How good is your mana?

Looking through some Kamigawa cards (well, sorting several hundred of them) yesterday had me thinking about mana fixing on a block-by-block basis. More in the extended.

At any given time, the full Standard environment probably has decent mana fixing. The current Standard has, even were there nothing else, the full set of 10 painlands to let multicolor decks happen. The last few blocks — Lorwyn, Time Spiral, Ravnica — also feel, in aggregate, as if their color fixing ranges from good to great. This is why it’s such a surprise to me when I look at Kamigawa and realize how poor a color-fixing block it is. Unsurprisingly, decks during the Kamigawa block constructed season were overwhelmingly monocolored, but for those decks the leveraged the power of green to let them dip into a couple colors.
With all this in mind, here’s a quick take on the color fixing present in the completed blocks from Mirrodin on — that is to say, those blocks that will form the basis of the next Extended.
Mirrodin Block
Color fixing is very light on the literal ground in Mirrodin block. Land-based options are limited to the rainbow generating Glimmervoid (for which you must have an artifact in play) and the charge land Mirrodin’s Core.
Naturally, Mirrodin is flush with color-fixing artifacts. Chrome Mox is the all star in Mirrodin, costing you a card of the desired color but still seeing Extended play (and hey, restricted in Vintage). Pentad Prism is the other major tournament player, letting you put any two mana in to get any two mana out. The Talisman cycle also has a tournament presence, as it lets you choose between generic mana for “free” or colored mana across friendly colors at the cost of one damage. Pain-Signets, after a fashion. Mirrodin also has the clunky Gilded Lotus, the charge-building Gemstone Array, and a Paradise Mantle if you feel the need to “bird” one of your critters for some mana fixing.
Mirrodin also features a cycle of color-fixing artifact critters in the Myr, little 1/1s that each tap for a given color of mana (for example, Silver Myr taps for blue).
There are three mana-fixing green critters in block. Sylvok Explorer is a sort of Fellwar Stone critter, producing whatever mana your opponent can manage. Viridian Acolyte launders mana for you, and Joiner Adept makes all your lands rainbows, as long as she’s in play.
There are four land-grab spells in block as well. Wayfarer’s Bauble and Solemn Simulacrum search basics into play, whereas Reap and Sow searches any land into play, and Sylvan Scrying searches any land into your hand.
Kamigawa Block
Kamigawa features a surprising lack of mana fixing, while at the same time having one of the premier mana-fixing utility creatures of all time, one that still sees extensive play in Extended.
For lands, Kamigawa offers three options, only one of which really saw much serious play. First, there’s the allied-color cycle of delay lands. These lands let you take colorless sans penalty, or tap for a color and then lose the use of that land for a turn. They are frustrating and terrible. This general idea of dual appeared side-by-side with painlands way back in Ice Age, and I know that everyone only ever played the pains then, too. The delay duals are pretty much worse than just using basics in most decks you’d want to play. Forbidden Orchard is a rainbow land that will slowly fill your opponent’s side of the board with little 1/1 Spirits, which is generally also a bad plan for both aggro and control, since they contribute to (1) chumping your beaters and (2) killing you. Finally, we have Tendo Ice Bridge. It’s a rainbow land exactly once, but that was enough for people to use it in Standard play, and is certainly the best land-based color fixing in block.
Kamigawa has just one color-fixing artifact, Journeyer’s Kite. This is probably a good card to have in sealed, but in constructed, it’s far, far too slow and clunky.
The real king of color fixing in Kamigawa block is green. Green has Kodama’s Reach to put a basic into your hand and a second into play, as well as Seek the Horizon to grab three basics for your hand (note the hint in the art — it features Azusa, who lets you drop additional lands into play on your term…it’s always nice when the art tells you which cards to use together). Green also has Orochi Leafcaller to launder your green mana into any color, as well as Petalmane Baku to slowly build up a pool of rainbow goodness. Best of all, however, is Sakura-Tribe Elder, a brilliant little card that, at 1G, is basic land search built into a chump-blocking body. Elders saw play in a number of decks (largely Rock decks) in PT Valencia last month, including at least one deck in the top eight.
Seen in total, it’s clear why block play for Kamigawa was monocolored decks and green decks splashing other colors, and not much else.
Ravnica block
Rav is just silly with color fixing. To begin with, it brought us all ten shocklands and ten common bouncelands. With all those glorious duals, the special-case rainbow generator Pillar of the Paruns was just too limited to see much play.
Backing the dual-land goodness are all ten Signets. Signets add an extra level of amazing, letting Tron decks run wild for a while as they filtered their mana through a collection of shinies to cost all sorts of counterspells and other goodies. In limited but not really in constructed, we can also turn to Terrarion, or perhaps Spectral Searchlight, the latter option being mana fixing and a win condition (situationally).
Ravnica is also deep in useful green creatures with full or partial color fixing. Elves of Deep Shadow and Wild Cantor both act to bring color pairs together. On the other hand, Silhana Starfletcher, Verdant Eidolon, and the grandmother of all mana fixers, Birds of Paradise, give you a range of rainbow-generating options.
Black offers up Vesper Ghoul to bleed you a little for your rainbow.
There are two clunky color-fixing green enchantments in Elemental Resonance and Perilous Forays, but neither one is especially exciting.
If your preference is to use creatures to grab lands, you might want Civic Wayfarer or Silkwing Scout. Terraformer can sort of fix your mana, if you tap cleverly and have one mana to spare.
In terms of blocks discussed in this post, Ravnica is the clear color-fixing winner purely on the basis of the shocks and bounces.
Time Spiral block
Although it was in the unfortunate position of following the sheer power and flexibility of Ravnica and ended up looking not so solid as a result, the land-based mana fixing in Time Spiral block is actually quite reasonable. Notably, however, it pushes you toward allied colors in a way that Ravnica did not. The best land-based fixing comes from the quirky “future duals” cycle, featuring everything from the exalted Horizon Canopy to the aggro-frustrating Grove of the Burnwillows. Running a close second is the storage land cycle, featuring the best storage lands ever, as exemplified by Dreadship Reef. Terramorphic Expanse means its okay to put just one copy of a given special-case Basic land into your deck, and Gemstone Mine is three times better than Tendo, assuming you don’t mind not having a land once you’re done. You can also Transmute for lands with Tolaria West or maybe get lucky on the draw and have an early rainbow advantage courtesy of Gemstone Caverns.
In practice, block decks used Terramorphics, the storage lands, and the quirky duals, but only rarely touched on the other options.
In artifacts, Time Spiral has the powerhouse fixer Coalition Relic, the multifunctional Prismatic Lens, the super-accelerator and combo enabler, Lotus Bloom, as well as Chromatic Star (saw play) and Paradise Plume (didn’t). It also has a full cycle of totems, 3-mana artifacts that combine single-color mana production with a potentially useful part-time creature.
Outside lands and artifacts, Time Spiral largely relies on green for its fixing. Search for Tomorrow and Edge of Autumn drop basic lands into play in the early game, whereas Greenseeker and Evolution Charm put basics into your hand. Utopia Mycon and Gemhide Sliver provide rainbow production (slowly and quickly, respectively). Utopia Vow could be mana fixing for you, but more often serves as mana fixing for your opponent, after you convince one of their critters to go play tree for the rest of the game.
Blue dips its toes into the color-fixing pool with Dreamscape Artist, a power card in limited.
So this means..?
This survey was prompted by taking a look at block play in Kamigawa. We’ve been considering “block versus block” gaming, and in that context, the superior mana fixing in Ravnica seems like it will enable more flexible strategies, as well as powering them out the gate faster. In comparison, Kamigawa block seems positively stately, lumbering forward one basic land at a time. I wonder exactly what design decisions go into setting the level of color fixing in a set — was the goal to have deeply monocolored Kamigawa play?
When we get around to playing block versus block (Block Wars, perhaps), will Kamigawa be overrun by the faster blocks? Will Ravnica rule all? Or will it just mean that certain blocks face stronger color limitations than others, and that’s all — a design restriction rather than a real difference in play power.