Mana is the magical force which gives units the abilities to use their skills and their abilities. For example, if heroes wish to use their abilities, a requisite amount of mana must be available for that hero to be able to use it. Whether or not the ability is magical, mana is required to use the majority of their abilities.
 Passive Abilities
Passive abilities, that is, abilities you can't control and are always active, with the exception of spells on auto-cast, do not require mana and will work even if mana is not available.
 Mana Rejuvination
Mana can be regained in a number of ways. Outside of battle, and even in battle, you may wait for mana to reload. Some items which are gained, such as potions, allow for it to be gained in large quantities all at once, but the item runs out. Others allow for increased mana regeneration.
Some units or buildings will also reload mana. Night Elves have access to Moon Wells, which allow them to give units health and, in the Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne expansion pack, mana. The Undead have a unit called Obsidian Statues in the same expansion, which do the same thing as Moon Wells.
 Importance of Mana
Many units have capabilities which, if researched, can help significantly in battle. Some units, such as Priests and Necromancers, have incredibly powerful magic which can help turn the tide in any battle. However, they work better upgraded with more mana, and if they have none, the power shift immediately swings to the other team.
Never, ever underestimate the importance of a deep mana pool. A hero, at times, and at high levels, can, on it's own, sometimes take out entire AI bases if they know what they are doing with them, but to do so, they typically require mana. The earth shattering moves, summoning abilities, and troop support powers of heroes and other units all require some level of mana.
A force which has depleted mana will find itself losing ground to a group of units with refreshed mana -- especially if the latter group is making good use of their special abilities.
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