Q: "Why do some lands, like Sulfurous Springs, add 'one colorless mana' to your mana pool, while other lands, like Unholy Grotto, add '' to your mana pool? How does Wizards decide whether to use a symbol or to write it out fully?"
--Taylor Porter, St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada
A: From Del Laugel, Magic technical editor:
"That’s a simple question to answer. If the card is from the Onslaught set or sets after it, it says 'add to your mana pool.' If the card is from an earlier set, it says 'add one colorless mana to your mana pool.' Of course, I can tell long, boring stories about practically anything. . . .
"The Odyssey card Nantuko Elder started life as a reprint of Fyndhorn Elder (with a different name, of course). You see, R&D hadn’t noticed that Fyndhorn Elder was in Seventh Edition. Sets without wacky playtest names just don’t stick in their heads. When the development team realized that the old Elder was still with us, they mixed up the creature’s stats to distance the two cards. In addition to a mana cost change, its ability changed from ': Add to your mana pool' to ': Add to your mana pool.' That wording was never questioned, and that’s how the card went to press.
"Fast forward to July 2001. Collin Jackson, a well-respected judge and former R&D rules intern, was visiting Wizards during his summer break. He saw the Nantuko Elder rules text and immediately noticed that it was wrong: You can’t add generic mana to your mana pool, and represented one generic mana, not one colorless mana-at least that’s the only meaning the symbol had at the time. ('Generic mana' is just the rules term for mana of any color or colorless mana. For example, Nantuko Elder’s mana cost is , or two generic mana and one green mana.)
"Once this subtle rules issue was pointed out to us, the templating team recognized the error. But we also liked how it looked on the card. And R&D loved how it looked on the card. Anything that saves seventeen characters of rules text makes R&D very happy. So we added to the rules a definition of 'colorless mana' that covers this situation and vowed to introduce the new template in the next large expansion, the Onslaught set. And that’s what we did."