Last updated on October 4, 2021
Sol Ring | Illustration by Mike Bierek
I love ramping. It’s my second favorite thing to do in Magic, with the first being drawing cards. Across the formats, ramping comes in all shapes and sizes. From the unassuming Llanowar Elves to bombs like Nyxbloom Ancient, Mirari’s Wake, and Gilded Lotus, ramping lets us enjoy the Kokomo approach to magic: get there fast and then we’ll take it slow.
We’re going to look at Standard, Pioneer, Modern, and, of course, Commander and talk about the usage of mana rocks. We’ll give you a breakdown of what’s legal and what’s played across the sixty-card formats first, along with an in-depth review of your Commander options. The most obvious observation is, “Why are they almost entirely absent in constructed formats yet get so much love in Commander?”
Let’s talk about that.
The Best Mana Rocks for EDH Ranked
This is THE format for mana rocks. The diversity of the Commander format means we can go all-in on 0-drop artifacts with a Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain “Cheerios” deck. Alternatively, we can keep it simple by playing the holy trinity of Sol Ring, Mana Crypt, and Arcane Signet.
Prismatic Lens | Illustration by Scott Murphy
The driving forces behind the prevalence of mana rocks in Commander is life total and the fear of swing backs. A Lightning Bolt is much better sent at Birds of Paradise, and the choice is much simpler when you’ve got to burn through 120 points of your opponents health instead of 20 to win a game. Hence, ramp and big-person spells have a much bigger place in this format.
Swing back has much higher stakes too: when we turn our creatures sideways, we’ve got three potential boards that will chose to take advantage of nice, open, face. These concepts might seem trivial at first glance, but since we’re not in a two-person race, we need to have enough of our own threats to protect ourselves, not just hurt one of our opponents. Hence our love of shiny rocks in the format.
Let’s take a look at our mana rock tiers, shall we? I’ve compiled these lists from a range of data sources and hundreds of games. Hold on to your hats.
The argument for these three above all other mana rocks is simple: they’re universally good with almost no downside and they’re incredibly easy to cast. Most players will want to keep an opening hand that contains any of these three cards due to the huge advantages they generate. These three cards require us to find reasons NOT to include them, rather than reasons to include them. They also help with the most important turns for ramping: turn 1 and turn 2.
Is there a card that better represents Commander? I made the mistake of buying a whole bunch of Sol Rings when I first got into the format, not realizing that if you stick with the format you’ll end up with loads if you buy the occasional pre-con. It’s the card that keeps on giving: mana positive the turn you play it, brings your turn 4 to turn 2, and it’s great at recommending which pizza you should order for dinner.
I remember first showing this to my pod late last year, being the newest to Magic and playing with people that remember when the original signets were in standard. “Pushed card to sell product.” #bigcry
I love this card, and find it so universally useable, even in mono-colored decks. It’s got one simple upside over the other signets: no filtering required. This lets us use the mana the turn it comes down, which shouldn’t be undervalued.
The most obvious reasons for not playing Mana Crypt are that it’s too expensive to buy and it makes the deck too powerful. There’s also an argument that too much premium ramp homogenizes the Commander experience and the number of cards that create a “slot tax” by being this good removes some of the flavor of the format. Obviously, players are entitled to not play it if they want to avoid a spikey reputation. Me personally, my Mana Crypt only goes into my artifact or CEDH decks, because it makes sense in both scenarios. It’s had a bunch of reprints recently, so maybe you’ll get lucky and pull one in Double Masters.
The rocks in this list all make sense in most lists, in that you’re not going to get laughed at for playing any of the cards here, even if they aren’t the most optimal universally. Common sense and deck building discipline should always be used when choosing what to include, particularly for the more mana-intensive inclusions like Gilded Lotus and Thran Dynamo. Cards like Mox Diamond and Mox Amber are insanely strong, but don’t get the tier 0 status because they’re a little less universally good with every deck.
An amazing card when you’ve got three plus colors, but over-costed if you’re not taking advantage of the fixing regularly. This card loses a lot of its value if you’re playing a 3-color deck with a solid or less risky mana bases, so you may want to include it less in these decks.
Not quite as strong as their Arcane all-star, the 2-color signets still have a great home in any 2-color deck, providing fast ramp in the early stages of the game. I often run all copies I’m able to in any 3-color deck.
I often favor this over Commander’s Sphere in many decks, despite it looking a little clunkier. The reality is that the 3-drop ramp slot has a lot higher competition than the 4-drop slot does, and quite a few key cards skip the need for a 3-drop ramp that isn’t premium value. Right now, Cultivate and Kodama’s Reach are way better in my opinion.
A turn 1 Sol Ring or Mana Crypt means that you can drop Hedron Archive on turn 2 and be more efficient, and the two cards vs. one card draw for sac is definitely valuable after you’ve enjoyed the ramp in the early part of the game.
So, while these cards are #prettydece, their use requires consideration before you jam em’ in. The Talismans and newly printed Crystal series are my picks for second/third best series of rocks, but there are also a number of other series’ to choose from for when you’re either building to a tight budget or have some very specific requirements.
The Great Henge
I did say that ramp and drawing cards are my two favorite things to do in Magic. This card is either amazing or useless in decks, hence it’s position. This card would have a hard time not being the MVP in mono-green or Gruul stompy decks, but outside of those it’s practically useless if you can’t severely reduce its mana cost. Super cool when it works, but don’t forget that there’s plenty of 1-mana artifact removal in the format, so paying nine for it is pretty feelsbadman.
Ramp for aggro decks. What’s not to love? If you’re not going wide in a mono- or 2-color deck, though, this card is far from the best choice. Much like The Great Henge above, this card is either champagne or razorblades.
I love these cards for their cycling. They cost more but are never dead in your hand if you draw them on turn 9 when you need to be playing Eldrazi or X=50 Villainous Wealth. All previous criticisms of 3-drop mana rocks apply to this series of cards as well but I’m not repeating myself.
Tier 3: Everything Else
Why are you playing these cards? Fringe interactions aside, there is both a metric and imperial boatload of better choices listed above.
These cards all have varying degrees of use outside of combo decks, but their value above other choices of similar mana cost is how they interact in combo decks. Use these cards sparingly outside of said decks.
Sixty-Card Formats: Mana Rocks in Constructed
From a design standpoint, mana rocks straight up don’t see much love. Their place in contemporary Magic is somewhat problematic, as they sit on a razor thin line between useless and broken thanks to the abundance of other reliable sources of ramp. Think cards like Explore, Growth Spiral, Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, and the Tron lands Urza’s Mine, Urza’s Power Plant, and Urza’s Tower, all of which see abundant play in every format where they’re legal.
Mana Rocks in Standard
Standard isn’t currently a format that relies on mana rocks, as green ramps well without the need for them and most other archetypes and color combos rely on consistently playing lands rather than ramping into it. Luckily, 85% of the meta right now includes green, so no one really misses out on ramping. /s
Golgari Locket | Illustration by Milivoj Ceran
The notable exceptions are The Great Henge, which is technically a mana rock, though it’s used as a card advantage engine more so than its ability to ramp, and Heraldic Banner, which is used as ramp in mono red aggro decks for its passive +1 power more so than for the ramp.
Outside of green, cards like Birth of Meletis and Solemn Simulacrum provide ramping and land fetching and are the only instances where it’s not connected to a green ramp creature/instant/sorcery/planeswalker. #whyplayanyothercolors
Mana Rocks in Pioneer
Pioneer has a noticeable absence of mana rocks being used with the exception of Mox Amber. The card is used in combo decks like Kethis, the Hidden Hand and Underworld Breach to generate surplus mana by recurring them from the graveyard. Plenty of stompy decks have experimented with The Great Henge with mixed results, and the recent unbanning of Oath of Nissa doesn’t seem to have made any impacts on mana rock usage.
Magnifying Glass | Illustration by Dan Scott
Mana Rocks in Modern
I’m excluding mana-fixing rocks for the most part, but Modern has a few notable exceptions. In short, there’s almost no usage of mana rocks to ramp in the formats outside of some uses of Mind Stone and the signets in control decks. It’s a very different story from a mana fixing perspective.
Arcum’s Astrolabe was recently banned because it made the mana base for Snow Control (and all of the variations) too flexible. Additionally, Tron uses a total of eight copies of Chromatic Star and Chromatic Sphere to cantrip and filter mana. This is entirely for mana fixing, rather than ramping.
Playable Constructed Mana Rocks
Sadly, the utility of mana rocks in each respective meta is overshadowed by more efficient ramping tools. The recursion and lack of summoning sickness gives mana rocks a great place in combo decks, but where they’re deemed too powerful, they suffer the ban hammer. Take the Vintage and Legacy ban lists as proof. Basically, they’re too niche, too good, or too bad for broad play in constructed formats.
Ramping is a huge part of Commander at all power levels, and no one enjoys Land-Go when there’s three more turns before your untap. When you’re thinking about your deck building and the inclusion of mana rocks over other forms of ramp, focus on what turns are most critical for you to have mana jumps. The best way to start with that kind of thinking is to work out how to get to your Commander’s mana requirements the fastest and fill in the gaps from land drops to get you there as fast as possible.
Paradise Mantle | Illustration by Greg Hildebrandt