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MTG Madness – Cards, Decks & Tips

This post was last updated on February 2nd, 2023

Hi! I’ve recently had the chance to play Mansions of Madness again after a long time and I thought it was time to talk about the MTG Madness ability.

In this article I’ll go over the official rules, I’ll share what I consider the best cards with the Madness ability, the most useful cards that could help you raise your chances of victory, how to play against Madness in MTG and some general tips that you’ll find spread here and there throughout the article.

What follows are thoughts based on my personal experience of playing the game since the late ’90s, I hope you’ll find something useful!

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What does Madness mean in MTG?

Madness is a triggered ability, defined by a keyword, that allows you to cast a card that is about to be discarded, paying a specific mana cost.

Madness is, in fact, an alternative way to pay the cost of playing the cards and once our spell has been resolved it will normally go to the graveyard.

This ability was introduced in Magic back in February 2002 with the Torment expansion, the second set of the Odyssey block that also includes Odyssey and Judgment.

How does this ability work?

By discarding a card with madness from your hand, you can decide whether to send it to the graveyard or pay its alternative madness cost to exile it and put it on the battlefield.
If by discarding a card we decide not to pay its madness cost, that card will end up in the graveyard and we will no longer be able to take advantage of that ability.
The great advantage of having madness on a card is that we can also play a creature during our opponent’s turn, thus creating a surprise blocker or carrying us forward for our next turn.
That’s the beauty of this ability: by discarding a card from our hand, having madness ability, we can cast it at any time, regardless of the type of card we discard, be it creature, spell or sorcery.

I have briefly described what Madness means but let’s have a look at what the official rules state:

MTG Madness Rules

702.35a Madness is a keyword that represents two abilities. The first is a static ability that functions
while the card with madness is in a player’s hand. The second is a triggered ability that
functions when the first ability is applied. “Madness [cost]” means “If a player would discard
this card, that player discards it, but exiles it instead of putting it into their graveyard” and
“When this card is exiled this way, its owner may cast it by paying [cost] rather than paying its
mana cost. If that player doesn’t, they put this card into their graveyard.”
702.35b Casting a spell using its madness ability follows the rules for paying alternative costs in
rules 601.2b and 601.2f–h.
702.35c After resolving a madness triggered ability, if the exiled card wasn’t cast and was moved to
a public zone, effects referencing the discarded card can find that card. See rule 400.7i.

MTG Madness Best Cards

Let’s quickly go over some of the best creatures that have the Madness ability.

Basking Rootwalla & Blazing Rootwalla

MTG Basking Rootwalla – image: Wizards of the Coast
Blazing Rootwalla - MTG Madness
MTG Blazing Rootwalla – image: Wizards of the Coast

The most commonly used creatures in madness-based decks since these lizards can be cast at cost 0 thanks to the madness ability.
The first lizard, green, is an iconic creature released with Torment expansion, of common rarity and played in many decks in the pauper format.
The second lizard is in red colour, released with Modern Horizons 2 and this time printed uncommon.
They are small creatures, but at the same time essential because they don’t require mana cost to enter the battlefield and can enhance their strength through their ability.

Kitchen Imp

Kitchen Imp - MTG Madness
MTG Kitchen Imp – image: Wizards of the Coast

Like the lizards described above, this imp can enter the battlefield very quickly.
Its madness cost is equal to single black mana, and for a 2/2 creature with flying and haste, I would say that is not bad at all.


Necrogoyf - MTG Madness
MTG Necrogoyf – image: Wizards of the Coast

Another black creature with a madness cost of 3, 1 colourless and 2 specific black, with good toughness of 4, while its strength is equal to the number of creatures in all graveyards.
Its second ability is interesting since it can come in very handy: it allows us to discard cards during the upkeep phase, which we can later cast paying the madness cost; obviously, there will be a large number of cards in our deck with the madness ability.
Another reason why this card is in the best cards with madness list is that it allows us to annoy our opponent by making him discard a card from his hand during his upkeep.

Arrogant Wurm | Reckless Wurm

Arrogant Wurm - MTG Madness
MTG Arrogant Wurm – image: Wizards of the Coast
MTG Reckless Wurm – image: Wizards of the Coast

As the lizards described above, here is another functional reprint from green to red and in this case not a simple 1/1 creature, but a 4/4 wurm with trample.
The value of playing these cards using the madness cost is that you need fewer Lands on your battlefield, speeding up the process of getting a 4/4 creature in play.
Also identical are the expansions from where these cards come from: Torment the first, Modern Horizons 2 the second, with the difference that the creature of Torment was printed uncommon, while the one of Modern Horizons 2 is common; unlike the lizards.

Archfiend of Spite

Archfiend of Spite - MTG Madness
MTG Archfiend of Spite – image: Wizards of the Coast

The strongest creature with the madness ability in Magic. It is a 6/6 demon with flying, very tough.
The cost of madness is not low, amounting to 5, though considering the type of creature I think it is balanced, also and especially because of its ability: it allows us to deal damage to the opponent, not only by attacking him but also if our demon takes damage, unless our opponent sacrifices as many permanents.

MTG Madness deck examples

Let’s take a look at a very nice, madness-based deck, super played in the T2 format in the early 2000s, now revived and revisited to be the best deck in the recent premodern format, a so-called tier1 deck.

Madness deck (Premodern format)

As guessed from the explanation of the madness ability, our goal is to discard cards from our hand and then cast them via their madness cost from exile.

That said, we need to make sure that we draw a lot of cards to “turn the deck around very quickly,” but at the same time be able to discard as many cards so that we can quickly cast more dangerous creatures that are difficult for our opponent to contain.

Madness deck analysis:

Here below you can find some indications regarding how the deck works, what are the best cards and what are your winning conditions:

Careful Study & Frantic Search

Careful Study - MTG Madness
MTG Careful Study – image: Wizards of the Coast
Frantic Search - MTG Madness
MTG Frantic Search – image: Wizards of the Coast

These are the two spells, sorcery and instant, that help us turn the deck around quickly, which is essential if we want to play one that revolves around the madness ability.
Their function is to make us draw and discard plenty, and they succeed perfectly.
Thanks to Frantic Search we can also untap 3 of our lands, an ideal move to later cast a creature with madness.

Survival of the Fittest

Survival of the Fittest - MTG Madness
MTG Survival of the Fittest – image: Wizards of the Coast

This card follows the logic of the two cards mentioned above.
I mention it separately, both because of its high economic cost and because it is a permanent spell; it stays on our battlefield and helps us in retrieving the creature we need at the appropriate time. It is the engine of this deck let’s say.

Genesis & Wonder & Squee, Goblin Nabob

Genesis - MTG Madness
MTG Genesis – image: Wizards of the Coast
Wonder - MTG Madness
MTG Wonder – image: Wizards of the Coast
MTG Squee, Goblin Nabob – image: Wizards of the Coast

These cards have one and only fundamental purpose. To be trashed! Yes, they must end up in our graveyard because they serve exclusively as discard cards.

Genesis must be permanently in our graveyard since thanks to its ability we can retrieve a target creature from the graveyard and return it to our hand.

The Wonder card makes all our creatures gain the flying ability if it stays in the graveyard. Very useful, especially if our 4/4 Wurm, with already a very strong ability such as Trample, could also fly over the opponent’s defences.

Squee, Goblin Nabob on the other hand is continuously discarded and retrieved from the graveyard at the beginning of each of our upkeeps, in case we have run out of creatures in our hand with madness.

Arrogant Wurm & Basking Rootwalla

Arrogant Wurm - MTG Madness
MTG Arrogant Wurm – image: Wizards of the Coast
MTG Basking Rootwalla – image: Wizards of the Coast

These are the only 8 cards with madness ability and they are the ones we want and need to cast when we discard cards from our hand.
They allow us to quickly attack our opponent or in the case of the Wurm also have a good defender given its strength/toughness of 4.

Wild Mongrel & Aquamoeba

Wild Mongrel - MTG Madness
MTG Wild Mongrel – image: Wizards of the Coast
Aquamoeba - MTG Madness
MTG Aquamoeba – image: Wizards of the Coast

These two creatures have no madness but unlike the three listed above, they are not to be discarded… far from it. In fact, they must be present on the battlefield.
They are very useful cards since, due to their extreme interaction with our deck, they allow us to discard cards and then later play the other creatures with madness.

The “hound dog,” aka Wild Mongrel, is very important in the deck as whenever we discard cards he boosts himself with a +1/+1 for each card discarded, also changing the colour at our will.

Aquamoeba, on the other hand, exchanges its strength for its toughness until the end of the turn by discarding a card from our hand. It allows us to let it remain a 1/3 if we want to defend ourselves or turn it into a 3/1 to deal more damage to our opponent.

Daze & Counterspell

Daze - MTG Madness
MTG Daze – image: Wizards of the Coast
Counterspell - MTG Madness
MTG Counterspell – image: Wizards of the Coast

These two cards cannot be missed in any self-respecting blue deck because they allow us to have some counters to the spells our opponent will cast during the course of the game.

Useful cards with Madness in MTG

In the first section of the article we looked at the top creatures with the madness ability that can come in very handy in our deck.

However, in Magic there are other types of cards possessing this ability, not only creatures; instants, sorceries and enchantments: every colour has some cards with madness very interesting and ready to be “discarded”.

Circular Logic

MTG Circular Logic – image: Wizards of the Coast

One of the strongest instants with the madness ability. By discarding it, we can cast this card at only the cost of 1 specific blue mana, allowing us to neutralize a target spell unless our opponent pays 1 mana for each card in our graveyard.
He won’t be willing to pay this cost because in a madness deck we always have many cards in our graveyard.

Fiery Temper

Fiery Temper - MTG Madness
MTG Fiery Temper – image: Wizards of the Coast

Definitely not the best “shot” in a red colour deck, given its mana cost of 3. But given that we want to play with madness, this card allows us to have our classic “lightning bolt,” at cost 1 red mana, to cast when we discard this card from our hand.

Terminal Agony

Terminal Agony - MTG Madness
MTG Terminal Agony – image: Wizards of the Coast

Like the card described above, this is not the cheapest removal, though by playing it with madness we can destroy a target creature by spending only 1 black and 1 red mana.

From Under the Floorboards

MTG From Under the Floorboards – image: Wizards of the Coast

A card that is certainly worth casting via its madness cost. At X cost, in addition to two black mana, we can create several 2/2 zombie tokens and gain as many life points.
It will be able to help us a lot at different stages of the game.

Curse of Fool’s Wisdom

MTG Curse of Fool’s Wisdom – image: Wizards of the Coast

This extremely expensive Enchantment card, which in fact should always be played through the madness ability, allows us to enchant our opponent.
What does it mean? Whenever our opponent draws a card, he will lose two life points while making us gain as many.

How to deal with MTG Madness

How can we defend against the madness ability if we encounter a type of deck like the one I explained in the article?

Let’s first think about the creatures that we need to contain. The classic method is playing removal cards, that is, we destroy our opponent’s creatures to limit him in his attack.

Although it may not seem like it, a madness deck can have a fair amount of synergy with its graveyard.
Think of the Wonder card, for example, or the other colour variants of this creature; being able to give the abilities flying, haste, first strike and so on to your creatures is a huge advantage.

Also, the Squee Goblin Nabob card that goes in and out of the graveyard all the time and helps our opponent in the draw/discard mechanics.
So does Genesis, which helps a lot from the graveyard with its ability to retrieve creatures.

We can contain the power of these cards by using dedicated graveyard removals:

Relic of Progenitus & Bojuka Bog

MTG Relic of Progenitus – image: Wizards of the Coast
MTG Bojuka Bog – image: Wizards of the Coast

Relic of Progenitus is the most popular and widely used card. This artifact removes from play every card in every graveyard, also allowing us to draw.
If we play black-colored cards in the deck, Bojuka Bog is a land that should absolutely be included. By entering the battlefield it exiles our opponent’s graveyard.

A madness deck usually casts several magic spells each turn, certainly more than one. We can counter it with these two cards:

Arcane Laboratory & Archon of Emeria

MTG Arcane Laboratory – image: Wizards of the Coast
MTG Archon of Emeria – image: Wizards of the Coast

Since a madness deck relies heavily on spells with a draw and discard mechanics, if we play these cards on our battlefield we will prevent him from casting spells with madness on discard, slowing down his deck a lot.

Drannith Magistrate

MTG Drannith Magistrate – image: Wizards of the Coast

Since a card discarded from our hand that has the madness ability gets exiled and it can be cast from that area onto the battlefield, by playing the magistrate our opponents will not be able to cast that exiled card by paying the madness cost.
The card will then be discarded ending up in the player’s graveyard.

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