This entry is part 4 of 10 in the series Community Contribution

By KIRSIN aka DUNE ECHO, co-founder CasualPlayers.org
Where It All Came From

For raw, unbalanced power, it’s often so very satisfying to look to Magic’s past.  One of the appealing factors of the Commander format is how it allows many players, particularly players with older collections or players with more disposable income, to run cards that have been relegated to the Vintage-only Eternal format.  This exhaustive list includes obvious cards like Bazaar of Baghdad, Mana Crypt, Mishra’s Workshop, and Timetwister.  All of these have an allure to them because they are cards from Magic’s earliest days when Development and Design hadn’t quite decided on the best rules for Magic’s balance and health.

In December 2011 the question of “To buy or not to buy a Mana Crypt?” was posed by a player on the MTGSalvation forums.  The thread’s author very specifically did not want to debate whether or not Mana Crypt should be banned in Commander for its power.  Instead, the author was asking for input regarding whether or not Mana Crypt is strong enough in Commander that it would be a worthy such a large investment over possibly buying other and/or more cards instead?  Given that Mana Crypt can currently run anywhere from $43 to $76 on eBay for an unsigned, unaltered English black-bordered version and $72 to $104 for a foil Judge Gift Program version, Mana Crypt is a significant financial investment to any player.  There are many other cards such as Jace, the Mind Sculptor that are equally or potentially more game changing for that type of monetary investment.  So is Mana Crypt a truly viable purchase for the what it does?

Tapping the Mana Crypt

First, Mana Crypt essentially reads like so:

Mana Crypt
Artifact, 0
At the beginning of your upkeep, Mana Crypt deals 1.5 damage to you.
{T}: Add {2} to your mana pool.

So, a quick statistical analysis of Mana Crypt:

  1. You have roughly an 8% chance of drawing Mana Crypt in your opening hand in multiplayer to combine with your turn one land drop to play a 3 converted mana cost Commander or spell.  Without further card draw acceleration, you will have a 13% chance of having drawn Mana Crypt by the draw step of turn five to enable a 7 CMC Commander or spell.
  2. If you draw and play Mana Crypt from your opening hand, you will statistically take 6 points of damage after your upkeep on turn five and 9 damage (nearly a quarter of your Commander life total) after your upkeep on turn seven.  Addtionally, you will be able to play any combination of spells costing nine mana or less (such as a kicked Rite of Replication) by that same turn seven.

Of all the mana producing artifacts legal in Commander, Mana Crypt is definitely among the most potent.  Mana Crypt shores up a missed land drop, accelerates you into expensive spells, and pays the “Command Zone tax” for replaying your Commander at least once.  The fact that it has the same 0 converted mana cost as Moxen is key to Mana Crypt’s value.  Only Chrome Mox, Everflowing Chalice, Jeweled Amulet, Lotus Bloom, Lotus Petal, Mana Crypt, Mox Diamond, and Mox Opal are non-land mana sources fitting this criteria.  Of these, only Mana Crypt produces mana as early as turn one without immediate card disadvantage, tempo loss, or conditional use.  The biggest factor when playing with Mana Crypt isn’t the life loss over time, but that it only produces colorless mana like Sol Ring.  For these reasons, Mana Crypt will best benefit you if take the following into consideration when building your Commander deck and deciding whether or not to include Mana Crypt:

  1. Do you have a high mana curve including many spells with at least {2} in the casting cost?
  2. Does your Commander have {2} in the casting, triggered, or activation cost(s)?
  3. Do you expect to have your Commander die frequently and could utilize Mana Crypt to pay the “Command Zone tax?”
  4. Does your Commander’s color identity include blue to allow for flexible tutor options?
  5. Do you need to combat the mana acceleration of a green deck in your metagame?
  6. Are you able to mitigate or ignore the damage from Mana Crypt?
  7. Are you already running a high number of artifacts that accelerate your mana development?

Strategic Reminders for Mana Crypt:

  1. You are not required to play Mana Crypt the same turn you draw it.  Instead play Mana Crypt only when getting {2} right away will be worth the upkeep cost on the following turns.
  2. Blue has access to quite a few cheap artifact tutors such as Artificer’s Intuition, Tezzeret the Seeker, Trinket Mage, and Tolaria West which all find Mana Crypt.  (Mana Crypt can also be part of a Trinket Mage package.)
  3. Mana Crypt deals damage and does not cause life loss, so it works with damage prevention effects or life-gain effects like Sun Droplet.

“Who wants to go down the creepy tunnel inside the tomb first?”

With the aforementioned reasons above, having {2} extra mana available at the cost of a card is clearly an aggressive choice.  However, the cost of having access to such fast and consistent mana early on in any multiplayer Commander game means that you can become even more of a strategic threat as soon as it is played.  Removal spells that target multiple artifacts will often target an early Mana Crypt to bring the game back to a normal pace.  Mana Crypt’s low converted mana cost make it an easy target for spells or abilities like Glissa Sunseeker’s.  Furthermore, it’s not uncommon for opponents to assume that since you are playing monetarily-valuable cards like Mana Crypt that you have even more powerful cards in your hand and deck.  This psychological presumption could ensure you are a target of the entire table in an unestablished metagame.  In regards to the “spirit of Commander,” metagames may also resent the mana ramp that Mana Crypt brings and an “arms race” could ensue, negatively impacting your play group.  Lastly, diluting your deck with many potentially fragile mana acceleration means you are playing less threats and answers to participate in a multiplayer game.

“Bubbles. Bubbles. My bubbles.”

Political ramifications aside, Mana Crypt is a useful tool for the right decks despite the disadvantages.  Obviously, aggressive decks will play artifacts like Mana Crypt and Sol Ring to power out well-known threats like Primeval Titan or play more permanent forms of mana ramp like Cultivate during the game’s earliest turns.  Combo decks will use Mana Crypt to accelerate into a game-winning engine.  (One combo for infinite mana would be Mana Crypt, Mox Opal, and Tidespout Tyrant.)  Although a slower control style playing Mana Crypt could find that it becomes a liability when there’s so much extra damage before establishing board control, there are ways to reduce Mana Crypt’s impact to yourself.  To counter the damage, a control deck may employ synergistic strategies such as Oblivion Stone, Pernicious Deed, or Nevinyrral’s Disk to establish board control or sacrifice effects to remove Mana Crypt from play.  This type of deck construction can be risky, but the early resource development advantage can be overwhelming for opponents.  And for control decks, Mana Crypt is also just one card in your total deck and it may not see play enough for the disadvantages to be a continual problem.

First and primarily, when considering whether or not to add purchase a Mana Crypt, consider your budget.  For the dollar cost of a single Mana Crypt, you could add many other equally useful and/or fun cards that you could add to your collection instead.  Mana Crypt may not be appropriate for an established metagame and may place you afoul of the “spirit of Commander” with your local play group.  Alternatively, the potential for early game power and speed may also be just what your deck needs to occasionally draw in order to meet the rest of your metagame.  In the end, if you can afford or already own a Mana Crypt, consider playing it because it lacks something many other cards have despite their power levels or monetary value: Nostalgia and gravitas.  Being only available through an early book promotion in 1995 or as a Judge foil, Mana Crypt carries a certain specialness that many other cards simply lack.  For that reason alone, Mana Crypt can be an exciting and worthwhile card to add to your Commander deck.

Kirsin is the co-founder of CasualPlayers.org, the home of the Casual Player’s Alliance. He has been another member of the CommanderCast audience who has provided great feedback, topic suggestions, and now has crossed the line from ‘audience’ to ‘content producer’, which is awesome. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear more from Kirsin in the future, but for now you can follow Kirsin on Twitter to see what he has to say.

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