Pattern Recognition #25 - Hybrid Mana

Features Opinion


20 April 2017


Hello! Welcome back everyone to my 25th issue! Time to throw a party in Urza's Hot Tub! I'm berryjon, your local Old Fogey and TappedOut's resident Smart Ass, and this is, in case you skipped the title, Pattern Recognition, where I talk about whatever I want to!

Thanks to yeaGO for letting me start this, and my editors over the past six months - mostly Simon_Williamson and Boza.

So, after last week's sob-story of a failure, I wanted to talk about something a bit more fun. Something lighthearted and even happy! And if there is one thing that brings a smile to my face when I think about the sheer brilliance of, it would have to be this week's subject.

This particular mechanic is something that Wizards themselves approves of, and is willing to use, well, not quite every set, but it's a standby in terms of viability and doesn't take away from the actual mechanics in the set. They do think it is too complicated for the average beginner though.

I disagree with that sentiment.

Then what, pray tell, am I talking about?

Today, our subject is Hybrid Mana!

And I'm just so excited! Becuse this is awesome!

Little bit of a history lesson first. After the High Tide mark of Invasion, Wizards knew that a gold-oriented set would sell. However, the lead time on sets is something along the lines of 12-18 months, so they couldn't put something out quickly. And they had already committed to the next couple sets in order to hedge their bets against Invasion not working out.

But they kept this knowledge in mind, and when design and development began on the next Gold Block, some decisions had to be made.

First, some definitions for you all. Not because they are card definitions, but because they are conceptual ones. The first is 'Lead Time'. This is essentially the time it takes from a product (in this case a set in Magic) to go from the very first meeting where people start tossing around ideas to the first printing of cards for sale. This time frame has wavered between 12-24 months over the history of magic, but I like to assume 18 months.

Yes, that means that the block after the block after the block after Amonkhet has already started to be worked on. So the projects named "Soup"/"Salad" and "Spagetti"/"Meatballs" have cards that are little more than cutouts with sticky notes, art direction and story line already being developed. "Ham"/"Eggs" should be finishing up the major work, and getting ready for final art and then a last round of testing before being sent off to the printers in time for its early October release.

The other definition is that of "Top Down" Design. This is a method of creating a set where there is an overarching and over-reaching design goal that was set at the beginning of the process. For instance, the Innistrad block was known from the start to have the theme of "Victorian Horror", so everything in it was made with that in mind. On the other hand, a "Bottom Up" design starts with the cards themselves, and a theme is built up around them. The difference could be that 'Theme' is important in Top-down design, while 'Mechanics' are given more priority in a Bottom-up block.

Well, Hybrid Mana exists on that thin edge where the two concepts meet. They were part of the mechanical design, enforcing the Gold theme of the block, and a flavor one as it was (at the time) unique to Ravnica.

So, what is Hybrid Mana, technically? I know, I have to explain it to all you players who have started since Fate Reforged came out.

These are the Hybrid Mana symbols: , , , , , , , , , and . Cards with this as a cost can be cast by paying either/or of the two costs in the symbol. So can be paid for using either or .

When I teach people to play Magic, a couple of my decks (the for example), includes these sorts of cards in them as I use them to talk about how mutli-colored cards work. You see, the first decks I use are mono-coloured, then the third deck is . After explaining about casting costs in the previous decks (about colours and generic mana and ), this time I pull out Shielding Plax and Coiling Oracle. I put them side by side and tell them this:

"Both of these cards are called 'Gold Cards' because they have multiple colours to them. I explained last game how the generic numbers on the cards meant you could use any colour on them, right? Well, now here is a deck that actually starts to care about colour. The Coiling Oracle is a creature that requires both Green and Blue to cast. You need to have both available to cast it, rather than just one or the other. The Shielding Plax requires that you can use one or the other. You don't need to use both. You can pay three Green for it, or three Blue. Or any combination as long as at least one color you use is either Green or Blue. And remember, whenever a card cares about color, like those one you saw in the Black deck, both of these cards are both Blue and Green at the same time."

And people got it! I could explain how it works by using examples, and breaking it down into small chunks. I can do this to people on their second game!

Now, Hybrid Mana can appear not only in the casting cost of the spell. Look at Graven Cairns or Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest, and you can see that both of those cards have Hybrid Mana in the activation costs. And the rules are exactly the same. You can pay either / or for that, and both colours are equally valid at the same time.

This has interesting effects in Commander / EDH. You see the example of Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest I gave? Well, his color identity - the colors that he is for the purposes of either being a Commander, or being in the deck, are not just the of his casting cost, but actually . Despite being either / or in terms of symbol:WR in the ability, as I mentioned in my teaching example above, Hybrid cards count as both when a card or rule cares about color.

When the announcement came down the line that Commander 2016 was going to involve four-colored decks, I was one of the people who concluded that Hybrid mana would be used on the Commanders to keep their costs from becoming too unweildy. I envisioned a card that might have had a cost of , or had off colored activation costs. I was wrong, alas.

Part of the reason I thought about that was because of the third time Hybrid Mana showed up.

Yes, I'm skipping the second at this point. Ravnica was the first, Fate Reforged was the fourth. And Shards of Alara was the third - or rather the third set in the block: "Alara Reborn". I want you all to click on that link for a moment and tell me what you see.

Give it a minute....

You see it?


Well, every non-land card in the set is Gold. And in order to help make it work, Wizards pulled out Hybrid mana to allow for an escalation to a trick from Ravnica.

You see, Hybrid Mana allows for you to have a two-colored card with a converted casting cost of 1, or in the case of Alara Reborn, for three-colored cards to have a converted mana cost of two. Bant Sureblade, Grixis Grimblade... (and Boros Recruit or Riot Spikes for the former concept.)

To me, this is brilliant. It breaks the mold of colors by introducing choice and options!

Another aspect to the mechanic is one that is a bit more limited in scope. Or rather, I should say limiting. Let's take my two example cards in my demo deck - Coiling Oracle and Shielding Plax, and compare them. Ask ourselves why one is classical multi-coloured and the other is Hybrid.

You see, cards like Shielding Plax represent the narrow line where two colors meet. This card, as printed, is something that either or could do by themselves. It doesn't need to be a purely gold card, you're simply shown that this is a card that could have been in either color, so you're given the option of using either color to play it.

But Coiling Oracle? This is a card that neither or can do by themselves. What you see here is a combination of the two colour's specialties. Green provides the creature and the putting into play effect, while Blue prevents the card from being discarded if it's a non-land creature.

Hybrid Cards represent the point where the two colors join, but Gold cards transcend the limitations of both colors into something more. That's why we still get both types of card, rather than phasing one out for the other.

The second time Hybrid Mana appeared, it was in the massive super-block of Lorwyn/Shadowmoor. Well, actually in the second half. Shadowmoor and Eventide.

You recall when I mentioned about Lead Time? Well, as Ravnica was finishing, Shadowmoor was starting (with the intervening block being my favourite, Time Spiral and my not-so favourite of Lorwyn), Wizards realized from the feedback they got that Hybrid Mana was massively popular. Like, seriously, unless you were there and experienced the hype and excitement over what Hybrid mana could do, you wouldn't understand it.

They realized they had the perfect block to incorporate Hybrid Mana into with the back half of Lorwyn - Shadowmoor and Eventide (gotta read those books again) to help represent the changes the plane was undergoing thanks to the machinations of Oona, Queen of the Fae. So they incorporated this mechanic into the set, and it worked again. Pyrotechnics had struck twice!

However, Wizards threw in their own wrinkle. They created what is sometimes called "Twobrid Mana". I've mentioned in articles previous how there is an exchange rate in mana between colored and generic mana, right? For example, how drawing a card can cost either or ? Well, behold the Reaper King. You read those mana symbols right. You can pay or , and repeat that process all the way down the line with , , and . Not with though, thank goodness.

The Twobrid Mana, while interesting, didn't really have the same degree of splashy awesomeness about it. They felt like normal cards that you could be over-charged for, rather than Hybrid's degree of option.

Oh, it also appeared in Return to Ravnica. But who cares about that block? It's just Ravnica 2.0, so it had to have them. The glamour had faded because Wizards did nothing new or interesting with them.

So, there you have it. Hybrid Mana. One of my favourite things in the game. This was a fun article to write, and I hope you guys have a better appreciation for that tiny little icon on the cards. They can open up whole new avenues to work with, and can be a great stepping stone into more complicated deck archetypes.

Until then, I'm selling out! Or is that tapping out? Basic donors get a preview copy of the final article, while advanced donors get that as well as the opportunity to join me in a podcast version of the series where I talk and you respond!

Oh, and here's that teaching deck I was talking about:

The Lumbermill

Modern berryjon


This article is a follow-up to Pattern Recognition #24 - Ninjutsu

chosenone124 says... #1

Color shenanigans:

Devoid: A mana cost of RBUGW and it's colorless

Card border: A mana cost of 0/5 colorless and it's red

Flip cards: Garruk Relentless is black in color identity

April 20, 2017 2:42 p.m.

abby315 says... #2

Great teaching deck! It's always a difficult balance to figure out what is too much info for new players and what is enough to keep them interested :)

April 20, 2017 3:55 p.m.

I agree with the whole 4-color commanders thing. I was totally expecting something like a commander that costs with an activated ability that costs like .

The partner mechanic is cool, but I do feel like that was a tremendously wasted opportunity. Given that they usually include 2 to 3 possible commanders in each commander precon deck, I was expecting, for example, the nonwhite deck to have something like Yidris is, where he just straight up costs , Something with a ability, and something with a ability. But instead we got Partners.

April 20, 2017 7:18 p.m.

TheRedGoat says... #4

I'll be the first to admit I never caught this until long after the four colors commanders came out, but if you look at certain cards from commander 2015 (the year before) you can tell that partner was already a mechanic in the making.

Namely I'm talking about Bastion Protector, but the Star City Games versus also did a video that utilized the idea that they could have multiple commanders available to them. Almost like they were testing it out for Wizards.

I also don't have any problem with it now that it's here except for the fact that we don't have nearly enough options for someone of my taste. Which is the type that wants a five color devoid creature to give an example. So much wasted potential....

April 21, 2017 1:31 a.m.

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