Wednesday 18 March 2015
Top 10 Card Draw (updated)
I did one of these a while back but now with Khans we have some much better cards to fill up the ranks with. I have also given some thought to how to define what the list "card draw" will specifically relate to. In magic card advantage comes in many forms. There are spells that deal with two or more things at once, there are spells that provide you will ongoing resources like Bitterblossom, and obviously the planeswalker type. There are cards which produce multiple threats at once or provide a threat on the back of a single card gain or single target removal. Then of course there are the simplest ones that simply draw two or more cards which was what my last list focused on. My last list was a little confused as there are a variety of different types of cards that provide card advantage in the pure draw cards form. There are those that provide a mechanism you can use to draw cards such as Necropotence, Consecrated Sphinx and Skull Clamp. There are those that are one off draws like Sphinx's Revelation and Memory Jar and those that are ongoing. There are those that can be used right away and there are those that are slow and easier to disrupt. My last list tried to lump all these types of draw card effect into the same list and as such it was difficult and overly perspective based. For this updated version of the list I was intending to do only instants and sorceries as things like Skullclamp are way to complex and and context dependant to meaningfully compare. All sorts of disruption will prevent Skullclamp providing any card advantage as will poor deck design. Certainly a Treasure Cruise can be pretty awful in a badly designed deck but at least it still draws cards and can only really be stopped by countermagic. What I then came to realise however is that a lot of the permanents that give a one off big shot of cards or an ongoing supply of them and cannot easily be disrupted by removal either. Certainly you can Disenchant a Necropotence but they can still draw as many they like for that turn and the damage is done. You can Hero's Downfall a Jace, Architect of Thought but not before they have had a chance to activate the -2. This leaves me in the odd position of classifying planeswalkers that only offer you one card on the turn you make them as unsuitable for this list as you can easily disrupt them before they draw you (net) two cards. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is even harder to rule out as he does draw three right away, just after the return you are still one for one.While it might seem like an odd set of stipulations to determine what qualifies for this list of card draw spells it makes good sense from an analytical perspective.
1. Ancestral Recall
2. Treasure Cruise
3. Dig Through Time
4. Ancestral Visions
5. Jace, Architect of Thought
6. Sphinx's Revelation
8. Fact or Fiction
9. Esper Charm
10. Azban Charm
Obviously Ancestral Recall sits at the one slot and isn't close. The test for a magic card is how many times you can add a mana to the cost and still have it be good. Ancetral Recall passes this test better than basically every other magic card out there. I mean, it would still be on this list at UUU or 3U cost! It is sufficiently over powered that it is one of a few cards I no longer bother to run in my cube. It offers very little in the way of decision making itself. See it, pick it. Draw it, cast it. Simple.
Treasure Cruise is a card I didn't get on board with right away. I saw it as being narrow, clunky and far less good than Dig Through Time for control builds. While the latter is true it is not close to the difference I thought it would be. Being a sorcery is far less of a drawback when it can be played for just one mana. Two cards from seven is also probably better than just three off the top in a control list but both are still quite fantastic and not to be complained about. Sure, you would probably pick Dig over Treasure Cruise when you know you are in control but you are still happy to run either, sometimes both. The reason I rate Cruise over Dig in this list is because Dig is only better in control and the odd combo deck. As soon as your deck is at all redundant Treasure Cruise is simply superior. It is a three for one not a two for one and can cost half the price. It is also far easier to splash costing just a single blue. On just those base attributes we have Cruise starting off as three times better than Dig, instant speed and card quality don't come close to making up that difference in a deck like RDW. Treasure Cruise is only narrow in that you need to have ways to fill up your graveyard quickly, be that lots of cycling, discard or just cheap spells. This more than anything just makes it more interesting to build decks with, those things must be taken into account but are rarely so serious that your Treasure Cruise is not even a consideration for your deck.
Ancestral Visions is a bit like the inverse of Treasure Cruise being very good in your opening hands and getting increasingly slower and clunkier as the game goes on. This can make it more luck based, you can build and draft to obtain a suitable curve, you cannot do anything much extra to draw specific cards early. Aggressive mulligan to Ancestral Visions is quite the counter productive measure! We don't really need to go much into why the card is good, 3 cards for one mana is a bit of theme at the top end of this list! We can talk about some of the ways it is especially good and some of the ways in which it is weaker. Suspend interacts nicely with some things like cascade and prowess but it is gruesome to have it Remanded. It is weak with Snapcaster Mage but then delve is also weak against Remand and with Snapcaster. It is also great with Time Walk effects, but then having done much of anything scales well with those things...
I didn't like Jace, Architech of Thought at all when first spoiled. Compared to the Mind Sculptor he is obviously horrible however it is not all about apt comparisons. All non Lightning Bolt burn is god awful compared to the mighty Bolt and we pack a lot of burn in the cube! Architect of Thought is still a good card in its own right and is a fine inclusion in your deck when you don't have the Mind Sculptor, sometimes you even play both! Architect of Thought is on this list because he is the only planeswalker that you can lay and guarantee getting two new cards in hand back if it resolves. All the others need you to have survive a turn or fulfil criteria on the board to be cards up right away. As pure card draw Jace is worse than Fact or Fiction, especially when viewed as a one off hit. Sorcery speed, an extra blue mana, two cards less seen, which usually results in one card less overall. The thing with Fact or Fiction is that it is a four mana spell which has no impact on the board and very little flexibility. Jace is a presence on the board, some utility and also a threat. Should you be sufficiently ahead and Jace gets two or more -2 activations then it is better card draw than Fact or Fiction as well. Putting cards on the bottom of your library rather than the graveyard is a double edged sword. On the one hand it does not power up your delve, threshold, flashback etc but on the other hand it gives you much more safety and ultimately information. I have had several games where I know what I am going to draw as I have ordered the bottom of my library with things like scry, Bow of Nylea, Dig Through Time etc and not hit a shuffle effect. In 40 card decks when you are drawing manipulating this happens fast. It is also much more dangerous discarding certain things in a 40 card deck which can make Fact or Fiction a little brutal.
Sphinx's Revelation is yet another card I really wasn't sold on when first spoiled. I just saw it as simply worse than Brain Geyser and Stroke of Genius. I heavily undervalued the life gain and how it would change the way you wanted to and could use the card. Geyser and Stroke are only cards and that makes them quite narrow. They are awful early and late game you often cannot afford the time to spend all that mana on them. As such they almost only saw play in combo decks or mana ramp decks. Sphinx's Revelation on the other hand is a card you pretty much always want in control deck with blue and white in it. The chunk of life you get from casting it has a great habit of offsetting any tempo loss you incur from spending the mana to cast it. Life gain is a thing you want in control decks but not something you want to pay cards or mana for. With this you don't have to, it is not at all dead in the matchups where you don't care about life and it is typically your best card in the ones you do. A good measure of how well you are doing in a game is how late you are able to hold off casting your Rev, a solid X = 7 is so hard to beat while when you are forced into doing it for 1-3 you are quite sad. A lot of control decks simply look like things that delay the game as long as possible to land a big Revelation.
Necropotence has fallen far from its appearance in the first list. The metagame in cube has changed sufficiently that Necro is now a rather narrow card that only a few decks can put it to good use. It is still hands down the most cards you can get for the mana overall but it comes with so many penalties that it is hard to use well. Triple black makes it hard to use in anything much but mono black. Being a 3 mana sorcery speed effect with no board presence at all it is hard to deploy as things are getting pretty serious around then and lots needs doing so that the game doesn't get out of hand. In many ways it is the opposite to Sphinx's Revelation, instead of paying mana and gaining life you lose life and pay no mana. This makes Necropotence even better in the matchups where your life total is put under no timely threat however it makes it a liability against the ones that do. If you fall sufficiently behind or low on life against a RDW you just cannot sensibly play Necro and it winds up being card disadvantage for you. To get around this problem, which can occur against any deck, just most readily versus RDW, Necro based decks will pack a lot of life gain abilities. Grey Merchant of Asphodel was a real boost to Necropotence as it is a powerful effect regardless of the lifegain and has good devotion synergy with Necro. The life loss of Necro is the main problem with the card once you have managed to include it in your deck but it is not the only one! It gives you your cards at the end of turn which is is the drawing equivalent of having all your lands come into play tapped. It also removes your normal draw while in play and can bleed you out should you not hit the right things in time even if you manage to get ahead or stabilize before. In an even game or heavens forbid, one you get ahead in, a Necropotence is very hard to beat indeed. Getting to refill your entire hand every turn is very nutty indeed! Goldfishing it is at least 19 cards for 3 mana (and the odd draw step) as you require them, look at it like that and it starts to make Ancestral Recall look fair.
Fact or Fiction is another card to have fallen far from grace. It was happening before Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise arrived but they hit it very hard as well. The main problem with FoF is that it is four mana and no board impact at all. Instant is all well and good but most of the time you need to use your mana to not be getting brutally killed so you only ever really get to cast it before turn seven if one of you is misfiring badly. Yes, FoF draws more than Jace does right away and often nominally too, but unlike Jace you cannot just cast it turn four very often nor can you easily afford the slot for something that is only card draw. With persistent creatures, man-lands, planeswalkers, equipment and all manner of other diverse and awkward threats control decks are stretched far too thing to have much freedom for luxuries like FoF in 40 card singleton cube decks. Dig Through Time is a more powerful effect than Fact or Fiction, it is castable faster and usually leaves you more mana spare to do other things with as well. While FoF cannot compete well with Dig Through Time it remains one of the most powerful and splashable straight card advantage spells ever printed. Sadly it is a little out of sorts in the current cube meta but it is also still very playable and a card often scooped to if resolved.
Esper Charm and Abzan Charm are new entries on this list and are fairly similar for the purposes of it. Abzan Charm is a more powerful card however the draw portion of it is less powerful than Esper Charm as well as it being in less commonly played colour pairings, all be it not by much these days. Neither Toil nor Council of the Soratami are that exciting as card draw effects however being instant is pretty huge for them, especially the Esper one. It allows you to leave up counter magic/removal early yet still do something profitable if you don't counter/kill anything. Three mana is cheap enough that you can use it a bit like card quality and continue to hit those vital land drops. Three coloured mana is uncomfortable but easily supportable with cube mana bases, certainly mine! While I would play instant Council of the Soratami in the cube it existed, it would be a dull filler card and not on this list. The fairly obvious reason why Esper and Abzan Charm are on this list is because they have two other modes, both quite handy ones at that. For many of the same reasons that Jace, Architect of Thought is better than FoF these days these Charms are better than the hypothetical instant speed Council of the Soratami. Stretched control decks need all the options they can get from their cards and anything that does several desirable things at a reasonable cost are the cards of choice. There is very little in the same casting cost region that is comparable just on the card draw front which makes these that little bit more desirable. FoF has to compete with the delve cards and planeswalkers while these Charms only really compete with utility dorks like Sea Gate Oracle.
Commune with Lava
Thirst for Knowledge
Life from the Loam
Garruk, Caller of Beasts
Timayo, the Moon Sage
Wheel of Fortune
Contract from Below
I can never do a list like this and just ignore the cards that do not make it, it is almost like guilt! As such I am going to briefly discuss why these great cards do not make it onto this list. For some like the planeswalkers it is for technical reasons, while both can offer a great influx of cards immediately they are dependant on the board state. You can definitely still consider them as part of your decks total card advantage capacity and both are great cards. What you cannot do is rely on them to provide that influx of cards, if you know you really want to fill up the hand and you are running out of slots then perhaps these walkers are not the best option.
Memory Jar has also fallen quite far from grace, now typically only being used when it can be abused with Goblin Welder and the new Daretti. It is not quite the same as other card draw as well, much like the new Commune with Lava you only get one turn to play with the cards so you need to set up well for the event. For this list in particular the Jar is very poor as in order to use it right away you have to have spent five mana. This means you either have to wait and leave yourself open to disruption or you have a fairly inefficient card draw card. Commune is kind of the same but being instant gives you all the flexibility and options as to when you want an influx of card on your for your upcoming turn. It is also more flexible on what it number of cards you can get or how little you chose to invest in it even if it is less cards per mana than Jar. Its overall flexibility and offering no cards to your opponent I think will have it see much more play than Jar.
Contract from Below is actually better for the most part than Ancestral Recall, the discard aspect is often more of an advantage! We even ran it using modified cube ante rules however it was obviously still far far far too powerful and no fun to play against.
Life from the Loam sits in a category of its own. It can be paired with cycling land to draw non-land cards or just happily used to get loads of free lands. It can help fill up graveyards should you wish and is just an all round interesting and powerful card. It needs to be built specifically around and is typically quite slow to yield returns despite being so cheap to cast itself. Being unique it is hard to compare directly to anything so it is fortunate it didn't qualify for this list, it can be powerful enough to have gotten a slot!
Wheel of Fortune, Time Twister and Time Spiral all see a lot less play than they used to. All still provide one of the most efficient and immediate returns on cards for the mana and still see occasional use but with most decks being more traditional agro, midrange and control these cards are too risky and too symmetrical to be appropriate very often. In a powered cube with more combo cards then these would see much more play and would likely be very high picks again.
Finally we have the humble Thirst for Knowledge and Compulsive Research, the wannabe instant Council of the Soratami. Both offer some bonus graveyard utility and card quality but both also have critical issues that make them niche cards in the cube these days. Thirst is perfect except that you need a far too high artifact count for it to be good. Research is tragically sorcery speed and typically is used to go looking for lands and winds up just being expensive card quality early game.