Swimming in the Mana Pool – Mana abilities

In a nutshell

  • An activated ability is a mana ability if:
    • it could put mana into a player’s mana pool,
    • it doesn’t have a target, and
    • it isn’t a loyalty ability.
  • A triggered ability is a mana ability if:
    • it could put mana into a player’s mana pool,
    • it doesn’t have a target, and
    • it triggers from activating a mana ability.
  • Mana abilities don’t use the stack. You just get the mana immediately after activating it or immediately after it triggers.
  • Because they don’t use the stack, mana abilities cannot be responded to or countered.
  • A player can activate a mana ability anytime he or she has priority. Additionally, a player can activate a mana ability anytime something asks for a mana payment (even though players don’t get priority at those times).
  • All mana empties from each player’s mana pool anytime the game moves to a new step or phase.

Is it a mana ability?

  • the intrinsic “T: add G to your mana pool” of a Forest (yes)
  • Overgrowth (yes)
  • Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary (yes. Even though it might not add any mana)
  • Lion’s Eye Diamond (yes. Even though it has a timing restriction)
  • the first ability of Deathrite Shaman (no. It has a target.)
  • Burning-Tree Emissary (no. It doesn’t trigger from a mana ability)
  • Voyaging Satyr (no. Even though the ability will probably lead to you getting more mana, it doesn’t directly add mana to your mana pool)
  • the +1 ability of Xenagos, the Reveler (no. It’s a loyalty ability)
  • adding mana using Dark Ritual (no. Spells are not mana abilities)
  • adding mana from High Tide (yes. The spell generates a triggered ability which fits the qualifications to be a mana ability)
  • Selvala, Explorer Returned? (yes. Even though it might not add mana, draws cards, and does all kinds of other wacky stuff, it still meets all the qualifications)

Q: I saw a player Stifle a fetchland activation. How could she do that when Stifle says right on it that mana abilities can’t be countered?

A: Like Voyaging Satyr above, a fetchland activation does not qualify as a mana ability because it does not (directly) add mana to your mana pool.

Note: Many players will sac a fetchland in the middle of casting a spell, at the same time as they tap their other lands. This is a commonly used shortcut, but it is technically incorrect. The actual process involves sacrificing the fetchland first, then casting the spell after that resolves. If an opponent may have a Stifle, it’s a good idea not to use this shortcut to avoid tipping your hand, since the opponent must decide whether to Stifle or not before seeing what spell you’re planning to cast.

Q: So why does Lion’s Eye Diamond have that weird timing restriction on it? I thought activating abilities had the same timing rules as casting instants.

A: LED has a mana ability, which can ordinarily be activated whenever the game asks for a mana payment, even if the player doesn’t have priority. Without that sentence, it would be legal to announce casting a spell, move it to the stack, then sacrifice LED and discard the rest of your hand to make mana to pay for the spell. The rules team didn’t like that, so now LED has that weird sentence in its Oracle text.

Q: Amy activates the second ability of her Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. Can Nicole respond by killing one of Amy’s creatures to reduce her devotion?

A: No. This is a mana ability, so it doesn’t go on the stack, and players can’t respond to it.

Q: Can you Stifle a Selvala, Explorer Returned activation to keep your opponent from drawing a card?

A: Boy, that sure sounds like something you should be able to do! Unfortunately, that ability is a mana ability, which means that it doesn’t use the stack, and it can’t be responded to (as Stifle’s reminder text kindly points out).

Q: Amy wants to attack with her Grizzly Bears, but her opponent has a Propaganda. Can she use mana from her Deathrite Shaman to help pay for the cost to attack?

A: No. Deathrite Shaman doesn’t have a mana ability, so Amy can’t activate it unless she has priority. If she activates it in the Declare Attackers Step, that’s too late to be useful because players don’t get priority in that step until after the turn based action of declaring attackers is complete. She can activate it beforehand in the Beginning of Combat Step, but that won’t do her any good either because mana empties from players’ mana pools as the game moves to a new step.