An alternative cost (alternate cost, alternate playing cost, or APC) is another way to pay for a spell besides its normal mana cost. Cards with alternative costs were first introduced in Alliances, with the pitch spells.
Alternate costs are usually optional and enabled by abilities which cause the spell to have a modified effect, provide an opportunity to pay a lower-than-normal cost, or change the circumstances in which the spell can be cast. For instance, paying an alternate cost may change the timing restrictions for casting a spell or which zone it can be played from. The cost may be entirely in mana, or may involve other resources. Even if the alternate cost is being paid and is entirely in mana, effects that mention the spell's "mana cost" are still referring to the normal cost printed on the card, not the alternate cost.
These costs are most often specified by abilities on the card itself rather than as part of another card's effects, with the exception of effects that allow another card to be played "without paying its mana cost". When an effect allows playing a card "for free" this way, it's not possible to also choose to pay a different alternate cost, such as one provided by the card's own abilities.
Alternate costs often lead to similar effects and strategies as additional costs, miscellaneous cost increases and reductions, or abilities that put permanents into play or copies of spells on the stack. However, the rules governing each of these are slightly different, so care should be taken to observe the distinctions during play.
- Alternative Cost
- A cost a spell may have that its controller can pay rather than paying its mana cost. See rule 118, “Costs,” and rule 601, “Casting Spells.”
- 118.9. Some spells have alternative costs. An alternative cost is a cost listed in a spell’s text, or applied to it from another effect, that its controller may pay rather than paying the spell’s mana cost. Alternative costs are usually phrased, “You may [action] rather than pay [this object’s] mana cost,” or “You may cast [this object] without paying its mana cost.” Note that some alternative costs are listed in keywords; see rule 702.
- 118.9a Only one alternative cost can be applied to any one spell as it’s being cast. The controller of the spell announces their intentions to pay that cost as described in rule 601.2b.
- 118.9b Alternative costs are generally optional. An effect that allows you to cast a spell may require a certain alternative cost to be paid.
- 118.9c An alternative cost doesn’t change a spell’s mana cost, only what its controller has to pay to cast it. Spells and abilities that ask for that spell’s mana cost still see the original value.
- 118.9d If an alternative cost is being paid to cast a spell, any additional costs, cost increases, and cost reductions that affect that spell are applied to that alternative cost. (See rule 601.2f.)
Types of reduced costs
Below are all of the possible costs one can spend in order to lessen or supplant a card's mana cost:
- Alternative Mana (such as Hybrid mana)
- Life (such as Phyrexian mana)
- Cards in Hand (Discard Cards)
- Sacrifice Permanents on the Battlefield
- Return a Permanent to Owner's Hand
- Tap Permanents on the Battlefield
- Cards in Graveyard
- Cards in Library
- Spend Time
- Future Mana
- Future Draws
- Future Steps/Phases
- Possession of Permanents on the Battlefield
- Granting Opponent Life
- Opponent Has Taken Certain Actions
- Condition Has Happened
- Another Player Pays a Portion
Technically, a number of the above examples are simply a "different way to pay for the mana cost" rather than a true alternate cost which completely replaces the mana cost. However, few if any abilities care about this distinction.
Alternative cost keywords
This is a list of alternative costs that are common enough to exist as keywords.
Keywords that change the circumstances of a spell's casting if an alternate cost is paid:
- Flashback — allows casting from the graveyard
- Madness — allows casting as the spell is being discarded
- Miracle — allows casting as the spell is being drawn
Keywords that make it easier to pay for the spell:
- Assist — other players cay help pay for the normal mana cost
- Convoke — tapping creatures can help pay for the normal mana cost
- Emerge — allows the sacrifice of another creature to help pay for an alternate cost
- Prowl — damage dealt by certain creatures enables an alternate cost
- Spectacle — opponent's life loss enables an alternate cost
- Surge — spells cast earlier in a turn enable an alternate cost
- Suspend — an alternate cost is paid, but the spell resolves several turns later
- Madness and Miracle — These abilities, which allow casting a spell under special timing rules, also typically reduce the cost
Keywords that change or add to the spell's effects when an alternate cost is paid:
- Awaken — turns land in play into a creature
- Bestow — a creature is cast as an enchantment
- Dash — grants a creature haste, but returns it to hand at end of turn
- Evoke — a creature is cast and immediately sacrificed, creating a sorcery-like effect
- Morph — a creature is cast face down, but can be turned face up later
- Overload — a spell affects all possible targets instead of just one
- Madness, Prowl, Spectacle, and Surge — These abilities, which are generally used for cost reduction, may also enable additional effects, as in "If the spectacle cost was paid..."