This is the early Alpha draft of my card advantage work. it`s an EARLY version, remember - I am rather unhappy with the example I have chosen, and will probably change it. I am also uncertain as to how much further to extend the example into more complext factors. Possibly I will return to the example in the final segment and continue it in a sort of 'for advanced readers' kind of deal. ----------------------------------------------------------------------- I first wrote this article, or attempted to, in November 1998. Three months prior to that I developed a personal understanding of how card advantage worked, before which I had been a competent Magic player in local tournaments - regularly making Top-8 and Top-4 at tournaments but seemingly unable to make the next step and begin winning tournaments. Within two months of developing my card advantage theory I had won two prestigious regional tournaments, designed the Rath-cycle deck that won Grand Prix: Birmingham, and had attended my first Pro-Tour in Rome - the ‘next step’ had apparently been made. That it has taken so long for this article to become published is largely a result of how difficult I found it to fully and adequately explain my theory to other people as it integrated so many elements that I found self-evident and the language and terminology did not really exist in which I could express those ideas. Two and a half years later I hope that I have finally succeeded in making my card advantage theory understandable to a wider audience - what follows isn`t intended to re-invent Magic strategy as many other ‘treaties’ on card advantage have attempted to do, I simply hope that I have been able to put into words what in my experience all good Magic players know instinctively and yet had not possessed the structure to explain - how to win at Magic: The Gathering. CARD ADVANTAGE by David Sutcliffe 1: Premises Cards are what magic is all about. I think everybody has pretty much agreed by now that the core of Magic strategy is card advantage - the truth is that it is much more than just the core of Magic strategy, it is ALL that there is to Magic strategy. You simply can`t win a game of Magic without first gaining card advantage - it`s thus also utterly impossible to lose a game if you have card advantage. Don`t believe me? Then you don`t understand card advantage. Truth is the existing theories of card advantage really only tell a half, or less, of the story. Card advantage is, as is befitting of the central strategy in a game as compex as Magic, a far more dynamic and complicated thing than existing strategies would have you believe. There are a number of separate aspects to card advantage that are already widely known and understood, such as drawing cards and ‘time advantage’, and other aspects that go unrecognised or are at best only infrequently talked about, such as card quality and dead cards. These aspects are usually held as separate strategic concepts, and yet are in fact deeply connected and utterly inseperable - you can`t have one and not know it`s relationship to the others. Lets start with some basic principles of what a card actually does in order to ‘count’ s having been an influence on the game, just to kill off the basic misconception that simply drawing more cards than your opponent is how you win the game: 1) First of all it`s not enough to simply draw the cards into your hand. It`s pretty obvious that any cards you don`t play won`t have made any impact. So in addition to drawing cards you have to play them. 2) But there also cards you can play that won`t actually have an impact on the outcome of the game - such as playing a Wall Of Fire when your opponent is only attacking with flying creatures. You drew the card, and you played the card, but it still had no impact on the course of the game. 3) Therefore you have to draw cards, play those cards, and make those cards useful. By this definition of useful we mean that they must prevent one of your opponent`s card from being ‘useful’. Essentially you are trying to make sure that your cards trade off with your opponent`s cards. More than that, they are trying to trade off with your opponent`s ‘useful’ cards. 4) So we can go so far that there are really only two criteria for making a card ‘count’. That card must have either: a) nullified one (or more) of your opponent`s cards: OR b) Contributed ‘usefully’ to your victory. See that key word, ‘usefully’ - that`s where it gets tricky. In essence it`s saying that not all aggressive plays, damaging though they might be, are important. If, for example, when you win the game you attack to put your opponent at -4 life then had you cast a Shock on your opponent during the match that Shock was not making a ‘useful’ contribution as you would have won regardless of whether or not you cast the Shock on your opponent. The importance of cards being ‘useful’ in this way is paramount because you are only interested in nullifying your opponent`s ‘useful’ cards, and thus it is possible to waste your own cards, even though they nullified an opponent`s card, if the card they nullfy was not going to be ‘useful’ for your opponent. This might sound complicated, but it will soon make perfect sense. This is a key part of understanding card advantage, perhaps it is even possible to go so far as to say that most of the ‘skill’ involved in playing Magic is here - in determining what cards of your opponent`s are ‘useful’ to him and which can be effectively ignored. Here is an example of making a card useful, let`s use the popular card Seal Of Cleansing, from Nemesis, as you will see the discussion rapidly becomes complex: 1) I draw Seal Of Cleansing. So far Seal Of Cleansing has not been ‘useful’. 2) I cast Seal Of Cleansing. Here I have ‘played’ the card, but it has not yet actually done anything other than tap two of my mana sources, so cannot be said to have been ‘useful’. 3.i) My opponent then plays a Chimeric Idol and I use the Seal Of Cleansing to destroy that Chimeric Idol. The Seal Of Cleansing as thus finally been ‘useful’ because it has nullified a card of my opponent`s that would have been useful for him had it remained in play. 3.ii) But if my opponent had played an artifact or enchantment that would not have been useful for him, such as Circle Of Protection: Red against my deck of only White damage sources, then destroying it with the Seal Of Cleansing would not have made my Seal Of Cleansing ‘useful’. While my Seal Of Cleansing is sat in play it is not being ‘useful’, just as my opponent`s Circle Of Protection: Red is not being ‘useful’ for him - from this perspective I don`t lose anything by destroying the Circle as neither card was ‘useful’, what makes it a bad play is that it is possible that my Seal Of Cleansing will be able to trade off for another card of my opponent`s later in the game and that card would be more likely to have been ‘useful’ for my opponent. It helps to understand what is happening if you attempt express that advantage numerically - while my opponent and I both had our respective cards sitting in play the score was 1-1 in nullified cards as neither card was ‘useful’. Had I chosen to destroy the Circle Of Protection the score would have remained at 1-1 and I would not have lost any advantage, but if I had on the other hand chosen to wait and later destroyed a Chimeric Idol, for instance, the score would have been 1-2 as the Circle Of Protection would remain ‘nullified’ even without the Seal Of Cleansing in play. Destroying the Circle Of Protection isn`t in itself a negative play, but it does remove the potential for a positive play at a later date. That was a simple example, in that the Circle Of Protection: Red was obviously a card that was unlikely to prove ‘useful’ for your opponent, it didn`t take a great deal of skill on my part to know that it was a bad play to destroy the CoP:Red with my Seal Of Cleansing. But there is a second assumption being made in the case of the second example - that the Chimeric Idol would prove ‘useful’ for my opponent if I chose not to destroy it, which is by no means certain. Both those examples were taking place in a vacuum, so lets go on to consider some hypothetical game situations that latter example could have taken place in: 4) Both players are on 20 life, and both players have 0 cards in hand. In addition to my Seal Of Cleansing I have an Air Elemental in play and my opponent has the Circle Of Protection: Red and the Chimeric Idol. In this situation I can effectively ignore the Chimeric Idol as my 4/4 Air Elemental will kill my opponent a full two turns before the 3/3 Chimeric Idol kills me. As the Chimeric Idol will not nullify a useful card nor contribute significantly to my defeat it is not going to prove ‘useful’ to my opponent and so I CAN ignore the Chimeric Idol in the same way as I can afford to ignore the Circle Of Protection: Red. Ok, so far so good. Let`s increase the stakes a little, because there are a full five turns before the game ends yet and the above example doesn`t take into account the cards that both players can draw. So let`s throw in the next set of factors: 5) The above situation is in effect, but in addition to that I know that my opponent is playing with a large number of creatures in his deck, and that I am playing with a smaller number of creature removal spells in my deck. While I can expect to race my opponent to victory if nothing changes in the game status I am now having to take into account that I might well find myself on the losing side of that race if my opponent draws more creature threats than I draw creature removal spells over the next few turns. Two new factors now enter the equation of whether destroying the Chimeric Idol with my Seal Of Cleansing will be making the Seal Of Cleansing useful: a) How likely it is that my opponent will have a better draw quality than I do? Are the numbers of creatures and removal spells equal, or does one player have an advantage? If for example my opponent had 16 creatures left in his deck, and I only had 8 removal spells then there is obviously twice as much chance that my opponent will draw the creatures he needs than there is that I will draw the removal that I need. Also are the cards that are NOT creatures or creature removal spells going to be useful in this situation? If my non-creature removal spells are all going to be cards that allow me to draw more cards, such as Opportunity or Opt, then it is more likely that I will be able to draw enough removal to defend myself, on the other hand if my opponent`s non-creature spells are all going to be removal spells of his own, that could destroy my Air Elemental, then he gains the advantage and the Chimeric Idol is more likely to prove ‘useful’. AND b) How likely is it that my opponent is going to play another Artifact or Enchantment that the Seal Of Cleansing is going to be able to become ‘useful’ by destroying in the next few turns? If the only targets for Seal Of Cleansing in my opponent`s deck are four Chimeric Idol and two Circle Of Protection: Red then I lose nothing by choosing to destroy the Chimeric Idol in play - the worst case scenario for me is that my opponent draws and plays another Chimeric Idol, and in this case I will be destroying a Chimeric Idol with a Seal Of Cleansing in any case. On the other hand if my opponent`s deck contains more threatening targets for my Seal Of Cleansing, such as four Pariah and four Confiscate which my opponent has yet to draw then there is a much greater incentive to wait and not sacrifice my only answer to Artifacts or Enchantments as either a Pariah or Confiscate would not only be ‘useful’ in themselves by nullifying the Air Elemental as a threat, but also make the Chimeric Idol ‘useful’ as it would now be able to make a significant contribution to my opponent`s victory because the Air Elemental could no longer successfully ‘race’ it to the kill. The key factors in making your cards ‘useful’ can be summarised as such: a) Cards you do not play are not useful. You might as well not have drawn them. eg. You draw five counterspells but your opponent only allows you to counter two of his ‘useful’ spells, the three additional counterspells can be effectively discarded. Similarly topdecking counterspells is a bad thing when your opponent already has creatures on the board, for instance, as those counterspells will be useless unless you can remove the threats. b) Nullifying a card of your opponent`s that would not have proven ‘useful’ is not making your card useful. eg. You and your opponent are both playing mono-black decks, you cast Duress but the only spell in your opponent`s hand you can make him discard is Dark Banishing which is useless against your black creatures. c) A card that nullifies one fo your opponent`s cards that would have been ‘useful’ makes your card ‘useful’. eg. Your opponent plays a Serra Angel and will be able to kill you with it before you can kill your opponent, casting a Blaze on that Serra Angel makes the Blaze useful. d) A card that damages your opponent, but does not make a significant contribution to your victory on the turn on which it was achieved, is no making that card useful. eg. Dealing 19 points of damage to your opponent with a barrage of direct damage spells does not make any of the spells ‘useful’ unless you are able to deal the final point of damage and win the game. If you were to find that extra point of damage then it is likely that all the direct damage spells you cast on your opponent were ‘useful’. This the inherent weakness in Stupid Red Burn (SRB) tactics - you risk playing ten spells but making none of them useful if you don`t play an eleventh spell in time. ALSO You are attacking with a Jade Leech for four turns, dealing twenty damage. Casting an Urza`s Rage onto your opponent to deal 23 damage does not make the Urza`s Rage useful as it did not contribute to winning the game - it was simply overkill. Obvious. If you are paying full attention then it`s very possible that you have spotted a potential flaw in my card advantage theories - that flaw being that had I, to use the above example, used my Seal Of Cleansing to kill the Circle of Protection:Red, wouldn`t it have in fact made the Circle of Protection:Red useful for my opponent, as he effectively used it to ‘destroy’ my Seal Of Cleansing? Further, isn`t it true that in fact every time you make one of your cards ‘useful’ in the sense of nullifying an opponent`s card you are inevitably also making your opponent`s cards ‘useful’ at the same time? So what`s the point then - if the ‘useful’ cards for each player will always be trading off on a one-for-one basis and so each player will inevitably always have exactly as many ‘useful’ cards as his opponent, how does that help us in understanding how to win? Truth is, it`s only half of the story. I was just explaining what the ‘Card’ half of the equation meant. Next time I`ll talk about creating the ‘Advantage’.