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By: Raddman, Graig W
Oct 15 2010 12:36am
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 Card Advantage

Does this subject give you Nightmares?


As some of you know, recently I decided to take my magic life in a more physical type of direction.  I know it's hard to believe, but I have joined the dark side that is the paper world.  About 2 months ago, my friend and I decided to try out some Friday Night Magic events and see if we were missing anything.  We looked at buying some semi-competitive standard decks.  I purchased a version of red deck wins for around 80 bucks and he went the Ally route.  We have played at two separate locations, one being very competitive and the other being somewhat competitive.  While at one of the stores I was talking with a player and the discussion ended with me telling him his decklist lacked card advantage.  His immediate response was, "What is card advantage?"  I guess I was shocked that something I take for granted every time I play was not known by this player.  I started laughing and said, "You are joking right?"  He obviously wasn't joking, so insert foot in mouth took place once I realized my mistake.  Come to find out he was a newer player, hence the lack of something I consider Magic 101.


After doing some basic explaining to him, I came to the realization that maybe even I have taken this simple concept for granted.  One thing led to another, so after a few conversations with this player, I decided it was time to write about Card Advantage.  I figured there are newer players missing out on one of the greatest aspects of magic.  Heck, maybe there are older players who have stopped thinking about the little things and instead are stuck in a Magic Rut.


So what is card advantage?

How about breaking it down even simpler?  What is card?  What is advantage?

Ok, asking what is card might be silly, this should be obvious right?  So how about advantage?

Here is a simple definition of this common word.

1.  Superior position: a superior or favorable position in relation to somebody or something
"Hoping to gain an advantage in the negotiations"
2.  Factor favoring somebody: a circumstance or factor that places somebody in a favorable position in relation to others
"Have the advantage of a stable home"
3.  Profit: a benefit or gain
"Their mistakes worked to our advantage."
4.  Tennis point after deuce: in tennis, the point scored after deuce


After seeing this definition could it be assumed that card advantage is something you profit, benefit or gain from?  If this is the case don't you profit from every card in your deck?  Doesn't this mean that every card in your deck is card advantage?

Well if it was that simple this would be a very short article!

There are many great articles written about card advantage and different variables that factor into it.  I am sure at some point I will be repeating their exact ideas so for that I apologize in advance.

Personally, I think Card Advantage (CA) can be broken down into 4 different parts.

1.  True Card Advantage

2.  Virtual Card Advantage

3.  Prepared Card Advantage

4.  Rogue Card Advantage


True Card Advantage (TA) - is probably the easiest to define.  It is also the easiest to recognize.  Some articles refer to this as Quantity Advantage.  Simply put, I want to draw more cards than my opponent to give me the greatest chance of drawing the cards in my deck needed to beat him before he beats me.  Here are some quick examples of TA.

Dark Tutelage - While this does have a draw back, the long term reward is worth the risk.

Dark Confidant - A better version of Dark Tutelage, this one can swing for damage.

Jace's Ingenuity - An expensive price, but as an instant can be cast at your opponents end of turn.

And let's not forget one of the greatest, if not the greatest true card advantage spell of all time.




There is another way to accomplish the true card advantage feat and this can be done via discard spells.  Discard allows you to pick apart your opponents hand, but remember singleton discard effects are not true card advantage.  Let me show you an example.

I cast Duress targeting my opponent.  After reviewing his hand, I select Mana Leak.  At this point I haven't received any card advantage.  I cast a spell thus setting me back a card.  I did remove a card from his hand thus setting him back a card.  So really at this point we are even.  Now if I cast Hymn to Tourach instead of Duress, I would remove two of his cards thus giving me +1 in the card advantage category.

Now this is where it gets tricky.  You are probably thinking, well why ever run discard effects then that aren't Hymn to Tourach, Mind Twist or Mind Rot?  Oh how easy it is to segue into the next section of card advantage, virtual card advantage.


  Here is some virtual goodness!

 Some more virtual addictive goodness!

And one of my personal favorites:

 Now that a trip down memory lane is over, we can get onto business.

Virtual Card Advantage (VA) - also known by some writers/readers as quality advantage, this one is harder to define than true card advantage.  Some types of VA are easier to identify than others.  For example, Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor allow for you to search your library for the exact card you need.  Now there is no true card advantage here as you cast one spell to search for another.  However, the quality of the searched card far outweighs the stagnant true advantage thus giving you superior virtual advantage over your opponents.

Other forms of VA are things like using multiple copies of the same card in your deck.  You want the best possible chance to draw that spell or better yet see it in your opening seven cards.  While cards like the tutors have gone by the wayside and are limited to Vintage/Classic play, there are cards in standard that currently serve as good VA cards.  Trinket Mage is one current example of a tutoring type of effect, of course on a limited basis.

Cultivate, Harrow, Explore are all great VA cards too.  Often times players over look the importance of deck thinning cards such as Verdant Catacombs or Terramorphic Expanse.  These 3 mana ramping cards do great things.  First, they thin out your deck by limiting the chances of you drawing lands.  Secondly, they replace themselves by providing you with additional cards in the form of lands.  Lastly, they provide synergy with the deck and help you accomplish the obvious goal of getting to 6 mana as fast as possible.  In fact, Cultivate could almost be looked upon as True card advantage since it gives you two for one.  Explore replaces itself by allowing you to draw a card and while Harrow makes you sacrifice a land, the tempo advantage you gain by casting it and say Explore on the same turn is breath taking.  There is a reason why Valakut Ramp decks in standard are so powerful and while Valakut and Primeval Titan are the base of the deck, the deck itself would be worthless without these 3 cards.

Brainstorm is another perfect example of VA.  The card replaces itself by allowing you to draw after you have looked at your top three cards.  If you combine this effect with fetch lands like Misty Rainforest, you can draw three, keep the best ones in your hand and shuffle back unneeded cards, crack the Misty and start hopefully topdecking better quality spells.

Often times while deckbuilding you should ask yourself, am I going to be unhappy topdecking card xyz?  If the answer is yes, then maybe that particular card will not be VA and should be reconsidered.  There are exceptions to the previous sentence, but in most circumstances I think this is a great rule of thumb.

Have you learned anything yet?  Is this just refresher material for you?


So in your magic life, how is your game play?  Do you make mistakes?  Do your mistakes leave you feeling like this?

Does your magic play have you down in the dumps?


Well don't worry, there is an easy solution.

A wise man once told me, Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.  Also known as the 6 P's, this is a good transition into the next phase of card advantage.

Prepared Card Advantage (PA) - Let's look at definition #3 of the word "advantage" to help us with this one. 

3.  Profit: a benefit or gain
"Their mistakes worked to our advantage."
I think PA can be broken up into two different sections.
          1.  Utilizing mistakes on your opponents' part and lack of mistakes on your part to win the game.
          2.  Having a well prepared sideboard designed to shore up some of your weaker matchups.
In order to take full advantage of your opponents' mistakes, you must first understand the basis of their deck and what it is trying to accomplish.  Online this is much easier as the metagame is more clearly defined and the decklists are easier to recognize.  Ongoing research of event results will help you gain knowledge of what type of deck you are facing.  For example, if your opponent plays a mountain and then Goblin Guide, you can pretty much assume you are facing either Red Deck Wins or Boros.  I think knowing what your opponent could possibly be playing is just as important as knowing your decklist in and out.  Speaking of your own decklist, can you recite from memory each card in it and the number of copies?  If not, you have already lost PA.  You should know your decklist up and down, backwards and forwards.  You should known exactly what you will do if you draw card "X" and you should be thinking at least 2 turns ahead and see the result happening.  If you know your deck and your opponents, you can start taking full advantage of part one regarding PA.  Trust me, your opponent is probably making mistakes and often times capitalizing on these mistakes will win or lose you the game.  Same goes for yourself, I guarantee your opponent is trying to utilize your mistakes as well.  The biggest mistake new players make in my opinion is their lack of patience.  They often feel if they aren't casting spells then something is wrong.  They see a Lightning Bolt in their hand and immediately want to cast it instead of waiting till using that card wins the game or gives them extreme tempo advantage.  Tempo advantage isn't something I spent time talking about, but it can be put in the same category as Virtual Advantage.  If you think of tempo advantage as a football game, gaining yards each possession is critical to the field position your team receives.  Most people are familiar with the statement, "Offense wins games, but defense wins championships".  Most new players get impatient and their offensive play will win them games, but they always fall short of the ultimate goal.  If you are a newer player and learn nothing from this article other than patience, I will be happy.
The second part is regarding a well prepared sideboard.  The only way you can do this is to know what decks you might be facing in a given tournament.  In paper, this can be a little harder so I like to prepare for decks I am more likely to face than others.  You should also prepare your sideboard to shore up some of your worst matchups.  If you are playing Valakut Ramp, you know fast decks can pose a problem, so maybe putting 3x Pyroclasm in the sideboard is a viable option.  You also know having a Primeval Titan countered can be an issue, so maybe you maindeck a couple Summoning Traps and put a few in the sideboard.  If you are expecting a heavy control metagame at your local shop, then maybe Autumn's Veil or Ricochet Trap are necessary sideboard cards.  While it is impossible to predict all the decks you might face, it is necessary to predict the decks you are most likely to face and prepare for them.  I am completely shocked at how few players at my local FNM's have sideboards.  I know your main 60 cards might be good, but without a prepared sideboard you are just asking to lose.
Remember, Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.  Make sure you are prepared; it might mean the difference between you consistently winning or just occasionally winning, or worst yet hardly ever winning.


So how about the last part?

So I gotta admit something here, I'm not the biggest comic book guy in the world.  I have seen all the X-Men movies and have a general idea of Rogue's Abilities, but for the most part I am a Wolverine kind of guy.  I did some research on her abilities and found this:

Q:  What are Rogue's powers?

A:  Rogue's power is to absorb the memories, abilities and characteristics of anyone with whom she comes into flesh-to-flesh contact.


Rogue Card Advantage (RA) - This is probably the hardest to master.  It involves all 3 other types of card advantage and a complete understanding of an established metagame.  It also includes one of the most interesting and difficult aspects of magic, deckbuilding. 

RA can be achieved by putting together a decklist designed to beat the top 3 decklists in an established metagame.  This can be a daunting task that requires hours and hours of research and testing.  This type of card advantage isn't for the feint of heart and surely not for a newer magic player.

 Even if you never reach this level or even want to, you should still be prepared for it.  I know what you are thinking, how can you be prepared for a rogue deck?  The simple truth is you can't.  You must make sure when playing against one to focus on not making any mistakes and keep your game play clean.  Try not to walk into traps often set by rogue players.  In legacy online, there are some really good rogue players.  You could even research some of these players known for these tactics and get a general idea of what type of rogue decks they like to pilot.


Well I hope you found this information useful or at the very least a gentle reminder that this game isn't just about what is in your hand.  It is just as much about what you can draw, how you can gain advantage and how those advantages will make your magic career more enjoyable.


As Always, thanks for reading

Graig W.

- ImpinAintEasy on Mtgo -


Legacy rogue by Etriol at Fri, 10/15/2010 - 06:08
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I will appeciate giving examples of legacy online rogue decks.

Here are two examples that I by Raddman at Fri, 10/15/2010 - 07:53
Raddman's picture

Here are two examples that I wrote about previously. I'll let you search the mainsite in the tournament result section to find any newer ones.


Look towards the bottom of the article

i feel like there's a by JustSin at Fri, 10/15/2010 - 06:43
JustSin's picture

i feel like there's a competition going on here with both CA articles up lol nice stuff man

Good article. Very well done by gimlicolby at Fri, 10/15/2010 - 07:29
gimlicolby's picture

Good article. Very well done sir

as a very aggressive player I by JediCamper at Fri, 10/15/2010 - 10:47
JediCamper's picture

as a very aggressive player I appreciate the insight. when I lose it's to people who are patient and concentrate on card advantage, and winning the match not game.

I always like to point out that by dangerlinto at Fri, 10/15/2010 - 13:35
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In almost every case, Fact or Fiction is in pure CA terms at least as good as Ancestral (you can always get three cards) and in Virtual advantage, actually has it beat, as if you can take advantage of cards in your gravyard in anyway it's a 5 for 1. Though of course, It's 4x more expensive to cast, if you were in any way talking about card advantage, it's an excellent example to illustrate all cases.

Pitfall and Excitebike! You by Leviathan at Sat, 10/16/2010 - 11:05
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Pitfall and Excitebike! You had me at hello.

Good article, although I knew by KoRnZYSIEK at Mon, 10/18/2010 - 01:26
KoRnZYSIEK's picture

Good article, although I knew everything already. I think the virtual card advantage and quality advantage are 2 different things. The one you wrote about is the quality one. Virtual card advantage is for me when you play or don't play some cards and because of that you make your enemy spells useless. For example you are playing deck without creatures and with this you make all your opponents destroy creature spells sit in the hand.

I figured it would be review by Raddman at Mon, 10/18/2010 - 08:07
Raddman's picture

I figured it would be review for many players. Your example of virtual advantage is also correct. Like I said in the article, there are many different article referencing this subject and many of them have different ideas. Thanks for reading!