Mana abilities

To cast a spell, a player has to follow a well established sequence of actions that starts with putting the spell on the stack and ends with the payment of the spell's mana cost. While executing each and every action needed to cast a spell, nothing can be done; priority isn't passed and there is no chance of casting instants or activating abilities, with one and only exception: mana abilities.

The reason why a player casting a spell can activate a mana ability is because mana abilities don't use the stack. With the mana generated by mana abilities, then the player can pay the spell's cost. Mana abilities can be either activated or triggered; both varieties resolve immediately after they're activated or triggered, without using the stack.

Activated mana abilities

An activated ability is a mana ability if it meets these three criteria:

  • It adds mana a player's mana pool.
  • It doesn't target.
  • It's not a loyalty ability.

Keep in mind that abilities such as "untap target land" are not mana abilities. If you want to use them to cast your spell, you'll have to activate them ahead of time and float the mana (the jargon used to say "add mana to the pool to keep it for future use").

Example. Blood Pet and Llanowar Elves are both examples of mana abilities. Basic lands have the intrinsic ability "Tap.gif: Add [colored mana].", which is, of course, a mana ability. Most non-basic lands also have a mana ability that allows to tap them for mana.

Example. Arbor Elf's ability has a target, and doesn't actually add any mana into your mana pool. Koth of the Hammer is a planeswalker, so its loyalty ability can only be activated at sorcery speed, not during the casting of a spell, and uses the stack as normal.

These are both example of abilities that help you generating mana, but are not mana abilities.

Example. Lion's Eye Diamond has a mana ability. However, it also explicitly states that it can only be activated "whenever you could cast an instant." Because of this, you won't be able to activate its ability while you are casting a spell. You'll have to activate it and discard your hand before you can use the mana - the whole point of its design is that you can never ever use this mana to cast a spell from your hand. However, it's still a mana ability, so it doesn't use the stack.

On the other hand, Deathrite Shaman's first ability is an activated ability that is not a mana ability because, to be able to add a mana to the mana pool, it targets a land in any graveyard.

Example. Valleymaker is an example of activated mana ability too. The wording here is very careful. Valleymaker doesn't target a player: although targeting requires a choice, "choosing" is not the same as "targeting". So it fulfills the first basic requirement, then we see that it's not a planeswalker ability and that adds mana to the mana pool. This is the reason why it's a mana ability.

Some mana abilities also have other effects, such as dealing damage to their controller or making him draw a card. These are still mana abilities, and their full effect happens without using the stack

Example. Let's say we are both at 1 and I have a Lightning Bolt in my hand, but the only untapped land I control is a Shivan Reef. If I cast my Bolt and tap the Shivan Reef for Manar.gif, it will immediately deal 1 damage to me, causing me to lose the game before the Lightning Bolt can resolve.

On the other hand, if I had a City of Brass, I could tap it for mana and put its triggered ability (that's completely independent from its the mana ability) onto the stack. Since the mana ability resolves outright, I can respond to the triggered by casting Lightning Bolt, killing you before the City of Brass can kill me.

Triggered mana abilities

A triggered ability is a mana ability if it meets these three criteria:

  • It adds mana a player's mana pool.
  • It triggers from the resolution of an activated mana ability or from mana being added to a player's mana pool.
  • It doesn't target.

Triggered mana abilities don't use the stack, and if they trigger during the announcement of a spell you'll receive the mana imemdiately and you'll be able to use that mana to pay for your spell.

Example. Dictate of Karametra and Fertile Ground are both examples of triggered mana abilities. Activating a mana ability causes them to trigger. Since they are mana abilities, the triggers won't use the stack and the mana will be added to the player's mana pool immediately.

Example. Mana Flare's ability adds mana to a player's mana pool and is triggered by activating a mana ability, so it's a triggered mana ability. The same is true for Overabundance, but along with the extra mana produced by the triggered ability, the player will also suffer 1 damage. Since they are both part of a single mana ability, neither of those actions can be targeted or countered.

Example. All that glitters is not gold! For example, Lotus Cobra's triggered ability seems to be a triggered mana ability but it's not! To be a triggered mana ability, Lotus Cobra's trigger should be originated by activating a mana ability; unfortunately playing a land isn't a mana ability, so feel free to Stifle it.

A spell can never be a mana ability. Since the early days of Magic: the Gathering, we have had spells that granted us some spare mana, like Dark Ritual or, more recently, Manamorphose.

Although those spells add mana to the player's mana pool (first mana ability prerequisite), aren't targeted (second mana ability prerequisite) and are not a planeswalker's ability (third mana ability prerequisite), they cannot be classified as mana abilities.

These are spell abilities that add mana to the pool. In other words, these are just spells cast and resolved as any other spell; they can be countered (unless stated otherwise) and responded to before any extra mana is generated.[1]

Example. Cabal Ritual and Desperate Ritual both add mana to the player's mana pool, aren't targeted and aren't a planeswalker's loyalty ability; they aren't, anyway, mana abilities and anybody could stop them with a Counterspell.

  1. In the very ancient past some of these spells were printed with the type "Mana Source". Those spells have received an updated oracle text that identifies them as instants.