For a long time, there was pretty much the big three - the trio of three-mana rocks you reliably played in Commander. Everyone had their Sol Ring, and some aggressive players had Mana Crypt and/or Mana Vault. Signets and Talismans and so on gave people plenty of ramping options, but when it came to the 3-drop spot, it was pretty barren save for a few ubiquitous all-stars and the occasional Darksteel Ingot.
Three iconic Commander staples.
Coalition Relic is the oldest of the three, and for a long time was an incredibly clutch part of non-Green decks in Commander. We have an embarrassment of riches these days, but in the earlier days of Commander this was of the only cards that could provide two mana on its own - albeit on alternating turns as your store charge counters - and importantly have that mana produce any color. For color-intensive cards or three-color+ decks in general, Coalition Relic is hard to top.
But Chromatic Lantern came close when it released in Return to Ravnica. Designed at a time when Wizards wasn't really considering the then-EDH format as much, the Lantern found a home as the format took off. It fixes, it ramps, it costs colorless, it adds mana the turn it comes out - Chromatic Lantern does it all and to this day is probably the best three-mana rock in the format.
The last addition to the bunch was Commander's Sphere, which really just distinguished itself as providing a card when your opponents overloaded a Vandalblast. You almost never cracked the Sphere unless you were desperate, but while it wasn't an exciting card it filled the slot perfectly.
And for a long time, that was it. Commander got more and more efficient, and people began cutting three- and four-mana rocks by the droves, much less anything more expensive (RIP Dreamstone Hedron). And so three-mana rocks outside of the above three became a sign of an outdated deck as everyone was generally goaded into just jamming a bunch of Arcane Signets.
All of which is to say, you should reconsider that paradigm.
One of the most underappreciated innovations of card design coming out of Wizards the last few years has been at the three-mana ramp spot. There's been a ton of designs in this space over the last few years that have really changed the calculus on what rocks your particular deck wants to run, so today I wanted to highlight a few of my recent favorites!
This is without a doubt my favorite of the bunch. Dropping in Throne of Eldraine, this thing completely shook up the ramp spots in Blue decks. It's a single ramp, which itself is not that impressive, but the second ability on this is just insane. It will ramp you along the way, but the real value comes on turn six or seven when this hits 12 counters and refills your hand at the near-perfect time in the game.
Midnight Clock is in just 3% of decks on EDHREC, but I think we'll see more and more of this as the years go by. It's hard to imagine a Blue deck that doesn't want this - it's essentially a personal Wheel of Fortune that you have to make a down payment on early and can make incremental payments for three mana if you want.
Play Midnight Clock. I promise you won't regret it.
Remember what I said about Coalition Relic giving mana fixing and two mana in one shot if you charged it up?
Well, enter Component Pouch, an Adventures in the Forgotten Realms uncommon that's clearly riffing off the Portal. And I'd say it does it pretty well - while it can't make mana straight away like Coalition Relic, we never really want to do that anyway, which means the "worst-case" scenario for the Pouch is that you'll roll a 1-9 and then have a [card]Coalition Relic" href="/p/Magic+The+Gathering/Coalition Relic" href="/p/Magic+The+Gathering/[card]Coalition Relic">[card]Coalition Relic">Coalition Relic" href="/p/Magic+The+Gathering/[card]Coalition Relic">[card]Coalition Relic worth of mana the next turn.
But here's where it gets interesting. Statistically, slightly more than half the time you'll end up with two component counters on the Pouch, making it a Coalition Relic for two turns in a row, with the ability to charge even more future turns if you don't need the mana that turn! I think this is unique enough from Coalition Relic to not be a strictly-better/worse or either-or situation, as the Relic alongside the Pouch gives some very reliable color-mana ramp from colorless artifacts.
Speaking of making down payments for future rewards, Crowded Crypt from Midnight Hunt continues the trend in a pretty cool way. Instead of getting mana and building toward a hand refill like Midnight Clock, Crowded Crypt instead turns that long term value into the form of a giant Zombie swarm.
You can ramp with the Crypt, and every time a creature you control dies it grows counters. Eventually, you can cash it in for 6 mana (at instant speed) to sacrifice it for hopefully a massive amount of decaying Zombies that can line up for a giant attack. The ability to make the army at instant speed is what really sets the Crypt apart, as it allows you to hold it to the end step before your turn to consider whether it's right to unleash the walkers.
This might top the chart in terms of pure power level though - Cursed Mirror can scale up as big as you want it to, copying any Eldrazi or just a strong enters-the-battlefield creature to get a one-shot effect along with your mana rock.
It's cool that Cursed Mirror is kind of the inverse of some of the others we've talked about - instead of a generic ramp at first and a big payoff later, you get a big-but-conditional payoff first and generic mana for the rest of the game. Cursed Mirror is a great design in that if you play it on turn three, it's an innocuous ramp card and you continue playing, but it helps to mitigate the feels-bad of drawing a mana rock late by copying anything on the battlefield at a time when people are likely to have big creatures.
The other mana rocks on this list have stood out because they come with effects other than making mana. Skyclave Relic, on the other hand, is a true Manalith in the sense that all it's ever going to do for you is make mana.
But making mana is something the Relic does very well. Its baseline is Darksteel Ingot, but that kicker cost turns it into a slightly more expensive Gilded Lotus that comes with the upside of being indestructible and a bit more flexible (if less combo-oriented) than the Lotus.
What the Relic does is continue the theme we've seen throughout all these cards - they offer upside in the lategame when your traditional Signets are going to be essentially dead draw.
Another new Midnight Hunt inclusion, The Celestus continues the new tradition of strong three-mana rocks well. It's a set-specific mechanic with Day/Night, but it's also a colorless mana-fixing rock that itself comes with value as a baseline.
The value gained from The Celestus isn't overwhelming - gaining a life and looting a card isn't exactly gamebreaking, and if you had to pay three mana every time to flip Day/Night to get the trigger it wouldn't be very exciting. But the fact is there are some turns in Commander where players will take a turn off. Maybe they have a counterspell they're holding up. Maybe it's an end-step Chord of Calling. Maybe they want to keep up their removal instead of adding to the board. Whatever the case, the fact is people do skip their turns and turn it into night, not to mention you're probably playing a deck built with The Celestus in mind.
A value engine and graveyard-enabler in one, The Celestus is a fine consideration for new Commander brews.
It's hard to say if this technically counts as mana rock or not. After all, it doesn't add any mana itself, but that's because Archaeomancer's Map is better than that. Artifacts that tap for mana are vulnerable to removal and Vandalblast shenanigans, but lands are much more resilient.
Enter the Map. You're restricted to basic Plains, which is a very real drawback, but it's not all that different than the other color-locked Rocks we've looked at there. And the Map's upside is huge, with you being able to catch up in land drops to anyone who has more lands than you with the Map's trigger. But even if you are in the lead in lands - well, great, you didn't need the ramp. But you still got two guaranteed land drops for one card when you're in the lead mana-wise already. It's a huge card for White in turns 3-5, when Green is typically ramping ahead like crazy.
Pendant of Prosperity
I couldn't end this article without mentioning this card, even though it's again not technically a mana rock.
Pendant of Prosperity is very strong nonetheless. It's an inherently political card, but in my experience, you can always easily find an opponent who agrees to activate it every turn, since it gives both of you a card and a free land drop. One activation from an opponent - who can actually do it as soon as you put the card into play and they receive priority - and you're already even on cards, and from then on out you get just the absolutely free-est possible card advantage engine as you take advantage of whatever the current boardstate is for each of your opponents. Give this one a shot, and you'll be impressed at its power.
Three-mana Rocks Are Back
I love that coming up on Magic's 30th year we're still seeing design innovations, especially ones aimed at Commander. I love that mana rocks have become interesting choices again, and I've had a lot of good experiences with all the cards mentioned here.
Thanks for reading,