Woo Brews – Building Better Decks with Mana Sum Theory

(Mana Sum Theory has been previously called Stock Mana Theory by AJ Sacher and the Grand Unified Theory of Magic first identified by Michael J. Flores, and illustrated by Zvi Mowshowitz. Mana Spend Theory and Helix Pinnacle Theory would also be reasonable definitions.)

[draft]Helix Pinnacle[/draft]

Mana Sum Theory

The more mana you spend than your opponent, the greater your chance of beating them.

That’s it. It’s simple. Magic is a really complicated game, filled with complicated interactions. When we control these interactions, control play skill, and isolate the simplest of cards, Mana Sum Theory becomes clear.

Who wins?

40 Island
20 [card]Coral Merfolk[/card]


20 Island
40 [card]Coral Merfolk[/card]

The 40 [card]Coral Merfolk[/card] deck is going to beat up the 20 [card]Coral Merfolk[/card] deck. As the game drags on to the 5th and 6th turns, the 20 deck runs out of things to spend it’s mana on. The 40 deck is going to spend more mana, and it’s going to win. The more mana it sums over its opponent, the more [card]Coral Merfolk[/card]s it has, and the greater its chance of victory.

Who wins?

20 Island
40 [card]Coral Merfolk[/card]


20 Island
40 [card]Merfolk Looter[/card] [card]Merfolk Looter[/card] has dominated limited formats for years because of its abilities to find you lands to tap for mana in the early game and to find you spells to spend mana on in the late game. The [card]Merfolk Looter[/card] deck is never going to run out of things to spend it’s mana on, while the [card]Coral Merfolk[/card] deck is going to run out. As the game progress, the [card]Merfolk Looter[/card] deck sums mana over its opponent and buries them in Merfolk.


But who wins this battle?

20 [card]Coral Merfolk[/card] 40 Island

20 Island
40 [card]Ponder[/card]

The [card]Coral Merfolk[/card] Deck is going to spend less mana but still win. What is going on here?

Cards are usually balanced across this spectrum:

Impact———————————————————————————-Mana Flexibility

On the left side we have high impact, high tempo plays like [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] and [card]Cruel Ultimatum[/card], while on the right side we have low impact, low tempo plays like [card]Dark Depths[/card] and [card]Jayemdae Tome[/card].

[card]Wild Nacatl[/card] and [card]Cruel Ultimatum[/card] are inflexible vis a vis how much mana we draw—they always cost the same. Cards like [card]Dark Depths[/card] and [card]Jayemdae Tome[/card] are flexible whether we draw 4 lands or 20.

Each mana spent is not equally efficient. It’s possible to spend less mana and win. In general, the more mana you spend over the course of a game the better, and the more mana you spend over your opponent, the greater your chance of winning.

The key is balancing your deck with high impact plays for punch, and mana-flexible plays for endurance. So how do we build with this in mind?

Mana Sum and Building Aggro Decks

[draft]Figure of Destiny[/draft]

If you are an aggro player, you plan on outspending your opponent in the first couple turns. Your deck is already full of punchy cards. But does your deck have high flexibility mana sinks?

I’m talking cards like [card]Figure of Destiny[/card], [card]Firebolt[/card], [card]Hell’s Thunder[/card], or [card]Gavony Township[/card]. Having a good number of high flexibility mana cards will give you a chance to win, even when you’re flooded or screwed. It will give you a chance to win extremely long games over control decks.

Mana Sum and Building Control Decks

[draft]Lightning Bolt[/draft]

If you are a control player, you plan on outspending your opponent over a long, grueling game. Your deck is already full of high mana flexibility plays like [card]Think Twice[/card] that will keep you going. But does your deck have enough high impact, punchy spells?

You are going to want cards like [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] that keep you on par in the early game. You want cards like [card]Day of Judgement[/card] and [card]Sun Titan[/card] to get you bang for your mana.

Mana Sum and Building a Mana Base

So you want to spend a lot of mana. This means not too many lands. Too many lands and you are not going to have anything to spend your mana on. Flooding out can lose you the game.

This also means not too few lands. Too few lands and you won’t be able to spend mana on spells and you will fall behind. Screw can lose you the game.

Do your lands cast your spells? Too many comes into play tapped lands and you might spend significantly less mana than you would like. Too many colorless lands and you might not be able to spend mana at all.

[draft]Gavony Township[/draft]

One of the secret abilities of playing a mono-colored deck (or deck with easy casting requirements) is that you get to play a lot of value lands. These either come into play tapped or tap for coloress.

I have had a lot of success over the years playing cards like [card]Rishadan Port[/card], [card]Mutavault[/card], [card]Treetop Village[/card], [card]Buried Ruin[/card], and [card]Gavony Township[/card]. The abilities on these lands might not be the most mana-efficient, but they give you something to do later in the game, when you otherwise wouldn’t be able to spend mana at all.

Mana Sum and Interacting with the Opponent

[draft]Vapor Snag
Primeval Titan[/draft]

Ok, so I cast a bunch of [card]Primeval Titan[/card]s and my opponent cast only a [card]Delver of Secrets[/card], a couple [card]Vapor Snag[/card]s, and a [card]Mana Leak[/card]. I spent way more mana and I lost. What is going on here?

There are lots of ways to explain this. [card]Mana Leak[/card]ing your [card]Primeval Titan[/card] actually gains me 4 mana. I just summed 4 mana on that play. Or you could say that [card]Primeval Titan[/card] is just not as good a card as [card]Mana Leak[/card]. If I spend more mana on my [card]Scathe Zombies[/card] than you spend on your [card]Coral Merfolk[/card]s, all we found out is that [card]Scathe Zombies[/card] is bad in the current format.

What we do learn from this is that some interactions net mana over your opponent. I can [card]Doom Blade[/card] your [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card]. I can [card]Mana Leak[/card] your [card]Primeval Titan[/card]. I can [card]Lighting Bolt[/card] your [card]Flinthoof Boar[/card]. I can [card]Daze[/card] your [card]Grave Titan[/card] (OH GOD THE HUMANITY).

You can sum mana over your opponent not just by spending all your mana every turn, but by having positive interactions with them. Play cards that are good at interacting.

(If you like the idea of interaction advantage, it was first written about by Zac Hill. Check him out!)

Mana Sum and Mulliganing

I would keep this hand on the play or the draw:

Carrion Feeder
Fume Spitter
Cry of Contrition
Dregscape Zombie
Stinkweed Imp[/draft]

I would mulligan this hand on the play or the draw:

Chittering Rats
Liliana’s Specter[/draft]

What makes that 1-land hand sooooo much more appealing than the 5-land hand? The first hand looks like it’s going to spend all of its mana every turn of the game, whether it draws lands or not. The second hand will not spend all of its mana every turn of the game, even if it draws perfectly.

This is a new way of evaluating mulligans. How much mana are you going to spend? Are you going to be able to get mana positive interactions with your opponent with this hand? Are you going to get outspent in the early game with this hand? Are you going to get outspent in the late game with this hand?

Mulliganing is one of the hardest parts of Magic. It’s more than just mulliganing hands with certain amounts of lands or certain kinds of lands. It’s about evaluating hands on spent mana.

A good deck has a mix of high impact and high mana flexibility cards. Let’s take a look at building decks by color:

Mana Sum and Building White

High Impact Cards

[draft]Isamaru, Hound of Konda
Blade Splicer
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Sun Titan[/draft]

High Mana Flexibility Cards

[draft]Figure of Destiny
Student of Warfare
Lingering Souls
Martial Coup
White Sun’s Zenith[/draft]

Mana Sum and Building Blue

High Impact Cards

[draft]Delver of Secrets
Vapor Snag
Mana Leak
Consecrated Sphinx[/draft]

High Mana Flexibility Cards

[draft]Snapcaster Mage
Mental Misstep
Gitaxian Probe
Merfolk Looter
Think Twice
Mystical Teachings[/draft]

Mana Sum and Building Black

High Impact Cards

[draft]Geralf’s Messenger
Doom Blade
Grave Titan[/draft]

High Mana Flexibility Cards

[draft]Viscera Dragger
Consume Spirit
Sever the Bloodline[/draft]

Mana Sum and Building Green

High Impact Cards

[draft]Craterhoof Behemoth
Wolfir Silverheart
Wren’s Run Vanquisher[/draft]

High Mana Flexibility Cards

[draft]Green Sun’s Zenith
Genesis Wave
Ezuri, Renegade Leader
Eternal Witness
Birthing Pod[/draft]

Green decks also get ramp spells that are in a class of their own. A card like [card]Llanowar Elves[/card] is neither high impact nor high mana flexibility. It is a cheat card that lets you spend extra mana over the course of the game. I will continue to play 16 [card]Llanowar Elves[/card] in Standard until the Return of Ravnica.

Mana Sum and Building Red

High Impact Cards

[draft]Bonfire of the Damned
Lightning Bolt
Goblin Guide[/draft]

High Mana Flexibility Cards

[draft]Bonfire of the Damned
Hell’s Thunder
Hellspark Elemental
Rummaging Goblin
Faithless Looting[/draft] [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card] is both high impact and has high mana flexibility. This is a (mythic) rare card that can be exploited, and a lot of people are doing that in Standard right now.

Mana Sum and Equipment

[draft]Sword of War and Peace[/draft]

Equipment have been awesome since they came out. They give you punch and late game endurance. They give you things to spend your mana on. They keep you moving. Auras are traditionally high impact and low mana flexibility. If you play aggro, equipment are a go-to if good ones are available.

Mana Sum and Building a Better Deck

The more mana you spend than your opponent, the greater your chance of beating them.

To take advantage of this, remember to have a good mix of high impact cards and high flexibility mana cards!

Race you to [card]Helix Pinnacle[/card]?


<3 Travis


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