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What is the relationship between lands and mana in Magic and what do each of them do? A good answer should especially include how a new player should think about them.


Note:

This is an attempt to create a canonical question about the relationship between lands and mana in Magic.

Beginners are often confused about this given the same symbols are used to mean different things across basic lands, non-basic lands, and mana costs. This can lead to confusion about lands being mana, about non-basic lands putting basic lands into play, or even about what mana is.

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Quick Summary

Lands don't pay for spells directly. Instead, lands on the battlefield (both basic and non-basic) tap to produce mana, and that mana is what is used to pay for mana costs of spells and abilities.


Lands vs Mana vs Mana Cost

Lands are a type of permanent that can exist on the battlefield. They are reusable, and you are usually allowed to play one land to the battlefield under your control on each of your turns. Most lands1 have an ability that lets you tap them to produce mana. Lands then untap at the beginning of your turn during the untap step.

Mana is an abstract resource that exists in a player's mana pool. Mana costs are the mana symbols that appear in either the top right corner of a card or before a colon in an ability on a card.

Here is a rough sequence of using Lands and Mana to pay for a cost:

  1. You tap any number of your lands to produce mana.1, 2
  2. Mana is added to your Mana Pool.
  3. You spend mana from your Mana Pool to pay for costs (such as spells and abilities).

For example, when a player taps a Mountain to cast Lightning Bolt, what's actually happening is that the Mountain is being used to add red mana (written as {r}) to that player's mana pool, and then the {r} in the mana pool is being used to pay the {r} in Lightning Bolt's mana cost.

The reason for the mana pool is that it allows a player to hold mana that they are not spending right away. This matters for many reasons, including using the mana from Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary to pay for multiple things, or use a series of mana generating abilities to get the mana they need for a spell. Examples of cards that need a mana pool to work include: Dark Ritual, Selesnya Signet, and Doubling Cube.

Normally, your mana pool empties at the end of every step and phase of the turn, so any combination of abilities you want to use to generate mana need to be done in the same step/phase.3 (See Where can I find a chart or diagram explaining Magic's turn structure? for more detail on steps and phases.)

1. Some non-basic lands (such as Maze of Ith) do not have mana producing abilities, although due to the confusion these cause, Wizards hasn't printed one since 2010 aside from lands that fetch other lands from your library (such as Evolving Wilds).

2. Lands also aren't the only thing that generate mana. See the section below.

3. If Upwelling (or a similar effect) is on the battlefield, you can hold mana in your mana pool indefinitely.


Nonbasic Lands

Non-basic lands actually work pretty similarly to basic lands. The giant white mana symbol on a plains is just shorthand for "{t}: Add {w}." The older versions of these lands actually said that explicitly. So, the only difference between a Plains and say Coastal Tower is that Coastal Tower lets you add {w} or {u} to your mana pool when you tap it (your choice) whereas a Plains just lets you add {w} when you tap it.

Note that: "Add {w}" is the modern rules text for the older "Add {w} to your mana pool".


Things Besides Lands can Generate Mana

You can get mana from any type of card or permanent, not just lands. There is no difference between the {g} mana generated by Llanowar Elves and that generated by a Forest 4. Any of the main card types can generate mana, as can tokens. Here are some examples:

4. The only mana that is different is mana with a condition on how it can be spent, such as that from Corrupted Crossroads.


Basic Land Types

The basic land types of "Plains", "Mountains", "Island", "Swamp", and "Forest" give a land the ability to tap for mana of a particular color. For example, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth adds the "Swamp" type to all lands; this actually allows any land to be tapped to add {b} because the ability "{t}: add {b}" is a property of the Swamp land type.

Thus, basic lands have the ability to tap for mana of their color by merit of being one of the basic land types5. The giant mana symbol on them is actually reminder text, not rules text. Some lands (Canopy Vista, Steam Vents) have multiple basic land types and can tap for different varieties of mana. Likewise, they have reminder text emphasizing that the basic land types grant their mana abilities.

5. The exception being Wastes. Wastes has no basic land type, and as a result has to have rules text allowing it to tap for mana. In the case of Wastes, the giant colorless mana symbol is actually a standin for the rules text: "{t} add {c}"

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    The statement "Lands produce mana" may be slightly misleading, because not all lands produce mana. Examples of lands that don't directly produce mana are The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, Scalding Tarn, Eye of Ugin and Maze of Ith. – Eff Mar 21 at 14:27
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    This looks like it will end up being a rather extensively revised answer. Would it be more convenient to make this CW for easier editing? – ryanyuyu Mar 21 at 15:24
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    CW should almost never be used, and it should not be used here. People can edit this post just fine without it. – murgatroid99 Mar 21 at 17:05
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    Can we add a TL;DR to the top like so:#TL;DR **Most Lands tap to produce an invisible quantity of mana. Adding mana from a land or other ability does not put land onto the battlefield from the hand or anywhere else** – Pureferret Mar 22 at 9:59
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    Not a fan of huge canonical Q&As. People who have such a basic level of rules knowledge are better off reading the basic rule book instead. – Hackworth Mar 22 at 18:31
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Whenever you cast a spell or activate an ability in Magic: the Gathering you must pay a cost. The cost can be any number of esoteric things or even nothing at all. However, since this is a question about lands and mana, we will focus just on the following costs:

  • Tapping. This is usually denoted by a {T} symbol. This cost is generally only used to activate abilities of a card that is already out on the battlefield (aka. a permanent). To pay this cost take that card and turn it sideways. If the card is already sideways (tapped) you cannot tap it again until it becomes untapped. The most common way to untap your cards is at the very beginning of your turn (during what is called the Untap Step). As such, usually once a card gets tapped you have to wait until your next turn to tap it again.
  • Mana. This is usually denoted by some combination of {W}{U}{B}{R}{G}{C}{1}{2}{3}...{X} symbols. To pay this cost you have to take the appropriate amount of mana (an imaginary resource) out of your mana pool (an imaginary place your mana is stored). In general your mana pool is going to be empty unless you add mana to it. You can add mana to your mana pool by casting spells or activating abilities that generate mana (more on this later). If you add some mana to your mana pool and don't end up using it, it will generally disappear when the game transitions to the next step or phase.

You will usually see costs printed either at the top right corner of the card in case of casting cost, or as [cost]: [description of ability] in case of activated ability cost. So {3}{W}{W} in the top right corner is the cost to cast Serra Angel from your hand, and {1}{B},{T} together are the cost to activate the ability of Grandmother Sengir once it's on the battlefield and no longer Summoning Sick.

Lands

A land is any card that has "Land" in its card type. In general you can play up to one land from your hand per turn. Lands are a bit weird because they do not have any cost to play from your hand. In fact, they do not even count as spells! Other than that, a land is no different that any other card on the battlefield.

All lands have some sort of effect or ability. Otherwise there would be no point in playing them. Usually lands have an ability to add mana to your mana pool, but that is not always the case. If we look at cards like Maze of Ith or Evolving Wilds we see that they have some ability that can be used to affect the game, but neither of them have an ability that directly produces mana. Now if we look at a Basic Plains from a recent set we also don't see any ability that produces mana. In fact it doesn't seem to have any abilities or effects at all! This is the thing that trips up new players. One of the many rules of Magic: the Gathering you have to remember is (paraphrased):

  • Any land with Plains in its card type implicitly has the ability "{T}: Add {W} to your mana pool"
  • Any land with Island in its card type implicitly has the ability "{T}: Add {U} to your mana pool"
  • Any land with Swamp in its card type implicitly has the ability "{T}: Add {B} to your mana pool"
  • Any land with Mountain in its card type implicitly has the ability "{T}: Add {R} to your mana pool"
  • Any land with Forest in its card type implicitly has the ability "{T}: Add {G} to your mana pool"

Most commonly these rules matter with Basic Lands like Plains, but they can also matter with non-basic lands like Hallowed Fountain (which helpfully has reminder text to tell you that it adds white or blue mana) or effects of cards like Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Blood Moon that change the card types of lands on the battlefield.

Non-Lands that Produce Mana

Production of mana isn't something that is exclusive to Lands. Even though Lands are the most common mana producers there is nothing preventing other types of cards from producing mana. In fact you can find cards of each type (except Tribal) that produce mana! You can find some examples below.

Mana Production Cheat-Sheet

You will see these in the text of a mana producing spell or ability.

  • {W}: Produce one white mana.
  • {U}: Produce one blue mana.
  • {B}: Produce one black mana.
  • {R}: Produce one red mana.
  • {G}: Produce one green mana.
  • {C}: Produce one colorless mana.
  • {1}: Produce one colorless mana. Using this symbol instead of the one above is common on older cards, and is often a source of confusion.
  • {2}: Produce two colorless mana.
  • {3}: Produce three colorless mana. You probably get the idea.

Mana Cost Cheat-Sheet

You will see these in the cost of a spell or ability. These are a bit more complicated than mana production, but use the same symbols. Confusingly, these symbols are sometimes used to mean different things.

  • {W}: Pay one white mana.
  • {U}: Pay one blue mana.
  • {B}: Pay one black mana.
  • {R}: Pay one red mana.
  • {G}: Pay one green mana.
  • {C}: Pay one colorless mana. You cannot use white, blue, black, red, or green mana for this.
  • {0}: Pay no mana (hurray, it's free!).
  • {1}: Pay one generic mana. Generic mana can be mana of any color, or colorless mana. Be careful! If a spell or ability produces mana and uses this symbol, it will produce colorless mana, not generic mana!.
  • {2}: Pay two generic mana.
  • {3}: Pay three generic mana. You probably get the idea.
  • {X}: Pay any amount of generic mana (you can even pay 0). Usually the card will have some extra effect based on how much mana you pay for X.
  • [amount of] mana of any color: Pay that amount of mana in any combination or white, blue, black, red, or green. Colorless mana cannot be used for this.
  • Examples of unusual and set-specific mana costs:
    • {W/P}: Pay one white mana or 2 life. This is called Phyrexian Mana.
    • {W/U}: Pay one white mana or one blue mana. This is called Hybrid Mana.
    • {S}: Pay one generic mana, but that mana must come from a source that has the Snow card supertype. This is called Snow Mana.
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    Nice job figuring out how to get inline images for mana symbols – Zags Mar 21 at 23:48
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    Because you are using images in place of textual content in your answer, please add alt text to the images with the corresponding text. For example, "{W}" would be a good alt text for the white mana symbol image. Alt text can be added in the part of each image link that you are currently leaving blank. – murgatroid99 Mar 22 at 17:14
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    @murgatroid99 added the alt-text to the images – SamYonnou Mar 22 at 18:13
  • The text representation of white phyrexian mana is {W/P}, as specified in rule 107.4f. I fixed the corresponding alt text in the answer. – murgatroid99 Mar 22 at 18:27
  • @murgatroid99 oh thanks, yeah i wasnt sure what to put for that one – SamYonnou Mar 22 at 18:29
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Lands are the most common permanent that taps for mana, but in reality, all the permanent types can add mana. You have enchantments like Braid of Fire that adds mana, you have many artifacts that supply mana like Sol Ring, you have many mana dorks that also produce mana and you very much have instants and sorceries that also add mana, like all the rituals we have had over the years, like dark ritual for instance. You even have planeswalkers like Koth of the Hammer that add mana to your mana pool

Mana is the in-game resource system of magic the gathering, you can consider it the money of the game, many cards add to this resource. It has been a hallmark that the most busted cards ever either cost far less mana that they should or operated in metas that had too much easy/fast mana.

The interaction with how much mana cards cost and its effect/power is essential as to how the power of MTG cards are determined.

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