walkerdog's picture
By: walkerdog, Tyler Walker
Apr 21 2008 10:40am
Login to post comments

Last week, a rather animated discussion took place at pdcmagic.com on what card advantage was.  It was highly informative, and I'd like to go over it in greater detail.  First 

of all, why should you care about card advantage?  While it is true that you don't win from having more cards than anyone else, card advantage typically tells the tale of who wins a given match.  The person who runs out of dudes first usually dies.  The ability to draw a card and turn it into two-three more cards is huge when both people are playing off of the top of their decks.  

The (more or less) agreed definition of card advantage that was reached was, "Any improvement in the number of cards total you control between your hand and your permanents relative to the number of permanents your opponents controls."  This isn't a perfect or all-reaching definition, but sums it up fairly well.  Let's start by looking at a simple cantrip.  Ponder
is a card that should be familiar in any given format.  It gives lets you pick the best card of your top three (and lets you shuffle them away if you don't like them) and then replaces itself.  While it is very nice, it is not card advantage.  This is because you didn't gain any cards compared to what you had before.

The simplest definition of card advantage is a card like Counsel of the Soratami
, which costs you one card to gain two, putting you +1 cards.  Another simple example is Wrath of God when you have two creatures and your opponent controls four.  You lose three cards while they lose four, for another +1.  Next is a little trickier card, Electrolyze.  This is an example of a card that could be card advantage, but might not be.  Back in CHK-RAV STD, pretty much the best play Electrolyze could be involved in was a savage two-for-one with something like Dark Confidant and Savannah Lions.  

While Electrolyze simply replaced itself, it wasted two cards from your opponent.  The result?  You didn't gain any cards, but your opponent lost two. On the other hand, if you simply smoked a 2/2, your opponent lost a card while you lost none, putting you +1 in the card advantage department.  What if you simply do two damage with it to their face?  You lost nothing (and didn't change their board either), making no change.

Now, the card that was causing some debate was Aurochs Herd.  Was casting a 4/4 for six mana and getting another to cast again next turn truly CA, or was it in line with Ponder as a cantrip/replacement type of card? It's pretty simple: Aurochs Herd is CA. Now, whether or not it's fast enough to matter is a different story, but the fact that it gives you a man AND replaces itself puts you +1 in cards total.

Aurochs Herd
Aurochs Herd

Next, lets move into virtual card advantage. For example, having a Wrath of God in your hand does not do you much good against a deck like Heartbeat. Heartbeat seeks to drop its namesake Heartbeat of Spring, then use Early Harvest to ramp up their mana, casting more spells with that mana, and finishing with a Brain Freeze to deck their opponent. While they have Sakura-Tribe Elder, he's mostly a Fog and Rampant Growth against aggro decks, and just a Rampant Growth against control. Your Wrath of God isn't going to save you from them blowing away your deck. You still HAVE the card, but it is useless, giving them VIRTUALLY card advantage, but not quite (You might still be able to discard it to a draw spell such a Compulsive Research for example, but it's pretty much a dead card).  Another example is sticking an Ivory Mask against a burn deck. They don't lose the Lightning Bolt, Shock and Fireblast in their hand, but they aren't going to be doing them much good until they remove the Mask. In theory, any spell they draw may be a dead card.

What about a fatty?  If you play a
Hill Giant, and they have a Grey Ogre and Wandering Ones on their side, they're going to be able to race you, with each side doing

Wandering Ones
My favorite one-drop of all-time (and a key part of my casual (Unspeakable) deck back in the day)

three damage a turn (or you can hold them at bay).  However, when they play another Wandering Ones and you drop another Hill Giant, you're suddenly in the driver's seat.  Fatties can act as card advantage if  you can create a situation where the opponent will have to trade multiple cards for your one man.  Even if they block the Hill Giant with a Wandering One, then Shock the Giant, you're up a card, as it took them two cards to do him in.

Controlling decks are typically the decks most concerned with CA, as they typically play slower, more powerful cards, backing them up with removal, discard, and/or counterspells. Aggro decks are usually less concerned with getting extra cards than they are with just killing their opponent, trading cards for their opponents life. Combo decks tend to sculpt the perfect hand or board for a kill in a single turn, disregarding CA unless it's just built into their combo (See: Necropotence).  I'd like to recommend two easy ways to practice and experience the value of Card Advantage.  First is 10th Edition Draft.  You play with rather basic cards, but they tend to demonstrate virtually every aspect of Card Advantage that I've gone over here, and it's a much better format than the last two base sets were for drafting.   

With the coming Extended Rotation (And changed rotation policy), there are some new cards to consider purchasing for Classic fans. These are all cards that were very good before, but simply overpriced due to the small supply. First up is the Big Four from Invasion.
Vindicate will fit in BW Deadguy and Rock variants. It is a little slow, but with the ability to hit any permanent, is pretty much the most flexible removal of all time. Meddling Mage will be a wonderful addition to any aggro deck that happened to have Blue and White in its mana-base already. Orim's Chant is probably less-awesome than it was in EXT, and we have a cantripping option that costs one more... might not even need it.  Abeyance is pretty much all that and a bag of chips.

The last of the Big Four is everyone's favorite sweeper-enchantment-thing, Pernicious Deed
. This again strengthens Rock builds (if owners couldn't afford it before), and possibly some other control builds. Landstill for example can stretch into Green and Black from its traditional UW base to get this wonderful sweeper. Doing so lets it cheaply remove creatures while also giving them a way to sweep away cards like Counterbalance (Although sticking it isn't going to be easy). It also gives GB aggro decks a way to blow out Affinity from the SB, if they are weak to it.  Fact or Fiction is probably now worth picking up 2-3 of, given its price-drop. The crazy-expensive Uncommon is still crazy-awesome, especially as we've seen decks begin to be able to abuse the huge effect that flipping five can cause (Bomberman recently).
Next there are some second-tier cards that may not be needed or useful right away, but seem to have potential. Destructive Flow
is probably just too slow to have sufficient effect on most decks in the format, but might be worth consideration since some decks run zero basics. Draco is probably not a bad pick-up now, although Draco-Erratic Explosions loses appeal as the shock-lands get removed from the format by Duals in the future MED editions.


Could this REALLY be tech with real duals?

As we do get real duals, Absorb can become better, allowing you to drop all your lands uptapped without pain, and cast this spell on turn three against an aggro deck without losing life to do it. This card can essentially counter both the spell it targets, and a previous burn spell. Seems nice. Teferi's Response seems so awesome if you can hit it against Wasteland, which will be joining the format with Tempest. Probably a little too slow, and Stifle would be the better choice, but hitting it would be fantastic.

Odyssey is rotating also, and has a some great cards in it. Ambassador Laquatus
is a nice one-of as an Animate Dead target for Dragon-Combo. Who doesn't love a playset of (Icochrid), ready to rise from the dead at your beckoning? Grim Lavamancer is an incredible experience if you're running any sort of aggressive deck. Possibly the best Red one-drop of all-time (Yea, I said it). Nantuko Shade is another efficient beater for you Black aggro players. Speaking of Nantukos, Nantuko Monastery can be fit into UWg Landstill if you want an efficient 4/4 manland rather than a meager 2/2 associated with the still-awesome Mishra's Factory.
Solitary Confinement is another fine one-of (maybe two) if you want to run Enduring Ideal
, covering your butt until Form of the Dragon finishes the enemy. Mudhole is one of the worst cards ever, and maybe the worst rare of all-time. I would like to know who in R & D to credit it to. Standstill is one of the key cards in Landstill (Among others), and should probably be snatched up.

The lands are rather lacking as a whole, but Cabal Coffers
, Barbarian Ring, Cephalid Coliseum, and Tarnished Citadel all have a place in various decks. A few other cards to possibly pick up include Breakthrough, Browbeat, Buried Alive and Entomb, all of the Wishes except the White one (Although the Red Wish may get Restricted at some point), Chainer's Edict, Cabal Therapy, and Stitch Together.  Oh, and for you Rock lovers?  Genesis!

The top five cards I would recommend for control: FoF, Deed, Vindicate, Standstill, and Absorb.

For Combo? Laquatus, Chant, Ichorid, FoF and Breakthrough.

Grim Lavamancer is the number one aggro card, followed by Meddling Mage, Vindicate, Barbarian Ring and Cabal Therapy.

I'm looking forward to seeing maybe a LITTLE less Aggro/Junk style decks (even though I do love them), and more control and combo showing up.  It will be nice to see a fleshed out meta that has been debated for years.  Has the high prices of IPA stuff kept people playing Burn.dec and the like?  Will Deed make a huge impact soon as the sweeper of choice?  I feel like this is likely, making the most aggressive decks pay for their insolence with their permanents.

Finally, thanks to the kindness of Erik Lauer, I have a rough breakdown of the last PE from 2.5.   Monored Goblins ran by Lanicor won beating Flash (I think) in the finals. The rest of the top eight was Whiffy Penguin with Bomberman (Again), UGRW Thresh piloted by ncsu31sb, Javasci with BW Geddon'n'guys (My name not his, so if he wants to name it, feel free), Opradvo with a BW Pale Ale type of deck, Bear named Snuffy was Bomberman also, and another Flash deck. Combo made up fully half of the top eight. Nice to see a bit of a resurgency. The thing is, all of them were based from their graveyards (No Senseisensei in sight), so packs your Leylines and GY hate of various natures.

Bomberman is especially interesting to me, and I'm going to take a minute here to contrast and compare it to Sensei Sensei, a fellow combo deck that share many of the same parts.  Bomberman is a rather controlling deck, utilyzing cards like Force of Will, Swords to Plowshares, Counterspell, and Engineered Explosives to control the first few turns.  It doesn't really care about STOPPING everything the opponent wants to do so much as slow it down while it uses Trinket Mage, Fact or Fiction and Sensei's Divining Top find an Auriok Salvagers, Lion's Eye Diamond and Pyrite Spellbomb.  Then you try to drop the Salvagers and LED.  You crack LED for WWW, and then use Salvagers to return it to your hand and replay it.  You repeat this process a bunch of times, dropping the Pyrite Spellbomb into play once you have six mana to spare (to beat any targeted removal for your GY they happen to have) and then cycle both of them until the opponent is dead.  This kill is rather hard to disrupt... unless you have graveyard hate around, making it rather EASY.  Bomberman next has to resort to crappy beats with Salvagers and Trinket Mage.  This is doable, but much harder.

Sensei Sensei uses much of the same tools, seeking to play Helm of Awakening and two Sensei's Divining Top.  It needs to have Brain Freeze in hand.  Then it cycles the Tops back to the library and replays them a bunch of time, generating a huge storm count... milling the opponent with BF.  The best part?  The deck CAN go off with two mana in play on turns two and three.  This deck can be lightning fast.  To make it even better, this is one of the only combo decks (Mind's Desire is the other one, but not as much so) that is immune to graveyard hate.

Now I'll discuss how to beat these decks, as they've been making waves in the meta.  First, Bomberman.  The easiest way to beat B-man is removing one of the key pieces of the combo.  Killing the Salvagers is one option, and you want to wait until AFTER they discard their hand to Salvagers.  If you try this, you need to be aware some builds are running Exalted Angel and Teferi to either kill you or protect their man.  Another approach is graveyard hate in conjuction with lots of pressure to back it up.  Again, you need to be able to deal with their Angels and Teferis.  Finally, you can seek to attack Salvagers in their hand with discard, or simply not ever let them resolve Salvagers with permission.  The deck is tough and durable, but can be beaten with practice and smart play.

I really feel like the pure potential power of many of the various decks that use and abuse the graveyard warrants having four Leylines of the Void in any sideboard.  It is the one card I have NEVER had be dead in a PE, which is quite absurd really.  Black has all sorts of hoser options, from Extirpate to LLotV to Yixlid Jailor.  Crypt is decent, but doesn't help against Flash and can beat dealth with by Bomberman, so it really only hoses Dredge.  Trickbind is probably criminally under-used... I've been told it's Flash SB tech for the mirror though.

Sensei Sensei on the other hand is maybe a little less durable, but MUCH harder to truely disrupt.  The best way to beat it is either preventing Helm from sticking or removing it quickly, or sitting on a Stifle effect for the Storm copies that will be going on the stack.  Aside from that, Null Rod, Gaea's Might and Brain Freeze of your own are all decent plans.  Counterbalance is a WRECK for them, but the good builds have their own, since they already run plenty of Blue cards and Tops already.  I feel like SS may not be the BEST combo necessarily, but it is the one that dodges the most combo-hate that is played.  Until people can prove that they can beat it consistantly, it would be the deck that I would recommend currently.

What does Goblins winning a PE mean? Possible the end of the world.  Probably simply that the pilot played well and had solid draws, and avoided Flash's perfect hand. Goblins can combo out on turn 3-4, so I can see it racing just about all of these decks given good hands.  Next week we MAY not have an article at all... we'll see!


by andymc1 (Unregistered) (not verified) at Tue, 05/06/2008 - 10:18
andymc1 (Unregistered)'s picture

Well i thought his sentence made it pretty clear what point he was making and it was good artical to boot... jeez everyone's a critic!

Contradictory sentence, and my deck by Javasci at Wed, 04/23/2008 - 10:45
Javasci's picture

First of all, I think that the "contradictory sentence" actually means "card advantage is not one of the win conditions in the rules, but it's nevertheless a way to win games".

Second of all, my deck is Black Stax.  Geddon'n'Guys sounds like Ernham/Geddon, a. k. a. drop fattie, geddon away lands, profit.  Black Stax is basically a prison deck.

DRAGONDUNG's picture

busy busy i have been im gonna play in the next one i hope so i should have the meta report up to date.

Contradictory sentence by Bweebwee (Unregistered) (not verified) at Mon, 04/21/2008 - 20:27
Bweebwee (Unregistered)'s picture

I think what he's trying to say is that while simply having more cards doesn't necessarily mean that you win (it doesn't matter how many cards are in your hand or in play if your opponent is aiming a lightning bolt to your face when you are at 3, besides counterspells), the player who gains more card advantage is usually, well, at an advantage.

Cows by SpikeBoyM at Mon, 04/21/2008 - 10:57
SpikeBoyM's picture

As the instigator of the whole Herd as replacement and not CA argument, I feel like I should speak here.
First off, I was wrong.  I let my distaste for Herd cloud my judgement of the fact in in strict defintion, they are card advantage.  However, I still feel they are too slow for Classic PDC (the format we were discussing).  Additionally, the deck we were discussing used Blue as a primary color (alongside Green).  The deck was post-Temmpest UG Cloudpost, using Reap and Sow to power up the Loci and then dominate the board with Capsize.  In such a deck, there would be many superior card advantage options (thanks to Running Blue) that could effectively obsolete the Herd. 
Again, I let my distaste for the card outweigh the actual facts.


yea by walkerdog at Mon, 04/21/2008 - 11:46
walkerdog's picture

I wasn't trying to bust on your or anything, it just was the start of a good discussion.  You're right, they're freaking slow :)

by LulThyme (Unregistered) (not verified) at Mon, 04/21/2008 - 12:04
LulThyme (Unregistered)'s picture

I liked the article. You made the point well that card advantage isn't the end of the story and that for many decks or matchup, it's actually almost irrelevant.

I think it got off to a rocky start, though. The following sentence, in particular, seems to try real hard to contradict itself in the most obvious way possible. 

While it is true that you don't win from having more cards than anyone else, card advantage typically tells the tale of who wins a given match.


You are basically saying that you don't win from card advantage but yes you do. 

Herd by Anonymous (Unregistered) (not verified) at Mon, 04/21/2008 - 20:01
Anonymous (Unregistered)'s picture

One of the big plusses for Herd in a commons environment has always been the ability to get a Nameless Inversion if necessary.  It's more of a tutor (as in removal spell or another guy) than a simple +1 CA from another herd.

What I was getting at by walkerdog at Mon, 04/21/2008 - 20:24
walkerdog's picture

I was simply trying to point out that while you don't WIN for having more cards, the person who has the most cards typically DOES win... not always obviously, but their ability to get 2for1s probably won them the game.  It is an ackward sentence.

Contradictory sentence by Bweebwee (Unregistered) (not verified) at Mon, 04/21/2008 - 20:27
Bweebwee (Unregistered)'s picture

I think what he's trying to say is that while simply having more cards doesn't necessarily mean that you win (it doesn't matter how many cards are in your hand or in play if your opponent is aiming a lightning bolt to your face when you are at 3, besides counterspells), the player who gains more card advantage is usually, well, at an advantage.