Five Underrated Free Spells in cEDH

Harvey McGuinness • November 22, 2023

Mana efficiency is the name of the game in cEDH. In a format where games can (and will) end within the first four turns, maximizing each mana spent is key to playing effectively. We aren't looking at diminishing returns here; every card needs to have a substantial return on its mana investment. Naturally, this brings us to the pinnacle of efficiency: free spells.

Force of Will, Deflecting Swat, Mana Crypt, Mox Diamond - Any deck that can run these cards is running these cards, and for a good, simple reason. When it comes to mana, they're free. Force of Will may break the trend and require you to pitch a card, and Deflecting Swat requires you to invest mana in playing your commander (unless you're on Rograkh, Son of Rohgahh), but none of these format staples requires a mana investment. Tap out, cast your spells, but maintain defensive interaction? That's not game-breaking, that is the game. If you're playing cEDH, you're playing free spells. The question is, which ones?

Magic's history is full of free spells, some broken, some not, so, in a singleton format as varied as cEDH, it's worth poking around a bit. Who knows, you might just find a wonderfully underplayed card to make your deck run that little bit quicker. Here are five of the less common, but no doubt powerful, free spells worth considering.


Magic is a game with quite a history, but the first card on our list (along with most of the free spells will be talking about) is a comparably new card courtesy of the Modern Horizons product line (in this case, Modern Horizons 2). Let's talk Subtlety.

Free spells are at their most effective in two cases, the first case being interaction, and the second case being resource acceleration. Subtlety, like Force of Will before it, is an excellent case of free interaction. For the cost of exiling a blue card from your hand, you may have the owner of target creature or planeswalker spell put that card on their choice of either the top or bottom of their library.

While Subtlety's targets are limited and it suffers from the dilemma of only delaying a spell, not necessarily preventing it entirely, the card is incredibly unique in practice. First off, Subtlety is a creature spell, a notoriously difficult card type for cEDH lists to interact with while on the stack. Beyond Force of Will, there is very little countermagic currently played that hits creature spells. As such, deploying Subtlety against a linchpin creature spell usually means that you've won what would otherwise be a protracted counterwar.

Additionally, Subtlety's resilience to countermagic puts an emphasis on what it is capable of; that is, it can hit creatures. You might not be preventing an Ad Nauseam or an Underworld Breach, but stopping a Thassa's Oracle or a Dockside Extortionist for the low cost of one blue card being pitched to exile is certainly worth the consideration.

Finally, albeit rather obviously, Subtlety itself is a blue card, which means that - if push comes to shove - you can also pitch it to the other free counterspells that your blue cEDH deck is undoubtedly running. This may seem an innocuous no-brainer at first, but the cross-compatibility in terms of paying for pitch costs is worth considering. It's simple, but crucial: more blue cards as a percentage of your list means you can pitch them for free spells more reliably.

Force of Despair

Alright, time to move on from Modern Horizons 2 and on to something with a bit more history...the original Modern Horizons. For this pair of pitch spells, we're looking into the cycle of cards from which we got the cEDH all-star that is Force of Negation. Each card in this list can be cast for the alternative cost of exiling a card from your hand of the corresponding color instead of paying the mana cost, but only during your opponents' turns. A bit more balanced than the likes of Force of Will, but worth paying attention to nonetheless.

First up from this cycle is Force of Despair. An interesting take on a board wipe, no other card does quite what Force of Despair does. For one black card (or the relatively reasonable 1 generic and 2 black mana), you may destroy all creatures that entered the battlefield this turn. While a significant chunk of playable creatures in cEDH are run due to their powerful enter-the-battlefield triggers, there are plenty which are run as simple value engines or stax pieces. Talion, the Kindly Lord, Drannith Magistrate, and Collector Ouphe are all examples of cards which, if left around long enough, will buy their controllers either time or value, both things to be avoided in a cEDH game. Force of Despair is an opportunity to hit multiple creatures at once, provided you get the timing right, something which black often struggles with beyond individual, mana-heavy all-stars, like Toxic Deluge.

Since Force of Despair doesn't target, it also has the wonderful bonus of being able to sneak through hefty ward costs and/or things like protection and hexproof. Tivit, Seller of Secrets just hit the table? Respond with a Force of Despair before players can start voting. You won't have to pay the ward cost, after all.

Force of Vigor

Next up in our tour through Modern Horizons is Force of Vigor. Now, I know what you're thinking: this doesn't exile artifacts and enchantments, it destroys them, meaning it can't hit cEDH's number-one target right now, The One Ring. Yes, that's true, but I think we've all been so focused on The One Ring that we've forgotten about some of the other key artifacts and enchantments in the format, like Rhystic Study

You don't need me to tell you that Rhystic Study draws a lot of cards. Competitive or casual, Rhystic Study is an enchantment to be feared. Even so, few cEDH decks have a way to interact with it once it hits the board unless. It's often "counter or ignore" with Rhystic Study, and that's frankly a mistake. Beyond Rhystic Study, a well-timed Force of Vigor can also serve to knock-off an Underworld Breach or unlock activated abilities courtesy of either Null Rod or Cursed Totem. The targets truly are endless, and it's about time we started considering ways to remove noncreature permanents, rather than just counter them. With Force of Vigor, you can hit two at once, breaking the traditional disadvantage of free spells by turning the trade into a two-for-two. 


What would a free spells list be without mention of the original pitch cycle: the roster of cards from Alliances that gave us the Eternal staple Force of Will. This time, however, the spotlight is moving away from Force of Will and towards its lesser known, though still powerful, cousin, Pyrokinesis.

In short, Pyrokinesis is the first iteration of Fury, albeit without the body stapled to it. For the cost of pitching another red card, Pyrokinesis deals four damage divided as you choose among any number of creatures. We've already seen how powerful multitarget removal can be in cEDH - from Fire Covenant to March of Swirling Mist - but none of these are completely manaless in the same way that Pyrokinesis is. If you find yourself frequently facing down a bevy of value or stax creatures in games going forwards (I know that I sure have) then Pyrokinesis should be towards the top of your considerations. The biggest downside of the card is that it has a rather high mana value of six, making it all the more punishing to flip while casting Ad Nauseam, but aforementioned choices, like Fire Covenant, already cost life to be effective, as do all-star mass removal options, like Toxic Deluge. For a multi-target instant-speed removal spell to only cost life sometimes is quite an upside, one that makes it all the more appealing in any deck with a plethora of potentially pitchable red spells.


To close off our list for today, we're looking at something a bit different: an old removal spell that's not from a pitch cycle. Here is Thunderclap; a free, instant-speed, three damage to a creature. If you sacrifice a Mountain, that is.

First up, what makes Thunderclap different from the rest of the cards on our list? Unlike everything else we've talked about so far, Thunderclap is the only card on our list with an alternative cost based around cards in play, as opposed to cards in hand, meaning you can cast it for free without having any other cards in hand. While this does mean you're not going down on potential cards to cast, sacrificing a Mountain for Thunderclap implies that you have one in play, meaning that it isn't going to be of much use to you on turn zero like the rest of our cards. However, it does mean that you can get some use out of your Mountain before hand, using the one red mana for whatever you like before sacrificing the land away. All in all, a nifty trade-off in comparison to cards like Subtlety or the like, which never let their pitched card have any fun before being exiled away.

Next, the actual value you are getting by sacrificing that Mountain. Three damage might not be enough to kill a Kraum, Ludevic's Opus, but it can shut down some problematic creatures currently running rampant across the format. Birgi, God of Storytelling, Opposition Agent, Drannith Magistrate: all of these die to a zero-mana Thunderclap, enabling you to proceed with your turn unimpeded. Removal in cEDH is often a game of tempo, so if you don't plan on needing another turn with that Mountain you could pitch, why not try out Thunderclap?

Honorable Mention: Endurance

As a bit of a bonus, let's take a bit of a detour to talk about a pitch card that's been going in and out of lists recently: Endurance. Endurance never quite settled into its own the same way cards like Force of Negation did, but it packs enough of a punch that plenty of low-color green lists have experimented with it. So, what exactly is Endurance, and why should you consider it? Remember how I said Subtlety can stop a Thassa's Oracle, but not an Underworld Breach? Endurance hits both, and it hits them hard. 

For the cost of pitching a green card from hand to exile, you may cast Endurance for its evoke cost, netting you the key ability of the card: its wonderfully disruptive enter-the-battlefield trigger. Once Endurance enters, you'll be able to have target player put all the cards in their graveyard back on the bottom of their deck, in a random order. The key part that makes this valuable (beyond the free cost) is that Endurance has flash, meaning that this trigger can serve to disrupt any and all graveyard-related combos, as well as those which require an empty library. Wonderfully enough, that sums up the majority of cEDH combos. 

Stopping Underworld Breach is easy enough with Endurance: simply flash it in and have your opponent put anything and everything they were planning to escape back on the bottom of their library. No graveyard, no combo. Thassa's Oracle is a bit more circumstantial, but if done later in the game (when the Thassa's Oracle player has a few cards in their graveyard) then casting Endurance can frequently fill a library just enough to outpace the limited devotion count present on the battlefield. 

Endurance might not be as valuable over the course of the game as its MH2 cousin Subtlety, but when you need it then Endurance will really pay off. It can't stop Drannith Magistrate, but it can stop you from losing on the spot.

Wrap Up

Magic has a lot of cards in it, too many even for something as strict as color identity to truly and distinctly narrow down. Most of the cards on this list are young additions, things which burst onto the scene comparatively recently, making them excellent candidates for further experimentation. Meanwhile, our odd-one-out in Thunderclap is an oft-forgotten card, not quite the terror that is Fury but maybe, just maybe, different enough to make it worthwhile in a cEDH deck somewhere. Who knows, maybe there's more for cEDH from the Modern Horizons pitch cycles than just Force of Negation?

Harvey McGuinness is a student at Johns Hopkins University who has been playing Magic since the release of Return to Ravnica. After spending a few years in the Legacy arena bouncing between Miracles and other blue-white control shells, he now spends his time enjoying Magic through cEDH games and understanding the finance perspective.