Drawing cards is too important to let Blue have all the fun.
Having cards in one’s hand is just part of the game; each player starts with seven cards, then draws one each turn. Whoever makes the best use of those resources is going to win. For some reason, early on in the history of Magic, the primordial version of the Creative Team decided to flavor card-draw as learning; it’s time that we rethink this. Once we realize that any color can be flavored to do anything, it’s easy to come up with alternate ways to conceptualize having cards in hand. Getting extra cards is just having the ability to do more stuff. Is it in Red’s section of the color pie to sit around not doing anything? No! Red wants to do things! Sitting around without any stuff to play is boring! Blue card-draw can still be thought of as learning more, but every color can have its own interpretation of it, and more importantly, every color should have a unique way to draw cards. (I don’t just mean cantripping, looting, or other ways to draw cards without ending up with an additional card; I mean card-draw that more than replaces itself.)
Okay, so we can justify any color having card-draw. Why should people other than MaRo devotees and self-declared Vorthoses care? Because drawing cards is incredibly important to so many decks, and Blue has done it so much better than any other color. Wizards is continuing to make Blue a mandatory part of any late-game-oriented deck, and that’s not the way to make Magic as fun as it can be. Players should be able to make control decks that aren’t Blue without having them always lose to the Blue ones because of a lack of a way to draw cards. But it’s not just people who want to play control that should care—playing combo requires finding your best cards, and that’s going to require card-draw a good portion of the time. Even aggressive decks need to draw cards to stay competitive after their Plan A—killing as quickly as possible—falls through. Remember how good Skullclamp and, to a lesser extent, Ranger of Eos were at winning games in which it looked like the aggressive deck got completely stopped? That sort of card-advantage-based game should happen more often, even from creature decks, so that not all of them play so one-dimensionally.
My grand proposal is this: Immediately drawing cards, with no hoops to jump through and no costs other than mana, should no longer just be on Blue sorceries and instants. It should be available to everyone (Tezzeret’s Gambit is a solid start). And every color needs to do it in a unique way.
So, how can other colors draw cards? The most important question to ask, for each color, is why that color wants to draw cards in the first place. (Note that this article won’t have any specific card designs, both because I want to keep it focused on the big picture rather than minutiae and because including such designs would bar anyone at Wizards from legally reading it. Plus, let’s be honest; I’d probably embarrass myself.)
With Mentor of the Meek, White is on the right path already. This type of card is within White’s section of the color pie—encouraging small creatures—and the card fits nicely in a variety of strategies. However, White should have more options for drawing cards than having to jam every deck full of token-producers. Since White is the color of rules, regulations, laws, and taxation, White could have rule-setting permanents that reward law-abiding players with cards (think Heartwood Storyteller). Not every rule has to absolutely prohibit players from doing something entirely, and cards could be more aggressively costed if they allowed but punished certain behaviors.
Tangent: Mentor of the Meek has the most nonsensical name of any card in years. What is this supposed Mentor teaching his students? How to be exactly as effective, but more replaceable? How to teach something to their planeswalker summoners before they die horrible deaths to Zombie hordes? Maybe it’s playing into the horror theme that teachers don’t teach you anything useful—only things that help the system as a whole.
Green has drawing cards because of its creatures in its part of the pie, but aside from some archetype-defining cards like Glimpse of Nature and Greater Good, this design space hasn’t been explored too much.* Those sorts of cards are definitely a start, but they’re incredibly few and far between. Wizards should print more of them and give Green some creatures that do more than replace themselves. (An Inspiration attached to a small- or medium-sized creature doesn’t seem unreasonable in Constructed or Limited.)
Desperate Ravings is the new face of Red card-draw, and it’s certainly quite the card, but as Red card-draw, it falls short. It’s important to not just have cards seem to fit flavor-wise in their color at first glance; a card should play in such a way that an incarnation of its color would approve of. Why is Desperate Ravings a good card? Because if you cast it with five cards in hand and they’re mostly junk, you can do some quick math and figure out that that the odds of throwing away something useful is quite low, and that on balance, you’ll come out ahead casting it even over Think Twice. This sort of mental deduction and calculation is the most not-Red thing in the universe. Why does Red want to draw cards? Not because it thinks about how it’ll benefit from them in the long term—Red just wants some more things to do, and it wants to do them now.
Sports teams’ strategy of selling apparel to women is just to take a normal jersey and color it pink, and Wizards takes a similar path: Any card can be Red if you add the word “random” to it. There are much better ways to put real card-draw in the color; designs similar to Ideas Unbound are a good start—it gives so much benefit up front, then takes it away at some future time that Red doesn’t really care about. It will, however, always be a careful balancing act between making cards that don’t feel Red and printing things that allow the game to end immediately from a combo.
Black has always been able to draw cards by paying life (because Black will do anything to win); the difference between this and Red’s randomness mechanic is that paying life plays out in a very Black way: The player must decide which of his resources is less likely to matter, and he spends that to gain a net benefit. Black will only draw cards if it concludes that it’s the best way to win the game. Beyond paying life for cards, though, Black would surely realize that preventing its opponent from drawing cards is just as good as drawing cards itself—or, better yet, it could steal the opponent’s draws. Fatigue effects would fit in perfectly with Black’s taste for discard. This would have to be done in moderation, to avoid game states becoming stale, but as an addition to another spell, it would do well as a crueler version of a cantrip.
And finally, we come back around to Blue. If what used to be a key section of Blue’s color identity is turned colorless, how will Blue draw cards in a distinctive way? Blue is the only color that just wants more cards for the sake of having them, and it can plan far enough ahead that it doesn’t necessarily need them all at once. Blue would be well-suited to personal Howling Mine effects or anything else that has a fairly big up-front payment while increasing long-term benefits. How the color of careful planning ever got Meditate is beyond me.
Well, you should be convinced now: Blue can’t go on being the only color that gets to sit smugly with a mitt full of cards past the third turn. Smugness, in fact, is really W/U/B.
*Make. Your. Own. Joke.