Define This: Card and Quality Advantage Part 2

Last month we discussed the basics and technicalities of Card and Quality Advantage. Now, it's time to dig into where and how to find them in real games.

A Quick Reminder

Wrath of God

I'm not going to go over the entire previous article, but I highly recommend that you check it out. I will be assuming from here on out that everyone reading this article understands at least the technical terms of the article. But hey, I'm a nice guy, here's the tl;dr:

Card Advantage (also noted CA) is the action of acquiring more active cards than your opponent. When your opponent gains card advantage, you generate Card Disadvantage (also noted CDA).

Quality Advantage (also noted QA) is the action of improving the quality of your active cards without changing the number of active cards relatively to your opponent.

Secure the Wastes Fatal Push Remand

Before we get into the next part, here are my answers from last month's parting quiz:

  • Remi casts Secure the Wastes for X=2. Did he generate Card Advantage? My interpretation is that no, he did not, as a token is technically not a card. I tend to consider all the creatures created by a spell as one card. In some corner cases, if I cannot equate a number of tokens to one or several cards, I take by default a value of half a card per token. But this is a pretty personal interpretation so no it's no biggie if we're not on the same page.
  • Johnny casts Fatal Push on both of the previously mentioned tokens. Did he generate card disadvantage? Well, this one is a bit easier. In terms of cards traded, Johnny used two to deal with Remi's one Secure the Wastes. As is, this is straight CDA for Johnny. Would it be the same with any case of token generation? It's hard to say.
  • Remi discards Squee, Goblin Nabob to cast Tormenting Voice. Did he generate card advantage?
    The real question here is: is Squee an active card in the graveyard? You cannot take any action with it, but it will trigger on its own at the next upkeep. As such, it is an active card, so yeah, that would be CA.
  • Johnny casts Remand targeting Remi's Cryptic Command on modes Counter target spell/Draw a card, targeting an Inquisition of Kozilek. Did he generated CA? What if he targets his own Inquisition of Kozilek instead? This is a classic one that you might see often in Modern. The first case is pretty straight forward, Remand cycles itself and the Cryptic Command still is an active card in its owner's hand, so that's, at best, QA. However, things get interesting if you leave the Cryptic Command alone. If Johnny choses to Remand his own spell, he will cycle the Remand, get the spell back (so effectively not changing the number of active cards for him), but the Cryptic Command, with no legal target, will fizzle and be countered by the rules, thus placing it in the graveyard without doing anything. This means Remi loses an active card while Johnny would not, so it generates CA.
  • Remi sacrifices Marsh Flats while having Pangalcial Wurm in his library. Did it generate CA? Oh yeah, that's a corner case. So technically, you can cast the Wurm when you pick your deck up to search, before whatever you were searching in the first place. So, at this moment, you have one extra active card, thus generating for a very brief moment CA. If you decide not to play it, you just go back to square one, which is effectively QA because you set aside an option that was not the best (thus improving the quality of your game state).
  • Johnny casts Bridge from Below. Did he generate card advantage? No, and anyone who said yes clearly hasn't been paying attention.
  • Remi casts Glittering Wish to get a Wargate from his sideboard, which he then casts for X=0 to tutor up Valakut, the Molten Pinacle. Did he generate card advantage? This is an easy one: Remi used one card to get another one with the Wish, and then used a card to get another one with the Wargate. A beautiful case of chaining QA.
  • Would you generate card advantage by ticking Liliana of the Veil up in a six players Commander game? (Yeah, long game in sight) Multiplayer games will be the death of me. I guess that depends on who you consider to be your allies and how many enemies you have. This is where the quantitative gets pretty qualitative. If this is a free-for-all situation, you get five active cards for the cost of one of yours so that would mean CA, but then again, is that what you think when you do it?

Now that we got these even more messed up than they already were, let's dig into the practice. Why is CA the only thing everyone talks about? How much it worth?

Why Is Card Advantage So Good?

If you ever watched any Magic coverage in the last fifteen or twenty years, you have heard the terms "Card Advantage" or "two for one" over and over again. Commentators such as LSV, Marshal Sutcliff, or Randy Buehler are very fond of Card Advantage. First of all, it's fun. Everyone loves drawing cards. The power flows as you can barely contain it in your bare hands.

Overflowing Insight

Naturally that's not just it. Card Advantage is a necessity to win close to 99% of your games. The ugly truth is that most of the time, you cannot win only seven cards. There are a few combos that enable this (Plains + Forest + Devoted Druid + Vizier of Remedies + Walking Ballista is a good example), but if your opponent isn't off sipping a cocktail at the beach, that's just not going to happen the way you want it. Thankfully enough, we all draw at least one card per turn, during the draw step. For some decks, that's enough to function, but even they need this CA.

One way to look at this is comparing your game to a car race. Your deck is your car, the cards are your fuel. Some cars are capable of using all their fuel for a huge burst, others believe that slow and steady wins the race. Everyone needs some amount of fuel, even if they don't use it the same way.

Generating Card Advantage is the key to lasting longer in a game. If you have no fuel in hand, your car will cease to function, and unless your opponent is in a similar situation, you are not going to win that race.

I have mentioned that not everyone uses their fuel the same way. I guess some use their good old Diesel while others burn some Nitrogen to get fancy. However way you chose to put it though, no-one, and I mean it, will complain about extra fuel. A Nitrogen car having access to more of the dope? It's pretty sure to bury you in the race, so if handed out for free, the car will want to take the Nitrogen. But what's the weakness of Nitrogen? (Putting aside all technical issues here - I have no idea how cars work.) It's expensive.

The Price of Glory

Before I wrote my old article, a brewer friend of mine felt downright outraged at the definitions I was throwing out there. As a provocation, he asked me if Sever the Bloodline was a CA-generating card. If you're following everything so far, you know the answer to that question: yes. Even if it only exiles one creature on the first cast, it is Card Advantage.

But here's the gist: in Modern, you're just never going to cast that Flashback, as the format is too fast. A case could also be made that Standard was already too fast for that at the time. And that is a fair point: casting it on a one-for-one basis will almost never result in card advantage in practice, because even though the card is technically an active card, you never will be able to execute any action with it. So, what's the deal? Where did we go wrong?

Muddle the Mixture

Let's get back to our cars to see everything in a much more graphic manner. Let's say you need a car to get yourself to work. You go to the car store, and you find there a used Ford Fiesta, thousands of kilometers up its counter, but hey, honestly you don't need more. So, you look at the price: seven million euros. You need a car, but are you willing to pay seven million for that car. You'll be better off not spending that money, and walking your way to work, even if it will take hours.

The situation is pretty simple because you can easily determine that you need the seven million euros more than you need an old car. In Magic, things are not quite as simple, because what you spend is not necessarily mana (which is regenerated every turn), but other resources as well such as tempo or life points. The point remains however, that in Magic much as in real life, some things are just not worth it. Card Advantage will bring you very far in a game, but not if you pay too much for it.

As I mentioned earlier, everyone would like to have access to easy CA. However, not every deck is willing to sacrifice an entire turn to draw a few extra cards. Some decks would rather improve their board presence than attack their opponent's creatures. But to illustrate how cheap CA is prized by everyone, have a look at this:

Back in the days, when Treasure Cruise was still legal in Modern, this was one of the most popular archetypes. While it was quickly outranked by Izzet Delver and Pod, this is a perfect example of how, by simply splashing an extra color and paying one blue mana, Burn with efficient card advantage became one of the best decks in the format.

tl;dr: Everyone wants to have CA as much as possible, in the same fashion that everyone would like to start the game with twenty extra life points. Just be aware that it is not so much the CA that determines games, but the efficiency it produces.

Onto the Next One

This will be it for the article this month. This time, things got a bit messy I find, but that's how it goes as soon as things get less mathematically describable. I hope my points were clear, in that CA is very important in a game, but not backbreaking enough that you should not look at the cost to acquire it. Worry not my friends, next time we'll go into the strictly defined tie-breakers. No more of these philosophical topics, we'll crunch a few numbers!

As always I really hope you enjoyed this article and that you could learn a thing or two from it. As always if you ever have a question about any of the terms at stake I will be more than happy to help you out, so don't think twice if you ever do have a question. I'll see you around, have fun until then!

La bise !

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.


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Spark(2018-12-12 01:08)

@Cotch: Nevermind, I enjoyed your article (well, most of it) regardless. No need to be into cars, just acknowledge the fact of basic high school chemistry that 'to burn' always means interacting with oxygen. Adding more of what doesn't contain precisely this is pointless in accelerating combustion.

Moudou(2018-12-11 16:24)

@Spark : this has to be the best comment I ever had. Thanks for the insight, now I look like a fool. :P
Guess I should be more into cars right ^^

Spark(2018-12-11 00:21)

Just as the first one, very nicely written. But to be honest with you, the comparison involving the cars was a little cringy from the point of scientific literacy, in fact nitrogen is one of the cheaper things to get your hands on (comparable with diesel, let's say) and it just won't make your car go anywhere. What you probably meant was nitrous oxide, the oxygen therein is what you want for combustion. Elementary chemistry, dude.