Read the Bones Vs. Divination

September 20, 2015

Niv Danieli

24 Years old
Israeli Magic player
PTQ Philadelphia Winner
WMCQ 2013 Winner

More Posts (19)

Hi All,

An important part of many control decks is card advantage. Many articles were written on this concept and I highly suggest reading some if you are unfamiliar with it.

Cards that generate a massive boost in card advantage tend to warp a meta-game around them. Skullclamp, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and more recently Sphinx’s Revelation are all examples of this.

Today we will discuss not these format-changing card advantage monsters but rather the more “generic” ones and how to choose the right one for your deck.

In short, today’s topic is Divination vs. Read the Bones

These two cards have several similarities:
1. The converted mana cost of both cards is 3.
2. They are both sorceries.
3. They both draw two cards.
4. They are both in a color that is frequently able to generate card advantage (as opposed to White or Red, for example).

They also have several differences:
1. Divination is Blue while Read the Bones is Black.
2. Divination lets you see (and draw) the top two cards of your deck, whereas Read the Bones lets you see up to the top four cards of your deck.
3. After drawing with Read the Bones you lose two life points.

Divination only has one mode – draw two cards.
Read the Bones has 3 modes which all depend on the scry:
a. Put both cards on the top, draw two cards and lose 2 life points.
b. Put both cards at the bottom, draw two cards and lose 2 life points.
c. Put one card on the top and one at the bottom, draw two cards and lose 2 life points.

So, which one is better?

As with most cases, the answer is “it depends”. If we look at the modes that Read the Bones has, we can (very generally) say the following:
In mode a. Divination is better (draw the same amount of cards, don’t lose life).
In mode b. Read the Bones is usually better (don’t draw two useless cards).
Mode c. is the more interesting one, where we need to factor in the decks and board situation more closely (usually it will be slightly in favor of Read the Bones).

When deciding which card we want to use, we need to understand how our deck works in general and what role card drawing has in it.

Let’s take a look at the two major Blue-based control decks – UW and Esper (for the sake of argument, let’s assume that UW could run Read the Bones as a card that costs 2U). Both decks are very similar: UW has more consistent mana and Esper has access to powerful Black cards. They both also have very similar plans, with counters, sweepers, Sphinx’s Revelation and a huge finisher such as Aetherling, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion (and Blood Baron of Vizkopa for Esper).

There are, however, some differences:
UW tends to have more counters and sweepers than Esper. Esper has spot removal and access to cards such as Thoughtseize and Sin Collector to attack the hand. UW does not.

Another major factor is how much damage the deck deals to itself. UW, as a base two color deck, only has 4 Hollowed Fountains that could deal damage to it. On the other hand, Esper will usually run the full 12 Shocklands in order to make the mana consistent, as well as running 2-4 Thoughtseizes.

There are a few major questions that we need to ask ourselves when deciding on which draw spell to run (if any) for the two aforementioned decks:

1. What am I searching for when drawing extra cards?

The UW deck consists mainly of catch-all cards (Dissolve, Supreme Verdict, Ratchet Bomb and Detention Sphere), utility cards (Jace, Architect of Thought, Azorius Charm), card drawing spells (Sphinx’s Revelation) and finishers (Aetherling, Elspeth).

The Esper deck usually runs less counters and catch-all cards and instead has spot removal (Doom Blade, Hero’s Downfall and Devour Flesh).

In conclusion, UW is a deck which has many cards with the same goal and its answers are usually able deal with any threat. Therefore, the scry 2 is not a must in this deck as the deck just wants to draw more cards.
– As the scry 2 ability of Read the Bones is not crucial most of the time, Divination can be sufficient.

The Esper deck is very target-dependent; it needs to have the right answer at the right time.
When looking for a specific answer under pressure, scry 2 can be crucial.
– Searching for the right card at any given moment is of great importance in this deck, and Read the Bones gets the thumbs up.

2. How important are the two life points to my deck?

As mentioned previously, UW has only 4 cards that deal damage to it, and cards such as Jace and Revelation can stem the bleeding well enough so that the two life points aren’t critical.
– Divination and Read the Bones are pretty much equal in this category for UW.

On the other hand, Esper can deal a lot of damage to itself. With 12 shocklands, several Thoughtseizes and a tendency to play untapped shocklands in order to answer a specific threat, two life points can make a huge difference.
– The nod goes to Divination

3. How good is the card at the beginning and end of the game?

The reasoning here tends to be the same for both decks. At the beginning of the game you are looking for a way to stabilize the board, having more options (and more life points to spare) gives the nod to Read the Bones

In the middle-late stages of the game, you can either be ahead or behind. When you are ahead you generally just want more cards, so both options are valid. When you are behind, you’re looking for a specific answer or a way to stabilize and get ahead. Read the Bones can help you search more efficiently for answers than Divination (depending on the life points).

If you are too far behind (or playing against a very aggressive deck), you might not even be able to cast Read the Bones, as you simply don’t have the life points to spare. In this case, Divination is the preferable (if not the only) option.

In the current standard meta-game neither card sees much play but with the rise of Mono-Blue and Mono-Black decks, things just might change. And when things do change, the choice is yours.

Until next time,
Niv Danieli

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