Sunday 24 February 2013

Top 10 Card Draw

I have done an updated version of this which can be found here:

ConcentrateI thought this would be a relatively straight forward list like the one for burn spells where each card is highly comparable. Indeed with draw effects you have even less to consider than with burn as it is broadly just mana cost and card return. It turns out all the best draw effects are used in very different ways by wildly differing decks that are trying to set up their own unique game states. Decks that want to draw cards with Fact or Fiction are very unlikely to also be able to optimally use a Skullclamp, decks that have the mana to bust out a five or more mana draw spell are similarly unlikely to also want to use the economic but slow Ancestral Visions. I even narrowed the scope of this list to include only cards that physically draw more cards rather than just providing card advantage such as a Bloodbraid Elf. I also only included cards that ultimately draw at least two more cards to rule out the card quality spells like Brainstorm and Ponder. I even ruled out cards like Horn of Greed that provide means to draw many cards but don't do it on their own. It feels for this reason like Skullclamp shouldn't be on the list but with the abundance of creatures and the effectiveness of the draw it can be used as an engine or as just a card draw effect in more decks than are able to use many of the cards on this list. Even so, rating certain cards above others in this list is rather arbitrary as they often have minimal overlap in application or archetypes. The blue cards have most overlap and the instant ones of those even more and for those the ordering should be more obviously sensible. For the most part this list is based mostly on the  frequency of play the cards receive.

It is also notable that most agro decks use little or no pure card draw spells because they can get enough card advantage from spells that also offer a tempo boost such as the afore mentioned Bloodbraid. Most control decks on the other hand are either going more the direction of the agro decks and getting card advantage alongside their other effects from cards like Consecrated Sphinx or planeswalkers or they are running a card advantage engine such as Life from the Loam. Trying to keep pace with the agro decks using pure card draw effects and efficient answers simply doesn't work, the card draw is not cost appropriately to do this. As such most control decks simply supplement their deck with the odd pure card draw spell to smooth curves or act as top quality filler and are able to function pretty well without any  of the pure form at all. Even combo plays little pure card draw any more, it may well have the odd symmetrical draw seven effect but these are usually for the ability to get back spent combo cards should the game go on a little longer than desired. The card quality and tutor effects are simply much more mana efficient so unless the combo deck has alternate uses for the specific draw spell such as a discard outlet or recursion effect it will avoid the latter in preference for the former.


12. Harmonize
11. Mulldrifter
10. Think Twice
9.   Thirst for Knowledge
8.   Yawgmoth's Bargain
7.   Memory Jar
6.   Time Spiral
5.   Ancestral Visions
4.   Fact or Fiction
3.   Skullclamp
2.   Necropotence
1.   Ancestral Recall

Ancestral RecallThe disparity on this list is more extreme than any other with the top card being nearly ten times better than the tenth. This is because card draw was wildly underestimated in the very early design of Magic and because now it is printed very gingerly leaving us with underwhelming new options and absurd old ones. Ancestral Recall is so clearly the best it is not really worth talking about. It is as cheap as can be, with no draw back what so ever and draws you more cards than many of the others do. It is instant and can even be a win condition, so moving on.

Necropotence is able to out pace Ancestral Recall for cards per mana or even initial cards influx however it is slower to draw the cards and typically slower to cast with somewhat restrictive colour requirements. On top of this it costs life and kills your normal draw putting you on somewhat of a self imposed clock. Despite this it is so cheap for so many cards all to your self it may be employed in agro, control and combo to good effect. You do need to tailor the deck to contain the Necro but once you can support it it gives you immense power. It is hard to lose when you make a Necropotence while under no pressure and on 20 life.

Fact or FictionSkullclamp needs creatures rather than life to generate you cards and so is not as cheap, nor as reliable as many of the cards on this list. If you are somehow generating one toughness tokens then it is incredibly efficient but even when your not it still offers great value and a variety of applications above and beyond pure card advantage.

Fact or Fiction is the classic, and to my mind fair, draw spell. It costs just over a mana per new card but affords you a good chunk of spells while digging a little deeper into your deck. Instant speed is essential on this card making it a great inclusion in control decks and mitigating the reasonably high mana costs. It allows your opponent to make mistakes while still giving you the final choice thus rendering it vastly more powerful than most cards that give your opponents control over aspects of the effect such as Vexing Devil. Furthermore it fills up your graveyard which makes splits with flashback cards involved extra hard and can be generally useful for many things from Snapcaster Mage to Psychatog. More cards like this to bolster the fair cube level of card draw would be lovely.

Ancestral VisionAncestral Visions is a lovely little card, the drawback perfectly balanced to make it fair, flavourful and widely playable. The low mana cost makes it viable in a wider array of decks than Fact or Fiction however the actual draw is worse being more easily disrupted and digging less far, not to mention devoid of a chance to get more than 3 cards. In a late game top deck situation this is pretty bad compared to most other draw effects which is a fair payoff for a card that is exceptional when suspended early and cheap enough not to hamper curving out.

Time Spiral is symmetrical draw and cannot easily be used by many kinds of decks as giving your opponent seven new cards as well is too much to cope with. The reason this is ahead of the other symmetrical draw spells is that it either generates you mana or costs none once it has resolved thus allowing you first dibs on using the new cards and no disparity in mana. In more aggressive or combo decks that can reach the six mana threshold it excels and is also playable in control however it is a dead card for control against decks like red deck wins where casting it is suicide.

Memory JarMemory Jar is the only other symmetrical draw spell to make this list and while it does set you back five mana on your opponent for having employed it there are two redeeming features for Jar that make this seemingly unfavourable asymmetry viable. One is that you have control over when to use the effect and are able to save it until you have all your mana spare to abuse and the other is that the hands only last a turn and so any sorcery speed cards they draw will be useless if used in your turn. A slightly clumsy card that is not playable in control decks however highly powerful and even abusable with things like Goblin Welder resulting in a very powerful card.

Yawgmoth's Bargain is surprisingly different to Necropotence despite its obvious similarities, it is less onerous on black requirement yet much more mana intensive to get on line. Should you be able to front the six mana cost or find a way to cheat this into play it is far superior to Necropotence offering its card bounty immediately. Black has access to both burst mana and tutor effects and so tends to play one or the other depending on what the deck is doing. Black is also very capable of forcing through spells with targetted discard. Generally I view Bargain as more of the combo or big control card with Necro being better for agro or disruption decks. Griselbrand is a weaker draw spell but has some other potent effects on the game and is easier to cheat into play despite the higher cost. They have much more in common with each other than either do with Necropotence and although residing in fairly different decks for the most part are still eating into the amount the other is getting played. Griselbrand is still fairly new and as such getting all the novelty play and while perhaps the better card overall he is just worse at the card side of things than Bargain and so doesn't make this list.

Thirst for Knowledge
Thirst for Knowledge is another very fair card that sees relatively little play due to its need of artifacts to discard. You can play it with a low artifact count but then it becomes card quality rather than advantage. When you can support it sensibly it is great, it digs relatively deep for a quite low cost and most importantly is instant making it viable in control. There are also decks where you actually want artifacts in the graveyard for cards like Goblin Welder for which Thirst becomes one of the very best cards. If the discard was something more universal like lands  or blue cards instead of artifacts, or always just one card, while retaining its instant cost it would probably get more play than Fact or Fiction, mostly for occupying a slot on the curve in less demand.

Think Twice is the poor control mans universal replacement for Thirst for Knowledge when it has insufficient artifacts. The total mana cost  and individual costs for the effect are both gross and would never cut it if it were not for the overall flexibility of the card. The ability to split when you pay the costs allows you to use it more as a way to usefully spend your mana than anything else. It is a card that has almost as much value in the graveyard as in your hand and enhances the effect of other cards in your deck like Fact or Fiction while de-powering some offensive disruption from your opponent such as a Blightning. Not a powerful card but a superb support and filler card despite this.

I felt this list should go to twelve as Ancestral Recall is banned and Skullclamp might not qualify for this list based on my exclusions. Mulldrifter is rather like Think Twice in that it is not wonderfully efficient card draw but offers enough flexibility to offset this. It is sorcery speed which is commonly a big no no for card draw only getting a few cards, particularly at five or even three mana however it does offer you some tempo itself. Given that losing tempo is the main drawback on card draw spells the sorcery speed and higher costs are mitigated somewhat. Mulldrifter sees a lot less play in control decks than Think Twice but still makes appearances in them while getting most of its play from mid range decks. When you can make extra use of the body through equipment or bounce effects the Mulldrifter also goes up in value. A great late game top deck and reasonable way to power into the mid game should you find yourself lacking lands, appropriate answers or beefy things to get on with.

The final card on this list is really quite laughable with the blue timeshifted version not having seen play for so so long. The cost to card ratios on this spell are not unacceptable however for a blue control mage the sorcery speed is. In green you care almost nothing for your card draw to be instant and you have much better mana ramp. A blue instant that cost 1UU and drew you three cards would seem outstanding and make the top end of this list and Harmonize is closer to this theoretical card than it is to Concentrate. Despite this green does not often play Harmonize however this has more to do with green lacking answers to things and thus needing to pose questions rather than find the right answers with card draw. Green has always tended to get its card advantage through doing other things like making dorks or Plowing lands or by using engines. Harmonize is very much on the cusp of being cube playable with only the top 8 cards in this list having been cube mainstays for the duration. I would like to see more powerful and more interesting cards that are pure card draw spells. The sparse nature of this list goes a long way to highlighting the deficit of good card draw in recent magic history. The design of modern cards has made pure card draw worse from several fronts. The higher power of monsters makes the loss of tempo from card draw more punishing. The greater resilience of permanents makes drawing into your answers a weaker strategy and the built in card advantage on many tempo gaining cards closes the gap on total card advantage between control and agro archetypes. As such you card draw is relatively less powerful despite drawing the same number of cards as it once did because one of the cards you drew with it was used to deal with something that had already paid for itself in card terms alone.

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