Red has struggled to find its place in the card advantage game. Back in the early days there was Wheel of Fortune and similar effects, which had a lot of potential, but were also highly situational. Then there was looting like Faithless Looting, but in order to differentiate between blue and red, this was nerfed into rummaging, where you discard first and draw later.
While rummaging is still going on regularly in cards like Thrill of Possibility and Big Score, red has also had impulse draw for a while now. Like so many other recurring mechanics without an official name, this has been named after the first card where it appeared, Act on Impulse. Impulse draw is basically card advantage, but only available to you for a limited time. I have limited this specifically to exiling the top card or cards of the library and being able to play those cards within a specific timewindow. I have disregarded any Alchemy shenanigans, because I don’t want to take those seriously. Also, I’ve left out anything that lets you play those cards without playing their manacost or lets you play from your opponents library.
Actually, Act on Impulse was not the first card to employ this idea. Before that we had Prophetic Flamespeaker in Journey into Nyx (2014). It never gained any traction, even though I wanted to try to make it happen.
Act on Impulse came soon after in the next Standard Set (Core Set 2015, 2014). It didn’t really raise any waves either. It feels like they were coming in carefully (for once).
Fate Reforged (2015) brought us Outpost Siege, which served mostly as a sideboard card, but also had combopotential with the second option. It seems to be a favorite in the prebuilt EDH decks. According to the EDHREC data, it is played in 4% of all decks, which is quite good, but since it has been printed in various Commander products, its hard to say how many of those hits are specifically from those listed in various places on the net.
Ire Shaman (Dragons of Tarkir, 2015) tried to push this, but it never really worked out either. The card has a lot of flexibility for an uncommon, especially at the time, but timing the use of the ability was just difficult.
Commune with Lava was talked about at the time, but never did anything. Maybe in EDH, where it has been reprinted a couple of times.
[srcylink]Stromkirk Occultist[/scrylink] from Eldritch Moon (2016) tried to push the mechanic, but the environment was quite hostile to anything without an ETB effect at the time. It has been reprinted in Commander products a couple of times since.
Grenzo (Conspiracy 2, 2016) was another early attempt at this, but it isn’t played much even in EDH, where EDHREC only lists 417 decks with it. That’s not nothing, but it isn’t much either.
For the longest, perhaps still even now, Chandra was the most impactful of impulse draw cards. There have been other impactful ones since this Kaladesh (2016) card, but this was a key card in Standard for its whole stay and has also seen play in both Modern and Pioneer, as well as Explorer. Obviously, this card does so much more, so there’s not much risk involved here. It works as removal, ramp and can just kill your opponent as needed.
Come to think of it, previous Chandra’s did see some play, but this was the beginning of Chandra as someone who was respected as a powerful being. After all, she is the behind Fall of the Titans (with help from Nissa). Impulse draw was also flavored after her even from the beginning, so it is fitting she became the headliner for the mechanic for such a long time.
The card has since been reprinted a number of times, but never into a normal set, only as a part of a deck, as promos and also this was the version they used in Chandra’s spellbook.
There was also Spark of Creativity in the same set, but while a fun concept, it didn’t do much.
While taking Amonkhet block off, the mechanic returned in Ixalan (2017) with Vance's Blasting Cannons // Spitfire Bastion. It is very reminiscent of Outpost Siege, but without the combo potential. It still saw some sideboard play, but not much.
Again, it took a few sets before we have another impulse draw with Apex of Power in M19 (2018). It was reprinted in a Commander set, but it is way too costly to see much play. Dark-Dweller Oracle has also been reprinted in Double Masters 2 and Commander sets, but is not nearly as strong as one might think. It was actually downgraded from a rare into a common, which is both a sign of how it is not very playable and how the mechanic has become ubiquitous enough to be at common.
Theater of Horrors from Ravnica Allegiance (2018). I had hopes for this, but not very high and it failed even what I expected of it. Light Up the Stage, on the other hand, saw a lot of Standard play and is a stable of Red Deck Wins in both Explorer and Pioneer making it a key card with this mechanic.
Chandra, Fire Artisan in War of the Spark (2019). It saw play in red aggro decks, where it gives those decks reach as the top of the curve. While it is not nearly as powerful as Torch of Defiance, I do like this version quite a bit.
Around here, the mechanic starts to pick up. Pretty much every set has some of it and many sets have several cards. Sadly, this starts with Throne of Eldraine (2019), which is one of the worst things to happen to the game.
It wasn’t really a thing at common at this point, but both of the cards here saw play, although Syr Carah only in limited. Escape to the Wilds, on the other hand, was a stable in some of the most powerful decks of the time in Standard, meaning that it was miserable enough to be banned a year after its initial printing, which isn’t even that notable, because there were so many bans around this time, because WotC had completely lost their grasp on Standard, which we are still feeling today. It was later reprinted in Commander Legends 2.
The very next set, Theros Beyond Death (2020) also had two of these cards. One was a key card in a specific archetype in limited and was reprinted later during the same year for a similar archetype in M21 (2020), while the other became a sort of meme card you could often pick up for gems late in the draft on Arena.
In Ikoria (2020), we again return to only one card in the set, this time with Lukka. They are also experimenting here by limiting the mechanic, in this case to creatures only, which can add flavor to cards and at the same time can be used as an alternative to drawing for specific things.
The next set, M21 (2020) had another Chandra. This time the ability is even more impulsive, as you do have to discard your hand to use it, but that is not a problem for a low-curve red deck, which probably isn’t holding anything at this point anymore.
Zendikar Rising (2020) again speeds up the use of this mechanic. Each explores different versions of card advantage or selection. Magmatic Channeler saw some standard play and is sometimes seen as a one-of in Phoenix-decks. Valakut Exploration also saw some amount of play, but nothing significant.
Commander Legends (2020) had a useless 9-drop.
Kaldheim (2021) further explores this idea with full four cards, three of which are rares and one common. The rares have seen some play as well, so they are pushed.
Then there’s this thing, I don’t recall at all. Is this from a starter deck or something? It doesn’t really feel like a starter deck specific card, though, but I just don’t remember this at all. It’s number is also way over the 285 set size. Any way, here’s one more card with this kind of a mechanic.
Moving on to Strixhaven (2021), we again find two also-rans and probably the most impactful cards with this mechanic at the time of writing in Expressive Iteration. It sees play in Pioneer, Legacy, Explorer and Modern. This is partly, because it allows exiling the specific card that you know you can play immediately, most often a land.
(Sorry, I don’t know how to make the thing not show the Alchemy version and I don’t know what’s going on with Nassari here either.)
Modern Horizons 2 (2021) managed to make Storm card that doesn’t see play. I guess that’s something.
Adventures in Forgotten Realms (2021) has several cards with this mechanic again. The most important of these is Bard Class, which sees some play, but not necessarily for the last ability, which doesn’t come into play that often.
Prosper, from the accompanying Commander decks, is an interesting case, because it is the first time they tried to find synergies for the mechanic. And apparently they found them, because this is quite popular in EDH.
Innistrad: Midnight Hunt (2021) brings three new cards, but only the rare (Florian) did anything in constructed and not even much there.
Here’s a Commander attempt to do something with the mechanic. I don’t see people wanting to play this very much.
Innistrad: Crimson Vow (2021) gives us another version of the hero of this story, Chandra, which, again, sees play in low-curve red decks, which need a little reach. Reckless Impulse also sees play in those red decks, especially those with Monastery Swiftspear. Eruth? Was this really in the main set? I have no recollection.
Our return to Kamigawa (2022) has four more cards. Experimental Synthesizer has also seen some play as it has synergy in sacrifice decks.
While this Kami is strong, I find it hard to believe casual players really enjoy this card, as it can easily lead to feelbad moments.
Street of New Capenna (2022) went all out on this with full six of these cards. Some of them see occasional play in Standard and/or Explorer and Pioneer, but they have been pulled back enough not to make them overwhelming, but at the same time they are in some cases in a poor place where they are overly strong in limited, but don’t do anything in constructed. Unlucky Witness is sometimes seen in various sacrfice decks (or more colloqually, Cat-Oven decks), Evelyn is often the top end of vampire decks and Riveteers Charm sees some amount of play in Modern, but not really in other formats, weirdly enough.
Commander Legends 2 (2022) had a huge number of these cards. The ones below are only the beginning, as there was also plenty of reprints. Of these, Jeska's Will is a strong and popular card, at least among Commander content creators, while Laelia has even received the coveted position of being in the Vintage Cube.
The accompanying commander set had this thing:
I thought about not including this Un-Finity (2022) card, but at the same time, it does play within the normal rules. Obviously, rolling a d20, as it usually happens in non-silver-border context, is much stronger than rolling d6 here.
Brothers’ War (2022) had a couple of new rares. Feldon sees some play in aggressive decks, but on the other hand, those aggressive decks are pretty much dead, so how much do they matter?
The accompanying Jumpstart had it’s own additions:
Phyrexia: All Will Be One (2023) has two more effects. Here, interestingly, the effects are at a lower rarity than usual.
And finally, the two Commander cards from the accompanying set.
It’s been almost three years since I last wrote one of these and now I remember why. It just takes a lot of time to figure out the real order the cards were released in, because of all the reprints, and I end up just using a lot more time on that than actual research on the topic, but that is also partly, because when I start one of these, I will have an idea on what I want to say.
Anyhow, while they often screw these things up as they make them too strong initially, this mechanic seems to have gone the other route. It was initially pretty bad, but has been tuned to be interesting addition to the game. The mechanic has largely been able to hold on to its red flavor with risks associated by using it at the wrong moment. However, like self-mill, this can have a psychological effect on newer players, which may be holding it back or be the reason why we so little of it at common.
There is much more room here than with simple “draw a card”, but I am generally not in favor of having pretty much the same text, but with small differences, which can lead to situations, where you make mistakes, because you assumed a card would work in a specific way. Streamlining and using the same templating should be something they’ve learned to do by now (after all, they’ve had 30 years to do it), but apparently that is still something that just isn’t prioritized.