Last updated on May 25, 2023

Dark Ritual (Mystical Archive) - Illustration by Robbie Trevino

Dark Ritual (Mystical Archive) | Illustration by Robbie Trevino

The term “mana abilities” is something that you see pop up on card text every so often in Magic. And you may not necessarily know what this means if nobody told you.

Are these abilities that give you mana? Are they abilities that you’ve spent mana to use? Today I’m going to explain exactly what a mana ability is and cover some of the most common questions that come up when talking about them.

Ready? Let’s jump right in!

What Is a Mana Ability in Magic?

Lotus Petal - Illustration by April Lee

Lotus Petal | Illustration by April Lee

To put it simply, a mana ability is an ability that adds mana to a player’s mana pool. It’s as simple as that.

If an ability adds mana to your mana pool then it’s usually a mana ability. But there are a few exceptions.

What Things Count as Mana Abilities?

A mana ability in Magic is any activated or triggered ability that can add mana to your mana pool and satisfies this criteria:

Mana abilities can be used any time that you have priority, and also while you’re casting a spell. They also don’t use the stack, which can make for some weird rules interactions.

Weird Examples of Mana Abilities

Mana abilities only have to satisfy the conditions I listed above, but there are a bunch of other things they can do while still getting the bonus of not using the stack.

Lion’s Eye Diamond

Lion's Eye Diamond

Lion's Eye Diamond is maybe the most famous example of a weird mana ability. It’s a mana ability because it doesn’t target, isn’t a loyalty ability, and so on. But if you give it all of the same benefits as a mana abilities then you could cast a spell from your hand using it for the mana, and that’s a play pattern that WotC did not want to give you access to. It makes the Diamond more like Black Lotus in a lot more situations, and it just seems weird to let you play a card that’s supposed to be discarded as the cost for using it.

The solution we have is that it’s a mana ability but is given the timing restriction of “activate only as an instant” so that you can only use it when you have priority, never in the process of casting a spell. This means you need to crack it before you start to cast your spell, and that spell can’t be one from the hand you discard to it.

The Stackless

Pristine Talisman

Some mana abilities can also give you extra benefits without using the stack. Pristine Talisman lets you gain life without using the stack.

If you’re on three life and you suspect your opponent has a Lightning Bolt in hand, this is a way to gain life that they can’t respond to.

Chromatic Sphere

The most egregious example of this is Chromatic Sphere. This is an absolute nightmare of a card for rules interactions as the only example of a mana ability that draws a card. It’s the only way to draw a card without using the stack (or by drawing your card for the turn).

To give an example of a silly thing this can do, let’s say you have Laboratory Maniac or Jace, Wielder of Mysteries on the battlefield and an empty library. Drawing a card through Chromatic Sphere wins you the game without giving your opponent an opportunity to respond.

Chromatic Star

This just scratches the surface of what this dumb card is capable of doing. And it’s exactly why it was fixed when they gave it a functional reprint as Chromatic Star.

Do Lands Have Mana Abilities?

The vast majority of lands have mana abilities. It is a land’s main function to provide you mana, after all. All basic lands have an intrinsic ability that lets them tap for mana of their color while duals have abilities that give you mana.

There are a few notable exceptions but they’re almost entirely from Magic’s early days, like Bazaar of Baghdad and Island of Wak-Wak. These days utility lands are almost always printed with at least an ability that gives you colorless mana.

Fetch lands like Flooded Strand, Scalding Tarn and even Evolving Wilds also have no mana abilities. But of course they’re only used to get other lands into play anyway.

What’s an “Intrinsic Ability”?

An intrinsic ability is an ability that doesn’t need to be printed on a card, it’s intrinsically linked to the card’s types. The five basic land types (Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain, and Forest) grant intrinsic abilities to the lands that they’re on, allowing those lands to tap for those colors of mana. This is why lands still tap for red mana when Blood Moon is on the battlefield, or why the controversial printing of Dryad Arbor from From the Vault: Realms has no text.

Basically every permanent that’s a Forest can tap for green mana. It doesn’t need to be given that ability separately. The same goes for all of the other basic land types.

Can Spells Count as Mana Abilities?

No, spells can never be mana abilities.

Were “Interrupts” Mana Abilities Back in the Day?

Back in Magic’s very early days “interrupt” was a card type that was basically like an instant, but faster. Interrupts were cards that resolved before everything else on the stack, giving them a kind of immunity to being responded to (except by other interrupts).

Counterspells were the most common form of interrupts, as were ritual spells. These abilities were then separated from interrupts when Mirage came out, creating the “mana source” card type. They both were made obsolete with the huge rules update in Sixth Edition.

Mana Abilities vs. “Play This Ability as a Mana Source”

“Mana source” was a card type for spells that added mana to your pool, but only Dark Ritual and Culling the Weak were printed with it. Mana abilities from this brief era between Mirage and Sixth Edition were printed with the added text “play this ability as a mana source,” like on the original Mirage printings of Marble Diamond and the rest of its cycle.

A good card to highlight these changes is Llanowar Elves, one of Magic’s most reprinted cards. When it was printed in Alpha and all the way through its printing in Fourth Edition it had some variation of “play this ability as an interrupt.” Its printing in Fifth Edition changed this to “play this ability as a mana source,” and its Sixth Edition printing removed that. This stayed the same for almost twenty years, until its Dominaria version removed the text “to your mana pool” so the card just says “Tap: Add ” now.

Is a Mana Ability an Activated Ability?

A lot of mana abilities are activated abilities, but not all of them are. The game is designed so that you need to be able to decide when you get your mana so that you can cast your spells when you need them. This gives you the best control over your own resources.

Can Triggered Abilities be Mana Abilities?

Overgrowth Utopia Sprawl

Triggered abilities can also be mana abilities. They need to be triggered by the activation of an activated mana ability, like with Overgrowth or Utopia Sprawl.

Can You Respond to Mana Abilities? Do They Use the Stack?

Mana abilities don’t use the stack at all, so they can’t be responded to with anything.

Can You Stifle Mana Abilities?

Stifle and other similar counterspells don’t work on mana abilities. These spells need a target on the stack to be used and since mana abilities don’t use the stack they never become legal targets for these spells.

Can You Use Mana Abilities on an Opponent’s Turn?

You can use mana abilities any time you like, and on any player’s turn.

Is Doubling Cube a Mana Ability?

Doubling Cube

If you’re asking if a card counts as a mana ability we can run down a simple checklist to get the answer.

  1. Does Doubling Cube have a target? No.
  2. Is it a loyalty ability? No.
  3. Is it possible for it to produce mana? Yes.

Based on these answers and the criteria for mana abilities that I already covered, Doubling Cube’s ability is a mana ability. Even though you might have no unspent mana when the ability resolves it still always counts as a mana ability.

Is Lotus Petal a Mana Ability?

Lotus Petal
  1. Does Lotus Petal have a target? No.
  2. Is it a loyalty ability? No.
  3. Is it possible for it to produce mana? Yes.

Even though you’re sacrificing the permanent that doesn’t mean the ability stops being a mana ability. The same is true for Treasure tokens and anything else that might have a similar ability.

Is Chromatic Star a Mana Ability?

Chromatic Star
  1. Does Chromatic Star have a target? No.
  2. Is it a loyalty ability? No.
  3. Is it possible for it to produce mana? Yes.

I talked earlier about the utter abomination that is Chromatic Sphere. Rather than reprint it for a second time, a fixed version was printed in Time Spiral where they’ve now separated the “draw a card” from the mana ability, making it a separate trigger instead. The original ability is still a mana ability though and has all the hallmarks of one.

Does Karn, the Great Creator Stop Mana Abilities?

Karn, the Great Creator

Given that mana abilities don’t use the stack and can’t be responded to, you might think there’s no way to shut them down. But there are a few ways.

Karn, the Great Creator absolutely made its presence known in Magic, getting restricted in Vintage and resulting in the banning of Mycosynth Lattice in Modern. Karn’s static ability says that the activated abilities of artifacts can’t be activated, and this also applies to their mana abilities. Artifact lands, Mox Opals, and Springleaf Drums all get shut down by this planeswalker as well as by Stony Silence, Collector Ouphe, and Null Rod.

I remember this coming up once at a PTQ I was judging. For some reason I’ve always remembered this conversation:

Affinity Player: “Judge! Does Stony Silence stop my Darksteel Citadel tapping for mana?”

Me: “Yes, unfortunately it does.”

Affinity Player: “Huh… Well that sucks, doesn’t it?”

In fact, shutting down mana abilities is exactly why Mycosynth Lattice ended up banned. It stops all of your opponents’ activated mana abilities when paired with Karn, the Great Creator.

Wrap Up

Llanowar Elves - Illustration by Chris Rahn

Llanowar Elves | Illustration by Chris Rahn

Like I already said, Magic’s rules aren’t too complicated. You often just need to read up on how they work. I hope this helped you to broaden your knowledge in some way.

What’s your experience with mana abilities? Do you have any fun stories about them? Let me know in the comments down below or over on Draftsim’s official Discord.

Until next time, stay safe and have fun!

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