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All-Time MVPs: Black Lotus

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

When talking All-Time MVPs, it’s hard to get too far without talking about Black Lotus. While I received many suggestions for the next MVP, covering cards ranging from Balance to Lord of the Pit, if Ancestral Recall was the logical first choice, Black Lotus is the logical second. Thanks to everyone who has sent in suggestions – lots of them are spot on and will be featured in the future. As a matter of fact, due to the volume of good suggestions, we’re taking a modified approach to the process: voting. Make sure to vote for what you think should be the next All-Time MVP at the end of this article.

What’s a Black Lotus?

Black Lotus

Flower power.

Simply put, Black Lotus is the fastest, most flexible source of mana in the game of Magic. Sure, you’ve got Moxes, you’ve got Mana Vault and you’ve got Dark Ritual, all of which are very, very fast, but these cards are nothing compared to the quick burst of power provided by Magic’s most expensive card. Black Lotus is the crown jewel of “The Jewelry” (0 Mana casting cost Alpha artifacts that produce mana: the Lotus, Mox Emerald, Mox Jet, Mox Pearl, Mox Sapphire and Mox Ruby) and a feather in the cap of every collector.

The design of the card is simple: draw Black Lotus, get three mana of any color that you want. The Lotus is designed to give your mana curve a jump start. If played on the first turn, with a land, a player has access to four mana (more, if he or she draws some Moxes or other mana accelerators, too!). As we all know, four mana buys a lot more than one mana. This mana ramp creates a situation where the player with the Black Lotus can play a much more significant threat than his or her opponent. This huge advantage comes at no cost except the card. Lotus, like many early cards that have been deemed too good, has no significant drawbacks built-in or available in the metagame.

When It Was Legal…


It costs Black ManaBlack ManaBlack Mana. Lotus gives you Black ManaBlack ManaBlack Mana. Nice.

Black Lotus has always been legal (and pretty much always been restricted) in Type I/Classic. Due to its artifact status and very-friendly 0 Mana casting cost, as well as the fact that almost every deck ever made would enjoy a burst of fast mana, Black Lotus shows up in practically every Type I deck there is. Black Lotus is one of those cards that is so good that there is never a bad time to use it. The three free mana has been used to power everything from Channel/Fireball to a set of Black Vises to Necropotence. It has been used to fuel Timetwisters off of Ancestral Recalls and it has popped back out of many graveyards thanks to Yawgmoth’s Will.

For all of its power, Black Lotus is a member of the supporting cast. Though it an incredible accelerator, it has no value on its own. If you’re going to use the mana to hard cast a Scornful Egoist, you’re not going to get very far, anyway, so, though Black Lotus is amazingly strong, it requires your deck to be good, even if you don’t draw it. The Lotus is a welcome sight in any opening hand, though it loses value in some decks as the game draws on, as most every card that produces mana does.

The Lotus never had the power to dominate the environment, since it was restricted so early, but every deckbuilder factors it into their designs. First, you want to have a deck that can take advantage of the quick mana burst, for the times you draw your Black Lotus. Second, you want to make sure to plan against what your opponent will do to you, should they pull an early Lotus.

Why Was It Great?

In a time when you couldn’t turn around without bumping into a broken card, Black Lotus was the mother of them all. The Lotus was the architect of many fantastic plays, creating early board positions that were unfair to play against and even first-turn kills. The logic that makes Black Lotus great (and restricted) is the same logic that has banned or restricted likely future MVPs like Dark Ritual, the Moxes and Mana Vault. Getting ahead is crucial to winning and even the smallest tempo advantage can break a game open. Observe the value the most players place on playing first in Constructed formats. This is because playing the first land, playing the first spell, gaining the initiative is so important. Black Lotus lets you skip ahead three turns on mana development, and that is more than a little advantage in the tempo department.

Juzam Djinn

Upgrade your first turn creature.

For an aggressive deck, a great first-turn play with a single land is Savannah Lions or Jackal Pup. With a land and a Lotus, it’s Juzam Djinn. There are lots of one-mana cards that will deal with a 2/1 creature. There are only a handful that will neutralize a 5/5. It’s tough to defend against a first turn of Duress, Necropotence. Even if you had the Force of Will to counter the Necro, Duress has snapped it right out of your hand. More mana means more options – the Lotus gives you both. The Lotus doesn’t make your cards any better – it just makes them a whole lot faster. In Constructed, speed is as important as power and so you’d be out of your mind not to use Black Lotus.

The Big Picture

Black Lotus was quickly recognized to be a flawed design. Three mana for no cost is way too good. Over the years, the ability to gain more mana from a card than you pay for it has been all-but stricken from the game and the last strong source of artifact mana following that rule was Grim Monolith, way back in Urza’s Legacy. Black Lotus is the quintessential reason why cards that produce more mana than they cost are not very available: too much speed at too little cost.

Lotus Petal
Because the mechanic behind Black Lotus was recognized to be broken early on, there are very few comparable cards. There have only been a couple strict replacement cards. Mirage’s Lion’s Eye Diamond is a full-on Lotus, but you have to discard your hand. Even with that massive drawback (since, theoretically, how are you going to cast spells if they aren’t in your hand?), crafty players have turned the Diamond into a circumstantial Lotus in some decks. Tempest’s Lotus Petal is a Black Lotus – for one mana rather than three. Though it met with criticism on its release, the Petal was eventually banned in Standard and Extended, as well as restricted in Type I, proving that even a single free mana can be too much in the wrong environment.

Other cards like Dark Ritual, Mana Vault and Grim Monolith can be compared to the Lotus in function rather than form: all three give you more mana than they cost, though with limitations that the Lotus does not have. Dark Ritual nets you one less mana, it has to be Black ManaBlack ManaBlack Mana, and you have to have a source of mana to play it. Mana Vault and Monolith are similar, providing 3 Mana at the cost of 1 Mana and 2 Mana respectively. The drawbacks over Lotus are obvious: initial investment, no colored mana and, in the case of the Vault, potential for several points of damage over the course of the game. Compared to Black Lotus, these cards are vastly inferior, and yet these cards have been relegated and restricted in every format. All three are gone from Standard and all but the Ritual are restricted in Type I.

Probably more than any other card on any other mechanic, Black Lotus has shaped our opinions on fast mana. The understanding that mana acceleration creates shorter, lopsided games has impacted the design of cards for years. Even still, the clamor for a “fixed” Lotus has led R&D to create several variants. If you look through the last few sets, you’ll notice that mana acceleration, while present mainly in the form of green creatures and spells, is significantly weaker than any of the cards in the last two paragraphs. In fact, there haven’t been any 0 Mana casting cost mana producing artifacts since the Tempest Block, which gave us both Lotus Petal and Mox Diamond. In fact, there hasn’t been much in the way of good artifact mana in general for several years. The effect of Lotus on its environments is huge – and in its wake, artifact mana has evolved from unregulated power to extremely conservative.

What Do You Think?

Which card do you think should be the next All-Time MVP? From now on, we’ll be using a poll system to determine the next MVP. This because I received hundreds of good suggestions for the next MVP… and almost all of the nominations were valid, MVP caliber cards. Please vote for which card you would like to be the next All-Time MVP. There are many cards that deserve to be included, but only three slots on the poll. Don’t worry; we’ll get to the rest of them soon!

The poll will close Friday at 8 PM Eastern (5 PM Pacific). After you vote, drop me an email at and tell me why the card you voted for deserves to be the next All-Time MVP. Give me a good enough reason and you may just see it featured right here in this column.

  Which card should be the next All-Time MVP?  

Erhnam Djinn

Icy Manipulator


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