This entry is part 35 of 37 in the series Generally Speaking

On and off, I hear suggestions about ritual effects in Commander.  Dark Ritual sees very little play, and reasons are usually related to the advantage being ephemeral; you’re two turns ahead in terms of mana for one turn, and one card behind for the rest of the game.  Yet, I see many deck lists with its closest analogue, Mana Vault, including mono-black ones without Dark Ritual.  If you take a look at The Real Top 50, – a database with statistical information on what cards people play in decks posted online – Mana Vault is number 62 on the all time most popular list, where Dark Ritual doesn’t appear at all, not even when considered in mono-black decks where it is most likely to show up, given the narrowness of remaining options compared to other decks.

A quick look through my own decks shows that even I follow this trend; I love to play in the Grixis colours, and none of my decks with black – Rakdos, Lord of Riots, Grimgrin, Corpse-Born, and Ob Nixilis, the Fallen – contain it.  Yet, from those decks, both Ob Nixilis and Grimgrin have Mana Vault.  Should more players be running rites?  Maybe; read on.

The popularity of Mana Vault ahead of Dark Ritual can be explained with a couple of factors.  There would be a disparity because of colour identity to be sure, since Mana Vault may be played in decks without black, but, Dark Ritual does not show up at all in the Real Top 50.  Second, Mana Vault can be reusable and has a few combo applications; if you play a Mana Vault and use it, you could later untap it during a lull in the game.  If you have a way of returning it to your hand (Tidespout Tyrant is sometimes used for this), you can reuse Mana Vault.  Dark Ritual does neither of those things.

Ironically, I do have one deck that runs a ritual, and it’s not in black.  Seething Song finds its way into my Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius deck as a combo piece.  Since it is one of the highest yield ritual effects, it can be copied for a real advantage.  One interaction I use is with Increasing Vengeance; you can cast and copy Seething Song for 2RRR, and then with the first copy’s mana, flash Increasing Vengeance back for another two copies, netting fifteen mana for five and two cards.  This demonstrates a concept that most players in Commander that I’ve spoken with disagree with: Ritual effects can be powerful.

Seething Song is the just the beginning for powerful rituals.  Koth of the Hammer is really powerful in mono-red, if only for his -2 ability.  This could easily net you a couple of extra mana, or more on the turn you play Koth, or if you’re playing him into an empty board, you could get have a spectacular advantage on the next turn.  Further, Mana Geyser will let you cast almost anything, and scales to the number of players at the table (though, the cards you spend it on may not, unless they have X in their cost).

This brings up the next question: what are we doing with this mana?  Well, presumably, it’s the same sort of stuff we’d be tapping Mana Vault for.  For Ob Nixilis, playing Mana Vault means a potential second turn Ob.  In my Niv-Mizzet deck, it’s mean to fuel Epic Experiment and cards with Storm, like Mind’s Desire.  Dark Ritual would work easily in either of these decks (assuming Niv-Mizzet could use black cards).  It would also work well in Grimgrin, as a way to churn out more zombies, who are known for their three mana cost, or create that extra bit of mana to drop a bomb like Rooftop Storm.  Rites can also push Comet Storm, Profane Command, and other spells into a critical range, where the effect becomes much more devastating, by being able to destroy or animate a critical creature.  Finally, Rites can be used for damaging plays where the card disadvantage doesn’t matter as much.  Getting a first turn Swamp with Dark Ritual and Phyrexian Arena could set you for cards for the rest of the game.  If you’re willing to try cards like Bottomless Pit or Delirium Skeins, Dark Ritual can let you play them a little early with no real consequences later.

I’ve already run through the reasons not to run it; it provides a quick advantage in the expense of the long term.  They’re dreadful top-decks later in the game.  In fairness, Mana Vault also suffers these same drawbacks, though it could have impact in the future if you bother to untap it.  Many rites also do not offer enough of an advantage in Commander to be worth running. Pyretic Ritual and Desperate Ritual will only net you one extra mana, and are not really suitable for combos involving copying them.

There are certainly some decks that already use rituals.  Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon is a fairly powerful general at small tables, and is a favourite of many for 1v1 games, and Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed occasionally uses it because of the availability of high quality recursion.  With that in mind, try it.  Don’t replace your Mana Vaults with it, obviously.  Rather, run it in addition.  Think of all the crazy plays you’ve made with Mana Vault, and consider that Dark Ritual and others can do exactly the same thing.

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