The Art of Playing Mana

Hello again, Kaijudo duelists!  I'm  back again with another exciting article!  The topic I’m writing about today covers one of the most basic parts of the game, and yet one of the most complex: playing mana.  I’ve gotten a couple requests for an article on this subject from people, and I thought it was a great idea, since it’s something I’ve also had problems with in the past.

Playing mana is a necessity for each player almost every turn up to a point in the game; playing cards from our hand into the mana zone is, of course, the only thing that allows us to summon creatures and cast spells.  As such, the decision process of what to play in mana can sometimes feel unimportant, or auto-pilot.  When I was younger, during the days of Duel Masters, even when I was running a more complex control deck, I sometimes considered playing mana “that thing I had to do to play my higher-level cards.”

To get out of this mindset, it's first important to understand what playing mana really is.  On the most basic of levels, you are suffering a -1 in card advantage every turn that you play mana.  That is, you're losing a card in your hand, and since it's not going to the field, it's not considered a resource for the general purpose of card advantage as it can't be "used" as if you had summoned or cast it.  However, mana itself is a very important resource, which makes the -1 completely necessary.  The tricky thing is that the whole premise of mana means that you're losing cards that would potentially have functionality in your hand or in the battle zone.  There are no specific cards, such as the "land" system used in Magic: the Gathering, that are used only to generate mana.  This adds a very unique level of strategy to the game, as it's tough to decide which cards you can afford to get rid of at a given point int he game.  Hopefully this article will help clear some of that up!

The Obvious Choices

There are two basic mindsets that new players, especially younger ones, have when first starting out with Kaijudo.  They either decide to put all the lower-level cards in their mana zone in order to play their cool finishers, or put all their high-level cards in mana so they can play the cards in their hand that they're able to play.  There are times and places when both of those mindsets are correct, but they both require moderation and proper use.  One thing to remember is that at the moment, we don't have cards that allow us to retrieve cards from the mana zone.  If you only run one copy of a card, be prepared to never see that card again, at least until we get cards like that.  Even then, you're probably losing the possibility of playing it, and though that Skull Shatter may look awful in the opening hand, if it could single handedly win you the game against a control deck, you might want to keep it.  On the opposite side of that coin, against a rush deck it's imperative to play your low-level creatures to counter their early field presence, and that Skull Shatter will probably be its most useful sitting in your mana zone.

"...What is he playing?"

Something a lot of players overlook is the ability to tell what your opponent is running based on the civilizations or individual cards in their mana zone.  This isn't as effective at League, especially right now since we don't have any sanctioned events yet, but it will assuredly become increasingly important as the game and its events develop.  At locals, or just casually playing matches against friends, it's probable that everyone knows what everyone else is playing, at least to an extent.  In a higher-level event, this won't be the case, and looking at your opponent's mana zone could give you the knowledge you need early on.

Playing against a rush deck should usually be fairly obvious, as creatures will start hitting the board on the first or second turns.  Against other types of decks, the mana zone is more important.  If your opponent puts an Aqua Seneschal or Logos Scan in mana first, what are they running?  The options include any control deck or aggro deck involving water, as well as other options entirely.  However, if they play a Milporo, Council of Logos in mana first instead, you can easily narrow down that list to a control deck using water, since the card is almost exclusively found in control decks.  That might make playing against the deck easier, knowing you wouldn't have to take precautionary measures to combat a possible Hyperspeed Dragon.  In that situation, if they put down a finisher from the Fire civilization in mana on the second turn, you could easily jump to the conclusion that they're running Water/Darkness/Fire control (possibly with Nature or Light).  Darkness can be assumed because it looks almost positive that they're running control.

This can be used to your advantage as well.  If you run cards that could be used in a variety of decks and are in a match where neither player knows the matchup, try not to give too much unnecessary information away early on.  Putting a Rally the Reserves in mana early solidifies that you're running a deck around that card, yet putting a Stormspark Blast in mana just reveals that you're running Light, as it's a much more widely-used card.  Anything from Rush to Aggro to Control could use it, and it's always nice to keep your opponent guessing for as long as possible.  An opponent who is on their toes will find it harder to concentrate on your strategy and might wind up putting cards in their mana zone that could have helped them in the matchup.

As a Control Player

As someone who primarily plays control decks, it's imperative that I know what to do with the cards in my hand, especially against other control decks, as the matchup is usually decided by who can use their cards to peak effectiveness.  If you've seen me play matches on YouTube or otherwise, you'd note that I usually feel safe putting blockers down in my mana zone early on in the control mirror, as well as cards like Dark Return.  I know the game will be slow-paced and as long as my opponent isn't putting pressure on me with an Aqua Seneschal or something, I won't really need the blockers, and playing something else in mana just to summon one would leave me with one less resource in hand and a potentially useless creature in the battle zone.  Dark Return can also be easy to let go early on in this matchup, as the lack of field presence will probably mean your graveyard could be void of creatures for a while.

This is probably one of the most important aspects of playing control: the knowledge that you don't necessarily need to play things every turn.  Sometimes, simply holding your cards can be the move that puts you in the best position.  This ties directly into playing mana.  You might have a level two card in your hand such as a blocker, but reducing your hand size to play it could be unnecessary in certain matchups.  Not only are you down resources, but you're more susceptible to cards like Fumes and Specter Claw, since you have one less option to discard.

Not playing mana?

Though rush decks are usually forced to stop playing mana after they hit around turn 4-5, it's assumed that control players have to play mana each turn until they hit their seventh or eighth mana.  As a general rule, it's good to reach this level before your opponent, as you can respond with Terror Pits and the like to their finishers, and possibly cast Skull Shatter first, but there are some situations when I've found it best to not play mana.  In a particularly grueling control mirror against Gorby a few months back, pre-RIS, I believe I passed at four or five mana two consecutive turns.  I could have played mana, but I was holding two copies of Terror Pit and my hand was small.  I decided it was more valuable to take the loss in tempo and hold the power cards to get the most use out of them.  This decision helped me to win the game.  It isn't always going to be the case where not playing mana is the optimal play earlier in the game, but it's definitely something to think about!

I guess it's the time in the article where I'd usually tell you to stay tuned until next week, and leave you hanging with no clue as to what I'll write about.  Well, I hope you're ready for a surprise!

Exclusive Card Preview Coming!

I'm very excited to announce that Wizards of the Coast has enjoyed my articles to the point that they want me to reveal an exclusive preview card next Friday, just for the readers here at ARG!  That's right, a card from Evo Fury, the highly-anticipated expansion releasing on November 13!  As of writing this, I have no idea what the card is, but I'll be getting the info in the next couple of days and you can all expect a full write-up and analysis for next week!  I'm sure the card will be awesome and I'm very grateful for the opportunity to present it to all of you.  Make sure to leave a comment below with your thoughts on the article, and I'll be back next week with the preview!