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As I write this question, Orcish Bowmasters (and to a lesser extent Wrenn and Six) is strongly suppressing mana dorks. These two cards trade extremely favorably against the likes of Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch, and the 2-toughness mana dorks are significantly more popular as a result. (Unfortunately there really is only Delighted Halfling and Gilded Goose with two toughness, and both of them have serious drawbacks relative to the Birds/Hierarch.)

Given that, why do people still run mana dorks instead of Utopia Sprawl? The latter seems like the much more reliable way to ramp, since it's significantly harder to kill.

Examples of recent decks using mana dorks instead of Utopia Sprawl by seasoned deckbuilder SaffronOlive: Deck 1, Deck 2

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    1) Which format are we talking about here? 2) Those decks you've linked are Against the Odds decks, they're not supposed to be competitive. Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 5:14
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    Against the Odds decks generally try not just to use the card but to make it a critical part of the strategy. The Nazgul deck includes Collected Company, which is good in many decks, but its purpose in that deck is to hit Nazgul and cards that advance the strategy of using Nazgul to win the game.
    – murgatroid99
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 8:09
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    Honestly, I misread your question initially and I thought you were linking to the Against the Odds decks that use Utopia Sprawl instead of mana dorks, and asking why that choice was made. And those decks generally play it in a package with Arbor Elf, which allows them to ramp even faster at the cost of more fragility, which is generally only necessary when they need to highlight a particularly expensive card.
    – murgatroid99
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 8:18
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    The first deck you post as an example uses mana creatures over enchantments because it has Collected Company as a key card.
    – Zags
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 18:36
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    in short: being slightly easier to remove does not make mana dorks bad enough to disregard, especially in eternal formats where permanent removal is more common and an enchanted land is a way more alluring to target than a BoP, because you can 2-for-1 the opponent.
    – garglblarg
    Commented Feb 26 at 10:34

4 Answers 4

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There's a lot of reasons why mana creatures are preferred over auras, some are very specific, others are more general:

Search - An early game play in some decks is to Green Sun's Zenith for 0 or 1, fetching either Dryad Arbor (a green land creature with 0 mana value(MV)) or a one MV mana dork. Very little searches for auras and enchantments compared to the ability to find creatures or lands, and what does is more expensive and doesn't put the card into play.

Cost - Most played mana dorks cost one mana, Scryfall has a tag which finds 28 one MV mana dorks. There are exactly 2 one MV mana auras in magic Wild Growth and Utopia Sprawl all the rest have a higher cost to start, making them slower and...

Restrictive use - The two one MV mana auras are pretty restrictive. One only makes green mana, the other only goes on forests and makes one color chosen when you play it. Of the 28 one MV mana dorks from the scryfall search, almost half of them can make more than one color of mana, and most of those make any color. A few even add more than one mana, or untap lands which can have other benefits.

Combat - Mana dorks can enter combat where mana auras can't. When faced with a big enough attacker which doesn't trample, throwing a mana dork in front of it can stop you from losing a game, something you can't do with non-creatures like auras. There are even pro matches that were famously (GP Lyon 2018) won because a player had a Dryad Arbor to block with (and that caused a tournament rules change to put creatures clearly together, so possible blockers weren't hidden with lands). There are also many times when you can swing with your mana dork on turn two against empty boards if you didn't need the mana, potentially speeding up the game clock, this is particularly true when...

Lords and finishers - A lot of mana dorks are elves, and in elf tribal what starts out as a 1/1 mana dork turns into a 5/5 or bigger actual threatening body. Noble Hierarch and Ignoble Hierarch have Exalted, making a single other attacker bigger even after you used them for mana. They all also make one more attacker when using a finisher like Triumph of the Hordes or Craterhoof Behemoth.

Fragile - But the biggest reason is people simply avoid auras. They are considered the weakest type of card because they don't stay around like equipment when whatever they are on gets removed. While land destruction isn't as common as it once was, there still are plenty of cards that hate on land, mostly other lands like the most recent Demolition Field or Boseiju, Who Endures. But even when talking about being destroyed...

Expendable - These mana dorks usually are expendable and will either be ignored or bait out an opponent's removal early enough on. It's better for the player that is playing the mana dork to have the Orcish Bowmasters on the field sooner where it can be removed and won't be a surprise response to card draw effects. Even though "Bolt the Bird" has been a magic adage for a while, people still played Birds of Paradise, and partly because it made their opponent use that Lightning Bolt sooner rather than keep it for later.

Some things may change, depending on where the value ends up being, but right now there are still many things that make creature based mana acceleration better than aura based mana acceleration. If they did have non-aura enchantment based acceleration, it might end up in a similar place to artifact based mana, but we don't really have that now.


There are two notable exceptions that specifically play mana auras, Mono Green Devotion and Enchantress decks.

Mono Green Devotion wants a single land to tap for as much as possible, this means using one and two drop mana auras piled on a single forest that Arbor Elf and Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner can untap, doubling the effects of the auras.

Enchantress decks are specifically all about playing enchantments for ETB and on cast triggers like Sythis, Harvest's Hand or cards with Constellation, this gives more of an upside to using an aura over non-enchantment creatures.

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    You don't even have to destroy the land to destroy the aura, bouncing it is sufficient (which isn't typically all that appealing of an option, but setting the player back by 2 mana, and taking a source of mana out of the game, is far better than what you normally get for bouncing a land).
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 11:35
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    @NotThatGuy true, I did say removed not destroyed, but if they bounce the land it's less of the two-for-one since the land is easy to replay, it's also really hard to bounce a land that isn't your own, almost all bounce spells specify a nonland type, or say a nonland permanent.
    – Andrew
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 13:34
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Mana dorks and mana auras have their own strengths and weaknesses that have to be evaluated in the context of the deck as a whole. The main weakness of the creatures is that they are vulnerable to creature removal, the most prevalent kind of removal in most formats, and their low toughness makes them more vulnerable than most creatures. On the other hand, one strength of those creatures is that they can be used a chump blockers, sacrifice fodder, or even to attack for the last couple of points of damage, in a pinch. Some also have other abilities that are relevant in some decks. Noble Hierarch's Exalted ability, for example, can be fairly valuable in some situations.

Mana auras, on the other hand, have the same weakness that all auras have: they open you up to a 2-for-1 if the permanent they are attached to is removed. In the Modern meta, a significant amount of non-basic land hate is played, so a deck builder who wants to play mana auras has to choose between making their deck even more vulnerable to those cards, or play more basic lands than usual, which restricts the deck's ability to play multicolored spells. In addition, Utopia Sprawl is significantly less flexible than the mana dorks that cost the same: it only produces one color of mana, which is chosen in advance, and the mana it produces can only be used in the same step as the mana produced by the land, and it can only be played if you have an actual Forest, not just any green source (which interacts badly MDFCs and many dual land cycles). On the other hand, those auras combo strongly with land untappers like Arbor Elf.

Overall, the reason that people use mana dorks over auras is probably some combination of an actual evaluation that the card is more effective, and inertia from a pre-Bowmasters meta.

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    One benefit of mana dorks is that they are semi-live hits for Coco, while an enchantment would not be.
    – JonTheMon
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 13:18
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Land Auras in legacy are a bad idea because of one format defining card called wasteland.

In many ways legacy is the wasteland, brainstorm, and force of will format.

Mana dorks stand a better chance of surviving and even if they are killed it should be in a tempo nuetral manner.

If a land enchanted with an aura gets waste-landed then that is pretty hard to come back from.

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  • Yes, but can't you fetch a Forest?
    – Allure
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 10:18
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    It's worth noting that legacy doesn't really run dork based acceleration either. Most of the Tier one decks aren't in green (some sneak and show lists technically are because they include targets like Atraxa)
    – Andrew
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 15:37
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    @Allure you don't do that in the format, when you fetch a 'forest' it's generally one of the non-basics like the original duals, a shock land, or dryad arbor, top tier legacy decks often have no basic lands at all, and if they do it's generally one ofs.
    – Andrew
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 15:40
  • @Andrew that doesn't sound like the Legacy I know. mtgtop8.com/format?f=LE&meta=237&a= In 2022, Maverick had 0.9% of the metagame share (9th most popular aggro deck) and an example list 1) has 2 Forests and 2) runs mana dorks. I am also under the impression that basic lands are in most decks precisely because of Wasteland, with only some tempo decks running no basics.
    – Allure
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 15:55
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    @Andrew Yes, but they still run some number of basic lands, so they can fetch for them to avoid Wasteland (and also not auto-lose against Blood Moon).
    – Allure
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 23:13
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It seems like the premise of this question is incorrect, or at best mistaken.

First, dissect why decks run mana dorks in the first place. These are 1-mana cards that are extremely effective on turn 1, but also become really bad as the game goes on - after all, who wants to topdeck a mana dork on turn 10? If you're going to run mana dorks anyway, then you'd best have a good reason:

  • You are all-in on casting a 3-cost spell as soon as possible.
  • The mana dorks contribute in some way other than generating mana (e.g. Gilded Goose creates an artifact / food, Noble Hierarch has Exalted, Delighted Halfling makes you legendaries uncounterable).
  • Important: you are a green deck.
  • Nearly as important: you are running Collected Company. CoCo is a powerful card, and running mana dorks increase the number of hits (not to mention help you cast CoCo in the first place, since as a 4-mana card it is not cheap).

Utopia Sprawl does not do the second (Enchantress decks excepted), or the fourth, making it even worse of a topdeck than generic mana dorks.

Second: Believe it or not, mana dork decks are not meta. Naively one might think that that's because of Orcish Bowmasters, but that's actually not the case. They were already not meta before Orcish Bowmasters, so it shouldn't be surprising that they are still not meta after Orcish Bowmasters.

Check the top Modern decks in 2022 (Orcish Bowmasters was released in June 2023, hence we consider only earlier decks). Looking only decks with 4% or more metagame share:

  • In aggro there is Izzet Murktide, Rhinos, Burn, Rakdos Scam, and Death's Shadow. None of these decks run mana dorks. Except Rhinos, none of them are green, and Rhinos cannot run mana dorks for obvious reasons (that deck can't run any spells that cost <3 mana).
  • There is one control deck with 4% metagame share, 4c control, but for obvious reasons this deck (and all control decks for that matter) don't run mana dorks.
  • Under combo, there is Hammertime, Creativity, Amulet Titan, Creature toolbox, and Living End. It should be extremely obvious why four of these decks don't run mana dorks. The only one that does is Creature toolbox, aka Yawgmoth; this deck did run Ignoble Hierarch in 2022, but these days moved to Delighted Halfling, precisely because of Orcish Bowmasters.

Third: who says people still play mana dorks? If you look at the top 50 creatures in Modern, there is literally one mana dork that's vulnerable to Orcish Bowmasters - Ignoble Hierarch at #49, 1.7 copies (hah) in 5% of decks. Think about what this number means - if you're a deck that wants mana dorks, are you going to play 1.7 copies?! Hell no, you'd play the full four. There's a reason why Delighted Halfling (#14 on that list) averages 3.9 copies in decks.

What about the two decks in the OP? This one turns out to have a pragmatic explanation. The first deck is a CoCo deck, hence it runs mana dorks. The other relies on Vesuvan Drifter, which also wants to see creatures on top of the library, hence mana dorks. It can conceivably turn Vesuvan Drifter from a 2/4 flying into something that accelerates Jace onto the battlefield. Finally, note that neither deck is very good (hence "Against the Odds"), and Orcish Bowmasters is part of the reason why.

tl; dr, Orcish Bowmasters is strongly suppressing mana dorks, which does make Utopia Sprawl more attractive than mana dorks, but mana dorks weren't very good in the first place. So it should not be surprising that Utopia Sprawl is also seeing little play.

PS: The question also asks about Legacy, but mana dorks are and have always been less meta in Legacy than Modern. The reason for that is Legacy is dominated by very powerful effects like Marit Lage, Turn 1 Griselbrand (more recently Atraxa), and so on. Fair green decks (which are also the decks that want mana dorks / Utopia Sprawl) are less common as a result. Point #2 above about Modern applies strongly, so it should not be surprising that Utopia Sprawl is also seeing little play in Legacy.

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  • The question isn't tagged as modern, nor did it mention a format in the body, so the modern meta isn't the only format to consider - mana dorks are still played in metas of other formats. Though since this was your question originally, perhaps you just forgot to add a format tag? My answer was heavily weighted to the formats I play, EDH, Pioneer/Explorer, Historic and Limited, all of which still use dorks.
    – Andrew
    Commented Mar 1 at 5:21
  • @Andrew I write in a comment to the OP that it's Modern & Legacy. Modern is the more important format, since mana dorks are and have always been significantly less common in Legacy. Sometime in the future I'll edit some Legacy analysis into this answer. Also, which of the formats you list can you run 4x Orcish Bowmasters? As far as I can tell it's only Historic, and are there many decks that run mana dorks vulnerable to Bowmasters in Historic?
    – Allure
    Commented Mar 1 at 5:43
  • Yes, mono g devotion runs dorks and is meta, elves arent as common as they used to be but still see play, running up to 8 one toughness dorks, dorks are still relevant in historic.
    – Andrew
    Commented Mar 1 at 13:57
  • @Andrew hmm I'm under the impression green devotion runs only Delighted Halfling as a mana dork, while Elves are kind of meme in BO3. The last major Historic event had one Green Devotion deck in the top 8, which ran only one Llanowar Elves. mtgtop8.com/event?e=48482&d=557120&f=HI It shouldn't be too surprising though, with Green Devotion you're looking to run the mana auras because of Kiora.
    – Allure
    Commented Mar 1 at 14:05
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    The version of bowmaster in historic was nerfed, it doesn't trigger on ETB anymore, so that format isn't as oppressed by the card, a lot of builds for Mono G exist and some run more copies of elvish mystic or llanowar elves.
    – Andrew
    Commented Mar 1 at 17:50

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