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No more mana screw September 8, 2008

Posted by James in : all, random, theory, design , trackback

Mana screw (mah-nah skrew) noun. Being unlucky while playing a game of Magic: the Gathering because of the game’s inherent dependence on land.

While some people find mana screw to be a criticism of Magic: the Gathering as a whole, Wizards of the Coast have been unapologetic to the point of being condescending. Instead of trying to do something to help players get less mana screw, they just ignore the problem and say it is part of the luck factor that any card game will face to some extent. The problem is that the design of Magic: the Gathering has a lot to do with how much mana screw will be a problem, whether you draw too few lands, too many lands, or the wrong color of lands. Instead of dismissing the problem of mana screw, Wizards should do more about it.

Wizards of the Coast has actually taken some action to help prevent mana screw. Consider the following card mechanics:


This ability allows you to play the spell when it is in your graveyard as long as you discard a land. This is the newest invention to help players combat mana screw, and it is probably the most successful way to combat mana flooding to date… but cards with retrace tend to be too underpowered for constructed play. If you have enough retrace cards in your deck, you can even play too many lands in your deck on purpose in order to assure that you draw enough lands. If you draw too many lands, you can just discard them to play retrace cards.

Land cycling

This ability lets players pay mana to discard a card and search his or her library for a land. So far only a few cards have been printed with land cycling and they all require that you pay two mana. Ideally, land cycling can help you avoid mana screw entirely by making sure that you have enough land. In practice, land cycling forces players to waste precious mana in order to get mana. And worse, land cycling has always required players to already have two mana available. Players who are mana screwed might not have two land. This problem could be avoided in the future if Wizards of the Coast prints more cards with land cycling that only requires the player to pay a couple life to cycle the card.

Man lands

Man lands are lands, such as Mutavault and Mishra’s factory, that can become a creature when you pay mana. Man lands give players an excuse to throw some extra lands in their deck. If the player has too many lands, then he or she can use the man land to attack the opponent. If the player has too few lands, then he or she can use the man land for mana.

New design solutions for mana screw

I have three more solutions for mana screw that can be even more effective to help players avoid mana screw:


Players can play cards face-down as lands that produce colorless mana. This avoids the problem of getting too few lands because nonland cards can be played as lands. It also avoids the problem of getting too many lands because the card is usually not a land. The best solution for mana screw is to give a choice about whether to play a card as a land or spell.

mana morph sliver
Split cards

Split cards already exist, such as Fire/Ice. What we can use are split cards that can either be played as a land or spell. Island Fish Jasconius should have been like that instead of just a creature.

split permanent

Lands that have Channel

Wizards invented a great ability in Saviors of Kamigawa called channel. It allows you to pay a cost and discard a card to do something. This ability still exists in cards, like Faerie Macabre, but the ability is no longer called channel. What we need are lands with channel, so that we can choose if we want to play the card as a land or as something like a spell.

hurloon mountain



1. mike - September 9, 2008

The Land-man idea could become a real card since the rules are there to support it (see Kuon, Ogre Ascendant). Creatures that turn into Enchantments. So why not a land that becomes a creature.

On the other hand, it seems almost the same as Stalking Stones, but it loses the Land supertype which is a big difference. As long as it doesn’t work like Licids (going back and forth from one type to another) it is a definate possibility.

The One problem with Mana-Morph is it gets confused with regular morph.

2. James - September 9, 2008

Same problem exists with confusing morph with Illusionary Mask stuff, but mana morph might have only been a possibility that was ruined after Wizards made morph instead.

3. Recoculous.com: Magic the Gathering Articles » First impressions: Shards of Alara - September 24, 2008

[…] I have already discussed different ideas for mana fixing in a previous article. I would like more mana fixing that could be played as either mana or as something else. However, I would be more forgiving if the mana fixing was actually what I view to be mana fixing. I don’t like three mana cost mana fixing. Why? Because of all the games where I only draw two land. Playing more land tends to be safer than playing three mana cost mana fixing. I would only want to play the three mana cost mana fixing cards if they were something more like this: […]

4. Recoculous.com: Magic the Gathering Articles » My Top 10 Articles of 2008 - January 16, 2009

[…] 1. No More Mana Screw - More timely than ever. Find out how Wizards of the Coast has been making the game intentionally flawed while there are many ways to help us avoid getting mana screwed! […]

5. Recoculous.com: Magic the Gathering Articles » Unscrewed Part 8: Vodalian Coast (Unglued 3) - October 13, 2009

[…] Not only will Unscrewed do many fun things that would probably never happen for real, but it will give us the mana fixing that we’ve always wanted. The mana fixing will be balanced, but it will help us avoid mana screw much more effectively than usual. I gave many suggestions to how mana screw could be avoided over a year ago, and Unscrewed will implement some of these ideas. In particular, the idea of split permanents. A card could have two choices: You could play it as a land, or as something else. For example, Vodalian Coast: […]

6. Recoculous.com: Magic the Gathering Articles » Wizards of the Coast Tried - October 30, 2009

[…] To be more specific, they tried two of the mana fixing ideas that I suggested in an article I wrote several years ago, No More Mana Screw. It was originally published on Dragon-Warrior.com on July 1, 2004, titled “The Coalition Against Mana Screw Manifesto.” […]