In the Margins - Divination

"Life is not always a matter of holding good cards. Sometimes it's about playing a poor hand well."

Currently, there are 2,990 decks decks in the EDHREC database running Divination, and not a single one of them should have it as part of the 99.

Welcome back to In the Margins, a monthly Commander-centric column where I assume the role of your ex and point out all your personal failings. In that regard, running Divination ranks right up there with not washing your hands after using the bathroom. You seriously think we can't tell when you just flip the water on for a second so it sounds like you're doing it? The hand towel isn't even wet. Gross. Lazy and gross.

So, Divination. Let's talk about it, and its older brother from another mother, Counsel of the Soratami, which is stanking up another 383 decks. Divination first appeared way back in Magic 2010 as a plane-agnostic reprint of Counsel, and has since been reprinted ten additional times as of this article. Now, unlike Cancel or a few other previous candidates from this series, there aren't a pile of strictly better alternatives for Divination. There are, however, quite a few situationally better alternatives for blue to draw two cards for three mana, so let's take a look at them, starting with the cards that match Divination most closely.

"Whoever coined the phrase 'a man's got to play the hand that was dealt him' was most certainly one poor bluffer."

Artificer's Epiphany is an instant speed Divination with the caveat that you have to discard a card if you don't control an artifact. Even if you don't control an artifact, there're a lot of decks where casting what is effectively a looting spell at instant speed is better than casting a regular draw spell at sorcery speed, particularly in a draw-go style deck that wants to leave countermagic up as frequently as possible. Baral, Chief of Compliance is one such commander; he leans heavily into counterspells and would want the instant option over the sorcery, but there are only 2 Baral decks on EDHREC running Artificer's Epiphany compared to 42 running Divination.

This of course ignores that fact that Artificer's Epiphany often isn't a looting spell, but is instead just an instant speed Divination. All it takes is a single artifact to void the discard rider, and in a lot of blue decks that's more difficult to miss than it is to hit. Arcum Dagsson, Breya, Etherium ShaperMuzzio, Visionary ArchitectPadeem, Consul of Innovation, Saheeli, the Gifted, Sharuum the Hegemon, and Sydri, Galvanic Genius are all artifact-centric commanders in blue with a really excellent ratio of artifacts in their lists, making it easy to cast Artificer's Epiphany without discarding anything. You don't even need to be playing an artifact-centric deck to hit the threshold, however. Looking at my own blue decks, none of which are artifact-based, all of them are running at least 13 artifacts, such as mana rocks or Equipment. Without even really trying, Epiphany is going to be better than Divination more often than it's not. Try it in your deck. It being better than Divination in plenty of lists shouldn't be an epiphany to anyone. Boom, nailed it.

Chart a Course is one of the best blue draw spells printed for EDH in a decade. It's blue's very own Night's Whisper. It costs one less mana to cast than Divination, drawing two cards and making you discard one if you haven't attacked this turn. Like Epiphany, there are a lot of decks where the discard isn't really a downside (why yes, I'll happily discard this Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite to reanimate later!) but it's also really easy in the color of evasion to almost never discard a card unless it's something you intentionally want to do. For commanders like Thada Adel, Acquisitor or Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive, which have baked-in evasion, Chart a Course is just a cheaper Divination on your second main phase. It's a perfect role-player in blue EDH decks, and it should be in way more than the 901 lists where it currently resides.

“It’s not whether you won or lost but how many bad beat stories you're able to tell.”

Mulldrifter can be cast whenever you can cast a sorcery, and it draws you cards at the same cost as Divination. Plus it can optionally come into play as a 2/2 flyer if you want, and can create death triggers on demand if needed. There's so, so many decks where this is just better, full stop.

Secrets of the Golden City has the same CMC as Divination, though it does contain a somewhat harder-to-cast double-blue mana requirement. Still, it'll quite often be paid for by tapping the exact same lands and rocks as Divination, particularly if you're playing mono-blue. The key here is the Ascend keyword, which will let you draw three cards instead of two if you control ten or more permanents. Note that Ascend cares about permanents, not nonland permanents, so in a whole lot of decks, by turn five or six you'll just accidentally qualify. The worst case scenario is that Secrets is just a Divination. It's a a Divination sometimes, and a better Divination pretty often without you having to do anything you weren't already doing. Who doesn't want to get rewarded for the thing they were already gonna do anyway?

Secrets has a slot in just 269 decks on the REC (don't call it that). It's in just 8 Talrand, Sky Summoner decks vs 237 for Divination. That seems like a poor choice in the deck of a commander who makes permanents upon casting spells.

“Don’t get mad that you lost, get mad because you didn’t win.”

Compulsive Research draws one more card than Divination, but you have to discard two cards as well. Unless you draw a land, that is. Compulsive Research is one of those draw spells that gets better the more draw you have, since that increases the likelihood you'll have a spare land in hand already. Generally speaking, more often than not I'd rather draw three cards and risk having to pitch two if I don't hit a land.

Tezzeret's Gambit can cost four, but for argument's sake, we'll look at it like a black draw spell where you also pay life. In this case, it costs three colorless and two life, which is worse than Divination alone even with the slightly easier mana cost. What sets Gambit apart is the fact that is also has Proliferate stapled to it. In a generic sense, is it worth paying two life or one extra mana for a lone Proliferate trigger? If you aren't built around counters, probably not. But if you are? It is absolutely worth it. In any superfriends, infect, or +1/+1 or even -1/-1 counter deck, adding one extra counter can be game-changing. The EDH community mostly agrees with this assessment, too, as Tezzeret's Gambit shows up in 8,143 decks. Even so, it's not in all the decks it should be in. A quick scan through any of the top commanders on the superfriends or +1/+1 counters Theme pages will show dozens of commanders with these dedicated themes running Divination but not Tezzeret's Gambit. Make the change!

Thirst for Knowledge is similar to Compulsive Research, except that it's an instant speed and requires you to discard an artifact instead of a land. Instant speed is great, as is drawing three cards instead of Divination's two. Is pitching an artifact to keep from pitching two cards worth the risk? I think it depends on the deck, but in some situations, the answer is yes, particularly in an artifact-heavy deck that may be running artifact lands, or one that cares about having artifacts in the graveyard. It's probably the narrowest of the six we've looked at so far, but in plenty of decks, this would most certainly be an upgrade over Divination.

"If there weren't luck involved, I would win every time."

Dream Cache draws you three cards, but you have to put two cards back on the top or bottom of your library. Know any commanders that might want to control exactly what goes on top of their library? My friend Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign does. There are only 2 Yennett decks on EHDREC running Divination, but that's 2 more than there ought to be.

Pulse of the Grid is instant speed, which is always nice, and it forces a discard, which some decks love. However, what's really interesting here is that it returns to your hand if you have less cards in hand than an opponent. In decks looking for on-cast triggers, a repeatable spell can make a huge difference. It's in under 500 decks currently, and not nearly enough Talrand, Sky Summoner lists.

Ghastly Discovery lets you draw draw two cards, then discard a card. As I've said more than once here, discard isn't bad in a lot of decks, but what we're really looking at here is the Conspire keyword. Conspire says that as you cast this spell, you may tap two untapped creatures you control that share a color with it. When you do, copy that spell. It just so happens that blue has more than a few EDH-playable permanents that create tokens when you cast instant or sorcery spells (such as Docent of Perfection. Ghastly Discovery lets you use those tokens to copy itself, drawing you even more cards. Note that you can't Conspire any tokens created by actually casting the Ghastly Discovery, due to some timing restraints on the spell, but odds are you have some in play already, and tapping two of them to dig even deeper is a much higher upside than you'll get from Divination.

"The difference between a winner and a loser is that the latter thinks they don't deserve it.”

Lat-Nam's Legacy is instant speed and one less mana to cast than Divination. The downside here is that instead of discarding a card into your graveyard, where it may serve as reanimation fodder, you instead shuffle it into your library, and you don't actually draw the cards until next turn's upkeep. It's not amazing or anything, but I'm personally running it in a blue deck that isn't running Divination, because I like its flexibility as an instant. It's currently in less than 300 decks on EDHREC, though part of that may be due to it not having a Standard printing since Alliances.

Perilous Research is also a two-mana draw two at instant speed, with the caveat that you have to sacrifice a permanent. Luckily you can sacrifice that tapped Drake you attacked with last turn, and your Talrand will immediately replace it with a new one. Some decks may even prefer the ability to sacrifice permanents in the same manner as Diabolic Intent, where filling your graveyard is pure upside. Instant speed, and two-thirds the mana cost of Divination? That's outstanding, and it should be in more than 331 decks.

See Beyond is a Lat-Nam's Legacy that trades instant speed for instant payoff, drawing the cards before shuffling a card back into your deck. It's pretty narrow - Jalira, Master Polymorphist might enjoy it because you can put a Polymorph target back into your deck - but I still prefer narrow to clunky.

"No one ever beat me playing cards. The only one that ever beat me was myself."

Just because you're in blue doesn't mean you're only in blue. Of the five top commanders running Divination, only one is mono-blue. Of the top ten, only two are mono-blue. Let's look at some multicolored options that also outclass Divination.

Scarscale Ritual is a two-mana Divination that has the downside of putting a -1/-1 counter on a creature you control. Some decks that care about death triggers are okay with that downside though, as are ones not overly worried about combat damage. In fact, I'd wager that a great many blue-black decks don't care about a measly -1/-1 counter. The Scarab God probably doesn't mind becoming a 4/4 instead of a 5/5, and Dragonlord Silumgar can just put the counter on whichever creature he stole. If you don't plan on attacking much anyway, the -1/-1 counter is negligible compared to the reduced mana cost. Despite this, Scarscale is only in 54 decks, though some of that is probably owing to its lack of a printing since George W. Bush was in office.

Cerebral Vortex targeting yourself is a Divination that trades two life to add instant speed. Not great, since you'd actually lose three life if you cast it on your turn, factoring in your draw step. What's interesting here, though, is that you can target someone else, dealing damage to them equal to the number of cards they've drawn this turn. If someone drops a Rishkar's Expertise for 22 on that Omnath, Locus of Mana, you can just dome them for 25 (again factoring in their draw step). That situational flexibility to catch an enemy Kruphix, God of Horizons or Niv-Mizzet, Parun player completely off guard, or to simply draw two cards for two life at instant speed, means that the Vortex is worth extra consideration.

Esper Charm is an instant speed Divination in any color combination with access to white, blue and black. That alone probably makes it worth running in the decks that can, but of course, as it's a Charm, drawing cards isn't all it does. It can also destroy an enchantment, or force a player to discard two cards. Both of those seem worth the more complicated mana cost.

"Cards don't care; they don't take sides, and they have no memory."

Consult the Necrosages is a modular Divination, with the second mode being a Mind Rot. There isn't much downside to running this over Divination in a deck running Dimir colors, particularly in one with a hand destruction subtheme. You could also technically target yourself for the discard if you're in some Madness or reanimator build, or if you just want to flex on your opponent.

Notion Rain is my favorite draw spell since Chart a Course. For the same cost as Divination you Surveil 2, digging up to four cards with one spell, and throwing cards right into the graveyard, where they can be further abused. Sure, you lose two life, but this is EDH; if they didn't want you to spend life drawing cards, they wouldn't have given you 40 to start with. 471 decks are running the card after less than 6 months, and I'll be really curious to see where it trends.

Pilfered Plans is a Divination with black in the casting cost that draws you two cards and mills target player for two more. Note this says target player, so if need be you can use this as a not-as-good Notion Rain to put reanimation targets into the yard.

"Only losers and amateurs blame the cards."

If you’re still running Divination, odds are good that one of these options will work a little better for you, and over time, a bunch of little betters adds up to a lot better. There are just too many other options available to keep running Divination. If you’ve got an argument to the contrary, though, I’d love to hear it. Leave a comment below and make your case, offer up some future suggestions for columns, or just tell me how my prose made your shriveled Grinchy heart grow three sizes this day.

Until next time, I’m Dana and I’ll see you In the Margins.

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Dana is one of the hosts of the EDHRECast and the CMDR Central podcast. He lives in Eau Claire, WI with his wife and son. He has been playing Magic so long he once traded away an Underground Sea for a Nightmare, and was so pleased with the deal he declined a trade-back the following week. He also smells like cotton candy and sunsets.

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