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Magic: The Gathering – What Are Converted Mana Costs?

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Magic: The Gathering has many moving parts, from the five colors of mana and activated abilities to the many formats, ranging from Standard to booster draft Limited and Commander. However, one universal aspect to the game’s cards is the concept of converted mana cost, or CMC.

This concept was renamed “mana value” in the Strixhaven: School of Mages expansion set. All Magic cards, even tokens, have a converted mana cost. New players will need to learn how to measure a card’s converted mana cost and why this concept is important. A variety of deckbuilding strategies and card effects will care a great deal about converted mana cost.

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How to Determine the Converted Mana Cost of a Card In Magic: The Gathering

With the exception of visual reminder cards, such as the Monarchy token or planeswalker emblems, all Magic cards have a converted mana cost, including tokens (whether creatures or not) and all lands. However, the card’s CMC is not printed anywhere on it; instead, the card will have its regular mana cost, if any, printed in the upper right-hand corner. It should be noted that a card’s converted mana cost is derived from its mana cost, but they are not the same thing. That is, converted mana costs are never paid, but mana costs are paid.

To convert a card’s mana cost into its CMC, players must add up all mana symbols that they find on the card’s mana cost. Each symbol, such as those of the five colors of mana, count as one point toward the CMC. If the mana cost has generic mana with a gray circle and number, the number is added to the card’s CMC. Snow mana symbols and Phyrexian mana symbols count as one each for CMC purposes.

The same is true of hybrid mana symbols, even though a hybrid mana symbol actually has two different mana symbols in it. For example, Rafiq of the Many has {1} in its mana cost, so that’s one point toward its CMC. The green mana symbol counts as one as well, and the same is true for the white and green mana symbols. Thus, Rafiq of the Many has a CMC of 4.

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As for spells with X in their cost, X can be anything (even zero), and X always counts as 0 for CMC purposes. So, Sphinx’s Revelation has a CMC of 3, counting the three colored mana symbols in its mana cost. However, that’s just by default; once Sphinx’s Revelation is cast and X is one or more, then the card’s CMC goes up for that instance. If X is four, for example, then Sphinx’s Revelation will have a CMC of 7 when it is cast that way. It should also be noted that cost-reduction effects never change a card’s CMC, even if the spell becomes cheaper to play.

In cases like Living End in which a card has no printed mana cost at all, the card has a CMC of 0 by default, since lacking a printed mana cost doesn’t mean a lack of a CMC. It should be noted that, since Living End has no printed mana cost, it cannot be cast from the hand; it must be cast with its suspend ability, cascade or some other external effect. Its CMC is 0, but that doesn’t make it free to play from the hand. Contrast that with the artifact creature Memnite, whose printed mana cost is {0}. Memnite’s CMC is also 0, like that of Living End, but since Memnite has a printed mana cost, it may be played from the hand normally, and no mana is spent.

Understanding Magic: The Gathering’s CMC, Gameplay & Mana Curves

A variety of M:TG cards are based on the converted mana costs of other permanents or spells on the stack in positive and negative ways. Chalice of the Void is a notorious example of this, being able to counter any spell with a CMC that matches the number of charge counters on the Chalice. Many decks in Modern or Legacy rely heavily on spells with CMC of 1, such as Brainstorm, Opt, Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile, and the Chalice shuts them all down.

Spell Snare is typical sideboard or even mainboard tech in Modern, countering any of that format’s many good CMC 2 cards, from Tarmogoyf to Dark Confidant, Remand, Arcbound Ravager and Boros Charm. Void Winnower, a massive Eldrazi monster, won’t let the opponents cast spells with even converted mana costs (including 0), and creatures with even converted mana costs cannot block.

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Designing a deck for either Constructed or Limited means paying attention to the mana curve, usually from 0 to 6+. That means paying attention to a card’s overall CMC, rather than colored mana costs. Players will have to factor in colored mana at some point, but that’s separate from CMC.

Overall, players should have more cards with a low CMC in their deck, such as one, two and three-drops, which can create a smooth mana curve. Ideally, players will draw many low-end CMC cards and just a few costly ones. The average CMC of a deck is also a good reference point, with burn and aggro decks having a low average CMC and midrange decks having a higher CMC.

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