his ass back. Which brings me to red.

Philosophy: Reckless Passion and Impatience
Basic Land: Mountain
2014 Planeswalker: Chandra Nalaar (The New Fire Chick)
Game Mechanics Most Associate: Direct Damage, Aggro and Goblin Rush, Haste, Firebreathing, Offensive Creatures, Short term theft,
Game Mechanics Least Associated: Lifegain, Damage Prevention, Draw
Creature Types: Goblins, Dragons, Giants, Warriors, Barbarians

Red's thing is the short term. Most red mechanics and cards are about doing stuff now without regard to the later game. As such red cards tend to be very resource inefficient in the long term. Direct damage for instance can do damage much sooner than most creatures but creatures in the long term can deal more damage.

Also there is the whole drawing thing.  Who needs to draw if you'll win the game by the time your hand is empty?

That said red is best color at speed. Besting even white for the amount of sheer damage it can do in the first few turns.  Things even out by the mid game though. If you can survive the first assault against red you have a chance.

Artifacts and Colorless
Artifacts are a card type. I will get to them later, but generally their defining feature is that they are colorless and their mana costs can be paid for with any type of mana, allowing all colors to have access to some abilities.


It's not uncommon, especially since Magic is coming out of a multicolor set to have cards that contain more than one color in their mana cost.

I don't want to get into hybrid mana but it's mana that can be paid with one mana of either of the symbols.

Multicolor cards are considered harder to play and also can blend the strengths of their colors. Speaking of which it also isn't uncommon for players to play with more than one color in their deck to cover their weaknesses, though it's generally suggested that new players stick to two.

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