Quick Card Judging – Mana Cost
Sifting though your entire collection looking for usable cards can be a daunting challenge. Some of us have thousands of cards. While I hope you've found a way to organize them for easy access, its understandable that many collections are in complete disarray. Building a Magic the Gathering deck is all about finding and choosing cards for your deck. There are thousands of pieces to choose from and you can only approve 15-25 of them. Unless you have an infinite amount of free time to shuffle through dusty boxes of MTG cards (or even the gatherer) you're going to need a shortcut strategy to help you make quick card judgments and find those magical gems we know are hidden deep in our collections.
At its core, Magic is really just about paying for cards and doing what the cards tell you to do. So when you're deciding which cards you want to put into your deck, pretend you have a budget and are shopping for great deals. There are "going rates" for particular card functions. If you took all of one type of card (draw, discard, creature, counter etc) and looked at their mana cost you'd notice there are cards that are "good deals" and others that seem to give you the same or less while charging more. For example: The going rate for a 2/2 creature is about 2 mana. A creature should cost no more converted mana than its power and toughness combined divided by 2. 4/4's should cost 4 or less, a 6/6 should cost no more than 6 and a 2/4 shouldn't cost much more than 3 unless it has abilities. Assign mana values to each ability. Consider how much you would pay to give a creature a great ability. Most abilities tend to go for about 1 mana. Giving a creature flight costs 1 extra mana and a card such as Asha's Favor that gives 3 abilities costs 3. Simply add this to your thought process when you're looking at a creature with abilities. Get into the mindset that you're "paying" for these cards with deck slots, mana and entire turns in game and you'll be able to judge a card in seconds.
There are only so many actions a Magic card will let you take. With your knowledge of the various cards available, assign mana values that you're willing to pay for drawing cards, discarding cards, creature destruction etc. Drawing an extra card should cost a little over 1 mana per card (not 8). Creature destruction costs about 3 for a clean kill and 2 or less for a more sloppy approach (not 5).
I've even started a separate shoebox for my cards that do the exact same thing as another card but cost more mana. They are forever ruled out of my decks because there are better alternatives. That is ultimately what we are doing when we judge a card. We're comparing it to all of the other prices out there and picking the cheapest possible option.
Granted, this doesn't work for every card out there. Particularly with more complicated spells. You'll obviously need to take a closer look at the card but the general principal still applies.
You're always weighing cost vs power. A card can read "Destroy target player" but can still simply cost too much to be feasible. If the card can't pass this initial test then it probably isn't a good choice for your deck.
One strategy can be to avoid looking at the mana cost all together until you've read the card. Then ask yourself "How much would I pay for this in a game?" With your knowledge of the "going rates" for basic cards you can give it an instant judgment.
When you're flying through stacks of Magic cards looking for that special something you're mainly dismissing cards. We might rule out 1000 cards before finding one that we've never noticed before or are just now rediscovering. With that in mind it is important to have strategies in place to help you quickly separate the rough from the diamonds in your own collection.