Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
Alternative Costs in Magic: The Gathering
Even the strongest Magic cards mean nothing if you can't cast them, requiring you to carefully distribute your mana. Fortunately, several spells have alternative costs that let you utilize other resources to play them, often discarding cards from hand or paying life.
With many instants among them, these are some of the game's best tools, tricking opponents into thinking you're out options when your lands are tapped—which reign supreme? These are the 30 best alternative-cost spells in Magic: The Gathering!
30. Force of Rage
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 3
Like our other cards, you can pay for Rage normally by simply spending three mana, but you can also cast it during an opponent's turn by exiling another red card from hand.
Either way, you create two 3/1 elemental tokens with trample and haste that are exiled at your next upkeep. They won't last long, but they're fast, powerful, have tribal synergy, and can catch unsuspecting attackers off-guard.
29. Force of Virtue
Thanks to flash, you can cast Virtue at instant speed, and if it's not your turn, you can avoid its four-mana fee by exiling another white card from your hand. No matter how you play it, you score an enchantment that gives your creatures +1/+1, a small but appreciated boost, especially when it's just enough to save an attacker/blocker about to die in battle.
28. Vine Dryad
Four mana for a 1/3 is lame, but Dryad has flash and forestwalk, becoming unblockable against foes who control forest lands. More than that, you can cast her for free by exiling a green card from hand, again providing a surprise blocker and highlighting the importance of card advantage.
27. Shining Shoal
Shoal both shields an ally and harms an opponent, redirecting the next X damage a source would deal to you or your creature towards a target of your choice. X is either the extra mana you pump into Shoal or, if cast for free, the cost of a white card exiled from hand.
Blending both offense and defense, Shoal also bears the arcane subtype, especially potent alongside spells that can splice onto it.
Particularly for his early era, Delraich offers a fierce and easy beatstick. Casting him normally requires seven mana, but you can instead sacrifice three black creatures, scoring a 6/6 with trample. While I wish Delraich was better-shielded against removals, he's still a versatile play who bears a spiritual successor in...
25. Demon of Death's Gate
Like Delraich, you can alternatively cast Demon by sacrificing three black creatures, but this time, you'll also have to pay six life. That's a hefty entrance fee, but it works well with the boosted life totals of commander format, and you net a titanic 9/9 with flying, trample, and demon synergy.
Sunscour's pricey even for a creature-destroying field wipe, costing almost double the mana of "Wrath of God". Unless of course you pay its other price, exiling two white cards from hand. That's a lot of card advantage to lose, but this can really turn the tide of a losing match and save mana for other spells that turn.
Pyrokinesis spreads four damage among any number of creatures at instant speed. To avoid its draining cost, simply exile another red card from hand, adeptly clearing out defenders in a mono-red aggro deck.
For six, Pulverize will eliminate all artifacts, a powerful but expensive nuke. Or, cast it by sacrificing two mountains you control. This will cripple your supply on future turns, but since you can tap them before sacrificing, you'll still have full mana the turn you play Pulverize, and you can recover sacrificed lands using various spells.
21. Salvage Titan
While I wish he had trample or other static traits, you can avoid Titan's mana cost by sacrificing three artifacts, a nice outlet for low-cost relics or tokens.
In addition to 6/4 stats, Titan's best attribute is his resilience to common removals; four toughness is just strong enough to endure a "Lightning Bolt", and black artifact status makes him immune to both "Doom Blade" and "Go for the Throat"
20. Summoning Trap
Traps like this one work a bit differently, relying on opposing moves to access their reduced prices. In this case, you can cast Summoning for free if an opponent counters your creature spell, punishing blue control decks.
Summoning will play any one creature from your deck's top seven cards for free, an excellent way to field high-cost units like dinosaurs or eldrazi.
For three, Abolish will instantly destroy an artifact or enchantment, a decent price even without a separate cost. But you can instead discard a plains (basic or otherwise).
This can really save your bacon by eliminating threats before your opponent can use them, and since you're only discarding (not exiling) your plains, you can potentially recover it with other effects.
Invigorate grants a fast and powerful boost, buffing a creature by +4/+4 for the turn. This works great after combatants have been locked in, letting weaker units topple big threats, and you can dodge the mana cost by simply having an opponent gain three life.
17. Reverent Silence
Although it's only a sorcery, Silence actually has a reasonable base price, spending four to nuke all enchantments. But it's also got a unique surrogate cost, where you can instead have your opponents gain six life.
I prefer this over life-paying abilities because you can use it even when damaged, and possibly turn the opposing lifegain into a drawback with cards like "False Cure".
16. Ravenous Trap
Several decks rely on the graveyard, making its punishment essential against many themes. Enter Ravenous Trap, which exiles an opponent's entire discard pile and is free if an opponent has had three or more cards enter their graveyard that turn (from anywhere).
Since the alternate cost doesn't need any specific lands or card colors, even non-black decks can use this to thwart graveyard themes.
Gush instantly draws two cards, and to prevent you from paying five mana, you can return two islands you control to your hand. This works especially well in decks with landfall abilities, extra land-per-turn effects, or when you've simply missed your land drop that turn and can reuse one of the islands (effectively tapping it twice that round).
Unmask lets you see an opponent's hand and discard a non-land from it, letting you pick what they lose and giving knowledge of their upcoming plays. But to avoid Unmask's cost, you can exile a black card from your hand, having both players forfeit a little card advantage.
Commandeer requires a heap of mana and only works on non-creature spells, gaining control of them and letting you pick new targets (if applicable). However, this offers a brutal two-for-one effect, both denying opponents their unit while taking it for yourself, and you can avoid Commander's fee by exiling two other blue cards from your hand.
Blue's pretty good at maintaining card advantage, so hopefully you'll have plenty of spells to spare.
At instant speed, Contagion distributes two -2/-1 counters as you see fit. More powerful than common -1/-1 counters, these go a long way towards weakening or even killing enemy creatures; fortunately, you can easily play Contagion by paying one life and exiling a black card from your hand.
11. Archive Trap
Perfect for mill decks, Archive Trap has a player send the top 13 cards of their deck into the graveyard; in 60-card formats, that's almost a 1/4 of a deck by itself. Better yet, you can cast Archive for free if an opponent searched their deck that turn, punishing tutors and other searches.
Plus, you can manually trigger the reduced price by casting spells that have opponents search their deck, like "Settle the Wreckage".
10. Snuff Out
Snuff Out is essentially a stronger "Doom Blade", destroying a non-black creature and preventing it from regenerating. It's also a splashable instant, only needing one black, but you can instead cast it by paying four life if you control a swamp.
The swamp doesn't have to be basic, working with irregular swamps like "Overgrown Tomb" and providing one of EDH's best removals.
One of the best finishers in aggro red decks, Fireblast hits any target for four. That's a big chunk of health in 20-life formats, and you can cast it for zero if you sacrifice two mountains—you won't need then anyway if the blast kills your opponent.
8. Force of Vigor
Honestly, Vigor's a good card even without its alternate cost, spending four to instantly destroy up to two artifacts/enchantments. But when it's not your turn, you can exile a green card from hand to pay for it, obliterating annoying commander spells like "Sol Ring" and "Land Tax".
7. Force of Despair
Again, this one's awesome even without its alternate costing, spending three to destroy all creatures that entered the field that turn! That's an amazing check against swarming, cascades, infinite combos, and more. On your opponent's turn (which is probably when you want to cast it anyway), you can also satiate Despair's fee by simply exiling a black card from hand.
Cast regularly, Daze is a weaker "Mana Leak", countering a spell unless its controller pays an extra mana. Use this when your opponent pools all their resources into a big play, ensuring they can't afford the extra fee. Plus, you can return an Island to hand to freely cast Daze, an easy alternative cost, especially when you're running low on land drops anyway.
Misdirection isn't a counterspell—it's often worse, changing the target of a spell to another valid choice. Used against singular removals, you'll save your own cards while redirecting the effect against opposing ones, and you can freely Misdirect by exiling another blue card from hand.
4. Land Grant
Often underestimated at a glance, Grant adds any forest (basic or not) from deck to hand. Although it doesn't require much mana at base, you can cast it for free by revealing your hand while it has no lands. This can tutor needed colors using multi-color lands like "Temple Garden" and freely gets a card into your graveyard, ready to be used as fodder for delving spells and the like.
Essential for any green deck, Grant is surprisingly cheap for such a powerful card, costing well under a single dollar!
3. Force of Negation
During other turns, you can play Negation by exiling a blue card from hand. It'll counter any non-creature spell, exiling it instead of sending it to the graveyard, offering a potent counter that also prevents graveyard shenanigans.
2. Mindbreak Trap
Yet another trap, you can freely play Mindbreak if an opponent has cast three or more spells that turn, again punishing infinite combos and other tricks. Mindbreak will exile any number of spells, essentially the ultimate counterspell.
In addition to its potentially-free price, Mindbreak has three things going for it. One, it exiles instead of sending to graveyard. Two, it can target multiple spells. And three, since it doesn't technically counter, effects that stop counterspells (like "Rhythm of the Wild") won't defend against it.
1. Force of Will
You'll almost never pay Will's admittedly-high base price. Instead, pay one life and exile a blue card from hand to freely counter any opposing play.
Simply put, this is perhaps Magic's best defense against a would-be game-winning combo. Plus, unlike Negation, you can pay the alternate cost on your turn, using Will to thwart a counter cast against your own ace.
Maintaining Card Advantage in Magic
I can't recommend today's cards enough, offering surprise tactics that spend atypical resources. Most require excess cards in hand, so keep your supply stocked with extra-draw cards like "Skullclamp" and "Tome of Legends".
Remember not to mistake an opposing tapped-out field as completely dulled; you never know what tricks lie up their sleeves. But for now, vote for your favorite alternate-cost spell and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2020 Jeremy Gill