Jeremy explores many topics as he juggles his passion for writing with his career as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
Why Use Common Cards in Magic?
Magic spells come in four rarities: common, uncommon, rare, and mythic rare. As cards grow more rare, they usually increase in power, but today we'll examine many common-class highlights.
Commons offer several advantages—they're the only spells you can use when playing pauper format, and they tend to be much cheaper in price, letting you build decks on a budget. But with thousands of spells available, which reign supreme? Here are Magic's 50 best common* spells perfect for commander and pauper!
*Some cards are common in some sets but uncommon or rare in others.
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 1
Preordain gives you some excellent deck-tinkering, first scrying two, then drawing a card. Not only does this tweak your upcoming draws to your advantage, it's a great way to quickly reuse draw-activated effects on spells like "Niv-Mizzet, Parun".
49. Brightstone Ritual
If you're playing a mono-red commander deck, odds are good you're using goblins. Once you have a few out, activate this cheap instant to add one red mana for each. If you've diligently swarmed tokens, you can quickly attain huge amounts of resources, especially since the effect even counts opposing goblins.
48. Gaea's Touch
Gaea's Touch is an excellent substitute for "Exploration" (which costs dozens of dollars). In addition to your regular land play, Touch lets you play an extra basic forest each turn, and you can sacrifice Touch to obtain two green mana, a powerful and instant-speed ramp.
47. Shadow Rift
Shadow Rift gives a creature the shadow trait for a turn, meaning it can only block or be blocked by other creatures with shadow. Since these are very rare, this usually means you can score an easy direct attack (perfect for landing commander damage or poison counters). You also draw a card, ensuring you maintain hand advantage.
46. Ingot Chewer
CMC: 5 (1 with evoke)
Prominent artifacts like "Sol Ring" run rampant in commander, and you can punish them with Chewer's cheap evoke, which has him enter the field, destroy an artifact, then be sacrificed. But if you can afford it, you can also cast him at his base price (where he's not sacrificed), scoring a decent 3/3 on top of an artifact removal.
45. Nettle Sentinel
Unlike most permanents, Nettle Sentinel doesn't automatically untap during your upkeep. However, he compensates with 2/2 stats (terrific for his low price), the useful elf and warrior subtypes, and the ability to untap whenever you cast a green spell, helping him recover despite his limit.
44. Grim Discovery
Since commander games are usually longer (everyone has an increase life total), card advantage is especially important. But blue's not the only faction to attain it; Grim Discovery lets you return a creature, a land, or one of each from your graveyard to your hand. Use alongside self-milling or dredge cards to quickly resupply.
43. Porcelain Legionnaire
CMC: 3 (can be reduced to 2, see below)
You can put EDH's increased life total to good use with Legionnaire. To cast him, you can either spend three mana, or two and two life. Either way, you'll attain a 3/1 with first strike—a formidable warrior in the game's early stages. Toss in dual artifact/creature status for extra combo potential.
42. Bubbling Muck
Bubbling Muck is black's slightly-inferior version of blue's "High Tide", only able to activate at sorcery speed. But it's still a powerful effect, having all players attain an extra black mana that turn whenever they tap a swamp. Use in mono-black decks for massive amounts of resources.
41. Night's Whisper
Again, in commander, you have life to spare and want more cards. Whisper caters to these needs, spending two life to draw twice. This is similar to "Sign in Blood", but only needs one black mana, a better fit for multi-color decks.
40. Darksteel Ingot
Generals like "Atraxa, Praetors' Voice" have powerful effects, but require many different types of mana. Darksteel Ingot ensures you don't need to draw them all, tapping for a single mana of any color. It also has Darksteel's trademark indestructible trait, making Ingot difficult for opponents to remove.
39. Songs of the Damned
Unlike many one-cost spells, Songs of the Damned scales well even in your game's final turns. You get one mana for each creature in your graveyard, another excellent tool for self-milling zombie themes. And unlike Bubbling Muck, Songs is an instant, letting you cast it at any time.
One of green's best instants, Vitalize simply untaps all creatures you control. You can either use this for surprise blockers, or extra ramping with mana-tappers like "Llanowar Elves" and "Elvish Archdruid". Both are great effects for such low cost.
37. Vedalken Engineer
Engineer's stats are a poor 1/1, and he lacks useful subtypes like wizard or merfolk, but he can tap for two mana of any color. You can only spend this mana on artifacts or activated abilities of artifacts, but it's still a great ramp tactic, especially from a non-green source.
36. Etherium Sculptor
Useful as Engineer is, Sculptor's even better for artifact decks. His stats are a superior 1/2, he counts as both an artifact and a creature, and he reduces the cost of your other artifacts by one. Unlike Sculptor, who needs a turn before he can tap, you can utilize this discount immediately if you have the mana for it.
35. Land Grant
CMC: 2 (can be reduced to zero, see below)
Here's a great deck-thinning tool; Land Grant simply finds a forest from your deck and adds it to your hand. But you can cast it for free by revealing your hand if it doesn't contain any lands.
So what makes Grant better than just including another land? Well, it activates sorcery-based effects on cards like "Talrand, Sky Summoner", and it can find any forest (not just basic ones), so you can hunt multi-color lands like "Tropical Island".
34. Nihil Spellbomb
Graveyards are an important part of many themes, and you can easily punish them with this inexpensive artifact. Spellbomb can tap and sacrifice itself to exile all cards from a single graveyard. Plus, when it enters the graveyard from the field, you can pay a black mana to draw a card, quickly replacing itself in your hand.
33. Relic of Progenitus
Like Spellbomb, Relic thwarts graveyards, but it can fit any commander's color identity and works better in multiplayer games. By tapping, Relic forces a player to exile a card from their graveyard. But if you need a faster removal, you can spend a mana and exile Relic to exile all graveyards (including yours), then draw a card.
32. Frantic Search
Note this card is banned in pauper.
Unlike many blue spells, Frantic Search doesn't actually increase your overall hand size; you draw twice, but then have to discard two cards. However, this helps you quickly rift through your deck, keep what you need, and set your graveyard with flashback or retrace effects. You also untap three lands, essentially making Search a free play.
31. Simian Spirit Guide
You can play Simian for a simple 2/2, but you'll almost always want his hand-activated effect that exiles him for one red mana. Combined with your land-per-turn, this lets you quickly afford high-cost spells, and you'd be surprised how much difference that one mana can make.
For players who prefer green, you'll find a near-identical card with the uncommon "Elvish Spirit Guide".
30. Lotus Petal
You can tell Petal's good by its scaling; previously a common, Petal has been upgraded into a mythic rare. No matter which copy you have, it taps and sacrifices for a single mana of any color.
Like Simian Spirit Guide, you're reducing your hand to gain extra mana, but this time you can attain any hue, and you're also setting your graveyard with an artifact that can potentially be recovered.
Undergrowth is a strictly-superior version of the classic "Fog". Both are one-cost instants that prevent all combat damage for a turn, an easy stall tactic. But Undergrowth also has an optional cost; if you spend three more mana (including a red), red creatures get to ignore the effect.
Honestly, you'll rarely have both the mana and field state for this kicker-like ability, but it's still nice to have available, potentially letting your red creatures strike without fear of repercussion.
28. Goblin Matron
Matron is a weak 1/1, but when she enters the field, you can add any goblin from your deck to your hand. That's a great tutor, especially given the large deck sizes and singleton rules in EDH. Plus, since Matron herself counts as a goblin, she'll benefit from corresponding tribal supports.
With the exception of a few planeswalkers, all commanders are creatures, so you already know your opponent will have at least one troop available throughout the match. Thankfully, you can easily remove them with this instant, which simply destroys any creature and prevents it from regenerating.
This outclasses similar-cost black spells like "Doom Blade", which are good but have limitations on the types of creatures they can affect; Terminate works on anything.
26. Virulent Sliver
Virulent Sliver doesn't have the long-feared infect trait, but he's got the next best thing: poisonous. Unlike infect, this never places -1/-1 counters on creatures, but whenever a poisonous creature inflicts combat damage to a player, they get a poison counter, losing when they collect ten.
Characteristic of the sliver family, Virulent grants his ability to his brethren, a powerful trait for a one-drop unit—just note enemy slivers benefit as well.
25. Cranial Plating
Note this card is banned in pauper.
If you're prioritizing artifacts, you'll definitely want this equipment. Plating is cheap to cast and to equip, granting a unit +1/+0 for each artifact you control (including Plating itself).
You can equip it during your main phase for one mana, but you can also attach Plating at instant speed for two black. This makes it tricky for foes to attack and defend since they'll know you can reallocate Plating as needed.
24. Hull Breach
In the longer matches of commander, indirect supports like artifacts and enchantments are common, but Hull Breach offers one of their best removals. It only activates as a sorcery, but you can destroy an artifact, an enchantment, or one of each, potentially scoring two removals for just two mana!
23. Tinder Wall
Tinder Wall's 0/3 stats make it a solid early-game blocker, and its plant subtype offers a few synergies. More importantly, you can sacrifice it for two red mana, or you sac it and spend a red to deal two damage to a creature Tinder is blocking. Usually, the first effect is better; playing Tinder on your first turn means you can have as much as four mana on your second (factoring in your standard land plays).
Auras receive some hate since they're risky; if the creature they enchant dies, you'll lose its auras. But Rancor beautifully circumvents the issue; not only does it grant a creature +2/+0 and trample (not bad for a single pop), it automatically returns to your hand when sent to the graveyard from the field.
So unless your opponent scrapes together a rare enchantment-exiling removal, they're stuck facing your reusable boost.
21. Nature's Claim
Again, artifact and enchantment removals are crucial in EDH, and here's another great choice. Nature's Claim can take out either card type at instant speed and for just one mana. The downside of granting your opponent four life is negligible, and you can even twist it your advantage with anti-life spells like "Kavu Predator".
Time for the counterspell power hour. Blue's Negate thwarts any non-creature, easily stopping high-cost plays with just two mana. To make up for its inability to affect creatures, Negate only needs one blue mana, making it less awkward in multi-color decks.
19. Mana Leak
Like Negate, Mana Leak only needs two mana, and one can be any color. It dispels any card type, though your opponent can override it by spending three additional mana. But they usually just won't have the extra resources needed, and even if they do, you're still depleting their stockpile, possibly delaying other spells.
18. Memory Lapse
Yet again, a two-cost counterspell that works well alongside other colors. Memory Lapse counters any card type, but instead of sending the spell to the graveyard, you place it on top of its owner's deck. This means your opponent will get another chance to cast it, but you're killing their next draw and forcing them to waste extra mana.
This classic spell lives up to its name, simply countering any play, no strings attached. Now, you specifically need two blue mana, but if you're running mono-blue, this shouldn't be an issue anyway.
16. Spell Pierce
Spell Pierce is Negate's little brother, countering a non-creature unless its owner spends an extra two mana. While slightly weaker, you'll still stop most plays with it for half Negate's cost. Pierce is an easy pick for my own blue decks, and despite being one of blue's most competitive cards, it's surprisingly cheap, costing well under a single dollar!
15. Artifact Lands
Note these cards (except Darksteel Citadel) are banned in modern.
Like basic lands, these fields simply tap for a colored mana (Darksteel Citadel only gives colorless, but has indestructible to compensate. But they count as both artifacts and lands, letting them empower any artifact supports you run (like affinity). Here's a quick list of the corresponding land for each color:
- White: Ancient Den
- Blue: Seat of the Synod
- Black: Vault of Whispers
- Red: Great Furnace
- Green: Tree of Tales
- Colorless: Darksteel Citadel
14. High Tide
Note this card is banned in pauper.
High Tide provides a great example of why many players consider blue the strongest commander color. For a single mana, you have all islands tap for an extra blue that turn. This scales well into the late-game and can even be used on an opponent's turn to ready a counterspell.
13. Hymn to Tourach
Note this card is banned in pauper.
Most black spells that discard twice require at least three mana, and in many cases, your victim gets to choose what they toss. Neither is true with this amazing sorcery; not only does Tourach force two discards for just two mana, it randomizes them, ensuring foes have no say in what they lose.
12. Children of Korlis
Probably the best rebel in the game, Korlis enjoys a low cost and three subtypes, though it's a weak 1/1. But you can sacrifice it at any time to regain the life you've lost during a turn. Not only can this bounce you back after a punishing combat phase, it stacks beautifully with self-inflicted wounds from spells like "Phyrexian Processor".
Here's another great deck-tinker. For one mana, Ponder lets you rearrange the top three cards of your deck as you see fit, then draw a card. But on the off chance you don't like any of your next three cards, you can also shuffle your library before you draw, hopefully putting something better on top.
Manamorphose has a flexible cost, accepting one mana of any color and one that's either green or red. When cast, you add two mana in any color combination, then draw a card.
What's the point? Well, you can turn redundant mana into needed colors, great for rainbow decks. You also get to cast a spell without reducing your pool, easily attaining the discount prices on surge cards.
9. Qasali Pridemage
Pridemage packs loads of potential into a two-cost card. He's a solid 2/2 warrior with both cat and wizard subtypes. Better yet, his exalted gives any creature you control (possibly himself) +1/+1 for the turn when it attacks alone. And you can also sacrifice Pridemage and spend a mana to destroy an artifact or enchantment, making him a handy beatstick/removal duo.
Unearth's simply one of Magic's best revivals, returning any creature with CMC three or less from your graveyard to the field. Stopping there, you'd have a great card, but Unearth goes above and beyond by offering a cycling effect, letting you discard it from your hand and spend two mana to draw a new card.
7. Ashnod's Altar
This artifact lets you sacrifice a creature for two colorless mana. Since it can be used in response to removals, you can forfeit troops you were about to lose anyway, and clever players can form infinite combos with it, like with two copies of "Myr Retriever" and a "Disciple of the Vault".
6. Priest of Titania
Titania's stats are a weak 1/1, but she taps for a green mana per every elf on the field! Counting herself, that's at least one, but tribal decks will quickly score massive amounts of mana, especially if opponents are also running elves.
5. Bojuka Bog
Bog's disadvantage is that it enters the field tapped, but when it arrives, it exiles all cards from a player's graveyard, letting you eliminate looming threats while accumulating mana for future turns.
4. Lightning Bolt
It's easy to see why players rate Lightning Bolt as red's best low-cost removal. A single mana scores three damage on any target at instant speed, more than enough to eliminate most early-game units, and even some mid-game ones and planeswalkers.
3. Dark Ritual
Dark Ritual uses one black mana to add three more to your pool, resulting in a net gain of two. That's a big ramp, especially outside green, and the instant speed only sweetens the pot.
We've seen plenty of blue's best deck manipulators, but none can compete with Brainstorm. One mana lets you draw three times, then put any two cards from your hand on top of your deck. In addition to its natural hand-tinkering, this repeatedly activates draw abilities and lets you gimmick miracle effects by placing them on top of your deck.
Note this card is banned in pauper.
Sinkhole does for two mana what its peers do for three or four, simply destroying a land. Beyond its black mana needs, there's not even a downside like paying life; you simply blast a land and hinder your target's resources. Bonus points if you eliminate powerful terrains like "Azorius Chancery".
Budget Decks in Magic
Not all of today's cards are super cheap, as some have moved up in rarity, and older commons are harder to find, but you'll find many spells are cheaper than you might think. One of Magic's biggest complaints is how expensive some of its cards are (looking at you, "Black Lotus"), but you can still build competitive decks at reasonable prices with the right commons.
But for now, as we eagerly await Wizards of the Coast's next batch of surprisingly strong non-rares, vote for your favorite card and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2019 Jeremy Gill