Last updated on January 25, 2023
Beckon Apparition | Illustration by Cliff Childs
Magic is a complex game, but one trend is clear: the more spells you play, the higher your chances are to win. There’s lots to consider, like curves, creatures, and other spells. Creatures spells are the most common way to deal damage to your opponents, but other cards like instants or sorceries are often paired with them to clear the board or provide you with some card advantage to expand.
Cheap instants and sorceries are a great way to fill out your deck, and I’ve highlighted the best and brightest of them. How are they usually played, and which decks do they fit into best? Let’s find out!
Lightning Bolt | Illustration by Christopher Moeller
The cheapest cards in Magic are instant or sorceries with a mana value of one, sometimes less.
There are many other cheap spells, like Cast Down and Demonic Tutor, that are among the best in their niche, but I’m going to focus on cards with mana value two or less. Otherwise this list would be endless. Cards with an X in their casting cost are also excluded as is anything that has built-in reduction, like Dismember and Treasure Cruise.
With all that out of the way, let’s get into it!
What makes Brave the Elements a unique card is that it protects your white creatures for just one mana. This can be used to either protect your creatures from removal or to push through damage and make most of your army unblockable.
In a manner of speaking it’s both a defensive and an offensive spell.
Mana Tithe is one of the cards I assume has caught most players off guard because counterspells are usually used only in blue decks. Imagine casting your board wipe with exact mana only to have your hopes shattered because you don’t have the to pay. Heartbreaking, to say the very least.
Like Brave the Elements, Emerge Unscathed is a cheap instant that can be used either on attack or defense. You’ll usually use it is to protect a creature on your opponent’s turn and then rebound it on yours to go on the attack.
I’m not a big fan of situational spot removals, but Condemn is one I like because of how cheap it is. The lifegain is minimal considering how it can save you from death. Bonus points for using it on your creature to gain life if needed.
Defiant Strike is a white cantrip that’s used along with creatures like Illuminator Virtuoso to cheaply pump them and hit for big chunks while replenishing your hand. The trick is to stack as many of these spells as you can in one turn.
God, I hate Ephemerate. Not because it’s bad; quite the opposite. If you pair it with ETB effect creatures (looking at you Mulldrifter) it can become arguably one of the best cheap white spells around.
Cheap tutor effects are rare in colors other than black, and Enlightened Tutor is one of the best around.
In my opinion Path to Exile is the second best cheap white spell ever printed. It gets things out of the way for minimal value (giving opponents basic lands).
Lands and life are resources in Magic, but the easiest to overcome is life. There’s a big difference between ramping up your opponent and giving them a couple life.
Now that’s efficient. The one that started it all was Unsummon, and from there, many other similar effects have been printed. The ones that stand out the most from the rest are Fading Hope and Vapor Snag, and the minimal extra value is very welcomed.
Like Consider, Mental Note fits perfectly in decks that want to fill your graveyard quickly. Unlike Consider, this one doesn’t give you the option to not send things to your graveyard from the top of your library.
Early versions of Splinter Twin decks would let Peek see some play to check if the “coast was clear.” Clear? Proceeded to combo. I don’t think it sees play in any format, but only time will tell if it’s eventually reprinted.
Careful Study doesn’t give you card advantage. The upside is that it lets you put cards from your hand into the graveyard, which is perfect for reanimation strategies.
This is one of my favorite cards. Hard Evidence gives you a decent blocker with an artifact that can be used with mechanics like metalcraft or improvise, or just be cashed as an extra card later in the game.
Another cantrip that’s used mainly because Ponder and Preordain are banned from Modern. I think the archetype isn’t popular anymore post MH2, but Sleight of Hand and Serum Visions shined in Pyromancer Ascension decks.
Like Dispel, Spell Pierce is a cheap way to combat counterspells in eternal formats. Don’t be fooled: its scope is greater than just instants. Your artifacts, enchantments, and even planeswalkers can be countered if you aren’t paying attention and don’t have enough mana to pay the tax.
Blue is infamous for having a wide selection of counters for the deck that needs them. Stubborn Denial is used as a 1-mana hard counter in the right deck, perfect for aggressive strategies that run cheap but mighty creatures.
Wash Away is best known as a 1-mana counterspell for commanders.
These two cards are equivalent to each other, and there’s just a minor difference between them. Hydroblast can target any spell, and Blue Elemental Blast can’t. Regardless, both are excellent hate cards against red spells.
Force Spike can only counter instant or sorcery spells. Still, it’s a very good card that’s often used in sideboard plans against other cards with storm, or against combo decks that like to stack things.
High Tide may not have the same impact as some higher ranked cards, but it’s without a doubt one of the best combo enablers ever printed. Generating double the amount of mana that you’re allowed to naturally is an excellent way to win games, especially if you pair it with the likes of Turnabout and Time Spiral.
Mental Misstep is a very narrow card at first glance. Its power level is still such that it’s only legal in Commander while being banned/not legal in any other format. Except Vintage, that is, where it’s restricted.
There’s something going on with cards with Phyrexian mana that cost one. Gitaxian Probe, like Mental Misstep, is banned from most formats aside from Commander and is restricted in Vintage. The issue is that it’s a very cheap cantrip that can be played for free.
I’d Consider running this spell in decks that want to fill your graveyard quickly with other cards. It’s recently been a multi-format staple for decks that can exploit it, like Izzet () Phoenix in Pioneer or Dimir () Terror in Pauper.
Ponder, Preordain, and Serum Visions are very similar in what they do: manipulating your library’s top X cards while cycling into another card. Of the three, only Serum Visions isn’t banned from Modern.
This may not seem like much but it’s a good spell regardless. It lets you look deeper into your library at the very least. It also has other applications, like hiding your best spells against hand hate spells like Duress and some cute synergies with the likes of Squadron Hawk.
Many other blue spells cost one mana, and yet, nothing compares to Ancestral Recall. It’s simply the best card draw spell ever printed. If it weren’t enough that you get to cheaply draw three cards, you can also do it at instant speed.
Duress is one of the cards that’s been reprinted the most. It’s a very good sideboard card against control strategies. It’s even run in the main deck to surprise opponents from time to time.
Ghastly Demise can be one of the best removal spells for your deck depending on the meta. If black creatures aren’t prevalent and you happen to put multiple cards into your graveyard, this is probably the best thing you could be running.
There aren’t many other sacrifice effects better than Village Rites. In early Historic days it was run with Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger to get the extra benefit of sacrificing a creature that was going to hit the graveyard anyway. Nowadays it sees play in Pioneer sacrifice decks that run cards like Witch’s Oven and Cauldron Familiar.
There are better graveyard hate cards, like Relic of Progenitus, but Rotten Reunion has its reason to be played. For example, it’s useful if you’re trying to get bodies on the field to protect your real treats from sacrifice effects like Diabolic Edict.
These three spells require you to at least sacrifice a creature to kill another. Bone Shards and Spark Harvest can also be used to get rid of planeswalkers, while Bone Splinters limits you to creatures.
Cabal Therapy is a card that has mostly seen play in Legacy. It’s arguably one of the most skill-intensive cards to play because you need to consider the right time to cast it. It could be better than a Hymn to Tourach on its best day.
I’d like to see Deathmark reprinted and downshifted in rarity. It’s an excellent sideboard that could see play in newer formats like Pioneer.
Black has lots of efficient removal spells. Innocent Blood can act as a prime removal against some decks like Legacy reanimator that don’t run many of them.
Darkblast has been very good historically, and it’s a decent sideboard option against decks that run creatures with one toughness.
Extirpate is one of the best hate cards against combo decks. You can’t interact with it once it’s on the stack, and it shuts down strategies that rely on specific cards to win.
These two are very similar in what they do. Lash of Malice can be used as a pseudo-pump spell when required, but its downside shows up when an opponent finds a way to pump the creature it’s targeting. The creatures survives, and now your removal spell has become a combat trick in your opponent’s favor. Not great!
The main thing with black cheap spells is that they like to make things dead, and that’s precisely what Bloodchief’s Thirst does. I like it because it kills small stuff for one mana, and everything else for three more.
Urborg Repossession is one of my favorite cards from the last set for its ability to return any other permanent from the graveyard to your hand when it’s kicked. The lifegain is also convenient.
I’ve had very good experiences with Unearth. It’s a great way to get creatures back from the graveyard with minimal effort. For example, you can get your Drannith Stinger back without running any red land to cast it in some decks like cycling storm in Pauper.
Cheap removal spells are always welcome in any format. If you want to Cut Down some small creatures, this card is for you.
Since its printing, Fatal Push has been one of the most reliable removal spells available. In formats like Modern where fetch lands are present, it’s straightforward to trigger the revolt ability, so it can kill just about everything your opponents may be playing.
“Rituals” has become shorthand for spells that net you more mana than you spent on casting them. Because of that they’re usually played in combo decks that want to chain spells together to cast big threats or make big plays in a single turn.
Dark Ritual is key to that kind of deck and a must-have in any that runs black.
Tutor spells are very prevalent in black. Imperial Seal is the cheapest available in its color, and it’s crucial in Commander combo decks.
Discard spells are another signature from black, as you may already know, and Inquisition of Kozilek is one of the best. It can hit a lot of the popular cards in the formats where it’s available.
This is the best discard spell ever printed. For the mere cost of two life points Thoughtseize can get rid of your opponent’s best card in hand or tempo them out to slow them in their plans.
Assault Strobe hasn’t been played a lot. If you ask me it’s one of the best cards ever printed.
I have to confess that I’m a bit biased because it gave me a very important title back when I played competitive Magic IRL. I paired it with Kiln Fiend, and it gave me such joy that I couldn’t leave it off this list.
There are a handful of red rituals, and Brightstone Ritual is a very particular one. It’s supposed to work based on the number of creatures you control. This may seem hard to pull, but wait until you see it in action in Zada, Hedron Grinder Commander decks. You’ll be amazed!
Claim the Firstborn pairs very well with Village Rites. In Pioneer, the dream play is to steal an Old-Growth Troll and get rid of it for good. Otherwise it’s a creature that always gives value to the deck that runs it.
The power level in Standard and any recent sets may be too much for End the Festivities to be played. In Pauper, it’s an excellent board wipe while Kuldotha Rebirth strategies are rising in popularity.
Four damage for six mana may seem a lot. If you split Firebolt’s casting cost over different portions of the game, you’ll see that this card is worth running in decks that want different removal options.
Forked Bolt is very good when you want to kill multiple X/1 creatures, or just split damage post-combat.
Kuldotha Rebirth has to be one of my favorite cards in modern Magic. Back in the day there weren’t many good artifacts to sacrifice. Recent sets have introduced cards like Experimental Synthesizer that make creating Goblin tokens easier.
Two points of damage may not seem like much, but there are some creatures like Cauldron Familiar and Arclight Phoenix that need to be exiled. Otherwise they can take over games the longer they remain unanswered.
Rite of Flame is one of the best rituals ever. It’s banned in Modern and key in Legacy storm decks.
As far as sideboard cards go, Shattering Spree is one of the best to use against artifact decks. It may be slow and sometimes outclassed by the likes of Shatterstorm, but it’s another excellent option if needed.
Electrickery is very similar to End the Festivities. And yet, it’s kind of different. It can be used at instant speed, and you can always decide not to kick it if needed to just kill a single small creature.
Fiery Impulse is a card I’ve seen used in Izzet Pioneer decks where meeting “spell mastery” conditions is easy. If there’s no Lightning Bolt in the format you have to work with what can impersonate it the best.
I think at this point I’ve established that every card with Phyrexian mana is very good. Gut Shot is no exception, even if it’s dealing one point of damage.
This was a card that barely saw play in Constructed until very recently. Since the introduction of Monastery Swiftspear and its downshift to Pauper, Lava Dart has risen to become a staple on certain decks.
Rites of Initiation is an unusual pump spell for some creature decks. What’s funny about it is that I’ve seen it played in decks with no themes like madness or flashback to at least get some value from it.
I remember when Skred wasn’t popular and was one of the most underplayed commons in Pauper. Now it’s a staple in the format for Izzet decks.
The red Careful Study with flashback is very popular in red decks across formats that want to fill the graveyard quickly. It’s usually paired with Arclight Phoenix in Pioneer, and with many delirium cards in other formats.
Remember when I mentioned that Shattering Spree was one of the best sideboard cards against artifact decks? Well, Vandalblast is the best red one because it only focuses on killing artifacts you don’t control.
When it’s used as the mold for every other red burn spell, there’s clearly no doubt why Lightning Bolt is the best cheap red spell.
I love Turn the Earth because it’s a card that no one expects. It’s saved me from dying more than once. It’s key to shuffling your best spells into your library and a reasonably decent one against graveyard hate decks.
Autumn’s Veil is a reasonable sideboard card against blue and black decks. It’s not higher on the list because it don’t see much play and there’s something better.
Speaking of tutors, I like Dig Up for its versatility. You can tutor for any card in your deck if you put enough mana into it.
Might of Old Krosa is somewhat hard to play right because you need to protect your creature first and make sure it gets through. This is one of the best pump spells you can use if these conditions are easily achievable for your deck.
Mutagenic Growth is the green Phyrexian mana spell that often surprises opponents who try to kill your creatures with damage or shrink spells. Remember when I mentioned that Lash of Malice can backfire? This is the main culprit.
Glimpse of Nature is a staple for elves decks in Legacy, where your goal is to put as many of those green creatures in play as possible and draw most of your library to finish things off with Craterhoof Behemoth.
Slip Through Space is a peculiar card because its casting cost has blue in it, but it’s technically colorless. The effect on it is nothing outside of the ordinary, but it made the list thanks to its uniqueness.
Memory Sluice is probably one of the best hybrid cards because you get to copy it if you control other creatures that share a color with it.
I like the design of this card and its name. Shrinking your opponent’s creatures definitely leaves a Scar.
Make Your Mark is a combat trick that leaves a body behind, so it’s a good deal in my opinion.
Beckon Apparition is very similar to Rotten Reunion, except that the creature you get is more reliable. The only downside is that it doesn’t have flashback, but it can be used in white decks if needed.
There are certain strategies that love to play as many spells as they can in a row, and you’ll be surprised how different they are from one to another.
Pyromancer Ascension is the signature card for combo decks that rely on cheap cantrips or cards like Rite of Flame to turn it on. Once that’s accomplished, the next step is to chain as many of those spells as possible to finish your opponents with a Grapeshot.
Decks that use Tendrils of Agony are very similar to the Pyromancer Ascension ones. The main difference is that the first is mostly used along with Legacy cards, so its faster and deadlier because you also get access to cheap ramp spells like Lotus Petal and Lion’s Eye Diamond.
Most burn spells that are popular in strategies with the same name are usually paired alongside Monastery Swiftspear as a permanent that grows every time a noncreature spell is cast. This translates to more damage dealt to your opponent.
Another creature that likes cheap spells is Dreadhorde Arcanist. There’s nothing more oppressive than going for a turn 1 Thoughtseize into a turn 2 Dreadhorde Arcanist. From there you can use cheap removal spells like Fatal Push to clear the board or keep attacking their hand from the graveyard with the vast selection of discard spells you have at your disposal.
Some aggressive strategies, like Boros heroic in Pioneer, benefit greatly from running cheap spells to get through your opponents. Tenth District Legionnaire is the standard bearer of the deck.
Thoughtseize | Illustration by Lucas Graciano
As you can see, cheap spells are a fundamental part of the game, especially in formats like Legacy and Vintage where the average converted mana cost of all cards is around two.
What do you think? Did you like the list? Was there a card you expected to see higher on the list or that I missed? Let me know in the comments below or over in the Draftsim Discord.
As always, writing about the game I love the most has been a pleasure. Take care, and have a good rest of your week!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: