Monday, August 26, 2013

A Layperson's History of Getting {U} from a Stone, Part 3

For the past few weeks, I've been idly speaking about artifacts (and lands) in Magic's history that give mana of any color. Some give a few mana up and then sacrifice themselves, some convert generic mana or life into the color of mana you need, and others can produce mana of any color, but usually don't, or restrict how you can spend it.

Though it really is just a restriction, making the production of colored mana finite has been explored enough to warrant its own category. Sure, Black Lotus and Lion's Eye Diamond are powerful one-shot, bursts of mana, but Magic eventually dialed it down to one mana, or even just filtering. Weatherlight gave us Gemstone Mine and Tempest gave Lotus Petal. The mine was pretty popular, but you only got three uses out of it. The lotus also had finite uses—well use—but managed to break its format.

The concept stuck though. Invasion had Archaeological Dig, which produced generic mana until you sacrificed it for a mana of any color. It also had Chromatic Sphere, which was essentially a two-mana Lotus Petal. What Chromatic Sphere had that the petal didn't was a card draw attached; now you weren't discarding cards to get the mana you needed, you were cycling them.

Then you have Ravnica's Terrarion, which is the Magic card equivalent to Sin City's Marv. Terrarion is ugly, slow, and clunky, but it's a hell of a nice card. Like Kalhni Gem, it's almost too niche to include, but it swings us neatly back to our one-shot mana filters perfectly. Time Spiral's Chromatic Star is an obvious descendant of both the Terrarion and Chromatic Sphere. It saddens me that Star vs Sphere is a real and concrete point of contention in some parts of the Magic community, a fact that is one of many reasons I'll shed a single tear when World War III starts, but only because I know humanity will find a way to survive.

Strangely, these sorts of artifacts taper off after Chromatic Star. I'm not sure why. What I've seen more of are things like Sphere of Suns and Pentad Prism, which use counters to make a finite amount of colored mana before the artifact becomes useless.

To lapse into pure hyperbole, I can conjecture about why they stopped. Pentad Prism.

Oh, sure, it gives you a set amount of colorless mana. It ends up filtering and floating mana at a 1:1 rate in a two-color deck. Pentad Prism, like Mox Opal, is the right card in the right set. It's a simple, flawless piece of design that makes Magic hum like a perpetual motion machine[1]. Chromatic Sphere? Cute. Chromatic Star? Adorable. Lotus Petal? Nope. Implements of Sacrifice? Fuuuuuuuuuck you! :) Pentad Prism is a reason to shut down the store and retire.

Swinging back to the land side, Tendo Ice Bridge in Betrayers of Kamigawa took the same aproach. It lessened the more finite elements of the Gemstone Mine by allowing giving a one-time multicolored land use and providing colorless mana indefinitely. It was a hybrid of the mine and less successful filters like the Henge and School, but still popular.

The vivid cycle (illustrated here by Vivid Creek) would be a straightforward upgrade of Gemstone Mine, but it enters play tapped, essentially costing its own mana to play. The change allows something that lasts longer than Tendo Ice Bridge, while being more useful in the long term than the mine. The short term tradeoff is something for professional players to talk about, but using time to balance multicolored mana generation is--in my opinion--the maximum extent of complexity for lands that generate finite mana of any color. I am going to talk about it next week though.

[1] Which I don't think would actually hum because of the energy loss due to emitted sound.

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