Last updated on October 31, 2022
Psychosis Crawler | Illustration by Stephan Martiniere
Of course you can’t just play Divination while your opponents cast creatures. You need to do something useful with those cards. You usually solve that with card volume and selection. If you have a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria that you need to find to stabilize the game, you want to use some card draw to find it.
There are a small number of cards in Magic that directly reward you for the act of drawing cards itself, but I’ll bet you can’t think of any offhand! You might think of cards that punish opponent card draw, but what of cards with the text “whenever you draw a card?” Is there anything good there?
Dream Trawler | Illustration by Jesper Ejsing
Card draw payoffs are permanents with the key phrase “whenever you draw a card” in their rules text. There are only 28 across the history of the game, so it’ll be a while before this ability turns into a keyword or ability. This text triggers whenever you draw a card, including the regular draw step card.
There are also 13 cards with the more nerfed version of this effect, “whenever you draw your second card each turn.” They first showed up as a passive ability on Jace, Arcane Strategist in War of the Spark, then had a small flurry of cards in Throne of Eldraine and Core Set 2021.
Best White Card Draw Payoff
Hoofprints of the Stag has been eclipsed in Commander by more efficient enchantments like Felidar Retreat, but it plays in the same space. I like it in my Amareth, the Lustrous EDH deck that drops cheap enchantments and draws cards.
I don’t see why Hoofprints shouldn’t appear in a multicolor elementals build in EDH that uses cards like Risen Reef.
#18. Steelgaze Griffin
Hard pass on Steelgaze Griffin.
Mystic Skyfish might be useful in Limited. It wasn’t, really. But maybe it could be? Sorry.
You can imagine the broken version of this, cheaper to cast and with the draw ability happening for free. This version of Tolarian Kraken is unfun and kind of unplayable.
Is this the worst Jace? The faces of the respective planeswalker decks all had that vibe back then. They all cost more than they should and didn’t do enough.
Jace, Arcane Strategist’s passive ability is almost as underwhelming as one of the worst planeswalker ultimates of all time.
One of the worst of the classes introduced in Forgotten Realms, Wizard Class costs one more mana than Divination. Divination has been a good card in Limited since 2018’s Dominaria, much less Standard.
The level three, which triggers off card draw, is small potatoes. It’s not worth it even in Alchemy when the cost of that third level is dropped from five to three mana. Enchantress decks that dip into blue are increasing, so this gets played a lot more than you’d expect in Commander.
Faerie Vandal is like a poor mashup of the two that triggers only on the second card draw, so it’s probably not going to make the cut outside of Limited.
This is the bottom of a stack of blue cards that grow as you draw cards. You need to be doing better by the time you’re casting 4-drops.
Jace’s Projection is cute in a Jace tribal EDH deck. It may not help you win, but winning isn’t your goal anyway if you’re playing Jace tribal.
It flies. Oneirophage is also all dressed up for squid or illusion tribal.
Did I mention that it flies?
Bounce spells are a thing. Ominous Seas is just fine in a cycling deck or as just an annoyance that pumps out creatures. Sometimes you need your opponents to play the removal spells rotting in their hands before you risk tossing out your commander again.
No one in EDH is going to waste one of their limited supply of enchantment removal on this, so its stock goes up in that format.
It was tough to decide where to slot the mill enchantments. You may auto-include them even if they’re a bit mopey if you’re on the mill train for Commander. Is Jace’s Erasure good mill? It keeps coming back in decks, but there are better cards out there.
All these tutelage mill effects are too slow in Modern or Pioneer, and mill strategies usually hinge on things like Hedron Crab. This card is cheap enough to cast that it’s the most likely to show up in rogue (and probably doomed) decklists.
Teferi’s Tutelage ended games in M21 Limited. The post Zendikar Rising rogues mill deck was usually too fast for this, but there were builds all over Arena during the pandemic that paired it with Into the Story to generate a brutal number of mill triggers.
It’s another auto-include in Commander mill, but Sphinx’s Tutelage still only targets one opponent. That said, it’s not fun to be on the receiving end of this in monocolor decks when it starts chaining off through your deck.
“Each opponent” is the key phrase here for EDH. Mill is super hard to manage when there are three 99 card decks to plow through. Something like Psychic Corrosion that hits ‘em all is vital.
I’m sure the investigate trigger is key for your investigate tribal decks in EDH. Ethereal Investigator is a decent resource for decks that want to convert spells to creatures with Young Pyromancer effects on the one hand and Improbable Alliance effects on the other.
Minn, Wily Illusionist is better and cheaper. If they can’t kill creatures right now, this just starts scaling and can win the game. If they kill it, you don’t get much.
The death triggers on your illusions can matter, though. You could drop your hand onto the table if you have enough, but how many permanents are you holding anyway if you’re drawing cards and making Illusion tokens?
Chasm Skulker just keeps getting bigger, especially in a deck with a lot of blue. When it dies it spews a lot of tokens (with islandwalk?!). That doesn’t seem super great in a normal deck, but it’s in a surprising number of Commander decks.
The horror tribal of Captain N’ghathrod is one, but the Skulker also synergizes nicely with Raffine, Scheming Seer and Ezuri, Claw of Progress. If you bought the shiny Adrix and Nev, Twincasters Strixhaven precon, you need to find a place to add in this card.
The Skulker gives you lots of tokens when it dies, and Toothy, Imaginary Friend gives you a mass card draw. Opponents may try to avoid death triggers by exiling creatures, but this triggers when it leaves the battlefield.
It triggers any kind of removal, but it also triggers on blink and bounce.
Best Black Card Draw Payoff
Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is far, far better than the initial response by the MTG community when it was spoiled. It’s two thirds of a Siege Rhino that keeps going and going. The opponent’s life loss is probably better than the lifegain, but Orzhov () lifegain decks exist.
Best Red Card Draw Payoffs
I was surprised that red only has three cards with draw payoffs to blue’s 18. There’s so much impulse draw in red that exiles cards instead of drawing them, that maybe that makes sense.
Bloodhaze Wolverine is an unexciting 2-drop that underperformed in Throne of Eldraine Limited, and it has one of the weakest implementations of the second card mechanic. Most 3/2 first strikers cost three mana, but it turns out that Wojek Halberdiers is no longer relevant.
You kind of want Mad Ratter for Rakdos () sac or Izzet () spellslinger tokens, but four mana is a lot to pay to get this fragile creature down.
The second card limit really hurts this. If it dealt three for each card you drew, that would be nuts. Even Sheoldred, the Apocalypse won’t go that far, and that’s the star villain mythic rare of Dominaria United!
Not even good enough in Core Set 2021 Limited, Burlfist Oak is basically a 4/5 on your turn and a 2/3 on defense. Extra card draws on your turn before combat makes it bigger, but you generally want to reserve spellcasting until after an attack.
You force your opponent to make decisions with less information and worry about tricks and other blowouts this way. This isn’t the 4-drops you’re looking for without trample.
I want my joke decks to lean into the joke. None of these abilities have anything to do with abilities an actual flying shark would have!
This Limited powerhouse is a worse Chasm Skulker that still has a home in the draw and counters Simic () decks across the Commander spectrum. Lorescale Coatl is a VIP for snake tribal, which is getting close to someday being almost a thing you can play.
It seems like this is a good strategy in these colors, but Queza, Augur of Agonies hasn’t been able to keep up with all the Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and aggro decks in Standard. Maybe things will change with Sheoldred, the Apocalypse and some Esper () control deck?
A card like Queza is the old-school ideal for a control finisher. You don’t ever even need to attack. The downside is that it’s hard to cast and is a fairly fragile creature. It’s probably not quite as good as Irencrag Pyromancer when you get down to it.
You know how to build this Jeskai () cycling deck for Commander, but it’s hard to get too excited about making 2/2s once a turn. Have you seen the Dinosaur Cat tokens Gavi, Nest Warden makes? I see your Cat Bird tokens, but this is the winner of the Cutest Token Ever Battle Royale.
I prefer to run Mardu () colors for cycling in EDH so I can take advantage of the sweet black cards from the Amonkhet block, but Gavi, Nest Warden can’t do that. Until there’s a decent Mardu or 4-color cycling commander I’ll run Alesha, Who Smiles at Death, thank you very much.
Is this too high? Maybe. I have a soft spot for Improbable Alliance when it powered my Jeskai cycling deck after Ikoria to my first Mythic rank on Arena. There are also a few cards I desperately want to check the lore about, but this is one.
If you’re in some kind of Izzet spellslinger tokens deck, what more do you want? The Locust God perhaps, but not everything can or should be broken in half!
Slightly easier to cast than the next card, but it’s worse in plenty of ways. The tap ability on Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind is almost insulting.
Boom goes the dynamite! There are lots of other Izzet spellslinger wincons, but Niv-Mizzet, Parun is one of the most demoralizing. You can either turn Niv into a machine gun or just crack people in the face over and over if you can protect it with your batch of Dive Down effects and run lots of card draw.
Drop a Curiosity onto this and let the good times roll.
The Locust God goes infinite with a ham sandwich or your choice of more than 200 other card combos. The first Historic combo came in 2021 with Indomitable Creativity, which used this and Sage of the Falls to churn out an infinite number of hasty insects.
Even if you play this card the “fair” way and just make insects while you draw cards, that’s still pretty good. The cards will be drawn and the combos will fly in Izzet colors.
Dream Trawler was such a good finisher for Azorius () control when it was in Standard. It still shows up as an occasional wincon in Pioneer and much more rarely in Modern. Your regular draw and the card that this draws when attacking make it a 5/5. The card draw it gives you replaces cards you’d need to pitch to make it hexproof.
Any instant speed card draw you’ve got stashed in hand is always a threat for this to get bigger as needed, and it turns things like Read the Runes into a surprise Fireball to the dome if left unblocked.
One of the best planeswalkers of all time, “Big Teferi” is so good that Azorius control decks often simply exist to wipe the board, get to Teferi, and stabilize. The only reason Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is on this list is the ultimate, which rarely happens.
When it does, it’s naturally game over. The draw ability that allows you to play all your mana on your turn and then untap for a Counterspell is what makes this card sing.
If you got into wizard tribal with Dominaria and are trying to figure out the best commander build for it, I have a card for you. Released in the tribal Morningtide set, wizards weren’t one of the central tribes in that set. Vendilion Clique was a wizard, but no one was playing it for the sweet wizard synergies!
It’s a shame that Diviner’s Wand has been lost to time. Think about what it does! It snaps onto any wizard you cast and gives it flying and (basically) prowess whenever you draw a card. That’s not bad.
It also gives the creature Spectral Sailor’s card draw ability, so it can jump into the air to block if you have four mana up. That’s a lot, but you’ve done that many times if you’ve ever played a blue tempo deck with Spectral Sailor and Curious Obsession.
Wizards aren’t usually seen as beefy blockers, but Academy Elite anyone?
It’s not as good as Queza, but cards that nug opponents for card draws are rare. Psychosis Crawler must go in a deck that’s trying that.
This slowly swells your Stonebinder’s Familiar, Hero of Bretagard, Laelia, the Blade Reforged, and Rakshasa Vizier while also triggering a spirit on Ranar the Ever-Watchful. As more cards are printed with those exile triggers, watch out!
This card seems to be lurking, waiting for that one card to be printed that will break it in half.
Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse | Illustration by Izzy
This space in card design feels like a 2020 thing so far, but it is explored more, in my opinion. Think about the most basic actions you take in a game of Magic. Untap. Draw. Play a land. What interacts directly with those? There are lots to explore with draw triggers, either for yourself or for opponents.
Which card draw payoffs do you like most? What would you like to see on future cards? Let me know in the comments below or chat with us on the official Draftsim Discord.
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