I’d like you to go with me on a journey. A journey not of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey to a wondrous realm of imagination. There’s a signpost up ahead! Next stop, the “Drawkeep” step.
Arena isn’t granular in the way it represents all the parts of a turn. I’m going to write another post about that, but it got me thinking.
What if there was no Upkeep step?
Now, hold on. I know what you’re thinking – “Sacrilege!” Right?
Hear me out, though. What happens in the Upkeep step do that couldn’t just as easily be done in the Draw step? Arena essentially does this all ready. The only time you ever actually see the Upkeep step on Arena, is when there’s a relevant triggered ability. How would losing the Upkeep step – or rather, merging the Upkeep and Draw steps – affect the various formats and/or specific cards?
As I’ve been thinking about this, working through how to handle “at the beginning of your upkeep” triggers, and I this is the change I’m proposing for this thought experiment. We merge the Upkeep and Draw steps. So the turn looks like this – Untap, Draw, then in the Draw step, the Active Player gets priority, but not before the first card is drawn. If there are any “at the beginning of your upkeep” triggers, those will be placed on the stack, after the first Draw of the turn, but before anyone gets priority.
Let’s go on a deep dive together, shall we?
I’m going to group Limited and Standard together, because they’re both represented on Area. Honestly, I don’t think that losing the Upkeep step would affect either greatly. As it is on Arena, the only time you’ll even see the Upkeep step, is when there’s a relevant triggered ability. Will it matter if those triggers go on the stack before or after you draw your first card?
Well, maybe. There’s four cards in Standard – at the time of this writing – which I think would be adversely affected by this rules change.
Sphinx of Foresight, and Eyes Everywhere both have you Scry during your upkeep. However, neither of these cards sees play outside of Limited, and they’re both Rares, so they get played infrequently even then.
Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage becomes significantly harder to make work, but, again, it sees very minimal play in Constructed.
Search for Azcanta. This is a big one. It’s heavily played, not only in Standard, but in Modern and possibly Legacy. If you can’t Scry before your draw, then it becomes far less useful. There’s two possible ways you could errata this, and cards like this. One, you could move the Scry to the End Step instead of the Upkeep Step. In the case of Search, that would actually make the card much better because you’d proceed into your opponent’s turn with the knowledge of what your next draw will be, or having binned a bad draw.
However, the fact that this or any other single card would get nerfed, isn’t good cause to reject the idea. Magic has seen many rules changes over the years, some of them quite significant. Hell, they did away with the entire card type “Interrupt” with the 6th edition rules update, and artifacts used to “turn off” when they were tapped.
As a rule, I don’t think Limited would be affected in any substantive way – with the caveat that some Cubes could. But since Cube is such a highly individualized experience, it’s really impossible to make any evaluation about it as a collective format.
Moving into the non-rotating formats like Modern, Legacy, and Commander, the impact is far greater. I’m not going to look at Vintage, because I don’t really have an experience in that format. The most obvious mechanic that comes to mind is Upkeep itself, and by extension, Cumulative Upkeep. Honestly, I really don’t think this would functionally change how those cards work in any format. I suppose having drawn you card for the turn would give you more information to work with when making your decision to pay an Upkeep cost or not.
Having the draw happen before you can take any other actions greatly impacts the use of Fetch Lands, especially in relation to things like Delver of Secrets. One common strategic play is to allow the Delver trigger to resolve, and then fetch away the card, if you didn’t want to draw it. Also, it would make fixing the top of your deck to ensure a Delver flip significantly more difficult. There’s an argument to be made that this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, LOL.
There’s a few other upkeep-timed mechanics that, again, I think this would have little effect on. Pacts have to be paid for, no matter what. Vanishing and Fading will happen no matter what – there’s no strategic decisions to be made there.
Likewise, there’s only a handful of Echo cards which get played competitively goblins – only two that I can think of off the top of my head, both goblins – and the decision to pay the Echo cost is typically not affected by whether you’ve drawn your card for the turn.
The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. Setting aside that this is a multi-thousand dollar card that sees a limited amount of play in Legacy and Vintage, what are we to make of how it would be impacted by the Drawkeep step? I’m not sure it would greatly. Again, you’d have a little extra information before choosing which creatures to pay for, but if this is a problem card for your deck, then I’m not sure that little bit of info will help. You need to remove the Tabernacle entirely. The implications for Kataki, War’s Wage would be the same, I think.
Mana Vault would require functional errata. It explicitly has a function during the Upkeep step, and a separate function during the Draw step. But a fairly minor rules change could address this. Just merge the two abilities. So you keep this – “Mana Vault doesn’t untap during your untap step.” Then instead of this – “At the beginning of your upkeep, you may pay 4. If you do, untap Mana Vault. At the beginning of your draw step, if Mana Vault is tapped, it deals 1 damage to you.” it would change to “At the beginning of your draw step, if Mana Vault is tapped, it deals 1 damage to you. You may pay 4 to untap Mana Vault and prevent this damage.”
The 8 Rack which is a fringe Modern and Legacy deck to being with, and relies on discard to force your opponent into having an empty hand during their upkeep would get worse. Probably would be unplayable.
Glacial Chasm is a card that gets played in the Legacy Lands deck. Again, it’s basically just an Upkeep cost, and I don’t think that drawing an additional card would impact your decision to pay that cost or not.
The Innistrad “werewolf” ability would trigger in the Draw step instead of in the Upkeep step, but again, I don’t think that would have any real functional or strategic impact on the cards as a whole.
There’s a whole bunch more cards that I think would be impacted in minimal ways – mostly by the advantage of having slightly more info before making decisions which would have been made in the Upkeep step. I’ll list them down below, with a simple “better/worse/same” assessment, but I think I’ve touched on enough to draw some conclusions. Keep in mind, that this is a thought experiment. Even if I feel that it would be a good change, I’m not trying to advocate for that change.
So on the whole, would merging the Upkeep and Draw steps be detrimental to the game? Well, Yes and No. Some cards would definitely suffer a negative impact, like Search for Ascanta. Some would actually benefit, for instance when making decisions about paying Echo or Upkeep costs. It also would streamline gameplay, as we’ve seen on Arena.
But I think that the big question really is this – would any benefits the Drawkeep step bring be substantial enough to justify trying to make that change? Every major rules change that’s ever happened in Magic has brought problems with it, and been controversial. The Sixth Edition rules update, the Eighth Edition card frame change, the M10 rules update, the multiple changes to how Legends work. Each of these is has been a value add, but not without cost.
In the end, I don’t think that this change would bring benefits outweighing the cost. I wouldn’t advocate having the Drawkeep step. But this, and really “outside the box” ideas are always worth considering. Just because we’ve always done something a certain way, doesn’t mean that it’s the only way, or even the best way.
Learning to think in unconventional ways will help you become a better Magic player, and we reject unconventional ideas out of hand at our own peril. It’s amazing to see a newer player when they realize that they can actually kill their opponent with Sign in Blood.
Well, thanks for taking the time to listen to me ramble.
Drop of Honey – Same
Cursed Scroll – Worse
Smokestack – Better
Barren Glory – Worse (almost non-functional)
Masticore (and friends) – Better
Jötun Grunt – same
Bottled Cloister – Same
Oath of Druids – Same
Shrine of Burning Rage – Better
As Foretold – Better
Emeria, The Sky Ruin – Same
Inventor’s Fair – Same
Dark Confidant – Really? Could Bob get any better? I think not. It’s perfection incardnte.