Last updated on November 29, 2021
Deathrite Shaman | Illustration by Steve Argyle
If you’re a Commander player, you’ve probably heard the term “mana dork” before. If you have absolutely no idea what these are, I’ve got you! Mana dorks are a (usually) cheap creature that does nothing but generate mana and accelerate you.
Mana dorks are invaluable to any big creature deck and they’re even better when you get them on curve. Today I’m going to go over the best mana dorks in each color plus the best colorless and multicolor dorks, just what a mana dork is, the special rules that only apply to them, and their counterpart, mana rocks.
Let’s get to it!
What’s a Mana Dork?
Simian Spirit Guide | Illustration by Lucas Graciano
Mana dorks are usually just a little 1/1 creature that taps for a single green mana, though they sometimes have more powerful abilities. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to cast a wide net and include any utility creature that adds mana, filters mana, or searches up lands.
Mana dorks may not seem that powerful at first. But any experienced player will tell you that getting early mana acceleration like that can slingshot you ahead in the game, allowing you to deploy cards your opponent can’t handle.
Acceleration is always powerful in Magic, especially when you can get it on turn 1 or 2, which is where (most) mana dorks land in mana value.
Best White Mana Dorks
Well, this is awkward.
Mana acceleration isn’t something that comes easy to white, especially efficient mana dorks like Llanowar Elves. There are still some creatures that add mana to your pool, but they’re very limited in their abilities. That or the mana can only be used on specific things.
So instead of white getting a list of the “best” mana dorks, it’s just a list of barely playable ones with two exceptions.
The Barely Playable Ones
Sunseed Nurturer generously adds one colorless mana to your mana pool. This would be okay except that ability is tacked onto a 1/1 that’s focused on lifegain from big creatures. This really isn’t what you’re looking for in any deck that would otherwise be eating up mana dorks like a Commander deck.
Helionaut is a 1/2 flyer that fixes your colors but doesn’t accelerate you in any way. Its stats are also anything but impressive, which is exactly what I’ll call this card.
Adarkar Unicorn is another one of those cards that’s technically a mana dork but is so bad you should never play it. This card would only ever be used to keep up something like a Mystic Remora and is basically useless at all other points in time.
2. Weathered Wayfarer
Weathered Wayfarer is the closest thing white gets to a mana dork and it’s actually not too bad. Wayfarer can ensure you don’t miss your land drops if you play it on turn 1, but only if you went second and your opponent didn’t miss theirs. Or if you play this later against a deck with more acceleration than you.
1. Knight of the White Orchid
Knight of the White Orchid is much stronger. It’s an excellent creature on its own as a 2/2 first striker for and has improved value if you play it in the same conditions as Wayfarer. I’ll tentatively call this Knight the best white mana dork.
Best Blue Mana Dorks
5. Dreamscape Artist
First on the list for blue is Dreamscape Artist, a 1/1 that lets you pitch cards for lands! Grabbing lands is better than tapping for mana since lands are much more permanent and harder to interact with. Doing this on your end-step with mana held up for counterspells is really strong.
4. Renowned Weaponsmith
Renowned Weaponsmith is an artificer that produces a Sol Ring-like effect you can use on artifacts or activated abilities. This is excellent in mono blue artifact Commander decks led by Urza, Lord High Artificer or Emry, Lurker of the Loch. It’s decent mana ramp overall as long as you’re including it in an artifact-themed deck.
3. Vodalian Arcanist
Vodalian Arcanist is much more flexible than Weaponsmith. It allows for quicker casting of instants and sorceries which are often much more commonplace than artifacts and don’t require nearly as much colorless mana. This is as vanilla as blue’s mana dorks come.
2. Karfell Harbinger
Slightly more usable than the Arcanist is Karfell Harbinger. A single is always going to be needed for the spells you play in a deck with this card. That means that you’ll typically get your manas worth from Harbinger. This card is so-so as mana ramp overall but it’s pretty good for blue.
1. Apprentice Wizard
Apprentice Wizard outshines both previous cards by giving you a whole three colorless for just . This creature is much more vulnerable at 1 toughness, but its activated ability is also much stronger. Profiting two colorless is awesome as proven by the existence of Sol Ring.
Best Green Mana Dorks
OK, enough messing around. This color is the bastion of mana dorks, so let’s take a look at some truly good cards here.
10. Karametra’s Acolyte
First off in green is the honorable Karametra’s Acolyte. The greener your deck is, the better this card is. Coming on turn 4 means you’ll probably have a few other creatures out when you can eventually tap this for mana, plus it works as an effective early blocker at 4 toughness. Solid overall but there’s still more to look at, so let’s continue!
9. The Little Guys – Llanowar Elves, Elves of Deep Shadow, Arbor Elf, and Avacyn’s Pilgrim
These are all ideally played turn 1 and will essentially push you a whole turn ahead of the curve acting as a second land. At worst, these elves (and one human) act as gigantic targets for your opponent’s removal, potentially clearing the way for your 3-/4-/5-drops. Going 1-for-1 with your opponent’s Lightning Bolt is all right, which means these cards always provide value.
8. Priest of Titania
Priest of Titania, like the previously mentioned Karametra’s Acolyte, gets stronger the more dedication (or devotion!) you give towards it and its theme. This card is okay-ish on its own. The Priest is a slightly more expensive Llanowar Elves that becomes incredible the moment you resolve a second elf.
7. Somberwald Sage
Somberwald Sage represents a fun Black Lotus effect. Its only limitation is that you have to spend its mana on creatures exclusively. This isn’t too much to ask for, especially if you’re in a mono green creature deck and your gameplan is dropping big fatties like Avenger of Zendikar ASAP.
This card dies to anything that sneezes on it at 1 toughness which basically makes it a mana rock that can be killed. It still holds one of the strongest abilities in all of Magic on its oracle text, though.
6. Joraga Treespeaker
A little slow out of the gate but Treespeaker makes up for it with its cost. This elf holds incredible value after you level it up once and even greater widespread mana generation with its pseudo-lord effect if you’re playing elves.
5. Birds of Paradise
When I think of a great mana dork, I think of Birds of Paradise. Birds does so much for so little. It fixes your mana, it can block flyers, it ramps you up for cheap, and it’ll swing in over the air if you eventually get a Craterhoof Behemoth or pair it with equipment! A great card all around, Birds is an auto-include in any green or Commander deck.
4. Sylvan Caryatid
Sylvan Caryatid represents stable mana generation and fixing with its hexproof mechanic. Not to mention it’s an early defender to protect your life total against aggressive decks. It more than makes up for the in its mana cost with additional benefits that nets it the place of fourth best green mana dork.
3. Noble Hierarch and Ignoble Hierarch
Next up on the list of best green mana dorks are Noble Hierarch and Ignoble Hierarch tied for bronze. One mana that taps for multiple colors without a downside plus buffing itself or another attacker is as good as gets.
2. Bloom Tender
Bloom Tender becomes incredible the more colors your deck runs. Playing this card with your second land being something other than green makes it a pre-upgraded Joraga Treespeaker and a slightly worse Black Lotus once you hit three uniquely colored permanents.
1. Sakura-Tribe Elder
Taking the number one spot as the best green mana dork is Sakura-Tribe Elder, sometimes referred to by the community as “Steve.” Steve’s benefit is that you’re guaranteed permanent value by being able to sacrifice it at instant speed if it resolves. Plus, you may be able to get value out of its shuffle effect.
This makes up for its non-elf creature type and failure to be an effective blocker after turns 1 and 2. The mana coming in the form of an additional land is also much stronger than being tied to an activated ability on a creature since land destruction is one of the hardest forms of removal to come across in Magic.
Best Black Mana Dorks
5. Priest of Forgotten Gods
You’re bound to do some amount of sacrificing at some point if you’re playing black, and Priest of Forgotten Gods is an excellent way to do that. Especially in something like an Orzhov Aristocrats deck.
Two damage to every player is nice, making them sacrifice a creature is awesome, but adding and drawing a card is what make this mana dork seriously great and puts it at the number five spot for black.
4. Basal Thrull
Basal Thrull puts green’s Elvish Mystic to shame. without downside is just excellent even if it costs to play since that downside won’t even matter in a mono black deck, which is where this card belongs.
3. Soldevi Adnate
Soldevi Adnate is an excellent mana dork that can grant you a lot of mana for the low, low cost of cannon fodder creatures and old artifacts you no longer care about. Soldevi is a must-have in any aristocrats EDH deck and works well with other cards you have in a deck led by commanders like Yawgmoth, Thran Physician.
2. Crypt Ghast
Crypt Ghast is a super mana dork that does far more than just tap for mana. Doubling your mana is nearly as good as it gets, especially when you’ve extorted up to drain extra life from your opponent. Which is going to happen a lot with all this extra mana you have laying around!
1. Magus of the Coffers
Finally, what you’ve been waiting for, Magus of the Coffers. This card goes big, and it’s better than its counterparts like Crypt Ghast because Magus makes the mana itself. This means you’re going to be flying high if you can untap this bad boy and go again for an additional set of mana.
Best Red Mana Dorks
5. Treasonous Ogre
Starting us off in red is Treasonous Ogre, which lets you pay three life to add to your mana pool. Red’s mana dorks typically come in the forms of high upside for high cost, which is on theme for most of its cards.
I think the Ogre is just okay. It can grow if you end up swinging a few times and it’s dethrone ability can easily be enabled if you pay three or more to ramp out more threats.
4. Generator Servant
Next up is Generator Servant¸ is a one-time-use mana dork that works like a Sol Ring on a stick. It has the bonus of giving haste to whatever 5-drop you’re playing on turn 3, which can be really devastating if you’re ramping out something like Hellkite Tyrant.
3. Orcish Lumberjack
Things start to get a little crazier with Orcish Lumberjack. This dork lets you sacrifice any Forest to basically Black Lotus on-color. This is insane when you get it off since Gruul is an archetype that can stabilize even after sacrificing lands.
2. Runaway Steam-Kin
If you’re a fan of the MTGO Vintage Cube like I am, you’ve almost certainly run into a mono red beats or Izzet spellslinger deck that got out of control when you didn’t immediately take care of Runaway Steam-Kin.
While Steam-Kin isn’t your typical mana dork, it lets you extract extra value if you’re spell slinging or casting multiple cards per turn. It also acts as a serious threat if you haven’t removed the counters and opt to go for beats on your opponent.
1. Simian Spirit Guide
Did you really think I’d create a list of great red mana dorks and not include the legendary Simian Spirit Guide? While it isn’t your typical mana dork like Noble Hierarch, it allows you to get access to red mana at instant speed. This can be invaluable in many situations in EDH where you need to activate an ability or Lightning Bolt something after tapping out.
Best Colorless Mana Dorks
Something like Arcane Signet does the same thing as little guy but doesn’t die to Lightning Bolt. But Signet is a mana rock and I’m talking about dorks right now. Scuttlemutt is neat for a dork. It has great budget fixing and also works as solid ramp in colorless decks that don’t have a lot of commonly used mana dorks.
4. Palladium Myr
Ah, yes. Palladium Myr. Or, as I like to call it, sort-of-Sol Ring. Being Ancient Tomb isn’t so bad, especially in a monocolor decks that don’t require fixing and just wants to play some 5- and 6-drops a little early. I like this Myr and you should too, but there are still three much stronger mana dorks to look at.
3. Burnished Hart
Burnished Hart is excellent, especially in multicolor decks. It works as an excellent early blocker and can be sacrificed before damage to save you some life while also getting those tapped basics out before your upkeep.
Hart is a very solid card all around and I’d play it in any non-competitive multicolored deck. It’s just a little too slow to be played in cEDH decks when your intention is to pop off turn 3 or 4.
When this card hits, it hits. Adding two colorless mana is already great, but you’re permanently sling-shotting ahead of the table if you manage to hit two or even three artifacts and generate half a dozen mana.
1. Solemn Simulacrum
Finally we have everyone’s favorite sad robot, Solemn Simulacrum. A staple in basically every EDH deck, casual or competitive, this dork is a must-include because of the excellent value it represents.
It fixes your mana, gets you a land, and even replaces itself by drawing a card when it dies. It’s everything you’d ever want in a mana dork (even most creatures), which is why it takes first place.
Best Multicolored Mana Dorks
5. Gyre Engineer
First on the list of the best gold mana dorks is Gyre Engineer, which does exactly what you’d want a Simic mana dork to do: make you Simic mana. Double colors from a single mana dork is premium with the only downsides being its 1 toughness, which is a little sad to see for a creature with a mana value of three. I’d still recommend this card in every single Simic value or ramp deck since getting out 6-/7-/8-drops on turn 4 or 5 is always strong.
4. Selvala, Explorer Returned
Next up is Selvala, Explorer Returned, which marks a big jump in both power and interaction from Gyre Engineer. In addition to being a strong mana generator, Selvala also draws you a card and can potentially gain you life. There is a possibility that Selvala misses, but the odds of it missing on all players in a 4-person game is about 15% considering the average EDH deck runs about 35 lands and you’d be tapping this on curve turn 4.
You’re likely going to generate more than three mana with this elf if it doesn’t die too quickly. This makes you play very mana-efficient which can quickly pull you ahead if other players at the table don’t have as much ramp.
3. Grand Warlord Radha
Grand Warlord Radha isn’t a mana dork, it’s a mana monster. Radha works great in basically any aggressive Gruul deck. It generates a mana the turn it comes down if it attacks and you’ll also probably have one to three other creatures out by turn 4, meaning you could play a second 4-drop or another 3-drop in your post-combat main phase.
2. Kiora’s Follower
Kiora’s Follower may not look like much at first. You’ll probably first think of just untapping a land. But you’ll instantly realize the potential in its activated ability if you’re playing Commander.
Untapping a Sol Ring will almost always be better than one colored mana, especially when you can mana fix by untapping a land if you don’t have any mana rocks out. This is just a solid card with huge potential upside and a guaranteed source of mana if things are going south and your rocks are being blown up.
1. Deathrite Shaman
Mana Dorks vs. Mana Rocks: Which are better in EDH?
Mana rocks are generally stronger thanks to their resilience against a greater percentage of removal. Artifact removal is much harder to come across compared to damage or creature removal. Rocks also don’t have to include their stats or other functions as value of the card since their only purpose is to ramp (mostly), so they can focus entirely on that.
A solid EDH deck will include both types of acceleration for consistency and diversity in threats. A solid value to shoot for is 13 total accelerants, more if you’re playing a more rampy mono green deck.
Why Are There No More 1-Mana Value Mana Dorks in Standard?
Magic R&D recently declared that they view 1-mana dorks as too strong for the format, resulting in them not being printed nearly as often as before.
This doesn’t mean they’re gone forever, though. Cards like Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystic have been reprinted as recently as Core Set 2019. What it does mean is that our early mana acceleration is far more likely to come in the form of 2-drops or 1-drops with downsides in comparison to the elves.
Tangled Florahedron, Gilded Goose, and Lotus Cobra far better represent this design philosophy. They still give you the ability to ramp out quickly if you want to, but you’ll either play them on turn 2 play or be more precise in your deckbuilding.
Is a Mana Dork’s Ability an Activated Ability?
Solemn Simulacrum | Illustration by Donato Giancola
This is one of the most asked questions when it comes to mana dork rules and creatures in general. While the abilities of mana dorks like Llanowar Elves are activated abilities, it’s specifically a “mana ability.” This means it’s subject to special rules.
Per the Comprehensive Rules, an activated ability is a mana ability “if it meets all of the following criteria:”
- It doesn’t require a target.
- It could add mana to a player’s mana pool when it resolves.
- It’s not a loyalty ability.
Similarly, a “triggered ability” becomes a mana ability if it meets this criteria:
- It doesn’t require a target.
- It triggers from the activation or resolution of an activated ability or from mana being added to a player’s mana pool.
- It could add mana to a players mana pool when it resolves.
So, what special rules apply to activated mana abilities specifically? Well, there are just a few big ones:
- A player can activate an activated mana ability whenever they have priority “even if it’s in the middle of casting or resolving a spell or activating or resolving an ability.”
- An activated mana ability doesn’t go on the stack, which means it can’t be countered or responded to in anyway. It resolves immediately.
- Once a mana ability is activated, it can’t be activated again until it has resolved.
- Triggered mana abilities, like activated mana abilities, don’t go on the stack. This means they can’t be countered or responded to in anyway.
Magus of the Coffers | Illustration by Don Hazeltine
That concludes my list of the best mana dorks in Magic! It was a lot overall, but that covers everything you need to know.
What did you think? Do you agree with my rankings, or did I miss something you find to be incredible? Let me know down in the comments or in our Discord.
Until next time. Stay safe and stay healthy!