Monday, August 19, 2013

A Layperson's History of Getting {U} from a Stone, Part 2

Last week I talked about getting mana of any color from colorless sources, namely artifacts and lands. Black Lotus was too strong. Mana Prism and Standing Stones were awful, but the work moved on. I laid out three major avenues Wizards seemed to pursue to get the balance just right; artifacts that can only be used once, repeatable artifacts that required a cost (usually filters that turn one type of mana into another), and artifacts that placed conditions on the type or use of the mana they generated.

Let's start with the exception: Lion's Eye Diamond from the Mirage set. It almost looks like Lion's Eye Diamond was an attempt by the folks at Magic to tame Black Lotus. After all, lotus proved three mana was worth more than a single card. Lion's Eye Diamond took it to the next step; what if the cost of all that mana was every card? Lion's Eye Diamond was never a Black Lotus, but its "drawback" added a lot of fuel to graveyard-based dredge decks and keeps it in the just-under-$100 range in the secondary market these days. Until Lotus Bloom got it right in Time Spiral, it was also the final attempt at the three-mana-for-none-artifact.

Moxen remained popular though, and after lands, they were the top candidates for experimentation. Stronghold's Mox Diamond literally replaced a land in your deck, forcing you to discard it. Essentially, it made you skip a land drop later to get a land of any color a bit sooner. Five years later Mirrodin, the flagship artifact set, introduced Chrome Mox. Like its direct predecessor, it required you to pitch a card from your hand to get it to work, but it only produced mana of that card's colors, adding restrictions. Sure, it could produce mana of any color, but like Fellwar Stone, it usually didn't.

Finally, Scars of Mirrodin introduced Mox Opal, a zero-cost artifact that produced mana of any color. The only restrictions were that it required two other artifacts to function and that you could only have one in play at a time. In the right constructed deck, it was a strong card. Even in a draft, it was still the equivalent of a free land drop just a few turns in. Much like Lotus Bloom, Mox Opal is the sharpest implementation of a quintessential Magic concept.

If Black Lotus and the Moxes were the hard-scrabble first generation immigrants, these guys are the kids they put through college.

The repeatable cost artifacts finally hit their stride in Mirage with Mana Prism. It not only offered colorless mana, but it filtered it as well. Eventually, Prismatic Lens bought the cost down to where players wanted it, and we even saw variations on the theme in Mana Cylix and Prophetic Prism. The latter traded one generic mana a turn for a single card draw, reversing the card-to-mana efficiency that made Black Lotus...Black Lotus.

Old and busted; new hotness.

A few lands followed that approach too. Henge of Ramos and School of the Unseen both soundly failed at it. Passing on one mana and spending another two just for a single mana was a steep cost. It was a stupid cost. A player with four lands could produce two mana if they needed to splash an off-color card. It was a bit much. Years later, Shimmering Grotto was basically a Prismatic Lens taped to a land, which made it cheap for the function, but slightly off-putting for a land.

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