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Say I start the process for casting a spell, and activate Selvala, Explorer Returned as part of the process of casting the spell. I have plenty of lands available to cast the spell whether Selvala gave me any additional mana or not. But due to something that was revealed when I activated Selvala, I now know that casting the original spell is a bad idea. Can I simply choose not to produce enough mana to cast the spell, thus having it reversed and returned to my hand?

I'm aware that I could have just activated Selvala before starting to cast the spell; and cannot think of any legitimate reason why I would begin to cast the spell first if there is a chance I would not want to follow through with it.

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  • I think this might be a duplicate of boardgames.stackexchange.com/questions/12132/…. This one involves gaining information during the casting of the spell, and the other one doesn't, but I don't think that makes them materially different.
    – murgatroid99
    Dec 14 '21 at 19:33
  • @murgatroid99 I was looking for that exact question without luck; because I knew I remembered reading something like this. However, I do think that the fact that you gained new information after you began to cast the spell does make an important difference here; Selvalva's ability specifically deals with gaining new information while casting a spell and even starting to cast a spell with a risk that you may or may not be able to complete casting it. It isn't clear that the ability and rulings on Selvalva are only intended to cover the case where it is not impossible to make enough mana.
    – GendoIkari
    Dec 14 '21 at 19:54
  • My reading is that the ruling on Selvala very clearly only applies when you are incapable of casting a spell: "If you activate Selvala’s ability while casting a spell, and you discover you can’t produce enough mana to pay that spell’s costs, the spell is reversed."
    – murgatroid99
    Dec 14 '21 at 19:57
  • @GendoIkari Since you include Selvala in your question, am I correct in assuming you're actually asking how to handle reversing her ability if the spell casting gets cancelled?
    – Hackworth
    Dec 14 '21 at 21:35
  • @Hackworth No, the question is purely about the legality of choosing to reverse the casting of the spell. I understand the specifics of what you can or can't reverse when a spell becomes illegal.
    – GendoIkari
    Dec 14 '21 at 22:11
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No, you cannot choose to stop casting a spell once you have announced that you want to cast it. The only way to stop casting a spell after that point is if you are unable to make the choices required by the spell, or if you make a game play error by misjudging your ability to pay its total cost. Either way, Selvala's ability has no relevance to this as it cannot be reversed.

The Comprehensive Rules do not provide a voluntary exit point for the process of casting a spell. Once you did start casting a spell, you follow all instructions as outlined. The only premature exit point in the CR is when a spell becomes illegal to cast, at which point the game is rolled back to the state just before you started casting. This has been discussed in this question

601.2e The game checks to see if the proposed spell can legally be cast. If the proposed spell is illegal, the game returns to the moment before the casting of that spell was proposed (see rule 726, “Handling Illegal Actions”).

This happens after making choices, but before determining and paying costs.

If you made all required choices legally but then determine that you can't pay the total cost (typically because you don't have enough mana available), you have committed a game play error as per the Infraction Procedure Guide, with appropriate steps taken by the judge to remedy the situation and/or give a penalty as deemed appropriate.

That being said, Selvala's ability has no bearing on any of the above questions. Selvala's ability, once resolved, cannot be reversed. It does not matter whether or not you activated it while casting a spell, or whether or not casting that spell got cancelled.

  1. Handling Illegal Actions

726.1. If a player takes an illegal action or starts to take an action but can’t legally complete it, the entire action is reversed and any payments already made are canceled. No abilities trigger and no effects apply as a result of an undone action. If the action was casting a spell, the spell returns to the zone it came from. Each player may also reverse any legal mana abilities that player activated while making the illegal play, unless mana from those abilities or from any triggered mana abilities they caused to trigger was spent on another mana ability that wasn’t reversed. Players may not reverse actions that moved cards to a library, moved cards from a library to any zone other than the stack, caused a library to be shuffled, or caused cards from a library to be revealed.

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  • The rules do provide a voluntary exit point if Selvala's ability doesn't fully pay for the spell. Per 118.3c, activating mana abilities is not mandatory, even if paying the cost is.
    – Cadence
    Dec 14 '21 at 21:26
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    The general issue that comes up in this kind of question is that 601.2g does not require players to activate mana abilities or to end up with enough mana to pay the cost, but 601.2h requires players to pay the cost. A common interpretation is that you are allowed to choose not to activate mana costs, then be unable to pay the cost and be "forced" to roll back the whole spell casting procedure. The top answer to the question I linked resolves that by citing judge rulings that just say that you aren't actually allowed to do that.
    – murgatroid99
    Dec 14 '21 at 21:28
  • This has been discussed in the question I linked, which states that 118.3c does not allow you to arbitrarily not pay for spells.
    – Hackworth
    Dec 14 '21 at 21:28
  • I think if we do not say that this question is a duplicate of that one, then it is worth reiterating the relevant information in the answer here.
    – murgatroid99
    Dec 14 '21 at 21:30
  • Honestly I would say it's a duplicate because Selvala's ability, as I discussed, has no relevance to whether or not you have to finish casting a spell. An additional complication is that the answer to the 2013 question has a dead link as its source.
    – Hackworth
    Dec 14 '21 at 21:32
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You are obliged to pay the cost if able, but you are not obliged to activate any abilities to do so:

118.3c Activating mana abilities is not mandatory, even if paying a cost is.

Example: A player controls Lodestone Golem, which says “Nonartifact spells cost {1} more to cast.” Another player removes the last time counter from a suspended sorcery card. That player must cast that spell if able, but doing so costs {1}. The player is forced to pay that cost if enough mana is in their mana pool, but the player isn’t forced to activate a mana ability to produce that mana.

Paying the cost of a spell isn't optional (note the lack of "may"):

601.2h The player pays the total cost. First, they pay all costs that don’t involve random elements or moving objects from the library to a public zone, in any order. Then they pay all remaining costs in any order. Partial payments are not allowed. Unpayable costs can’t be paid.

If Selvala's ability generated enough mana to pay for the spell, you must use it. If not, you aren't required to continue playing the spell.

I agree that I can't think of any particularly good reason to do this, compared to just using Selvala's ability (and not revealing a card from your hand that you might want to keep hidden until later), and I wouldn't say it's a particularly polite or sportsmanlike thing to do, but it follows the letter of the rules.

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    A counterpoint is the rulings from high-level judges from an answer to the question I linked in my comment on this question. They say that you are not actually allowed to choose not to activate mana abilities to generate enough mana to pay for a spell. Do you disagree with those rulings, or believe that they do not apply to this question?
    – murgatroid99
    Dec 14 '21 at 21:32
  • Also, the example in 118.3c addresses choosing not to start a process that costs mana, but the exception handling rules in 726 are always a bit of a gray area. The common judge interpretation seems to be that they should only be invoked when something has gone wrong, and that players are not really allowed to voluntarily or purposely put the game into a state where those rules need to be applied.
    – murgatroid99
    Dec 14 '21 at 21:45
  • @murgatroid99 I guess I have to disagree with that ruling, on the grounds that if it was supposed to work that way, they've had ample opportunity to fix it. (The linked question alone is over eight years old!) All it would take is a small amendment to 601.2g or 601.2h (or 118.3c) making the activation mandatory for spells you have chosen to declare, so I have to conclude that its omission is significant.
    – Cadence
    Dec 14 '21 at 22:12

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