Let’s talk about Sol Ring.

This one-mana artifact is often referred to as the imaginary tenth card in the “Power Nine.” It has a long and colorful history with Magic, most recently with the rise of Commander. According to EDHrec, Sol Ring is easily the most-played card in the format, finding itself in roughly 81% of decks. It comes in every preconstructed Commander deck, and is often the first card we grab when building something new. It’s emblazoned on playmats, sleeves, promo cards, and is even the avatar for r/EDH. But with that familiarity comes controversy.

Sol Ring has the ability to warp the early turns of a game, generating a serious lead for the players who cast it. This head start leads to discussions on its power, and if it’s something that is right for Commander. No two Sol Rings are used the same, though. Sometimes, it’s played by a cEDH player to win within the first few turns. Other times, it’s played by someone in their Cephalid tribal deck. Regardless, a Turn 1 Sol Ring means that the game is about to get going, and get going fast.

Today we’re getting into some of the heated discussions the community has had over this particular card. We’ll discuss where Sol Ring is now, and what it might mean in the future of Commander play.

Why do people want to ban Sol Ring?

Sol Ring is an inherently broken card. It offers colorless mana acceleration with zero drawback, leading to explosive starts. These openers tilt the balance of the game at a very early point. Two-drop mana rocks are also commonly played, so power ramps exponentially. It’s not unusual to see a play like Sol Ring into Izzet Signet, giving the caster access to five mana by turn two—provided they hit their second land drop.

These kinds of openers can lead to problems later on, because it puts a lot of pressure on the other three players. Either they have artifact removal in their opening hands, or they’re stuck digging for it in their early draws. All the while, the Sol Ring player can continue to steam ahead, getting access to splashier effects earlier. This puts them at a better position to hurt their opponents or defend their early start.

Because of Sol Ring’s generic value and ease of use, it fits into any deck. A critique of this is that it limits creativity in the format. Instead of building 100-card decks, players are picking from 99 slots or less. That’s one less slot that could be put towards a more unique or flavorful card. But, you could make the case that we have even less “creativity” slots than that. Arcane Signet is a recent addition to this list, and each color has their fair share of “auto-include” staples—such as Cultivate or Swords to Plowshares. After going through the format staples in our colors, we only have about 20-30 cards that are the true core of the deck.

Odds are good that all four decks at the table have a Sol Ring in the 99. This means that early turns can be steered more by variance, and less by decision-making. Attitudes are split on this, of course. Some players enjoy the variance of singleton decks, whereas others prefer more predictable patterns. With a format as rich and diverse as Commander, though, no side is truly right or wrong in this discussion. The format means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

Whoever happens to have Sol Ring in their opener, or mulligans into it, has an inherent advantage before any decisions are made. These kinds of play patterns have been driven from other formats, in the interest of providing more creative and diverse environments. For instance, there was a time when Legacy games were decided over who had more copies of Mental Misstep  in their opener. While a game of Commander is naturally longer, the similarities still stand.

The Bigger Picture

To be fair, the argument over Sol Ring is rarely just about Sol Ring. It is the poster child for colorless fast mana. You know the other ones: Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, Chrome Mox, Mox Diamond, Lion’s Eye Diamond, and Lotus Petal—with honorable mentions to Mox Opal and Ancient Tomb as well.

The discussion over Sol Ring wouldn’t be complete without looking at this list as a whole. Throughout the game’s 27-year history, these kinds of cards have been used to subvert the mana system. They’ve had their fair share of war stories— the most recent being Mox Opal getting banned from Modern. The more fast mana we have running around, the more likely we’re going to have games that get blown open early.

Another challenge with this list is one of cost. To purchase all of these cards, we’re looking at roughly $1,000. Magic isn’t fully a “pay to win” game, but players with the means to acquire these cards have a leg up on the others. However, your playgroup may be fine with proxy or gold border versions, which largely removes the cost factor. In Kristen’s article on the subject, she touches on the arms race that this can create. Some groups are fine with it, others not.

The presence of fast mana in a deck can dictate what power level a deck plays at. If we use the 1-10 scale, then fast mana is most commonly found in decks in the 8-10 range. As the format evolves, we’re beginning to see a growing power creep that influences deckbuilding, with more fast mana at casual tables. This can make the waters murky, as players try to correctly evaluate the power of their decks. Mana Crypt has been banned in Legacy and restricted in Vintage, but it can be acceptable in a Boros Commander deck. That same Mana Crypt has potential to supercharge a Sultai deck, and be what it needs to take the game over early. Fast mana can pick up more of the slack in non-green decks, but it can get out of hand in base-green decks.

Navigating the relationship between fast mana, and what your deck plans to do with it, is critical for a fair evaluation. Conceivably, you could have two decks on the same power level, but have only one use fast mana.

It’s easy being green.

Over the past few years in card design, Green has gotten a substantial push. It has been bolstered by more card draw, ways to interact, and most of all ramp effects. Nissa, Who Shakes the World, Nyxbloom Ancient, and Dryad of the Ilysian Grove are recent examples. Once Upon a Time offers free card selection, and Autumn’s Veil turned into Veil of Summer. Even Rumbling Baloth grew up to become Questing Beast.

With this push came the rise of green-based value engine decks. Wizards of the Coast began to notice the increase in Commander players, and began designing legendary creatures that slotted right into the format. Less Haakon, Stromgald Scourge, more Muldrotha, the Gravetide. A common element is to have the phrase “draw a card” stapled onto it, such as Chulane, Teller of Tales. These provide extra card advantage right out of the command zone. Even if they don’t explicitly have that phrase, they offer other kinds of card advantage, such as the doubling of triggered abilities.

Commander has and always will be a format that favors decks that can go the distance, and scale well into the late-game. As it stands now, green decks are the strongest at accelerating their mana, making them more likely to land those game-altering plays before others at the table.

Green brings Cultivate, Kodama’s Reach, Rampant Growth, and many better versions of Explosive Vegetation. There are more playable ramp spells than slots to fit them. To combat this, the other colors have to rely on nonland permanents to supplement their strategy. Common tools are cards like Arcane Signet, Fellwar Stone, and Commander’s Sphere. These non-green decks have the most to gain from fast mana like Sol Ring.

While non-green decks can’t put lands on the table as fast as green, mana rocks can overcome that. Fast mana in non-green decks allows them to get a foothold early, to disrupt the methodical ramp power of a green deck. But this strategy has its flaws. Nonland permanents get blown up by many board wipes in the format, allowing a green player to naturally get ahead—whether they cast the sweeper or not.

Due to the social contract, mass land destruction is tacitly written out of the format. While Armageddon is the poster child for these spells, it also extends to cards like Global Ruin and Ruination. Mana denial and prison effects like Winter Orb, Back to Basics, and Blood Moon also get frowned upon. For casual play, there are few ways to truly keep ramp strategies in check. A player can confidently cast their Cultivate or Sakura-Tribe Elder, knowing that those fresh basics will go untouched. They aren’t punished for getting more resources than the other colors, especially since they know their lands won’t be destroyed in multiples.

Since the other colors can’t ramp as effectively, they’re left scrounging for ways to keep up. While we have seen notable improvements for the other colors, like Dockside Extortionist and Smothering Tithe, these don’t cover the gap that Green has on the rest of the field. Black is the closest, with the likes of Cabal Coffers, and creatures like Crypt Ghast or Nirkana Revenant. Meanwhile, White is still the weakest. We just got Verge Rangers, but there’s a long way to go.

As we discussed before, your deck’s ability to ramp can factor into the power level discussion. However, that Sol Ring or Mana Crypt looks a lot different when in the hands of a non-green deck. Just because someone played fast mana in their Jeskai deck, doesn’t mean it automatically moves them up a power tier. It’s worth remembering that green decks have access to fast mana, too. I’d argue that banning some, or all fast mana, only furthers the gap that non-green decks have to cover. By widening that distance, we’re effectively giving players less reasons to play a deck that doesn’t include green.

Where do we go from here?

At this rate, we’re slowly seeing improvements to how non-green decks ramp. But there will never be true parity in this department, so we need more levers to balance the colors. These levers would subsequently balance the format itself. Land destruction could be done in a way that could both police green decks, while also not completely sacrifice a game’s story or enjoyment. For instance, a sacrifice effect like Keldon Firebombers or Global Ruin could be developed further. Perhaps a riff on Repay In Kind or Balance that makes players sacrifice lands to match the lowest land count at the table. This would allow people to keep playing Magic, but equalize the amount of lands for all players.

In my opinion, Sol Ring and the other fast mana cards are a necessary evil. They invariably warp the early turns, but they’re the best chance that a non-green deck has of gaining a foothold at the table. They bring some of that wild, untamed variance that drew a lot of us into the format. We’re not playing four Goblin Guides in Modern, but rather enjoying the one Soulherder that shows up every few games. I’d love seeing the other colors get a boost with ramp, but we’re still a ways off from that. Until then, we’re stuck relying on some amount of mana artifacts to keep pace.

It’s also worth mentioning that most folks don’t run fast mana outside of Sol Ring, simply because they’re expensive cards to begin with. I’m sure my Darien, King of Kjeldor deck would love Mox Diamond, but not when it costs the same as a monthly Costco grocery run. This furthers the notion that Sol Ring helps budget-conscious players keep up with the rest of the table.

We have to recognize that Commander is an inherently unbalanced format. That’s not to say that it isn’t fun, of course. It’s that the environment we’ve created for ourselves will always have a dominant playstyle—until we embrace more ways that the other strategies can catch up. The decks we choose to play, and how we play them, will dictate which direction we take in the future.

We can collectively choose to not play Sol Ring, or fast mana as a whole. There are plenty of content creators and playgroups that have gone this route, such as EDH and Chill with PleasantKenobi. Or we can play with everything that’s legal, and see where the chips fall, regardless of how busted it may be. Either way, ramp and fast mana have definitely earned their spot in the pre-game discussion.

We may someday reach a breaking point with fast mana, but until then, Sol Ring isn’t going anywhere.

Travis is a Virginia-based player and writer, who has been turning things sideways since Starter 1999. He primarily plays Commander, Pauper, and Legacy, and has a passion for introducing new players to the game. When he isn’t making people pay the Thalia tax, he can be found mountain biking or playing the guitar. You can follow his exploits here on Twitter and Instagram.

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