Virtual Card Advantage Theory

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it’s supposedly unacceptable to count card advantage, at its most base level, only when it actually occurs. The existing theories have no room for this idea, and when you put five permanents on the board according to the accepted card advantage theory, you’re five cards up, even if those five cards haven’t actually traded with opposing cards! The existing theory of card advantage is designed so that you can see your board advantage reflected in the numbers you get when you measure it. In other words, more permanents = more card advantage.

In a way, I can understand where the proponents of the system are coming from. Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to let me get behind the idea, which is patently ridiculous. Let’s go through some examples to show you what I mean.

Hey there everyone. It’s time once again for more card advantage fun, but before we put on our waders and get hip-deep in the stagnant ooze that is Virtual Card Advantage, there are some issues I want to address. Some other authors might provide you with fair warning of the off-topic wasteland in the paragraphs ahead, and invite those less interested parties to skip forward to the actual start of the article proper, which would be clearly marked for all to see. I will be doing nothing of the kind, for I believe that you are smart enough to know how to skim an article without any handholding or, god forbid, slap and tickle.

Sidebar begins now. Grab a beer and settle in – and if you haven’t done so already, read my article from last week that outlined the first third of my system for quantifying card advantage. Then prop your eyelids open and read all the forum responses (currently sitting at fourteen pages and counting), because you’ll see some very interesting stuff there. In fact, I’d like to address some of it right now, before I strap on my rocket shoes and shimmy straight down the crooked road of Virtual Card Advantage

You will hear no gloating from me about how my scribblings somehow managed to get the attention of many so-called”card advantage experts.” The truth is that they mostly turned out to take me to task, which is not exactly what I was looking for. It’s an interesting thing – I thought I was writing an introduction to card advantage as it has been defined for years by the first notable strategists of the game. True, I hadn’t actually read these works, but I’d gathered a lot about it from observing other peoples allusions to the scholars of old, and I figured that card advantage was straightforward enough that there was really only one way to look at it.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that it’s supposedly unacceptable to count card advantage, at its most base level, only when it actually occurs. The existing theories have no room for this idea, and when you put five permanents on the board according to the accepted card advantage theory, you’re five cards up, even if those five cards haven’t actually traded with opposing cards! The existing theory of card advantage is designed so that you can see your board advantage reflected in the numbers you get when you measure it. In other words, more permanents = more card advantage.

In a way, I can understand where the proponents of the system are coming from. Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to let me get behind the idea, which is patently ridiculous. Let’s go through some examples to show you what I mean. We’ll refer to the system I use as”PCA” or”Pure Card Advantage” whereas the old school quantification method will be referred to as”Old School”.

Example #1: You cycle Decree of Justice EOT for ten Soldiers.

PCA says that you cycle Decree of Justice (-1 card), create ten Soldiers, and then draw a card from cycling (+1 card). Note that your board advantage, such as it is, is not reflected at all in this number. This is because the ten soldiers represent not pure cards but board advantage, or virtual card advantage (there’s that phrase again! We’ll get to it, I promise. For now, just understand that the two turn clock provided by the Soldiers pretty much makes every card in your opponent’s deck, except for the ones in his hand and the one on top of his deck, a nonfactor.)

PCA is not meant to take board position into account, because it’s only one third of the system, the most basic third – the one that lays the foundation. It is only concerned with counting cards. If you lump everything together, the system gets muddled and inconsistent.

Old School says that you cycle Decree of Justice (-1 card), create ten Soldiers (+10 cards) and then draw a card from cycling (+1 card). Your board advantage is reflected by the +10 card advantage number – this is supposed to make the system more intuitive. At first glance there is nothing wrong with this, but a closer look will show you that there are many flaws inherent in a system where every permanent is a +1, and yet the numbers you get are designed to be a rough estimate of the amount of board advantage gained.

If Old School seems like the more accurate of the two systems here to you, then you must like handing out”card” status to every Tom, Dick, and Token around. If you number you get from throwing this equation into the Old School system is supposed to translate roughly to the strength of the play (or even its potential to trade with opposing cards!), how do you explain the fact that Sengir Autocrat is gets you more”plus one” power than Morphling? And is Acorn Harvest really a better fourth turn play than Masticore?

The number you get from”Old School” is pretty much a joke, actually. Check this out:

Example #2: You cast Dragon Tyrant using ten mountains.

PCA says that you invest Dragon Tyrant to the board. This is neither a gain nor a loss, meaning it’s (+0) overall.

Old School says that you cast Dragon Tyrant (-1 card in hand) and it hits the board (+1 card).

Under the PCA system, both examples are one or two turn clocks that must be dealt with, and both plays net you the same result. +0.

Under the”Old School System”, cycling Decree of Justice for ten Soldiers gives you about ten times the card advantage that casting Dragon Tyrant does. What? So much for the idea that the number gained is supposed to reflect your board advantage. And if the system can’t do that effectively on a regular basis, why should it even try?

Example #3: Over the course of three turns, you cast Nuisance Engine and make three tokens with it.

PCA says that you invest the Nuisance Engine to the board. This is neither a gain nor a loss, meaning it’s (+0) overall.

Old School says that you cast Nuisance Engine (-1 card), it hits the board (+1 card), and then each of the three tokens is another card (+3 cards). In other words, this system, which is designed to make the results of the card advantage calculation a rough estimate as to the board advantage gained, is saying you’re three cards up. Gee, watch out opponent! Those Nuisance tokens can get ornery. Under the Old School system, Nuisance Engine is waving around a nickel-plated 9mm. Do you really want to play a game where the big swinging wang of card advantage is Nuisance Engine?

Again, if Old School is going to botch every calculation this badly, why even try to do it in the first place?

Example #4: You cast Beast Attack.

One of the supposed”weaknesses” of the PCA system is how it handles sorceries and instants that either a) act like creatures or b) act like creature enchantments. Honestly, there is nothing wrong with the way it handles these things – you simply need to look at the data with the caveat that the sorceries and instants in question act a lot like invested permanents despite already being spent according to PCA rules. Once you understand that… bang. Your learning curve has reached the end of the wall. You’re done. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

PCA says in this example that Beast Attack is cast and resolves (-1 card), putting a 4/4 token into play. You are down one card.

Old School says that Beast Attack is cast (-1 card), and resolves, putting a 4/4 token into play (+1 card.) You are even overall.

Is PCA the more counterintuitive of the two systems here? (For once!?) Only if you forgot what I just told you to open Example #4, and furthermore, only if you don’t follow things to their logical conclusion. Let’s do example #5.

Example #5: You cast Beast Attack. On your opponent’s turn, he casts Terror on the token.

PCA says in this example that Beast Attack is cast and resolves (-1 card), putting a 4/4 token into play. Your opponent then spends Terror (-1 card for him!) to kill it. You end up even.

Old School says that Beast Attack is cast (-1 card), and resolves, putting a 4/4 token into play (+1 card). You opponent then casts Terror (-1 card for him) to kill the token (-1 card for you). You end up even.

Essentially, PCA doesn’t assume that the Beast Attack token has gained you anything whatsoever in terms of Pure Card Advantage, for the simple reason that it hasn’t done anything. Does the token simply existing mean that it’s +1 card? No. If it hits for four, does that mean anything in terms of pure card advantage? No.

What if it trades for an opposing card?

Now you’re talking!

A slightly different version of this example can illustrate that the same is true for things like Elven Rite:

Example #6: You cast Elven Rite on your Llanowar Elves. On your opponent’s turn, he casts Lightning Bolt on the Elves.

PCA says that you spend Elven Rite (-1 card for you) to put the counters on the Elves. On your opponent’s turn, he casts Lightning Bolt on the Elves (-1 card for you as the Elves die, -1 card for him as the Bolt is spent). He’s up a card.

A lot of people had problems with the way that PCA considers Elven Rite to be spent whereas something like Armor of Thorns, which also gives +2/+2, is considered an invested permanent. The only answer I can give is, again, that sorceries and instants that mimic the effects of invested permanents (those that create creatures or add counters) still have to be treated like normal sorceries and instants under this system. It’s the only way to do it without riddling the whole concept with a dozen different exceptions and”open to interpretation” quagmires. As long as you use common sense and realize that the numbers are slightly skewed in the cases of these types of spells, you’re all set.

Besides, again, they always turn out fine in the end, as you can see above. He’s up a card, which is absolutely correct.

Old School says that you cast Elven Rite, but because the counters are still affecting your board position, it doesn’t count as casting the card. When your opponent Bolts the Llanowar Elves on his turn, then you lose both the Elf and the Elven Rite (-2 for you). You’re down a card.

Anyhow, you get the idea. The point I’m trying to make is that the existing system for quantifying card advantage is fairly bogus. I would have said something sooner, except I had no idea that my own ideas weren’t the accepted ones. PCA is pretty much strictly superior – I’m tired of hearing things like “Well, the result makes sense if you take into account the fact that these tokens provide you with yadda yadda yadda blah blah blah bling bling bling blah.”

If I’m trying to quantify the pure card advantage of a given play, I don’t want to have to patch up the result I get with suppositions about my opponent’s deck, how much board advantage I might have gained and for how long, and how many cards my tokens may or may not trade with in the future. There is no reason that Pure Card Advantage and Virtual Card Advantage should ever cross paths – and the Old School theory is all over the place with the results you get from cards like Deranged Hermit, Siege-Gang Commander, and Acorn Harvest. In each case, you get some bizarre”+something” result, and then you have to get to work justifying it, sweating it out like a hotel porter.

Deranged Hermit = more card advantage than Stroke of Genius for four?

Nuisance Engine > Jayemdae Tome?

How about we assume nothing? How about we take card advantage as it comes, and measure it if and when it occurs, instead of awarding a +1/turn to any jackenape with a Breeding Pit?

Out with the old, in with the new. If the old way of looking at card advantage were a color, it’d be kumquat. If it were a candy, it’d be Wine Gums. If it were a facial adornment, it’d be a handlebar mustache. If it were a Tarantino movie, it’d be Jackie Brown.

Get with the Pulp Fiction.


And now on with the article. Virtual Card Advantage is probably my favorite Magic concept of all time, and understanding the ins and outs of Virtual Card Advantage can really improve your play. Possessed of a keen grasp of VCA, not only will you be able to more easily grasp the significance of key permanents, you will be able to determine for yourself which permanents are the most important on your side, and which enemy permanents need to go, and fast!

The basic tenet of Virtual Card Advantage is this:

“If you draw a card that is useless, it’s like you never drew a card at all.”

From that humble but profound base, we can expand slightly to the corollary:

“If a permanent is useless, it’s just like having no permanent at all.”

If this seems a little too”Matrix” to follow, don’t worry – it will all be explained, with examples. Let’s begin at the beginning. Many times in Mirrodin Limited, games have a Spikeshot Goblin-themed Scooby Doo ending.

(old villain voice) “I would have won, too- if it weren’t for that meddling Goblin!”

Spikeshot Goblin with Equipment tends to quickly reduce the relative quality of your hand by making any low toughness creature a complete waste of time. This is the essence of virtual card advantage. Your opponent will look at the board, and at his mangled hand, and say”Oh fiddlesticks!” Then it’s time to go in for the kill while he’s still holding nothing but empty hopes.

Virtual card advantage is found everywhere in the game, and it’s much harder to quantify accurately than Pure Card Advantage, which was addressed in my last article. Nonetheless, it can be done! Let’s go through five different examples of virtual card advantage, and along the way, we’ll explore all the different areas where it makes its considerable presence felt.

Scenario #1: The Pinger

“I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me in Mirrodin Limited is Spikeshot Goblin.”

You have Spikeshot Goblin + Leonin Scimitar in play on turn 3 in a Mirrodin Limited game, resulting in your opponent swearing repeatedly and calling you a lucksack. You’re on the play. Your opponent played an Iron Myr on his turn 2. Your opponent’s hand contains the following cards:

Tel Jilad Chosen

Elf Replica



Spikeshot Goblin

Fangren Hunter

PCA, the first third of our card advantage triumvirate, does not see any card advantage here. You have simply invested two permanents, and nothing of note has occurred. On your next turn, you will probably shoot the Iron Myr and get a card up (his Myr is then no longer invested, but spent), but this has not happened yet. PCA sees this as dead even.

However, can you spot the virtual card advantage? It’s actually pretty glaring, so I bet you can. Try your hand at answering these:

1a) How many of the cards in your opponents hand are now essentially”dead”? Which ones are they? And how much virtual card advantage do you currently have with the current board position? Express this answer in numerical form, ie.”Up x cards.”

1b) If your opponent’s next two draws are Slith Firewalker and Tel-Jilad Exile, what does that do to your virtual card advantage? How many cards are you now”up”?

1c) If your opponent’s next draw is Deconstruct for the Scimitar, what does that do to your virtual card advantage? How many cards are you now”up”? What does Pure Card Advantage say about the exchange?

1d) If your opponent’s next draw is Shrapnel Blast and he sacrifices his Iron Myr to deal five damage to the Goblin, what does that do to your virtual card advantage? What does Pure Card Advantage say about the exchange?

1e) Who wrote the”The Odyssey” and”The Iliad”?

Unlike last week’s article, I’m doing to list the answers directly below each set of questions, just for ease of reference. Much like me, this is more of a teaching tool than a quiz, anyhow.


1a) Three cards in your opponent’s hand are now dead as a result of your invested permanents – the Tel-Jilad Chosen, the Elf Replica, and the Spikeshot Goblin. You are up three cards with this board position, despite the fact that no cards have actually been spent by your opponent. Remember the cardinal rule – a useless draw isn’t even a draw at all. A useless card isn’t even a card, it’s +0 for the purposes of VCA. One and two-toughness creatures are all dead draws against this board position. So I say again, you’re up three cards, which is better than Ancestral Recall.

1b) The Slith Firewalker is a dead draw, though the Tel-Jilad Exile is not. You are now up four cards – over the course of two turns, your virtual card advantage has only increased. That’s essentially the same card advantage as stroking yourself for five, and the killer thing about it is that the board is still dead even according to Pure Card Advantage theory. This is why you have to look at any given line of play from many different angles.

1c) If your opponent casts Deconstruct on the Scimitar, the Elf Replica and Spikeshot Goblin both become viable plays, and instantly gain value as cards, rather than being”dead”. That leaves your opponent with one dead card in hand – the Tel-Jilad Chosen, putting you only a single a card up in terms of VCA. From the standpoint of Pure Card Advantage or PCA, you are still even – he spends Deconstruct (-1 for him) to destroy your Scimitar (-1 for you) and cast Elf Replica, an invested permanent. Presumably, you’ll go up one card on your next turn when you kill his Iron Myr.

1d) If your opponent casts Shrapnel Blast on the Goblin, sacrificing his Iron Myr (-1 for him), you lose the Goblin (-1 for you) when the spell resolves (another -1 for him, as Shrapnel Blast is spent). This leaves the game even in terms of virtual card advantage – all cards in his hand are now valid plays, as are all of yours. In terms of PCA, he is down a card, having spent two cards to destroy your Goblin. Note that being down one actual card is still much better than being down three virtual cards! This is why you can’t judge every play in terms of pure cards alone!

1e) I think it was Homer Simpson.

Some other cards that produce virtual card advantage in much the same way as Spikeshot Goblin include:

Granite Shard

Visara The Dreadful


Contested Cliffs


Goblin Sharpshooter

Cursed Scroll

Scenario #2: The Moat

Your opponent is playing a black beatdown deck in a casual T1 game. You draw and cast Moat. Your opponent’s board is the following:

2 Swamps

1 Dauthi Slayer

1 Nantuko Shade

1 Carnophage

His hand:

2 Diabolic Edict

1 Phyrexian Negator

1 Hypnotic Specter

1 Sinkhole

Once again, PCA doesn’t not see any card advantage here. However, a close look at the situation shows that nothing could be farther from the truth. Can you find the Virtual Card Advantage?

2a) How many cards on your opponent’s board are now essentially dead? How many cards in his hand? Which ones are they? What is the total virtual card advantage gained?

2b) If your opponent’s next two draws are Swamp and Black Knight, what does that do to your VCA? How many cards are you now”up”?

2c) If your opponent’s next draw is a Neurok Hoversail, what does that do to your VCA? What does PCA say about this play?

2d) Suppose you draw and cast Swords to Plowshares on the opposing Nantuko Shade. What does this do to your virtual card advantage? What does Pure Card Advantage have to say about this trade?

2e) Have you ever grabbed a dog by his hind legs and walked him around like a vacuum cleaner?


2a) Dauthi Slayer, Carnophage, and Nantuko Shade are all essentially dead on the board, and the Negator is null in hand. All the other cards have their uses (though they certainly don’t deal with the virtual card advantage you’re gaining with that Moat!). The total virtual card advantage gained is +4. Heck, that’s no small Moat, it’s a space Mind Twist station! And it’s a Mind Twist that just keeps getting better. Did your opponent just draw another Slayer? That’s another”null” draw. Another Negator?”Null” draw number six. In this way, you can see how VCA can get out of hand quickly!

2b) If your opponent’s next two draws are Swamp and Black Knight, you’re up another virtual card (all the way to +5!), because the Black Knight is about as useless in this situation as teats on a bull. Even if your opponent plays it, you don’t care – Mr. Knight can sit on a stick and spin until he catches fire for all the good it will do your opponent. The Swamp is actually the greater threat, since it allows the enemy player to cast his Hypnotic Specter, the attacks of which your Moat cannot stymie.

2c) Neurok Hoversail, if drawn and cast by your opponent, has the effect of turning one of his completely useless creatures into a useful creature, effectively making this unassuming piece of equipment into a cantrip. The Hoversail takes away one card worth of Virtual Card Advantage, and more than that, it always takes away the most important card- the creature equipped with the Hoversail will always be the one you least want to see attacking. You’re still three cards up, though. Pure Card Advantage only sees your opponent investing a permanent. No change.

2d) This is where we see how well this system reflects stupid plays. If you cast Swords to Plowshares on the Nantuko Shade, you stay even in terms of Pure Card Advantage (-1 for the Swords being spent, -1 for him when his Shade goes farming) but your Pure Card Advantage actually drops by one. Instead of holding off a Shade, Slayer, Carnophage and the as-yet uncast Phyrexian Negator (+4 for you!), your Moat is now holding off only the Slayer, Carnophage, and Negator (only +3). What does this tell us? That casting the Swords on Nantuko Shade is a dumb play.

“Wait, wait egghead. You’re saying that using my removal on an opposing creature actually made my game position worse? Stop talking crazy!”

That’s exactly what I’m saying. The value of that opposing Nantuko Shade was a fat zilch with extra stretch marks. You, in your infinite wisdom, just traded your Swords to Plowshares for a big ol’ box of nothing. Congratulations.

2e) Yes. I heard it all goes on your permanent record.

Some other cards that produce virtual card advantage in much the same way as Moat include:

Circle of Protection: Red (perhaps no card in the history of the game has made as many cards useless as CoP:Red)

Story Circle

Light of Day

Tsabo’s Web


Island Sanctuary

Scenario #3: The Land Destruction

Your turn 1: Forest, Birds of Paradise

Your opponent’s turn 1: Island

Your turn 2: Mountain, Pillage targeting Island

Your opponent’s turn 2: Plains

Your turn 3: Forest, Creeping Mold targeting Plains

Your opponent’s turn 3: Island

Your turn 4: Stone Rain targeting Island

Your opponent’s turn 4: Complain, at length.

Your opponent has the following cards on the board:

*a big fat nothing*

You have the following cards on the board:

2 Mountain, 2 Forest, Birds of Paradise

Your opponent has the following cards in hand:

Isochron Scepter

Raise the Alarm

Wing Shards

Exalted Angel

Mana Leak


Decree of Justice

Pure Card Advantage says that the game is dead even – the only difference is that you have five invested permanents, while all of your opponent’s invested permanents have eaten the old dirt sandwich thanks to Captain Land Destructo. Virtual Card Advantage, though, tells a very different story.

3a) At this point in the game, how many of the cards in your opponent’s hand are essentially”dead”? Which ones are they? How much VCA do you currently have?

3b) Your opponent’s next two draws are Mana Leak and Concentrate. He has to discard twice during those two turns. What does this do to your Virtual Card Advantage? What does this do to your Pure Card Advantage?

3c) Say your opponent draws a Plains during his next draw step, followed by an Island – and during that time you draw no further land destruction spells. What does this do to your VCA?

3d) What…is the carrying capacity of an unladen swallow?


3a) At this point in the game, every card in your opponent’s hand is essentially null, meaning you’ve fired off the full Mind Twist for seven! You’re in an amazing position, and you only need to finish him off before he can recover. Your opponent may look like they’ve got a mittful of cards, but Virtual Card Advantage tells us that they don’t actually have any. You are currently up seven cards.

3b) Your opponent draws a useless card each turn (and remember, under VCA this is like drawing nothing), but because he or she has to discard at the end of every turn, our VCA stays steady at +7. In terms of Pure Card Advantage, you are now two cards up, with each opposing discard counting as -1 card for your opponent. In this way, VCA translated easily into PCA in manascrew situations.

3c) When your opponent reaches two land with this hand, your VCA changes. His Isochron Scepter, Raise the Alarm, and Eternal Dragon now all”come online”, meaning your Virtual Card Advantage is now only +4. As you can see, VCA can be very swingy! The simple act of drawing sufficient land can be an Ancestral Recall-level gain of three cards. You can also see that unless you continue to draw land destruction, all of your VCA will eventually be undone.

Make no mistake – land destruction is one of the most powerful VCA engines of all time, but it’s also one of the most fragile. In many cases of extreme virtual card advantage, like the Moat in the previous question, opponents are doomed to suffer those effects until they draw one of a very few answers. In the case of land destruction, the main answer is to draw mana sources… and everyone has a bunch of those!

3d) What do you mean? An African or European swallow?

Some other cards that produce virtual card advantage in the same way as Pillage, Stone Rain and Creeping Mold include:

Armageddon (perhaps the most vicious VCA knee to the face of all time)

Avalanche Riders

Rising Waters

Winter Orb

Static Orb


Rishadan Port

Mishra’s Helix

Scenario #4: The Chalice

You’re playing a Workshop deck against a Red deck in T1. You play a first turn Chalice of the Void, set to one. Your opponent steps outside the store, curses you in Aramaic, and then comes back in and sits down. [Apparently you are playing Mel Gibson. – Knut]

Your opponent’s hand:

Bloodstained Mire

Cursed Scroll

Jackal Pup

Goblin Cadets

Lightning Bolt


Chain Lightning

Once again, our trusty friend PCA says that this game is even-Steven. You have two invested permanents to your opponent’s none, sure, but PCA is not concerned with such things. Of course, there’s more than one way to view every situation, and though PCA theory won’t reflect it, this game is already in the bag.

4a) With the current game position, how many of the cards in your opponent’s hand are”dead”? Which ones are they? What is your current level of VCA?

4b) If your opponent draws Mountain, Ball Lightning, Chain Lightning over the next three turns, what does that do to your VCA?

4c) Your opponent’s deck contains thirty-eight one-mana spells (including four Goblin Vandals– ain’t that a bitch!) and four Ball Lightnings, along with ten Mountains, eight fetchlands, a Strip Mine and three Wastelands. What percentage of his spells did you just render completely useless for the duration of the game by casting your Chalice of the Void? (Feel free to use a calculator.)

4d)”What” ain’t no country I ever heard of! They speak English in”What”?


4a) Five cards – the Cursed Scroll, Jackal Pup, Goblin Cadets, Lightning Bolt, and Chain Lightning are all essentially”dead”. You’re up five virtual cards, and you haven’t even broken a sweat! The dew of youth has not yet dried upon the brow of this game, and it’s already almost over. The only thing left for your opponent to do is put his cards in a pile and leave the table.

4b) If those are his next three draws, you’re up another virtual card. Note that you really have no idea what your opponent is drawing in any real-game situation, but savvy players can extrapolate that information easily by keeping track of an opponent’s demeanor. You can also come up with an (often surprisingly accurate) estimate as to how many cards you’ve made useless by taking a look at what your opponent is likely to be playing. In this case, it should be plainly obvious that a Chalice for one is going to derail the enemy, with many of the most efficient T1″Sligh” (a misnomer, I know) cards being of the one mana variety. This is where a solid knowledge of typical decklists in any given environment will serve you well!

Interestingly enough, now that complete decklists are often available by Day 2 of any given Pro Tour or GP, high level Chalice of the Void players don’t need to take a guess at how many cards they are nerfing with any given Chalice – they sometimes know exactly! You can see this phenomenon at work during Day 2 of PT New Orleans. Pros aren’t the only ones that can take advantage of this sort of preparation, though – you can do it too.

At Friday Night Magic, peep your buddies’ decks so you know what board situations will make their cards moot. Before that GPT or PTQ, scan the ‘net and introduce yourself to”The Decks To Beat.” What cards will you face? What board positions do you consequently want to aim for? Scouting and learning are two things that take you a step closer to consistent Virtual Card Advantage!

4c) 63.3% of your opponent’s deck is now useless. Now that is virtual card advantage.

4d) …What?

Scenario #5: The Clock

Time to pay close attention, because this is the area of virtual card advantage that most people don’t even know exists. Sure, they know that this phenomenon, which is sometimes called”I got an insane draw”, is out there and making an impact, but they don’t know what to call it. I’m here now to tell you that it’s virtual card advantage.

Here’s your (admittedly extreme) example.

You’re playing Type One at your local store. It’s Game 2, and he won the first. You play Swamp, Dark Ritual, Black Lotus, sacrifice Lotus for three Black mana, Phyrexian Negator, Phyrexian Negator.

Your opponent is none too pleased, and by”none too pleased”, I mean”almost catatonic with jittering, phlegm-covered curses”. He says”obv,” plays a Tundra.

You untap and attack for ten, play a Swamp, and pass the turn.

Your opponent’s hand:


Powder Keg

Wrath of God


Force of Will (drew it last turn, haha!)

Circle of Protection: Black

Mana Drain

He draws:

Tundra. Gee gee, sir.


5a) How many of the cards in your opponent’s hand are essentially dead? Which ones are they? What amount of Virtual Card Advantage do you have? What does Pure Card Advantage say about this exchange so far?

5b) Your opponent’s full decklist, after sideboarding:

4 Force of Will

4 Mana Drain

4 Wrath of God

4 Ophidian

4 Powder Keg

1 Enlightened Tutor

1 Balance

1 Fact or Fiction

2 Circle of Protection: Black

1 Light of Day

1 Karma

3 Morphling

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Zuran Orb

1 Swords to Plowshares

1 Mystical Tutor

1 Capsize

2 Maze of Ith

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Black Lotus

4 Tundra

4 Flooded Strand

5 Island

5 Plains

1 Library of Alexandria

How many cards in your opponent’s deck were completely useless, given the board situation? How many cards might have been classified as actual useful draws, had they shown up? What percentage of your opponent’s deck, then, did your fast start make completely moot?


5a) All eight cards are essentially dead. By putting your opponent on a one turn clock, you’ve gained yourself +8 virtual card advantage. This is just another take on”Threat Theory, Answer Theory”, but it’s surprisingly apt – you’ll find that most explosive starts are designed to drastically limit the options of the opposing player. This example also demonstrates very effectively the idea that Pure Card Advantage is not the only way to view a play – though I’d like to think you’d have caught on to that by now, you smart reader you!

Pure Card Advantage says you are down two cards – the Black Lotus and the Dark Ritual. This is true, but at the same time it’s almost irrelevant, since in a much more”real” sense, your opponent is down eight cards. Eight cards in his hand are completely useless. You will win the game in the next turn, he has no answers.

That can be expressed by saying”I play the threats, you come up with the answers or you’re dead”, which has long been the solemn credo of aggro-decks across the board, but what it really is, is just another aspect or manifestation of virtual card advantage. In this case, the cards in your opponent’s hand aren’t dead because you have a pinger, or because you have a Moat, or because you’ve destroyed his land (though this theory is similar to the example shown in Scenario #3), or because you’ve rendered him impotent as a Florida ballot box via Chalice of the Void. No, it’s none of those things.

This time, his hand is useless because he’s about to eat the ol’ dirt sandwich – and he needs a specific answer. If nothing comes to the top of his deck, the ground hogs will be delivering his mail. You can stick a fork in him.

That’s Virtual Card Advantage too. Maybe in its purest form.

5b) The following cards might be classified as useful draws:


Mox Pearl

Mox Sapphire

Black Lotus

Maze of Ith

Swords to Plowshares

Time Walk

Ancestral Recall

Library of Alexandria

Of these, the Maze of Ith, Ancestral Recall and Library of Alexandria are pretty slim chances- the latter two need to draw him into Black Lotus or Swords to Plowshares immediately (or, in the case of the Ancestral, some combination either Mox/Balance or Mox/Mox) and Maze of Ith will require him to topdeck again next turn or face the same death. The other cards are more immediate solutions. The old saying”there are no wrong threats, only wrong answers” is basically true, and in this case you can see the principle at work- there are nine answers in your opponent’s deck.

Wrath of God is an answer, but not the right one. Same with CoP: Black. There are only nine true answers. Poker players who dabble in Magic (or vice versa) tend to see this is an opposing number of”outs”, and I guess that’s a fine way to take it. What is really at work is Virtual Card Advantage. To answer the question, 51 cards in your opponent’s deck are useless, for a percentage of 85%. That’s a whole lot of deadwood. Heck, he needs a sign on his hand that says”Dead Card Storage.” Surprise! And I bet before the game started he would have told you that storing dead cards wasn’t his business.

Every game features a VCA problem like this. Ever play a game of Limited where you have only one card that can bail you out, and you need to draw it? Of course you have – we’ve all been there. The reason you’re there is because your opponent has maneuvered you into that position, a position where his virtual card advantage is massive. Every card in your hand is mulch, (not to be confused with Mulch!) and all but one of your potential draws will result in a loss.

Pretty much every game comes down to a position like this. Sometimes you have ten outs, sometimes five, and often you have no outs at all (this happens a lot when you’re ripping off the top and your opponent has a Circular Logic stuck to his forehead), but the one thing they all have in common is that they’re all situations where Virtual Card Advantage has brought someone to victory.

This is how important VCA is. Every game is won with VCA.

So yeah, that’s pretty much it. I hope you’ve learned something from reading this, even if the lesson was”man, that was boring”. There’s not much I can do about the boring part – some of this Magic theory stuff is dry, and if I were to attempt a description of just how dry, I’d be venturing into similes that are decidedly ungentlemanly. So I’ll postpone.

If you have any thoughts about Virtual Card Advantage or about any of the ideas expressed here, please feel free to chime in on the forums. The last article had a lot of interesting discussion, and since I haven’t used the word”cracker” in this article, I’m looking forward to more of the same with this one. You can also email me if you want – I’ve been lax in answering my mail of late, but be assured that I do read everything I get, even if it’s from that”Penis Patch” company, or that Nigerian guy who types in all capitals.

I’ll be back in a week or so to talk about the third and final part of card advantage:”Essential Card Advantage.” It was briefly touched on when we discussed what happens when you Plow a Nantuko Shade with Moat out, but we have to go further. Ever killed a Neurok Spy with your 24th card Leonin Pit Trap? Good trade.

See you in a while. Until then, make sure you’re never stuck with a sign saying”Dead Card Storage”. Storing dead cards isn’t your @#$%in’ business.


Geordie Tait

[email protected]


GT_ on #mtgwacky