Card advantage is a relatively common concept in Magic, but has been rarely discussed in relation to multiplayer. Adding several players to the mix makes the concept very confusing, and makes the explanations that much more boring. I promise to spice it up with lame jokes and humorous examples that should make things clear.
What I will say right away is that card advantage in multiplayer exists, but extra opponents limit the importance. This flies in the face of standard card advantage theory… But multiplayer Magic turns a lot of Magic theory on its head.
Before we get any farther, I should at least explain what I think card advantage is before I start, just so everyone understands my frame of reference. I see card advantage as a play or as plays that result in your opponent using more cards than you. A”standard” example would be when Lisa casts Wing Snare* on Bart’s Flailing Drake with Briar Shield enchanting it. Lisa uses one card to get rid of two of Bart’s cards, giving her card advantage. She might also want to laugh at Bart for using those cards… But considering Lisa’s use of Wing Snare, she might want to keep quiet.
Sift can also provide card advantage. If Homer and Marge each draw one card and Homer plays Sift, he would net a 2:1 card advantage.
Card advantage can be”virtual” card advantage as well. If Angel has a Repentant Vampire with threshold in play and Wolfram and Hart** have Sengir Vampire, Vampire Bats, Krovikan Vampire, Arrogant Vampire, and Skyshroud Vampire in their hand, then Angel has 5:1 virtual card advantage. The cards in Wolfram and Hart’s hand are useless with the Repentant Vampire in play. Angel’s single card is preventing five other cards from coming into play, resulting in the virtual advantage.
Up to this point, everything is relatively straightforward. Now let’s look at this from a multiplayer viewpoint. If Lisa cast Wing Snare on Bart’s Flailing Drake with Briar Shield enchanting it, has she really gained a card advantage if Marge and Homer are playing as well? Lisa now has three opponents who are drawing three times the number of cards she is. She needs her opponents to cast three spells to her one, just to get card advantage. So with the same scenario in multiplayer, Lisa just lost card advantage by getting rid of Bart’s enchanted creature.
So in the Simpsons’ multiplayer scenario, who were the big winners? Bart lost two cards, while his opponents lost only one. Clearly, Bart was the big loser here. Lisa lost one card, while her opponents lost two. This is better, but still not the 3:1 ratio she would need to break even. Another loser here. Marge and Homer each lost no cards, but their opponents lost three. Here are the big winners! By doing nothing, they gained a huge card advantage against their opponents!
Consider another scenario. Bart casts Withering Wisps and wipes the board of eleven creatures, one of which was a creature he controlled. The only creatures left on the board are Bart’s Darkwatch Elves. Bart has a 10:3 ratio, giving him card advantage. It is probably an even greater advantage that this as no one is likely to play a creature that will be killed by the Withering Wisps.
From these examples, we can surmise that there are two ways to gain card advantage in multiplayer: Play global wreckers like Wrath of God, Perish, Hellfire, or Plague Wind, or cards that force huge universal virtual advantage (the Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale is wonderful against decks with token hordes); or play as little as possible, gaining card advantage by simply letting everyone else beat themselves senseless casting card after card.
There are obvious problems with both of these strategies. Playing a minimalist strategy will get you run over. If Homer never plays a single card the entire game, his card advantage will be amazing, but he will die. This is probably not the optimal strategy. If Bart plays cards that hurt everyone in the game over and over, it will only be a matter of time before everyone else gangs up on him and finishes him. This is hardly any better than Homer’s strategy.
Consider a third example: The Simpsons are playing multiplayer, dropping various cards and the game is progressing through the mid-game. Eventually, Marge’s creatures start to dominate, leading Homer and Bart to team up and kill her off – but leaving themselves vulnerable to Lisa, who takes advantage and finishes them off, winning the game. A review of the game finds Lisa’s opponents played thirty-eight cards, while Lisa played twenty. By our formula, Lisa has no card advantage, yet she won.
This last example is typical of many multiplayer games. It was really relevant whether Lisa had card advantage or not. She won for other reasons. Who normally wins a game of multiplayer? If card advantage is a key element in multiplayer, then it could be argued that the player who wins most often will be the one with card advantage. This is not always the case, as Lisa demonstrated in the previous example. There are games when the winner has card advantage. However, there are just as many games when the person that won has used more cards than anyone else to get the win.
The problem with this is that much of the time you can’t tell if you are getting card advantage or not. Most often, the best way to get card advantage is to simply play your game. You will often find that by playing the card, you will gain a virtual card advantage that you don’t even know about. If Bart played Withering Wisps and the Darkwatch Elves but there were no other creatures on the board to destroy, it would appear that Bart was losing card advantage badly. However, his virtual card advantage, which he will never likely know, could be huge, with three other players around the board. Bart isn’t playing for card advantage; he is playing to create a soft lock and hopefully maintain it long enough to race through his opponents.
Card advantage, like everything else in one on one Magic, takes a reduced role in multiplayer. With more opponents another element is added to Magic, and everything else is reduced. While sheer card advantage, play ability, and luck will win games alone in one-on-one, the importance of each of those is reduced in multiplayer. Card advantage is important, but knowing when to burn three cards to your opponents’ one, is absolutely essential.
Keep in mind the most important thing in multiplayer: Knowing how to play your opponents. If you have to give up card advantage to do that, then do it. You have limited resources, and card advantage can only help so much if all the Simpsons are pounding on you.
* – For the obscure-card impaired, a list of all the cards I mention in this article are included at the end of the article. It drives me nuts when people name cards in their article that I have never heard of and I have to look them up.
** – Yes, I know; Wolfram and Hart isn’t a person who could play Magic, but I just can’t remember the names of any of the lawyers in the firm right now, and this article is already late.
2G, Sorcery, Urza’s Legacy Uncommon
Destroy target creature with flying.
3G, Summon Drake 2/3, Tempest Uncommon
If Flailing Drake blocks or is blocked by any creature, that creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn.
G, Enchant Creature, Weatherlight Common
Enchanted creature gets +1/+1.
Sacrifice Briar Shield: Enchanted creature gets +3/+3 until end of turn.
3U, Sorcery, Stronghold Common
Draw three cards, then choose and discard a card.
3BB, Creature – Vampire 3/3, Odyssey Rare
Whenever a creature dealt damage by Repentant Vampire this turn is put into a graveyard, put a +1/+1 counter on Repentant Vampire.
Threshold – Repentant Vampire is white and has T: Destroy target black creature.
(Maybe this one isn’t all that obscure, but it just fit the example too perfectly. Surely Wizards was thinking of Angel when they named this card!)
3BB, Summon Vampire 3/3, Ice Age Uncommon
At the end of a turn in which any creature is damaged by Krovikan Vampire and put into any graveyard, put that creature directly into play under your control. Treat the creature as though it were just summoned. If you lose control of Krovikan Vampire or Krovikan Vampire leaves play, bury the creature.
3BB, Summon Creature 4/3, Portal Uncommon
3BB, Summon Vampire 3/3, Tempest Uncommon
Choose and discard a creature card: Skyshroud Vampire gets +2/+2 until end of turn.
2G, Summon Elves 2/2, Urza’s Legacy Uncommon
Protection from black
Cycling 2 (You may pay 2 and discard this card from your hand to draw a card. Play this ability as an instant.)
2B, Sorcery, Classic Sixth Edition Uncommon
Destroy all green creatures. They can’t be regenerated.
2BBB, Sorcery, Legends Rare
All non-black creatures are destroyed. Hellfire does X + 3 damage to you; X is the number of creatures placed in the graveyard.
7BB, Sorcery, Prophecy Rare
Destroy all creatures you don’t control. They can’t be regenerated.
The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
Legendary Land, Legends Rare
All creatures now require an upkeep cost of 1 in addition to any other upkeep costs they may have. If the upkeep cost for a creature is not paid, the creature is destroyed.