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By: thescale99, Todd Holmes
Apr 21 2007 9:48am
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Exploring the World of Casual Standard Play

by Todd D. Holmes


"Sages Who Take the Time to Verify Their Sources Are Rewarded for Their Diligence..." - Jhoira, to Teferi

Ask yourself:

  • What is it, exactly, that happens when a player draws a card? That is, how has the game been changed in the moment just before, compared to just after, your draw phase? 
  • To what degree does the act of drawing a card inherently further a player’s chance of realizing victory? 
  • Is it more prudent to deny a draw to your opponent, or to accelerate your own capacity to draw? 
  • Is there any decision more important in deck building or during play as to how or when to draw, under what circumstances to prioritize your draw, and (if given the choice) what to draw for?

In this article, we will examine that most fickle of game dynamics, the draw.  I would argue that no other factor (after deck construction) affects winning and losing the way that a draw does.  Foul up in combat?  You can make up for it later.  Targeting mishap?  We'll, usually it's just a one card loss.  But drawing?  If you draw poorly, or your opponent draws well (by way of deck design), then that is usually the death knell, especially against the savvy deck builders and cunning players.  The reason for this is simple - no acts may be taken without cards. 

Now I'm sure right now you may be saying:

"Well, Todd, since it's the moment before my draw phase, and since my opponent is tapped out, with one life, an empty library and graveyard (all cards removed from the game) and has no cards in hand or in play, then I'm pretty sure my draw doesn't matter because I have a 20/20 indestructible, untagetable, unblockable critter in play and he's got squat."  

Well yeah, ya got me there, but what I said was that no other factor affects winning and loosing the way that a draw does.  And since you had to draw something to get to that point, we need to think about the ways in which you can get cards.

Today we will examine the first of three factors which should be considered when one builds to affect card drawing - deck realization.  Simply put, deck realization is the process of accessing the other cards in your deck.  Card drawing and card denial drasticlly affect deck realization, be it through draw mechanisms, 'tutor' effects or card denial (that is, discard or library depletion effects).  While the other two factors affected by the draw (card advantage and deck reduction) will be discussed in more detail in future articles, lets spend some time now trying to understand why deck realization is so important...

Mind Rot
Counsel of the Soratami

Which of these is better?


        Question #1:  Let’s assume for the moment that Mind Rot forced a player to discard two cards at random (humor me).  I ask this because the act of drawing is (by default at least) inherently random, and I want to compare apples to apples as much as possible.  Now, let us further assume that nothing else aside from three basic lands are in play for each player, and all other measures of standing (cards in hand, life total, etc.) are equal.  You have Mind Rot and Counsel of the Soratami in hand.  If choosing between the two, and assuming you know nothing else, what should you cast?


        Now, I did lie in one respect - under this assumption, you do know one thing, and that is what is in your deck.  And here is where we see the first advantage in drawing - it allows you to further realize the cards that you started the game with.  If one opts to play Mind Rot, you are assured of nothing beyond your opponent loosing two, and you have no idea what those two will be.  However, if you cast Counsel of the Soratami, you will have a very good idea of what you will get (at least a 2 in [60 - the number of cards you have already drawn] idea).  So all else being equal, the Counsel gets the nod.  The recent excellent article by Lord Erham spoke of the Timmy/Johnny/Spike players of the world, and many people commented upon their love of deck building and of playing.  Drawing cards should be like an opiate to these players - you spend so much time and effort to carefully consider (pun) what to put in your deck, the process of then realizing those cards must surely be an attractive idea.


        Oh, how we hum and hah over whether to devote a few slots here and there to card drawing mechanisms at the expense of the other 'good' cards in our deck!  But think about that for a moment - why is you deck 60 cards and not 59?  Well, of course the answer is that 60 is the minimum allowed by rule.  But why that rule?  Because as we all know, The Wizards Of Transcendent Competence feel that decks smaller than that are "too focused", and would distort the game.  Yet when you draw cards at a fever pitch, you are effectively making your deck smaller, in exchange for allowing your opponent time: 


       "You go ahead - I'll skip my turn (of playing other spells) so that I can get juuuust the cards I need.  No no, I'm good, you can go again, I just would like to look through my cards one more time.  Ok, my turn again?  Since I'm not dead yet, here is the card that I needed to deal with you last two turns - so please, stop what you doing.  Now allow me to proceed with some other cards - I hope you have something in your hand to deal with it, because I suspect you have built a deck with no way to search for an answer..."



Sleight of Hand
Careful Consideration
Thirst for Knowledge
Compulsive Research


There's a good reason why these cards look familier...


        Now, like the bumper sticker says, speed kills, and a mage must always balance the forces of speed vs. draw power in deck construction.  Yet I am always amazed how in the yin and yang that is speed vs. set-up, the notion of winning deck construction is so heavily tilted by the novice player towards speed.  It's as if accessing your library didn't matter at all (I guess the new paradigm these days is "draw seven and pray to heaven"....).  In my eyes, this is simply unforgivable, if one considers themselves a serious deck builder.

        A great teacher once told me that extreme examples (as unrealistic as they may be) are useful, because they illustrate with great clarity a point that may otherwise not be easily understood.  Let's look at another scenerio that illustrates the utility of deck realization:


        Question #2:  WOTC releases a new set, and because there are so busy trying to get v.3 up and running (two years and waiting,, they can be irritating, eh?), they decide to skip play testing.  The new set has five rather odd cards that have gained a lot of attention, all that cost the same mana to play.  If you could only have one in your deck, and they cannot be 'fetched' (new rules for these cards only, also invented w/ this latest release…now they're just getting lazy), which would you choose?:


  • Red Instant:  Cannot be countered.   Deal any amount of damage to target creature or player.  Split Second.
  • Black Enchantment:  Cannot be countered.   So long as this enchantment remains in play, target opponent skips his/her draw phase.  Spells, abilities or effects which would cause your opponent to draw a card are countered at split second speed. 
  • Blue Instant:   Cannot be countered.  Target player may draw any number of cards he/she chooses, then, if that player has more than seven cards in hand, that player discards until he/she has seven cards in hand, then reshuffles his/her graveyard into his/her library.   Split Second.
  • Green Instant:   Cannot be countered.  Put a green creature token into play with power/toughness equal to your opponents life total.  This creature has Haste, is Untargetable, Unblockable and  Indestructible.  Split Second.
  • White Enchantment:  Cannot be countered.  You cannot be the target of spells or abilities, and spells or effects that reduce your life total below one instead reduce it to one.  Untargetable.  Indestructible. 

        Again, the winner is the card drawer (by an edge), because none of the cards are 100% locks.  The red and green cards are worthless against basic damage prevention (CoP Red is still the winner for most underrated card ever), and you can still loose the game by decking out after playing the white card.  The black card is close to perfect, but it can be still eliminated by an enchantment removal card already in your opponents hand. 


        However, even though it is not a 100% lock, the blue card cannot be countered, and will resolve immediately, and therefore assures you that you can have just the right cards from you deck right now - it means that the blue card will permit you to disrupt your opponent (good if you are losing) , or find all the right cards for the win (a nod to you combo lovers out there).  Said another way, being that it is highly unlikely that your opponent has an answer for all 60 of your cards, you should have little trouble winning after casting the blue card (assuming that you built your deck even moderately well).  I will acknowledge, however, that in this scenario, if the black card is cast first, the blue card is useless.


        The point of this little exercise is to show why deck realization matters.  What amazes me is how little attention this dynamic is given by so many players.  We all seem hopped-up building decks focused on speed, or removal, or counters.  Deck realization (of which the most common method is 'digging') seems only to find love in Dragonstorm and Dralnu decks.  Why?  Why not build mechanisms into your deck that help in deck realization?  True, people have begun to see how valuable Harmonize is in recent weeks (price on March 1st, after online release: $1.50.  Price at time of article publication:  $2.00).  But by and large, folks just count on luck to grab the right card - "draw seven and pray to heaven".  If you're tired of the Gods deciding your drawing fate, start including deck realization in your plans.  This can take the form of 'digging', of 'thinning', or in 'fetching'.  Some cards are great for this (Compulsive Research, Sleight of Hand, Vampiric Tutor), while other are not as good (Diabolic Tutor).  But whatever you do, don't let yourself become a victim of the '1 in 60' mentality of card drawing - with a little planning, you can do much, much better!    

        In the future, we'll take about card advantage - when to play for it, when to ignore it, and how to build it into your decks and your playing style.  But for now my friends, so long, and remember: Think, Build, and Win!


Tired of being victim to blind luck?  Thought so...










by Gumby at Mon, 04/23/2007 - 12:18
Gumby's picture

While I must confess, card drawing is one of the more powerful mechanics available, I've always seen it to be slightly inferior to discard, especially cards like distress that not only let you see what your opponent is rolling with, you get to pick one and make him/her trash it. There are many cards available to capitalize on an opponent's lack of cards in hand, Nezumi Shortfang, Pauper's Cage, and the Rack to name a few. Not to mention many cards/combos available to make sure your opponent does not get any more cards after you've emptied his/her hand. Of course, "the blue instant" mentioned in the article is a train wreck if they still have the mana to pull off the combo after casting it.... maybe I should get off my lazy butt and type up a discard article, maybe it'd be worth reading.

by MysticLancer at Sat, 04/21/2007 - 13:02
MysticLancer's picture

Nice article, it explains card drawing very well and points out why exactly it is so useful. A lot of people just accept it and don't look beneath the surface and I thought this was a really cool article! Props to you sir, and I'll be waiting for your next article.

by Lord Erman at Sat, 04/21/2007 - 10:58
Lord Erman's picture

Wow, a very deep philosophy about drawing a card which is done by many players even without thinking, as a reflex. But you do have a point here. As I said many times; I don't believe that without card advantage any game can be won. Even the Mono Green Aggro uses Harmonize to draw cards! Card drawing(or tutoring) is one of the most important parts of a successful deck and most of the time this is ignored by players. And just because it is so important, this kind of cards have always very high prices like Phyrexian Arena, Dark Confidant, Harmonize, Vampiric Tutor or even Brainstorm.

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