Throughout the the course of history, the number of times someone has come up with an idea well before their time is innumerable. Whether it’s limitations of their physical location, social standing, need for capital, or the technological limitations of their era, plenty of individuals have dreamt of new concepts and imagined new ways of doing things, only to have to wait for someone else to come along and improve on it later. Leonardo aa Vinci, for instance, famously drew up schematics for a primitive helicopter design that was never built – partly because of the challenge of attempting something during his time and partly because while his overall concept for the aerial screw was sound, his version lacked the necessary engineering to have actually worked.
Helicopters did move successfully from mere vision to successful enterprise, but it took over 400 years of technological advancement before it became a reality. Yet even then it took decades of experimentation in order to find versions that started to work as desired. Starting with very rudimentary models, inventors and engineers made countless iterations on the idea, each improving upon the efforts and failures of those who tried beforehand. We almost take helicopter flight for granted nowadays, easily overlooking the immense difficulties of vertical flight and the contributions of the many individuals who innovated solutions to that challenge. This is the case with all progress, technological or otherwise. Rarely does something just magically appear and work perfectly out of the box.
The same goes for Magic cards.
More specifically, the long view of continuously improving upon previous ideas made me think about mana batteries.
When I first started playing back in the dark days of the early 90’s, Magic was still young and experimenting not only with many new concepts, but also the power level of those concepts. Much trial and error ensued. Some proved to be insanely powerful. Many others were, in retrospect, way too weak for any sort of longevity. Rampage was a neat idea but incredibly limiting. By contrast, moxen and other fast mana cards often caused more problems than they solved.
Mana batteries fell into the former category. Starting with the five Legends-era artifacts that now bear the name for cards that store up counters to be cashed in later for mana, these cards explored new territory for long-term mana strategies and the potential for explosive high mana turns. The problem with these batteries, however, was that even in era when gameplay existed at a slower pace, these cards were still…pretty slow. They cost four mana to cast, required two to activate, and had to be tapped to add or extract counters. At an absolute minimum they required six mana and two turns just to get a single colored mana back! And even if you started getting a decent number of counters on them, their artifact nature just made them irresistible to destroy before they could be fully utilized.
They were a good start but quite limited in their effectiveness.
Wizards tried again in Fallen Empires. This time they moved the effect from artifacts to lands with cards like Bottomless Vault, making them marginally harder to pick off. They had no up front mana investment to put out add counters, and removal remained free. However, they entered tapped, couldn’t be tapped for mana on their own, and you had to choose at the beginning of your turn whether you wanted to add another storage counter or let it untap to potentially use, which was often difficult to decide upon before you even drew your card for the turn.
Wizards seemed to acknowledge this latter most limitation to some degree, because they released another set of storage lands a few years later during Mercadian Masques without that requirement. With cards like Fountain of Cho, now you could decide whether to add or remove a counter at your leisure. Though these lands are still considered slow by today’s standards, the Mercadian storage lands were a marked improvement over their predecessors and were frequently seen in multiplayer games.
Fast forward again to Time Spiral, when Magic made yet another overhaul to the storage land idea. Trying to keep up with the evolution of the game, these new storage lands reflected more modern land design. With this new cycle, the lands no longer came in tapped and could tap for a single mana on their own, removing the problem of a dead land drop. In exchange, they brought back activation costs, albeit at a mere one mana. Moreover, removing counters from these lands yielded two different colors, making them much more versatile in multicolor decks.
Their most unique feature though was that the removal of counters technically also came with an activation cost of a single mana, but this activation cleverly doesn’t require tapping to use, which means that you could effectively tap itself and still remove them for free. A huge leap forward in progress, the Time Spiral storage lands have proved quite popular in multiplayer over the years, with all but Calciform Pools appearing in at least one Commander precon deck.
The only possible drawback to these lands, really, is that you might not be able to use them in Commander games depending on the color(s) of your deck. Which is why this week’s pick looks at the next best option: the colorless storage land.
Today we have: Mage-Ring Network
Name: Mage-Ring Network
Edition: Magic Origins
Focus: Mana Storage
Highlights: Fittingly added to what was originally thought to be the final core set, Mage-Ring Network was a clear throwback to the storage lands of years past. The major difference being that unlike its predecessors that focused on one or two specific colors, it produces only colorless mana. In a way, it’s both a card cycle unto itself while also flavorfully feeling like a companion to the previous storage land cycles.
Mage-Ring is not identical to the Time Spiral lands, however. It still enters untapped, produces a single mana, and requires one mana to add counters, but it is evident that the complexity of the self-tap-for-free-storage-removal trick was removed and simplified for a core set. (Such cards would likely cause more confusion for newer players than it’d be worth.) Thus, Mage-Ring’s counter removal ability reverted to that of previous iterations by merely tapping. Is it as strong? Technically no, but it is much easier to understand and explain.
The tradeoff to this minor drop in power level, however, is that Mage-Ring Network can be seamlessly added to all but the most color-intensive Commander decks with ease. Additionally, there is no wasted slot here, allowing you to slowly build up colorless mana over the course of the game until you need it – something almost every deck can benefit from. Plus, since it can be tapped for mana on its own, you’re still able to wait until the most opportune moment to add storage counters (such as right before your turn) or withdraw from it whenever you need.
As with all storage lands, the positives are almost self-evident: it allows you to build up mana for when you need it most and it being a land means it’s better protected from destruction than most other card types. Likewise, the drawback is that cards like Mage-Ring Network are a long-term investment and aren’t designed to be looked for to provide short-term advantages. That said, it’s not as if getting it in the later stages of the game is a loss, as if nothing else, it’s still another land.
Ultimately, Mage-Ring Network is all about managing your battery correctly, banking mana when you have it to spare to call upon later for a sizable payoff. If done right it’s quite effective.
And in that sense, despite all its innovation, the core idea has never changed.
Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.
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