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My understanding of Mana-Burn is that if you have any left over mana in your mana-pool at the end of your turn, you loose that many life. But why is this rule necessary? The only time I see it come into play is when you have cards that give you multiple mana like Dark Ritual and Black Lotus, and isn't wasted mana penalty enough? I can't think of many times when I would purposely want to have extra mana left over in the first place.

When and how does mana burn usually happen? Why was the rule added? How would Magic be different without it?

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It should be said that the rule was never "added"; it was part of the rules since Alpha until it was removed with M10. –  SevenSidedDie Sep 12 '11 at 13:55
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3 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Mana burn has been removed from the game a while ago. From the comprehensive rules glossary:

Mana Burn (Obsolete)

Older versions of the rules stated that unspent mana caused a player to lose life; this was called "mana burn." That rule no longer exists.

When the rule was still in effect, you lost life equal to the unspent mana in your pool at the end of each phase (not turn).

As for the reason why it was there: As you said, it was meant to punish anyone who didn't manage his or her mana well. Also, there were a few cards that had the mana Burn rule in mind. They would add Mana to a player's pool during on of his/her game phases. Some would reward you for being tapped out or punish the opponent for not being tapped out, mostly in the Prophecies edition.

Why was it removed? As you noted as well, it was practically irrelevant a rule as it only very rarely happened, so "streamlining the rules" would be my first guess.

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Mana burn was removed on July 11, 2009, with the introduction of the M10 rules changes. wizards.com/magic/magazine/article.aspx?x=mtg/daily/feature/42a –  Jadasc Sep 11 '11 at 23:01
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The short answer, is "it doesn't happen", as Hackworth has already correctly noted. MaRo wrote a good article about why it was removed, which you can read here.

Why was it in the game in the first place? Well, it does make a difference. Check out cards like Mana Drain and Eladamri's Vineyard. Mana Drain is less powerful (though only marginally - it's still a beating) with mana burn; without mana burn, it now has no downside over Counterspell whatsoever. Eladamri's Vineyard is considerably less good than it was - the fun in the old days was giving a non-green deck mana it would have trouble using, hopefully causing burn. Now the card is much more symmetrical, with very little downside even for a nongreen opponent.

Also look at spells like Branded Brawlers, which "can't block if you control an untapped land". At the time Prophecy was an interesting set which rewarded you for mana management and tapping out every turn. Now it's a lot easier to tap out - it doesn't cost you life if you don't have something to do with your mana! Prophecy as a set is full of cards which look pretty pointless these days.

But really, it was a pretty fiddly rule, which almost never had a significant impact on gameplay, and wasn't really worth the extra bookkeeping it involved. Most Magic players I think don't really miss it.

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It should be noted that a lot of cards that look like they'd be useless without mana burn still have a role to play - usually a smaller niche than what they had before, but they're also easier to include without having to build around them. A player can tap lands freely to avoid the damage from Citadel of Pain, for instance, but it still nicely punishes instant-happy decks that need mana to mess with your turn. –  Alex P Dec 30 '11 at 17:44
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Mana burn is no longer a part of the game as the other answers point out so well. However, I feel like I have a definitive answer to "Why was the rule added?"

In episode #4 of his game design podcast - Games With Garfield - Richard himself and Skaff Elias comment on the creation of mana burn.

transcript from 05:27 to 06:25

SKAFF: Mana burn really wasn't even in there in the beginning, for the first couple of years we played the game and it kind of crept in because we didn't want people to just go... We needed a mana pool to make sense out of casting... exactly how a card was cast, to try and formalize that, and then some people who were just trying to be jerks (maybe I was one of them) would just dump all their mana into their mana pool so that, you know, it couldn't be disrupted, cause certain things disrupted it back at the time. And, anyway, to sort of prevent that and to prevent people to ever wanting to do that, mana burn was introduced into the game. The clearing of mana out of the pools, and maybe that wasn't good enough so maybe actually take some damage from it. And then from there it took on a life of its own and actually became part of the play of the game.

And Richard Garfield adds:

transcript from 6:26 to 6:47

RICHARD: Certainly, back in the old days there was a point where you could technically, at the start of you turn, just tap all your land and then you'd have all your mana for the whole turn. And the only difference would be that your opponent couldn't tell how much it was, was a pain to keep track of and so forth and so... Mana burn eventually was an answer to that (...)

So, to sum up, it seems that mana burn was created as a game design mechanical fix to avoid memory issues and to avoid some weird situations in the original spell timing rules.

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Cool find! It sounds like a combination of memory issues and some of the weirdness related to mana-denial tricks under the batch system ("cause certain things disrupted it back at the time"). –  Alex P May 9 '12 at 20:35
    
@AlexP I only highlighted the memory issues fix, but I'll edit the answer. –  rahzark May 9 '12 at 20:40
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I'm curious as to what that weird disruption trick actually is. (Well, was.) –  Alex P May 9 '12 at 21:33
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Say you have two islands untapped, and I cast stone rain on one of them with mana left over. Do you tap one before it hits to store the mana to counterspell a creature I cast later? You risk manaburn if you do, as I might not cast the subsequent spell letting you take the damage. –  Nick Jun 13 '12 at 10:44
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