Indomitable Creativity | Illustration by Deruchenko Alexander
It’s interesting to think a game where the mana system is central also has modal cards that let you pay any amount to cast them and gain an advantage. X spells can be a win condition dealing infinite damage or making your opponents draw a bunch of cards, provided that you can generate infinite mana (which is an important part of combo decks and cEDH).
Which are the best spells with an in their mana cost? What are the rules surrounding cards like this? If you’re X-cited, come with me and let’s find out!
Walking Ballista | Illustration by Daniel Ljunggren
X spells have at least one in the mana cost. They’re modular cards since you can pay just a little mana or a lot based on what’s available and the desired effect. There are more than 400 cards with in their mana cost in all colors and across all of MTG’s history and sets.
It’s similar to mechanics like kicker that allow you to pay something more for an extra effect. A lot of of the X spells are instants or sorceries, but there are also plenty of X spells that are artifacts and creatures. X spells have a natural trade-off between versatility and efficiency, and most of them are inefficient at any rate.
Rolling Thunder used to be one of the best red spells, but Magic’s average card power level today makes it look weak and almost useless.
You’ll probably have to spend way more than five mana for Defenders of Humanity to be a good and efficient card, but it’s probably very good with bigger than five. It can be a win condition in enchantress decks, and you can even reuse the effect after a wrath to recover quickly.
You’ll make lots of tokens with Secure the Wastes at instant speed. It’s an awesome way to make a small army on their end step with some anthem effects.
Rally the Ancestors was a card that kinda broke its Standard format when people discovered the rally deck. It fits naturally into aristocrats decks because you’ll play a bunch of cheap sacrifice fodder, sacrifice them, and return them.
This card is effective even with an equal to one or two, and it also works well with small creatures with good ETB abilities.
This became one of white’s most-played spells both in Standard and Pioneer. March of Otherworldly Light is flexible and can deal with almost any non-planeswalker threat. It’s not even bad to discard another white spell to get tempo advantage.
This card is a way to spend excess mana, add some blue devotion, and draw some cards. Gadwick, the Wizened is an interesting card in devotion decks and blue EDH decks, and it’s a tool to keep tapping your opponents’ creatures with a simple cantrip.
Syncopate is a good early and late counterspell, especially if you have lots of mana like in UrzaTron decks. The exile clause of the countered spell usually matters with cards that have graveyard recursion mechanics like flashback, unearth, and the like.
Repeal is good because it’s flexible and draws you a card. It’s valuable in formats like Vintage where you can blink Moxen and Mystic Remora. Legacy and Vintage are also formats where permanents are overall cheaper.
There’s something special about paying one blue mana to kill a token and draw a card.
This is one more tool available for blue tempo decks that want to protect a key threat or two. With Haughty Djinn decks on the rise in Standard and blue spirit decks rising in Pioneer, March of Swirling Mist is seeing heavy play in them both. You can even phase out an enemy threat to protect yourself.
Whir of Invention sees heavy play in Modern decks as a way to combo off in artifact-based decks. The blue Chord of Calling can tutor key artifacts like Ensnaring Bridge and Thopter Foundry, adding redundancy to the combos.
You’d better play Exsanguinate in EDH black decks that want to drain your opponents or simply have a lifegain source. Lots of decks have ways to benefit from this and also play cards like Sanguine Bond to double the pain.
The best part of Commands is the flexibility: they allow you two out of four actions. Profane Command is no different, and it’s even more flexible because of the in its mana cost. It can work as removal, recursion, and lifedrain.
A common first pick in cubes with access to fast mana, Mind Twist can be backbreaking. It’s “discard at random,” and as with all discard effects it’s only bad when your opponent is empty-handed.
Mind Twist is flexible enough to be easily splashable, unlike other black cards that usually have or more in their mana costs.
As an MDFC, Agadeem’s Awakening doubles as a black land and an X spell that can resurrect some creatures. Black decks almost always have a recursion component and something worth bringing back, so this card has become a staple of many formats like Pioneer and EDH.
Torment of Hailfire has become a staple of black EDH decks as a win condition. It hits all players, works with infinite mana, and is a fun way to spend lots of late-game mana from lands and mana rocks.
Kill lots of creatures, drain life from opponents, and have a permanent Blood Artist effect in play? Check, check, and check!
The Meathook Massacre was a key piece in black decks before it was banned in Standard. It sees play in other formats like Pioneer nowadays. Besides being legendary it’s not even bad in multiples since you can reuse the wrath effect.
March of Wretched Sorrow is here because of the flexibility. You’ll deal damage and gain some life, which is key for black decks to survive early aggression. And it can hit planeswalkers, too! Keep in mind that the opponent can sacrifice the spell target to prevent you from gaining life.
Comet Storm is like a fixed Fireball, or a less confusing one. You’ll deal damage to a target, and you can pay the multikicker to have more targets. For example, you’ll pay to deal four damage to a target, and to deal four damage to two targets because of the one kicker, or to deal four damage to three targets because of two kickers.
This card isn’t very efficient if cast from your hand. But the miracle cost makes it one of the best one-sided sweepers. The difference between and is significant, which makes Bonfire of the Damned a key card in its Standard format and an unbeatable bomb in Limited.
A card that’s a flying Fireball, Shivan Devastator has a lot of advantages. It’s a dragon and a haste creature for decks that want a beater, and it’s a burn spell in disguise. You can either have a 2/2 flying haste for three or a bigger threat, and it’s an awesome top deck later in the game.
Indomitable Creativity is a combo piece in MTG’s actual Treasure-laden and token metagame. You’ll kill some creature tokens and/or artifacts, which allows you to search your deck for creatures like Torrential Gearhulk or Agent of Treachery. That puts you far closer to winning.
Kamahl’s Druidic Vow is a great way to spend mana to put cards into play from your deck, but it requires a legendary card in play and lots of legends in your deck. Fortunately you usually have one or more in play to reduce the downside with EDH, and you can even have legends matter themes in your deck.
Tyrant Guard is a 3/3 for three or more mana depending on the you pay. You can even draw a card for eight mana, and it protects your other creatures that have counters. Since there’s no shortage of Simic () decks that have counters and proliferate as a theme, it should be an easy fit.
Genesis Wave is Kamahl’s Druidic Vow without the restrictions. It used to be a combo finish in old Modern decks, and it’s nice in EDH if you have the extra mana to spare. It also gets lands, so it can be ramp on steroids.
Hydras often have an in their casting cost, and Genesis Hydra was one of the pillars of green devotion decks in Standard. The problem with spending lots of mana on a single creature is having it removed, so the hydra at least brings an extra threat to the battlefield.
Voracious Hydra is both a good threat and a removal spell. You may choose between a large beater or a two-for-one thanks to the different modes, and it’s seen heavy play in Constructed formats.
Finale of Devastation is a legal Green Sun’s Zenith for formats like Modern and Pioneer, but it has an extra take. It’s an extra win con by paying higher than 10 if you’re playing decks like combo elves.
Chord of Calling is an important combo piece for creature-based combo decks. Convoke helps reduce the cost of the spell, but you’ll usually want to tutor for a creature that costs between two and three mana. It’s good to make your combo faster by a turn or two.
This is a good early and late game play, and it’s banned in Modern to increase the diversity of green decks.
Blot Out the Sky makes lots of 2/1 flying tokens which unfortunately come into play tapped. The good part is that you can pay lots of mana to destroy lots of noncreature and nonland permanents.
This is a good mana sink in Orzhov () decks.
Aurelia’s Fury deals damage divided as you see fit, and at an instant speed no less. The rest of the card is trinket text that rarely matters.
Gyrus has synergies with small creatures with ETB effects and self-mill effects because it wants you to have a graveyard filled with small creatures. That’s abundant in Jund () sacrifice-themed decks.
A key piece in Doom Foretold decks, Dance of the Manse is also a win condition for midrange decks if you pay enough mana. You’ll recover permanents that have good ETB effects like Omen of the Sun and have them as 4/4s too.
Sphinx’s Revelation was a key card in its Standard format in Azorius control decks. Lifegain is usually overlooked, but gaining cards and the life needed to use them goes a long way in a control deck. It’s common nowadays to have green/Simic cards gaining life and drawing cards.
You can’t go wrong with Hydroid Krasis. You gain some cards and some life along with a big flying and trample creature. And you still get the cards and life even if the spell is countered.
Aim Villainous Wealth at an opponent, gain cards from their deck, and profit. You can even cast the cards without paying the mana costs. This is a staple in Sultai () decks or decks that can cast it.
You’re almost guaranteed to get juicy and expensive targets in formats like EDH.
EDH is the mana rock format, and it’s common to pay two mana for a Signet. Everflowing Chalice doesn’t produce colored mana, but it scales and can be proliferated upon. It’s a staple in lots of EDH decks, mainly ones that ramp.
You’d play this in +1/+1 counter synergy and artifact decks.
Stonecoil Serpent has reach and vigilance, and it’s a good efficient beater. Plus it has protection from multicolored, which is very relevant in a format like EDH because most decks are multicolored and play powerful gold/hybrid legendary cards.
One of the better hate cards and sideboard cards in the game is also one of the few cards on this list that doesn’t get any better the more you pay for X. Chalice of the Void is played for zero or one to disable certain interactions, rituals, and cantrips that would lead to a fast combo in most scenarios.
Walking Ballista is a card any deck can play because it’s very flexible and does it all. It’s part of several infinite combos including cards like Heliod, Sun-Crowned, it has synergies with +1/+1 counters, and it can at the very least kill a small creature or two by itself.
Zaxara, the Exemplary gives you an X/X hydra each time you play an X spell.
Hinata, Dawn-Crowned makes your X spells cheaper if they hit multiple targets.
Rosheen Meanderer gives you four mana to cast your X spells.
Raggadragga, Goreguts Boss rewards you for casting spells spending seven mana or more, which makes it easier to trigger with X spells.
Kruphix, God of Horizons is a good way to stock your mana, and you’ll have extra mana to spend since you’re playing X spells.
Unbound Flourishing is an enchantment that doubles the number of used in the spells.
Elementalist’s Palette is a mana rock that adds counters the more X spells you cast, and it generates more mana to cast X spells.
means that you may pay any amount of mana for that specific pip in a spell rather than a definite amount. For example, a card with can only be cast for three total mana. But if the mana cost is , you need to play + .
The spell scales with the amount of mana spent on so you draw more cards, deal more damage, etc.
What Does Two Xs Mean?
Two s means you need to play the twice. It’s a way to lower the power of the spell. You pay for each pip in the mana cost.
Let’s look at Quarantine Field as an example. You always pay , then have two pips to satisfy. If you pay one mana for each of those pips, is one and the enchantment enters with one isolation counter. In this case you’ve paid a total of four mana (++ where =1). If you pay two for each , your total is six mana (++ where =2) for a Quarantine Field with two isolation counters.
In almost all the zones, the mana value is the value printed in the card. A card like Fireball has a mana value of one in every zone (library, graveyard, hand), except when it is cast. If I cast a Fireball paying as five, its mana value becomes 1+5=6.
You can pay zero for an cost! It’s just usually a bad idea because the power of the spell scales with the amount paid in the cost. You can cast a burn spell that deals zero damage or create a creature that’s a 0/0, it’s just not very helpful.
If you copy an X spell you copy it with equal to the amount paid. If you cast a spell like Blaze with =5 and you copy it, you’ll have two =5 damage spells, effectively dealing 10 damage.
Sphinx’s Revelation (Amonkhet Remastered) | Illustration by John Di Giovanni
X spells are a very important integral part of the game, and every set has a bunch of them. There are plenty of good X spell cards that dominate various formats, and decks always need a mana sink or two, mainly in EDH.
Which X spells did I miss in my list? Which ones do you like using? (Are you glad the editor resisted the urge to shoehorn in some X-Men puns?) Let me know in the comments section below or let’s discuss it in the Draftsim Discord.
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