Why Graven Lore Could Be Magic’s Next Sphinx’s Revelation

“This is like Dig Through Time meets Treasure Cruise where you just get the best of both worlds.” Sam Black praises Graven Lore in Kaldheim Standard.

Graven Lore , illustrated by Svetlin Velinov

The phrase “Snow Control” just makes me happy.  Maybe I like that it sounds like Snow Patrol, or maybe I just like drafting snow, so I have good associations with the mechanic.  I guess my interest in snow goes a little beyond that, in that I generally like mechanics that incentivize interesting decisions in choosing which lands to play, and snow is great at that. With all of that in mind, my excitement for Graven Lore shouldn’t surprise you since I find it to be an exciting incentive to explore snow in Constructed with interestingly scaling payoffs.

If most or all of your mana comes from snow sources, such that you can expect Graven Lore to scry four or five cards, this card can dig seven or eight cards to find something you’re looking for.  This isn’t a small improvement from draw-three. This is like Dig Through Time meets Treasure Cruise where you just get the best of both worlds. 

Given that drawing large numbers of cards often means you end up with more lands than you can reasonably play or needing to discard, at a certain point you’re really just looking for specific things. Therefore, I think the snow-heavy version of this card is often going to be stronger than a draw-four, but weaker than a draw-five.

Graven Lore is the kind of card draw spell that’s powerful enough that it’s basically a finisher the way that Sphinx’s Revelation was, rather than a tool to pull ahead like Glimmer of Genius was.  Yes, you’ll need other ways to actually end the game, but if your deck has the right tools, this finds so many of them that it can functionally end the game.

If you’re just dabbling in snow, it’s still a strong card draw spell even if you can only scry two or three most of the time, so I like that you can control how much you want to invest in it.

Any time we’re building a deck around a powerful instant-speed card draw spell, we want to maximize our interaction, cheap spells that are still good late (so we have less interest in Mana Leak-style taxing counterspells and less interest in discard), and instants.  Given how much selection Graven Lore offers, we can also consider playing a few narrow cards.

The first thing I want to explore isn’t necessarily the strongest or most competitive, but the direction that would make me happiest.

I love Gaea’s Blessing control decks.  Sphinx’s Revelation plus Elixir of Immortality is okay too, but I really love the kind of inevitable recursion loops where you’re choosing which cards you want your deck to contain.

Graven Lore mills you, which means that you can’t actually use it to play a game forever without decking yourself, but it also means that you get to use it to tune your library much more quickly. It makes your library smaller, so the cards you shuffle back in have a larger impact on the density of those cards in your deck. 

The challenge is that you need a lot of snow permanents because you really want to take advantage of the second chapter of this Saga as well, but that can be hard because most decks that I imagine looking for Graven Lore aren’t really looking for a lot of nonland permanents. But we’ll want more than just snow lands, since snow lands are pretty hard to get in the graveyard, and this would be pretty unexciting as an underpowered Mulch.

Jorn, God of Winter is an easy inclusion here.  Jorn is a great way to get extra mana to cast and take advantage of Graven Lore and Kaldring, the Rimestaff offers redundancy with taking advantage of our graveyard on top of The Three Seasons.

That means I’m lookin at Sultai, which is good because that’s where most snow cards are anyway, and also where most self-mill/recursion is, so we have some clear direction here.

So I’m playing a snow control deck with black mana that wants to play permanents and mill itself.  Well, Blood on the Snow sounds literally perfect for all of that.  This points to an interest in having some powerful creatures or planeswalkers to return, but if we’re doing a lot of self-milling, we don’t need to play terribly many copies of those.

King Narfi’s Betrayal is another self-mill Saga, and now I’m really wishing these Sagas were snow permanents, since then this deck would be really easy to fill out with snow permanents.  I’m not sure if this deck will have enough density of creatures and planeswalkers to support this, but it’s an interesting option.

So what are some other playable snow permanents?

On paper, a cheap-to-cast threat that lets you invest mana in your opponent’s end step is a finisher makes a lot of sense, especially if the fact that it’s fragile is potentially an asset because you’re looking for permanents that you can recur.

If you have enough snow in your deck, this draws a card half the time or so. It might be good enough even though cards like this don’t have a strong history in Constructed.

I’m not often excited about 0/4 commons in Constructed, but Priest of the Haunted Edge actually looks pretty good. It’s a removal spell with suspend, but it can block before you can activate it, and a removal spell is basically the perfect thing to recur.  This seems like exactly what I’d want with Kaldring, the Rimestaff.

It’s not quite Paradise Druid, but Sculptor of Winter isn’t embarrassing.

I’m not sure about Icebind PillarIcy Manipulator-type effects don’t have the strongest history, but they do play well with sweepers like Blood on the Snow.  Investing mana in tapping things isn’t great, so I’m not very high on it.

This looks like enough to work with, so what does it all look like if I try to put it into a deck?

Okay, I accidentally made a deck where Graven Lore didn’t fit.  I’m probably supposed to go back and make a different deck, but I think this is an important part of exploring the nature of the snow cards we have to work with, which is important to understanding how to use Graven Lore.

So what happened here?

The Three Seasons pushed me to Jorn, which pushed me to more snow permanents, which resulted in finding enough snow permanents to mostly fill out a deck.  At that point, it became clear that Frost Augur; Kaldring, the Rimestaff; and The Three Seasons were providing enough access to cards that I didn’t need a big card draw spell.

My deck failed at maximizing for the things I listed that are important to building around a powerful instant-speed card draw spell because it was full of permanents.  Instead, this deck is basically looking to destroy opposing threats while ramping to a big planeswalker, ideally put on the battlefield through Blood on the Snow.

There’s a good chance this actually wants to lean further into self-mill with King Narfi’s Betrayal and Narfi, Betrayer King, but I’ll try to explore different directions.

As much as I love the idea of card draw + Gaea’s Blessing, I don’t think the other chapters of The Three Seasons lend themselves well to playing the kinds of cards you want to play with Graven Lore.

So let’s refocus and try to build around a heavy snow manabase but avoid cards that need a high density of snow cards in our library so that we can support a more traditional control deck.

This deck is looking to set up Blood on the Snow returning Ashiok, Nightmare Muse or Shipwreck Dowser as its end-game.  If you return Ashiok, you’re almost certainly ahead on the battlefield with an uncontested planeswalker, and if you return Shipwreck Dowser, it can immediately return Blood on the Snow to your hand, letting you destroy all creatures with buyback as often as you want.  The rest of the deck is all card draw and answers to help you get to that state.

This deck doesn’t use cards like Mazemind Tome because the expensive spells are supposed to do such heavy lifting that you don’t need to invest mana early in drawing cards.  This would put you at a substantial disadvantage against control decks that could counter your Graven Lore and might not care much about Blood on the Snow, so this deck would want access to Mazemind Tome and other tools for control matchups in the sideboard.

I’m also interested in an Izzet take on this kind of control deck, as red is pretty good at providing cheap instant-speed removal, and Frost Bite in particular is appealing.

Glimpse the Cosmos is an interesting card to try to use, but after Bonecrusher Giant, the remaining Giants are quite a bit weaker.  Thryx, the Sudden Storm is a Giant that plays well with Graven Lore and gives us a little more access to casting Glimpse the Cosmos from the graveyard.

Goldspan Dragon plays well with Saw It Coming, in that a foretold Saw it Coming can be cast for a single Treasure if you control Goldspan Dragon.

I included the Goldspan Dragons because I was a little worried about this deck’s closing power, but it’s possible that Ascendant Spirit will work out better than I fear and Goldspan Dragon might be unnecessary, making room for more interaction, probably in the form of counterspells.

I like that the card advantage offered by Bonecrusher Giant and Glimpse the Cosmos, as well as the potentially cheaper card draw from Behold the Multiverse, help bridge to Graven Lore, making sure you have enough resources to hit five lands and can find Graven Lore. I also like that playing a lower curve than the Dimir version allows room to play four Graven Lore, maximizing the chances that you can chain them if that’s what you’re looking for.

I’m not sure what the best control decks with Graven Lore will look like, but I think the card removes a lot of pressure to play Yorion, Sky Nomad by offering a good use of five mana that makes it less important to have a companion by providing plenty of other things to use your mana on.  This will free control decks to play fewer permanents to enable Yorion and allow them to focus more on interacting at instant speed. 

One thing I notice there is that this plays really well with Shark Typhoon. It’s another finisher that plays well at instant speed, and if you can cast Shark Typhoon, then Graven Lore makes a 5/5 Shark while finding plenty of fuel for additional Sharks.

Just how much weight can we put on Doomskar in terms of combating opposing aggro decks? Can we get by leaning on the powerful card draw spells offered in Kaldheim to find additional copies of Doomskar while cheating on spot removal?

Midnight Clock is probably a more realistic way to get the recursion element I was looking for with The Three Seasons. It also allows Doomskar on Turn 4 without foretelling it or Graven Lore on Turn 4, and generally offers ramp to an Azorius deck that’s looking for it.  With twelve foretell spells, this deck is expecting to spend Turn 2 using foretell, which is why I opted against cards like The Birth of Meletis.

This is a pretty simple pure control deck — five sweepers; eight counterspells; ramp; card draw; and Shark Typhoon and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon to finish the game.  It will likely need more ways to interact with opposing permanents but it might be able to get away with just filling the sideboard with cards like Glass Casket and Skyclave Apparition.

The mana in these decks hasn’t seemed particularly unstable or overly clunky.  I think the mana in Standard is strong enough that supporting snow won’t be especially taxing, which means there’s a lot of room to explore Graven Lore, which I believe is the strongest five-mana instant speed card draw spell ever printed. It’s admittedly a weird niche, but there’s precedent for cards like Fact or Fiction, Dig Through Time, or Sphinx’s Revelation — card draw spells that are considerably stronger than what we usually have access to that define formats.

And while the metagame may or may not prove right for it, Graven Lore has the potential to be that kind of card.