X spells fascinate me. They’re things to win with when you go infinite, they’re things to use up early if you have to, and they’re powerful in long games. Plus, a capital X looks cool.
There are 183 X spells and 125 more spells and lands that discuss X mana. This is an ode to them, with an eye out for ones that are more useful than their reputation. I’ll be grouping by color and category to make this shorter than a 307-card review.
White normally isn’t into making huge mana, so it’s all right they have few reasons to care about it. Many of these are damage prevention Xs, and none of them are good unless they throw damage back at something, like Vengeful Archon. There are also a few that like to X-damage attacking or blocking creatures. Those can be okay, but it’s tough to leave enough mana to deal with something killing you; they don’t scale as nicely as they look.
Where white excels, and what you probably think of with white X, is creature generation. Lin-Sivvi was good enough at finding creatures to get banned. Rather than continue a line of tutors, white since then has gotten token makers, and all 4 of them are fantastic. Decree of Justice, Benalish Commander, Martial Coup, and White Sun’s Zenith are great ways for a controlling white deck to clean up, and while nobody in my group owns a Decree, I see the other three regularly (though in fairness they’re largely from the same player).
Other solid options include swarm enablers Mirror Entity and Mikaeus, along with support cards Taj-Nar Swordsmith and Droning Bureaucrats. White doesn’t have many X spells, but there’s some variety, including several finishers. Maybe there’s a use for Lich variant Soul Echo?
You could make a serviceable Commander deck with every support spell being an X spell. The reason blue could do it where other colors couldn’t is because of how many “draw X” spells there are. When blue isn’t drawing X, it’s countering something unless somebody pays X or bouncing X somethings, usually creatures. The counters normally are good and the bounce only okay, but there are plenty of spells in all three categories that you can mix and match to your deck needs.
These cards are all straightforward in power level. What about the others? Here are some underused options:
Anthroplasm: It isn’t great, but it can mimic a large green creature if you have the mana, and good blue beatsticks are to be prized. Also, it has awesome flavor text.
Dominate: Rare is the creature steal that doesn’t leave a paper trail. Dominate steals permanently and at instant speed. If you like Mind Control effects but your group has increased enchantment hate, switch to Dominate. It costs more initially but has far more upside.
Energy Tap: I’m sure there’s an awesome use for this. This card’s as obscure as it can get, but there’s plenty of raw power.
Iceberg: Like Energy Tap, you can stock up other resources for one big turn. In this case, you’re essentially using your mana this turn to have twice the mana next turn. Alternatively, you could play it with 0 counters, hold up mana every turn, and sink it into Iceberg for something big later. It also is nice with proliferate in the same way Everflowing Chalice is. It also is you casting a MAGICAL FREAKING ICEBERG!
Kaho: Lost among the Kamigawa legends, any deck that can protect Kaho can get serious value.
Minamo Sightbender: There isn’t a comparable effect to this, believe it or not.
Reshape: It’s a lot fairer than predecessor Tinker. That still leaves plenty of room for it to be good. It’s also still very cheap to pick up.
Soothsaying: Great card selection to use whenever you have spare mana. However, my favorite use is to pay 0 into X and look at the top 0 cards of my library 5 billion times in response to a random action.
Volcanic Eruption: Extremely narrow, given that it requires Mountains. It’s also extremely powerful in that circumstance. Blue obviously needed land destruction and board sweep in one card.
War Tax: If you want to make the point in your group that people should pack more enchantment hate, I’m sure a deck built around this will convince them.
The black Xs with the best reputation are the Drain Life/Consume Spirit variants – hit you or your creature in the face and gain life about it. On that line, Exsanguinate has done enough in several groups to make its controller the target for the rest of the night. Much of the rest deals with discard; a lot of them are reasonably playable, although you shouldn’t jam them into random decks. There’s occasional reanimation or recursion as well, and this is probably my favorite category in black, as returning X creatures from your graveyard to your hand, ala Death Denied, can be backbreaking, especially at instant speed like DD does.
But the X spells you should care about from this article are the forgotten power cards. When a tournament environment is heavily skewed to an unfair deck or deck archetype, it cheapens the cards around it that would be powerful any other time. This is a windfall for casual players, as all but a few cards are widely available for good prices. Geth is still in the junk mythic category, sitting at around $1.50. You ever played with him? Against him? He’s pretty nuts as the top end of a 60-card or in any Commander deck caring about reanimation (which in black is what, all of them?)
A similar thing happened to Profane Command. It was a darling in Standard for awhile, then was replaced by more broken cards and saw Planechase and Duel Deck printings. It’s around $1.50 now as well. Most black decks I’ve seen have a definite idea which two modes they want for a given board state, but it always can use two of them, making this a topdeck you almost always want. Pick them up now. It’s one of the best X spells period, never mind in black.
I’m not going to sort out all the X burn spells out there other than to note that newcomer Devil’s Play is very, very good, largely because opponents have to respect the flashback and play differently. There are so many X burns though that you probably already have as many as you want in your collection. Besides burn and the recently banned Blazing Shoal, what else is even in red?
Flowstone Slide: Protection from red sticks in the craw of the would-be red Wrather. Now with the Slide. It isn’t the best Wrath in the universe, but it also has a few more applications, and red just doesn’t have many -X options.
Meltdown/Hammer Mage: My favorite artifact destruction in Commander. The Mage’s reusability – yes, I will discard cards constantly to destroy your mana rocks – makes it a thorn for players who overrely on nonlands to do broken things.
Outmaneuver/War Cadence/Wave of Indifference: They have somewhat overlapping functionality – letting your forces get through as a big finish when the opponent was thought to be stabilizing – but Outmaneuver and War Cadence have political flexibility. Outmaneuver can be particularly rough on someone else’s turn, as you can let two players wipe each other out. I don’t know how often that could come up, but just the idea that it could makes me want to stick some in my decks.
Green’s low on quantity but high on quality, largely from the ability to ramp into high Xs. Without even trying I’ve cast 22 of the 37; many of them happen to be iconic, from Hurricane and other anti-flyers to the creature-making of Verdeloth the Ancient and friends to the unique blowout that is Serene Sunset. Because of how well-known green’s X spells are, there isn’t much to say about them individually. If you’ve played Commander enough, you’ve faced a deck with lots of green ramp, and that deck likely ran as many good X spells as it could find. It’s how green rolls.
Again, and surprisingly, there isn’t much to say about multicolor X spells that I didn’t say with red and green; here, we just have better versions of what red and green do. 8 cards work with dealing or redirecting damage (Nin or Niv Invoked). 7 more are mana sinks in the green or white mold (Apocalypse Hydra, Wargate, or Rise of the Hobgoblins). There’s Pernicious Deed and a few variants.
Probably the only thing in this 31 that ought to be played more often is Kaervek’s Purge, one of my favorite spot removals in Commander. Often, the person everybody left alone in the early game ramped up to something huge and unstoppable – a target that went straight to the sweet part of the security curve. Purge not only deals with the threat, but it takes a huge chunk of life with it, re-exposing the opponent and shortening the time it takes to dispose of them. It’s a good thing.
Only 19 of the 46 have been printed in the new card frames, as many are old Clockwork creatures or other do-nothings (or do-littles in the casual world at least). The newest 19 tend to be very good, though. Kessig Wolf Run is a Standard hit, but it crashes into your opponents just as easily. I’ve been impressed with Lavaclaw Reaches in Commander; if you’ve been Wrathed out of existence, you still might “burn” someone every turn for awhile. Steel Hellkite needs no introduction.
The three here that I’d call underrated are:
Citanul Flute: Like many cards 5-10 years old, the Flute is still cheap but in short supply. If you’re looking for reusable tutoring, this one’s on the clunky side but still good. It doesn’t have the cachet of Planar Portal, but that also means that you might actually get to use it, as opposed to the Portal, whose text might as well read “When this enters the battlefield, somebody destroys it.”
Well of Lost Dreams: If you don’t look at this and think it’s powerful, you just haven’t seen it played. A deck that’s gaining life and drawing cards at the same time is difficult to deal with, even if both gains are on the small side, and Well’s juuust slow enough that it’s rarely destroyed as quickly as its power level deserves.
Whetwheel: One of my favorite mana sinks for style points if nothing else. I’ve milled someone for 109 cards; as you can guess, they didn’t have that many in their deck.
All My Xs live in Deckses
Hopefully this has given you some ideas for what to do with decks that make a bunch of mana or just want some scalable versatility. X spells are iconic, and there’s far more to them than going infinite or burning a face.