Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Fixed Mana Ritual?

From the beginning of Magic, temporary mana boosts such as Dark Ritual held a dark allure for players lusting for quick power.

These effects allow you to cast a powerful spell very early in the game, counterbalanced by the fact that you open yourself up to some blow-outs since you're spending two cards from your hand to cast one spell.

In the past, ritual cards have been extremely difficult to balance. Turn one Dark Rituals were notorious for the oppressive things they could do before the opponent had any chance to respond.

The main difficulty with Rituals is that they tamper with the game's basic balancing system, which is mana. I suspect that many cards that were deemed overpowered in the past were overpowered because of the presence of mana accelerants.

After ritual spells were shifted to Red in order to widen the variety of effects Red could have, many variants were created that attempted to curb their potential for abuse. Some had conditions attached for producing mana (Brightstone Ritual, Mana Geyser, Inner Fire, Rite of Flame, Infernal Plunge), some were much smaller, producing only a +1 net mana boost (Desperate Ritual, Pyretic Ritual), others had higher costs (Seething Song, Geosurge).

These were used not so much for pure speed in the way that Dark Ritual was, but rather for combos, especially "All-in Red" Decks involving the storm mechanic. The fact that a mana ritual can be used to cast another bigger mana ritual is always a danger.

Out of the past Red ritual spell designs, I like Geosurge in that it can only be used to cast a big permanent. Spell chains and combos are cool too, but somewhere there should be a ritual for old-fashioned "casting a big threat at the cost 2-for-1-ing yourself" style play.

In a previous post, I explored some ways to make mana rituals playable while keeping the mana boost small. My favorite is this:

During another brainstorming session, I made another mana ritual.

This one emphasizes the risk factor - you get a powerful spell quickly, but you suffer a lingering tempo hit later on since you bounced a land. I like how the land-bouncing feels connected to the effect that you get, rather than being a purely abstract, mechanical cost.

It can be used to accelerate into many different spells on turn 2, not just Red spells. Also, in later stages of the game when you start missing your land drops, this ritual allows you to bounce and replay a land, giving you +1 mana. In that way, it gives you more mana on the later turns when ritualing is more balanced.

However, it also suffers from the same combo abuse potential as most rituals do.

Recently, I came up with a design that might be balanced even if it provides a large mana boost:

Instead of boosting mana immediately, you're skipping a turn to charge your mana.

It works differently from the way players have come to expect of rituals, so maybe spells like these should be given a different name, such as "Field of Mana Charging."

This one doesn't help to cast a chain of rituals in a single turn. You could still use it to increase your storm count, but then again you could do so with any 0-mana artifact.

Gaining +3 mana is a big effect, but one factor balancing it is that it gives the opponent time to respond. The opponent might disenchant the ritual, choose to cast a discard spell instead of a threat, or leave mana up for counterspells.

One thing that was at the back of my mind was how some spells in Innistrad such as Bump in the Night, Dream Twist, and Devil's Play seem to have a bigger total effect than their counterparts in other sets. It seems that when a card requires you to do something over two turns, you can have more total value packed into a single card.

Many theories of Magic strategy claim Magic is all about how efficiently you use mana every turn. In terms of these theories of mana usage, this card is more balanced than a one-shot card that gets you +3 mana on the turn you cast it, because with Ritual of Mana Charging you're not actually producing extra mana, you're just using mana that you stored up on another turn.

This style of Ritual could exist at various cost ranges.

I threw in color fixing for extra utility, which isn't quite a "normal" Red ability yet (other than in multicolor sets), although perhaps it could be.

It is also tempting to make this cost 1R and produce RRR when sacrificed. It allows you to get +1 mana on turn 2, or +3 mana on turn 3. I think it's nifty when a card has dual usage without extra text, but that would probably make it too good when sacrificed on turn 3.

I hope you enjoyed this. Please tell me what you think about the viability of a charge-up ritual.


  1. My problem with the enchantment versions is that it feels much less Red to make that sort of investment of resources for a later date. The point of the mana ritual is to spend resources *now* for a benefit *now*. Not to spend resources now so that they can provide a larger benefit at some point in the future. It lacks the impulsivity that makes the mana ritual Red in the first place.

  2. I love all of these but the last one. Red isn't about color fixing. The land-bouncing version feels okay because red's just boosting a thing; it's up to you to play a different thing.

    I do share Alex' hesitation about the enchantment not feeling very now-ish as red is want to do. Hmm...

    Double Rainbow 1R
    Add RR to your mana pool.

  3. I like mana charging, but that's mostly because I'm a fan of Pentad Prism and the cards are very similar. Artifacts that store mana are a natural fit, and have been used repeatedly.

  4. Alex, I understand it doesn't feel like a traditional ritual, but it still gives you an Inferno Titan 2 turns earlier, and it still is reckless and risky in the sense of using 2 cards to cast one spell. I would say that's Red and it's impulsive, it's just a different thing from other rituals. Maybe all it needs is another name.

  5. Still, it's investing resources in a way that doesn't benefit you immediately, only in the future. That just doesn't feel right for red, whatever you call it.

  6. The planning-for-next-turn aspect of the enchantment feels unred to me too. Almost blue?

    Gather Mana 2U
    Sacrifice ~: Add UUU to your mana pool. Use this mana only to cast a sorcery or instant spell.

    Maybe it could be red getting furious?

    Furious Mana 2R
    Whenever a source your control damages an opponent, put that many charge counters on ~.
    At the beginning of your next main phase, if there are three or more counters on ~, sacrifice it. If you do, add that much R to your mana pool.

  7. I like the effect of energizing ritual, but I'd honestly like to see the effect more in green

    Energizing Elf G
    Creature- Elf
    T: Add 1 to your mana pool. If you spend this mana to play a creature spell, that creature gains haste.

    For Red, I'd go for Uncounterability. 1R for a RRR that makes the spells uncounterable feels like a decent hoser while also being useful in its own right.

  8. I wish Ritual of Mana Charging automatically went off on the next turn. Like a volcano welling up with lava before exploding. I wasn't sure if it was worth the extra words.

    Anyways, the current one is like charging up a Hadouken before releasing it. It's not like doing weightlifting training so that one day you can be vigorous enough to make a stronger Hadouken.

    Blue or Green would want to ramp with a permanent mana source. This card is using up resources for fast results. If any one color is going to get it (rather than be an artifact) it can't be in any color but Red or Black.

    If there was a land that said "C, T, Sacrifice this: Add CCCC to your mana pool. This enters the battlefield tapped." what color would it be? (It's too strong to be a cycle like the one that produces CC.) Would you move it to Green or Blue because it doesn't do something now, and it "prepares" for the future?

    @Jay, Furious Mana works without doing it "now" because of the "red = anger" flavor. Why can't Ritual of Mana Charging work because of the "red = energy" flavor? Fire, Electricity, etc.

    I don't think Gather Mana completely fits Blue's philosophy of long-term development. If it feels Blue it's because it's dealing with Instants and Sorceries, just like Tinker cheats mana due to Blue's skill with artifacts. A way to repeatedly store and withdraw mana could be Blue.

    @Duncan, uncounterability sounds like a good ability to make a ritual better. You'd still get 2-for-1ed if the opponent has a removal, but I guess you can cast a Wurmcoil Engine or Mind Spring.

    I agree Green should get more haste. Granting haste to others feels more Red than Green to me. I would rather see a Green creature that grants Shroud or Flash, but maybe there are cases that could work.

    An on-curve mana producer that also grants haste to others might be back-breaking.

  9. Ritual of Mana Charging is very reminiscent of Grinning Ignus.