In part one we went over cantrips, looting and sacrificial draw. There’s still plenty more card advantage to go over, so let’s dive right in.

Impulse Draw

Perhaps more accurately described as “Act On Impulse Draw,” after one of the first cards to use the mechanic, these spells give you access to more cards by exiling them instead of drawing them. They’re often cheaper than traditional card draw on a per-card basis because they only let you play the exiled cards during a short window – usually one turn.

This type of card advantage favours fast, low-to-the-ground decks, since you’re already down mana for casting the impulse, and will end up wasting the spell if you can’t play all of the cards in time. Red aggro and burn lists in particular have greatly benefitted from the introduction of this mechanic, and it’s given those archetypes a lot more staying power. Light Up the Stage immediately found a home in Modern burn, and so far Reckless Impulse is doing a good impression of it in Pauper versions of the deck.

Unlike a lot of other card draw options, it’s hard to squeeze out extra synergies with impulse draw. There are only a handful of cards that care about casting spells from exile: it’s really just Vega, the Watcher, Prosper, Tome-Bound and Epochrasite. You can also get some extra value out of impulse draw by running cards like Squee, the Immortal and Eternal Scourge, since they can always be played from exile. This means you don’t need to rush to cast them. It gives you some added flexibility, which is nice, but it’s not much.

Outside of Commander, where you can park Prosper in the command zone, these cards aren’t enough to build a full deck around impulsive draw. It’s not like how Aristocrats and Madness decks are able to grow out of sacrificial draw and looting spells. Still, I could see it happening some day. Just watch out when that day comes: Drannith Magistrate might just ruin your plans!

Painful Draw

This is where the efficient card advantage really comes out to play. Paying life for cards is a time-honoured tradition, dating back at least as far as Necropotence and the Black Summer of 1996. Trading life for cards usually isn’t a problem, especially in the early game, and in many matchups it doesn’t matter at all. Sometimes paying life is even advantageous. Of course, finding yourself up against an aggro or burn deck can quickly change that equation, so be on the lookout.

These days it’s rare to see painful draw spells that cost less than three mana, but in formats where Sign in Blood and Night’s Whisper are legal, they stand the test of time. Unlike looting, sacrificial draw or impulse draw, painful draw spells don’t require you to build around them at all. This makes them ideal for generic “good stuff” decks, as well as decks that need some form of card advantage but don’t have any good synergies with the other options. Painful draw usually shows up in midrange and control shells, where their higher density of removal can mitigate the life lost from their spells. They can also show up in combo decks that aim to win before their life total matters.

As good as these spells are, there’s a limit to how many painful cards you can reasonably cram into a list. As such, these spells can become a liability if you’re losing a lot of life from other sources. If this is the case, you may want to consider running some life gain cards to compensate.

The Installment Plan

Sometimes drawing two cards costs more than Divination, but the cost to do so is broken up over multiple turns. This sounds like a bad deal, but in reality it can be useful to pay two mana twice instead of tapping three mana all at once. Paying for your draw spell with an “installment plan” lets you keep up mana each turn, which can keep you more flexible. You can avoid going “shields down” more often, allowing you to keep up time-sensitive interaction, like Counterspell.

Behold the Multiverse and other foretell spells immediately come to mind, but the idea of breaking up the cost of a draw spell goes back much further than Kaldheim. Courier’s Capsule and Font of Fortunes operate under a similar principle, and there are even non-blue options in the form of Spare Supplies and Metalspinner’s Puzzleknot. Those last two have the added benefit of giving you a card right away, which helps immensely; even if the permanents get destroyed, you at least got something for your trouble. The same sadly can’t be said for Capsule and Font, which put all your eggs in one basket. Still, unless you expect to see artifact or enchantment removal, they’re pretty safe options.

If you want other card draw spells that you can pay for with an installment plan, but permanents don’t interest you, perhaps I can interest you in the cheap flashback spells Think Twice and Siphon Insight. Like other pay-as-you-go card draw spells, they end up costing more than Divination in the long run, but each payment is still pretty cheap. The fact that you end up casting these spells twice could even work to your advantage, like in spellslinger lists that are looking to maximize their magecraft triggers.

As flashback spells, Think Twice and “Drink Twice” have the additional utility of being something you can play from your graveyard. If you mill them or loot them away, you’re generating extra value. This makes them solid options for graveyard and discard strategies.

Of course, there are a few other options in regards to graveyard-based draw spells, but most of them cost a lot of mana to flash back, or they have some sort of restriction. It’s worth noting that Deep Analysis is the exception, and if you’re planning on casting spells out of your graveyard you should probably start with it.


X spells like Blue Sun’s Zenith are less efficient than Divination when you’re only drawing two cards, but their ability to scale up makes them a tempting option for control and ramp strategies. The higher the value of X, the less you end up paying per card, and the more backbreaking the spell will be when it resolves. The trick is to make sure you cast it at the right time. Unlike paying for your spell with an installment plan, a big X spell can easily tap you out, and if you do that at the wrong time it can give your opponent the opportunity they need to take over the game. That’s where instants Sphinx’s Revelation come in: you can sneak them in when your opponent is tapped out, or during an end step when they aren’t ready. If you get it right, you’ll often find yourself in a commanding position moving forward.

Just rememver that big draw spells have their limits. They’re a lot less useful in the early game, meaning you’ll need a way to survive long enough to cast them. Plus, they’re a lot weaker to Counterspells, so be prepared to defend it. It’s often worth drawing a couple fewer cards with an X spell so you can keep some mana up, just in case.

Conditional Draw

Conditional draw spells are among the most efficient card draw spells in the game, provided you can meet their criteria. This usually means building your deck with the specific card in mind, much like you would for looting or sacrificial draw. The specific requirements of each card are varied, so it’s easier to look at them individually:


Chart a Course is perhaps my favourite draw spell in the game. At its worst it’s a looting spell, and by “worst” I mean sometimes that’s exactly what you want. What’s great about it, though, is that for the low low price of attacking with a creature, you get two cards for two mana. That’s an incredibly easy condition to meet, and if you don’t have any good attacks you can always treat this as a sacrificial draw spell and throw one of your creatures away. There’s always a chance your opponent won’t block!

Seriously, for such a simple design, this card has an awful lot of flexibility.

In a flier-heavy deck, Winged Words is basically a discount Divination. What else is there to say? If you can keep a flying creature in play, it’s a great rate. The fact that you can still cast it for three mana if your board is empty is a nice failsafe.

Of One Mind is similar, and while its discount is much better, it’s also much harder to pull off. Getting both a human and a non-human into play takes some setup, although you can look to Winota, Joiner of Forces decks for inspiration on that front. There are a few humans out there that create non-human tokens, though there aren’t many that cost less than three mana.

At first glance, Scarscale Ritual is a lot like a sacrificial draw spell, but you get to keep your creature around. The trick here is to find a way to benefit from the -1/-1 counters; if you can, this spell gets a lot better. Perhaps you want to reset an undying creature like Stormbound Geist, or maybe you’d rather fuel up a creature like Channeler Initiate.

If you’re already running counter synergies like Fain, the Broker, Soul Diviner or Power Conduit, this might be the perfect addition to your list.

Ior Ruin Expedition is slow. You’re basically suspending your draw spell for a few turns, even if your deck is full of fetchlands and ramp. Delaying your draw isn’t ideal, and this spell leaves you vulnerable to enchantment removal. That said, it’s hard to argue with its low mana cost. Plus, if you have ways to copy permanents or return enchantments from your graveyard, this card get a lot more interesting.

Personally, I’ve got a soft spot for the whole Expedition cycle because of their inclusion in my Eldrazi Horde deck. It doesn’t necessarily mean these enchantments are great, but they’re certainly fun.

Ordeal of Thassa suffers from a lot of the same drawbacks as Ior Ruin Expedition, with the added wrinkle that you need a creature to enchant. It does grow the creature when it attacks, and it plays well with the array of +1/+1 counter and aura synergies out there, so it has some additional utility. Nevertheless, it’s one of the riskier draw spells to use.

Ideally, you’ll want a way to shortcut to the sweet sweet card draw the Ordeal provides. Thankfully, you have a few options to do that: First and foremost, if the creature you enchant already has +1/+1 counters, you’ll get to three much sooner, and thus your cards. Second, and perhaps more sneakily, the entire Ordeal cycle triggers when you sacrifice them for any reason. This means you could use Claws of Gix, Auratog, Perilous Research or any number of other cards and still get the enchantments’ rewards. Neat!

I’ll be honest, I don’t remember ever seeing an Era of Innovation in play, even in Kaladesh Limited. Energy decks have better things to do with their counters, and artifact decks don’t want to pay extra mana when they could Thoughtcast instead. As far as cheap card draw spells go, I’m at a bit of a loss on this one.

If you really wanted to use it (and who am I to judge), I could see some fringe potential for this enchantment alongside the artifact lands, or even in changeling decks; those shapeshifters are all ninja goat artificers, after all! Era of Innovation would presumably function as a repeatable source of energy counters in such a deck, then you could eventually cash it in in for cards when you didn’t need the energy anymore.

There could be some utility in running it alongside Aether Poisoner or any of the cards from that cycle; the servos they create would trigger the Era, letting you get a refund on your energy. The trouble is, if you’re spending all that energy to make servos, you won’t have any left to draw cards with the enchantment…. Hm…. Tricky….

Frantic Inventory, Take Inventory and Accumulated Knowledge all fall into a similar category: draw spells that get better the more copies you have in your graveyard. The first time you cast one of these in a game, it’s not very good; two mana for one card is subpar. After that, however, things start to look quite promising. With only one copy in your graveyard it’s already two mana for two cards, and it only gets better from there. If you can, it’s a good idea to discard or mill the first copy you find; it’s more mana efficient that way.

Frantic Inventory has become the go-to spell out of these three for a few reasons. For one thing, it has the most recent printing, making it the most accessible for players. For another, Take Inventory is a sorcery, which makes it significantly worse. Finally, Accumulated Knowledge ends up being a tricky metagame call: it’s at its best when other people are using it, but has the downside of also powering up each of your opponents’ copies. Still, Accumulated Knowledge is the only version that can draw more than four cards in one go, so it’s got that going for it; more risk, but more reward.

One day I hope to see additional support for these spells, like how Muscle Burst has Diligent Farmhand to act as additional copies in the graveyard. A Diligent Clerk, perhaps?

If you’re looking for the best draw spells for the lowest mana cost, your best bet might be to run an artifact deck. Not only do you get access to a plethora of cheap cantrip permanents, but you get to cast Thoughtcast and Thought Monitor for as little as one mana. Between the artifact lands and all those cheap rocks, you barely have to wait for the cost of these spells to drop to bargain basement prices. It doesn’t get much more efficient than that, unless you’re a delve spell or part of the Power Nine!

Drawn Out

Whew! We’ve covered a lot of card advantage so far, but there are still a few things to tackle. This has already been a long article, so let’s call it here and pick things up in Part 3. I hope you’ll join us then, when we go over Anticipate spells, assorted Disentombs and the infamous Squadron Hawk. It should be fun!

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