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Considerations on Documentation

Continuing yesterday’s idea that “Data is good.” (and check out the poll at the end to vote on data expansion) I’d like to dig a little deeper into why the basic elements I started documenting are so important.

So, what were these basic elements again?

  • Color
  • Creature or Noncreature
  • Card Name
  • Printed Mana Cost and Converted Mana Cost
  • Actual Mana Cost and Converted Mana Cost (when functionally different from printed)

While I go into broader strokes and details in my ManaNation article on Cube Documentation, I’d like to pinpoint the one element that is much more important than it appears: Actual Mana Cost.

Actual Mana Cost and Converted Mana Cost

Here are these two true derived values for cards I include. These are probably the most important considerations I use. Many card, such as the Spire Golem, will not cost the printed cost. For Spire Golem it will probably cost less. Something like Skinthinner, however, the actual cost you’ll pay is most certainly more.

Understanding some of the considerations in why the actual cost is so important can be best summed up by simply this: the mana curve. Limited decks generally follow a curve of multitudes of lower cost cards with a sprinkling of more powerful, but more expensive, cards. Knowing where the cards you include in the cube fit into these curves is important.  Let’s review some of the ways the actual price you pay isn’t necessarily what’s printed.

Alternative Payment

Cards like Force of Will and Snuff Out are the flagships of cards that have an alternate cost to play available. Generally speaking you would consider these spells to cost zero since you require no actual mana to play them, It’s this “net zero” potential that makes me set the Borderpost cycle as “enters the battlefield tapped land cards” rather than artifacts.

Suspend and Echo

With suspend you are likely paying the suspend cost, rather than the printed price. Errant Ephemeron is almost always played early for two mana rather than held until the seven otherwise required is reached. Similarly, consider the quirky card Henchfiend of Ukor which costs red mana yet has a black echo cost. This is clearly a multicolor card and, as such, I cost it as two colorless, black, and red – a total of four – which is what you’ll need to afford to keep this bad boy.


While playing the morph face down always requires just three colorless mana it’s the morph cost that impacts here. If the cost is less than three, I set the cost to be the color required plus the additional needed to hit three total mana. If the cost is more I simply set the cost to that. Compare Nantuko Vigilante, which I set at two colorless and a green, against Skinthinner, which I set at three colorless and double black.

While morph creatures give options, generally these creatures are desirable for their morph effect and not general cost. But, from time to time, a 2/1 for two mana (Skinthinner) can be placed in a pinch.

Strange exceptions can exist here, like Fathom Seer. What would you cost it at? I say a colorless and two blue since, generally speaking, you’re going to use it’s morph cost to flip it by returning two Islands. That’s double blue mana you need, specifically Islands, but in a heavy blue deck you’ll have the basics anyway.


Like Morph, I price it at cost that will generally be paid. Krosan Tusker is a big fatty but is almost always a “Find a basic land, shuffle, and draw a card.” spell rather than big creature. Of course, big creatures can be great later but trading one card in for a land and a random one after that is always slick.

Kicker and Buyback

If you plan to kick or buyback virtually all the time than plan that accordingly. Vines of Vastwood and Sprout Swarm are great examples of this principle (with the Swarm getting  a helping dose of alternative payment factoring in!). However, something like Apex Hawks can be set as the Wild Griffin it actually is, it just comes with that bonus flexibility to option into something bigger if needed.

Spells with X in Their Cost

Pricing these spells is a bit tricky but once you’ve seen the card in action enough you can average out what the fair price should be. For Death Denied I set it as two colorless and two black mana. Getting back two creatures cards later int he game will likely let you play at least one immediately. The option always exists to ramp it up higher if desired.

Opportunity Cost

Wind Zendikon is a favorite little guy of mine. In particular, you can play and Island on turn two and transform whatever land you played on turn one into a 2/2 flying with “haste.” The cost, however, is most certainly two mana since you forfeit access to mana by attacking. Total worth it every time, though.


Whichever cost is greater, to cast or to equip, is where I set it. Equipment is worthless without the ability to to play or equip.


Of course, weird exceptions will exist. Consider Gathan Raiders: I cost it at three colorless since pitching a card to turn face up a 5/5 seems just fine. (It’s still a red card.)

So what do you think? Is this worth all the trouble? Consider your curves, recalling Time Spiral, Ravnica, Onslaught, and other sets where the costs were different. It makes all the sense in the world to quantify this accurately.

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