You CAN Play Type I #118 – Back to Basics, Part VIII: Revisiting Card Advantage

To begin, I’d like to go back to something I glossed over in”Counting Card Advantage.” A lot of the forum discussion touched on”virtual” card advantage, but I doubt all readers know exactly what this is. It was a term coined by Eric”Danger” Taylor in”Virtual Card Advantage in Urza’s Block, a Sub-Category of Card Advantage Theory” (The Dojo, August 4, 1999). EDT’s classic article actually discussed two specific sets of scenarios, and the first concluded:

You can’t ignore tokens when counting card advantage.

Rakso owned by Roney

In”Maximizing Mirrodin, Part VII,” I publicly hoped that Casual Player’s Alliance columnist Sean”Sefro” Roney didn’t spoof me in a comic strip after I printed his Urza’s Glasses gag letter in that column.

Guess what?

He did an entire series on CPA, beginning with,”When Sefro met Rasko.”

Okay, okay… I surrender, Sean!

Revisiting card advantage

I hope you liked”CAN [author name="Randy Buehler"]Randy Buehler[/author] Play Type I? Hell, Yes!” because I was in another city attending the firm party when it was posted, and the paralegals and messengers were busy trying to get me drunk on the scotch our retired Solicitor General left them.

(Though damn, those junior lady lawyers are wild… one sorority sis made the mistake of trying to pass me the first shot in front of my Mom. Fortunately, she never saw the next nine, during the chaotic karaoke and disco session that followed. There’s a macabre satisfaction in being the only sober person standing in a room at three in the morning.)

When I got back, I was pleasantly surprised to find the lengthy card advantage debate on the Star City Forums fueled by Mike Flores, Ben Bleiweiss and Geordie Tait. I ended up posting a number of belated responses, to the point that I felt like compiling them into a formal article, an expansion of my original card advantage article from last April.

Incidentally, I hope to avoid coming up with a critique of Geordie’s”Permanent Card Advantage” from”Card Advantage Without all the Hullaballoo.” However, given where I’m coming from, references to scenarios raised in the forum thread or Geordie’s own column might be inevitable.

Besides, I didn’t exactly score Eugenius in Geordie’s quiz… Grrrr… ego… grrrr…

(I e-mailed him to tell him, so I sure hope he doesn’t spoof my column again over the above sentence. I also hope he doesn’t ever meet Sean Roney.)

The Purpose of Card Advantage Theory

Before anything else, I’d like to remind you why we’re discussing card advantage theory.

It’s a simplification of one particular aspect of the game, and we isolate that aspect so we can study it more clearly before studying it along with everything else.

In”Counting Card Advantage,” I ended that card advantage theory isn’t the end-all of Magic, and it doesn’t win every game since it’s very possible to lose with a full grip.

So yes, we also have to consider tempo, mana curves (which is a specific application of tempo), card quality (which is a very abstract concept that involves just about every other concept) and a bunch of other things, but you can discuss them simultaneously when everyone in the conversation is a clone of Kai Budde.

Meanwhile, we ordinary mortals can do it one by one.

Thus, I’ll reiterate that we have to make a lot of simplifications to focus on card advantage. For example, we have to count a 1/1 and a 10/10 both as one card. Yes, we know it’s like saying Dungeons and Dragons and Return of the King are both fantasy movies, but you can take up the difference when you study the game’s other fundamentals.

I hope you read”Counting Card Advantage” and”Recounting Card Advantage.” In any case, here’s a quick recap:

1) You only draw one card per turn. This is one of Magic’s most fundamental rules.

2) Whenever you draw an additional card (that is, in addition to your regular draw), you break this rule. This generates card advantage.

3) Whenever your opponent loses a card, you also gain card advantage, albeit in reverse fashion. Thus, card advantage isn’t just about having more cards, but having more cards than your opponent.

4) Whenever a card moves from your hand to your graveyard, you lose card advantage (for example, casting Lightning Bolt or Fireball targeting your opponent).

5) Whenever a card moves from your hand to the board, you do not lose card advantage because the resource is still there for your use (for example, casting any permanent like a creature).

6) The corollary to this is, whenever a card moves from the board to a graveyard, its controller loses card advantage.

“Virtual” Card Advantage: Token generation

To begin, I’d like to go back to something I glossed over in”Counting Card Advantage.”

A lot of the forum discussion touched on”virtual” card advantage, but I doubt all readers know exactly what this is. It was a term coined by Eric“Danger” Taylor in”Virtual Card Advantage in Urza’s Block, a Sub-Category of Card Advantage Theory” (The Dojo, August 4, 1999). EDT’s classic article actually discussed two specific sets of scenarios, and the first concluded you can’t ignore tokens when counting card advantage.

He began with this scenario: Player A has Deranged Hermit and Phyrexian Reclamation, Player B has King Crab.

Player B can either let Player A Reclaim the Hermit again and again, or keep using the Crab to force him to redraw the Hermit again and again, cutting off his normal draw. EDT explained,”If you just looked at the cards being drawn you would think the second option would be better, since not only is the Hermit guy redrawing that same Hermit over and over, he is also unable to use the Phyrexian Reclamation. However, the token generation from the Hermit is in this case an incredible amount of card advantage. In fact, in the Urza’s Block Limited, a recursing Deranged Hermit is one of the most powerful card advantage engines available and can easily beat up on other card advantage engines, such as a Phyrexian Processor, or an unblocked Magpie.”

However, if you count the tokens, both scenarios result in a practical +3 card advantage for Player A. He gets four tokens a turn regardless, but in the first case, the untapped King Crab will kill one a turn, while in the second case, Player A does not draw a new card (technically he does, but it’s the Hermit he would have Reclaimed anyway).

The difference in the two cases lay in the other resources. How relevant was the life and mana Player A needed to use Reclamation? Would Player B prefer to kill a 1/1 a turn, or permanently cut off Player A’s unknown top card?

For almost all practical purposes, playing a token is as good as playing a permanent. Thus, the new”The Deck” kill card (Decree of Justice) generates massive card advantage, and this partly explains why it’s so hard to deal with:

-1 card (Decree of Justice moves from your hand to your graveyard when you cycle it)

+1 card (you draw a card when you cycle it)

+X cards (You put X 1/1 creatures onto the board)

Total: -1 + 1 + X = +X card advantage

Again, they’re just 1/1s, but that’s for another teaching aid, not card advantage theory.

Not counting tokens as permanents leads to absurd analyses. For example, you’d conclude that a Decree of Justice cycled for X=0 and for X=100 results in just +0 card advantage, but that’s ridiculous-imagine Decree of Justice generating just the same card advantage as a single Ichneumon Druid! This time, the advantage of X=100 is best explained by card advantage and not through another Magic fundamental. A single Decree for one hundred obviously achieves the same thing as casting one hundred Ichneumon Druids, and you save a hundred cards.

Further, you might conclude that Grizzly Fate is the same with or without Threshold, or that Hundroog, Deranged Hermit and Siege-Gang Commander all give the same card advantage when they resolve.

Clearly, the difference here is far less”virtual” than that different kind of Magic caused by duct tape.

“Virtual” card advantage: Card advantage when no one loses cards

EDT pointed the above out in 1999, and it’s extremely obvious today. However,”virtual” card advantage is now associated with his second set of scenarios, where a player can gain card advantage even if no one loses any cards.

In”Counting Card Advantage,” I wrote:

“An offshoot of this extended card advantage concept is virtual card advantage, or making cards in hand that have yet to be played useless. If you play a Null Rod against an opponent with a Mox Sapphire, a Black Lotus and a Mana Crypt, for example, you effectively destroy three permanents. However, you also make any mana artifacts the opponent has in hand useless. Over time, you actually gain more card advantage because he actually loses a draw each time he topdecks a mana artifact. Moat and other cards work similarly.”

This is pretty much it, but EDT gave examples from Urza Block Limited. First, is there card advantage when Player A pits a high life total and a lone Plated Spider against Player B’s Peregrine Drake, Vigilant Drake, and Ticking Gnomes? Here, Player B can trade Vigilant Drake and Ticking Gnomes for the Spider, or two cards for A’s one. However, even before he makes this move, the Spider freezes his attack phase, temporarily nullifying B’s creatures.

Thus, a good blocker can generate this”virtual” card advantage, but it’s less concrete than other cases. However, in Type I, a lot of what you might consider”virtual” card advantage is relatively concrete and permanent, generated by broad global effects such as Chalice of the Void, Moat, Ensnaring Bridge, Ivory Mask, and even Meddling Mage. (Mike Flores, incidentally, gave the example of Nate Heiss Wall of Heat holding off a swarm of White Knights, just like Moat in Type I.)

Another aspect of”virtual” card advantage is the concept of”dead cards.” If your deck has no artifacts or enchantments (or if you haven’t drawn them yet), then every Disenchant effect your opponent draws is as good as discarded. The same happens when your opponent draws creature removal but your deck has no creatures.

Obviously, this is why more flexible cards like Dismantling Blow, Fire / Ice, and Cunning Wish were welcomed into control decks. They avoid handing the opponent card advantage in Game 1 through dead cards.

Subtheories That Are Not Really Subtheories

Although a writer as eminent as Eric Taylor called”virtual” card advantage a”sub-category” of card advantage theory in general, I disagree and feel it’s readily explained by the general theory.

For tokens, all you have to do is count them as permanents, which doesn’t take a lot of common sense. For the cases where no cards hit the graveyard, it takes as little common sense to write off a card or permanent that’s practically useless, much like a business or bank writes off a loan that’s due and demandable from a person who just went bankrupt.

The justification for a special subtheory comes where the advantage is only temporary, like in the case of the overly intimidating blocker.

EDT wrote:”One of the things which is different about virtual card advantage from regular card advantage is that the dynamics of the virtual cards change much more rapidly than with regular card advantage. With absolute card advantage if you want to get a card ahead, usually you have to play some effect that gives you a two-for-one of some sort, that is there are just a limited number of effects will generate absolute card advantage. With virtual card advantage, just about any card you draw can change the situation, as you don’t need to actually get a two-for-one to gain or lose virtual cards. You merely need to do things like neutralize a blocker, play a blocker, or make a card which was not doing anything suddenly useful. Virtual card advantage like the name suggests can easily vanish in a big puff of smoke, which is something that happens much less frequently with absolute card advantage.”

He gave a more complicated situation with a solution that’s not as emphasized by general card advantage theory: A Masticore that’s eating away at your hand, with no weenies on the board. EDT explained:”Notice that when the absolute card advantage is even for Masticore… the only reason you normally want to keep him around is because you think you can race him for the kill or you are hoping the Masticore prevents your opponent from playing any spells, that is, you are depending on the effect of Masticore providing virtual card advantage from the cards your opponent can’t play. Once you have passed this point, if your opponent finds some way to neutralize your Masticore you are in definite trouble, because your virtual card advantage disappears.”

Nevertheless, I feel you’re counting card advantage at very specific points in time, anyway, and recounting with each shift in board position.

As a law student, I’m wary of additional terms for what is essentially the same thing-trust me, it gets ugly when Latin enters the fray. I prefer to use as few new terms as possible for simplicity’s sake, and avoid creating artificial subcategories.

Simply, some terms and categories in Magic vocabulary enrich our knowledge as much as Bill Clinton’s definitions of sex.

“Investment theory,” in my opinion, is of the most misused or overused today. I wrote in”Counting Tempo, Part II“:

“The idea was first articulated by Mike Flores on the rec.games.trading-cards.magic.strategy newsgroup, in a post dated March 20, 1998 (“Advanced Strategy: Investment”). He couched the theory in a specific question: Why was Whispers of the Muse seeing play in Type II at that time, but not Jayemdae Tome?

“Mike answered his own question:”What makes Whispers of the Muse so good? Investment. That is, the Whispers does not force you to invest a card.”

“Mike’s points are easily restated in table form, and assume the player only has six mana:

“Whispers of the Muse (with buyback)

First turn: 6 total mana spent, +1 net card advantage

Second turn: 12 total mana spent, +2 net card advantage

Third turn: 18 total mana spent, +3 net card advantage

Fourth turn: 24 total mana spent, +4 net card advantage

“Jayemdae Tome

First turn: 4 total mana spent, -1 net card advantage (considering it sits there useless)

Second turn: 8 total mana spent, +0 net card advantage (first draw”replaces” Tome)

Third turn: 12 total mana spent, +1 net card advantage (second activation)

Fourth turn: 16 total mana spent, +2 net card advantage (third activation)

“Thus, the point is Jayemdae Tome normally reaps card advantage only on the third turn (again, you spend the first casting it, and the second”breaking even”).

“Mike’s specific framework was useful for examining specific contexts he then discussed. For example:”Did you ever wonder why a lot of the better big blue decks had somewhere from 2-4 Soldevi Excavations in their decks, but no Browse? While Browse’s effect is clearly more powerful in the long run, the 2-4 Soldevi Excavations could generally give immediate utility to the blue player: he does not even suffer -1 mana advantage due to the u1 produced by the Excavations over the u produced by an Island.

Furthermore, the decks employing the Excavations usually used multiple Impulses, which were like an immediate Browse in their own way. Together, the Thawing Glaciers, Impulses (and whatever other cantrips), and Soldevi Excavations were able to simulate the card advantage of Browse without having to make the initial investment of -1 card from hand.”

“The same idea readily explains why Jayemdae Tome is not the Type I card it used to be seven years ago, with even Scrying Glass out of the picture.

“What I frown at, however, is some writers taking a particular segment of a rule or even an exception and treating it as a new or more”advanced” rule altogether.

“If you read that paragraph from Mike, the language follows our tempo discussion anyway. Thus, when some articles use the word”investment,” they just talk about tempo loss anyway.

“A random word search, for example, digs up this paragraph from another site:”I quite like all of the dragon enchantments – except this one [Dragon Breath], oh and Dragon FangsFirebreathing is only good on evasive creatures and tramplers (it wouldn’t be too bad in the R/G mirror either I guess) and even then it is still an enchantment which requires mana investment and loss of tempo in the early game… A late pick, 9th to 12th.”

“Simply, what’s the difference between”mana investment” and”loss of tempo?”

“The general explanation shows why Planar Portal is atrocious well enough. Following the above table, you need eighteen mana just to turn a card advantage, or three entire midgame untap phases’ worth. You just follow Mike’s thinking and write off your permanent since it doesn’t do anything apart from the draws.

“The same general explanation also shows why Skeletal Scrying, Future Sight and Accumulated Knowledge are the latest popular draw cards. You’ve seen how cards as familiar as Dark Ritual and Force of Will can gain good tempo with an affordable card advantage cost, and these cards instead gain good card advantage with more affordable tempo trade-offs. Survival of the Fittest is likewise explained, though here you also factor your supply of green mana.

“Treating”investment theory” as a distinct theory in its own right might restrict your thinking when you deal with permanents outside the Tome mold, like Planar Portal and Browse. For example, Sylvan Library, Necropotence and Yawgmoth’s Bargain eat up no untap phases beyond the one spent casting them, and life points are irrelevant unless you’re in danger of losing the 20th.

“Further, you might find it easier to do bean counting for more complex interactions like Masticore and Magistrate’s Scepter with the broad framework in mind.”

To cite a more recent example, instead of attaching another special rule to the special rule just to analyze Isochron Scepter, just use the general framework. Just count how many cards are gained, lost, neutralized, or have no further effect even if they’re still in hand or on the board.

It’s easy coin a term or two for something already familiar. For example, I could coin”pseudo-card advantage” for what I described in”Counting Card Advantage“:

“[C]ard advantage isn’t generated solely by spells and effects that read ‘draw.’ You can have reusable effects that approximate draw effects. Cursed Scroll is a very good example, being a reusable Shock. It doesn’t draw anything, but if it can kill three creatures, it’s as good as an Ancestral Recall in terms of card advantage.”

However, I simply don’t think it helps as much as explaining the general theory and how to adapt it to new situations as they come. I’d rather do this, given the number of terms some less active posters dropped in that Star City thread, some of which had no relevance to the discussion.

Otherwise, adding and adding categories and subtheories becomes as cumbersome as adding and adding new character subclasses to a role-playing game, compared to a system with classless advancement.

Dilemma: Counting Counterspells

I had to write a clarification Back to Basics article,”Recounting Card Advantage,” and one point in the original article bewildered even The Ferrett: What card advantage does Counterspell give you?

I’d like to emphasize this again: A counterspell has an intrinsic card advantage of -1.

-1 card (Counterspell moves from your hand to your graveyard)

Total: -1 card advantage

Now, try it with an opponent, say where you Counterspell his Price of Progress:

Case 1: You counter Price

-1 card (Counterspell moves from your hand to your graveyard)

-1 card (Price of Progress moves from your opponent’s hand to your opponent’s graveyard)

Total: -1 – -1 = +0 card advantage

Case 2: You don’t counter Price

-0 card (Counterspell remains in your hand)

-1 card (Price of Progress moves from your opponent’s hand to your opponent’s graveyard)

Total: 0 – -1 = +1 card advantage

Using this table described in”Recounting Card Advantage,” you see that there’s a difference of -1 card advantage between your alternatives, which is the cost of countering Price.

So where’s the bewildering part?

Well, in practice, you counter a lot of permanents (creatures, artifacts and enchantments), aside from spells that discard or draw cards. Let’s take an example where you counter Volrath’s Shapeshifter instead:

-1 card (Counterspell moves from your hand to your graveyard)

-1 card (Volrath’s Shapeshifter moves from your opponent’s hand to your opponent’s graveyard instead of onto the board)

Total: -1 – -1 = +0 card advantage

Here, you take the basic count and account for keeping a permanent off your opponent’s end of the board. However, the basic case is still the one without permanents. Try the opposite. It’ll be more confusing when you start from the +0 case, especially when you modify the count for countering discard or draw spells.

This helps explain why countering in itself is a losing battle, and why all counter-based decks need supporting draw spells.

Dilemma: Counting Counterspells, Part II

I felt a need to reemphasize counters because of slight disagreement with Item #20 on Geordie’s quiz:

“20. You cast Akroma’s Vengeance with five mana open. Your opponent casts Mana Leak. You pay it. Your opponent casts Mana Leak again, with two mana open. You cast your own Mana Leak targeting his, and he cannot pay. Akroma’s Vengeance resolves and destroys two Seat of the Synods, a Vault of Whispers, a Great Furnace, a Lightning Greaves, a Broodstar, a Myr Enforcer, and two Talismans.

“20. You are up nine cards. You invest an Akroma’s Vengeance to the stack. Your opponent casts Mana Leak, you pay, it is spent (+1). He casts Mana Leak #2, you cast your own Leak, it resolves (-1), his Leak is countered (+1), Akroma’s Vengeance resolves and is spent (-1), destroying nine enemy permanents! (+9)”

You can readily show the +9:

-1 card (Akroma’s Vengeance moves from your hand to your graveyard)

-1 card (Mana Leak moves from your hand to your graveyard)

-1 card (Mana Leak moves from your opponent’s hand to your opponent’s graveyard)

-1 card (Mana Leak moves from your opponent’s hand to your opponent’s graveyard)

-9 cards (two Seats of the Synod, Vault of Whispers, Great Furnace, Lightning Greaves, Broodstar, Myr Enforcer and two Talismans move from the board to your opponent’s graveyard)

Total: -2 – -11 = +9 card advantage

However,”his Leak is countered (+1)” is slightly misleading. Countering the opponent’s Mana Leak doesn’t make him lose another card, and neither do you draw. Rather, the opponent’s Leaks were headed to the graveyard, anyway.

To illustrate, take this simpler example: Your opponent casts Price of Progress, you Mana Drain it, he casts Red Elemental Blast, and you have a second Mana Drain in hand.

Obviously, your opponent is already down two cards no matter what you do, and you’re likewise down by one. Card advantage stands at +1 in your favor.

Draining REB doesn’t improve this. Rather, you lose a second card and get +0.

(Of course, surviving would be better than keeping the +1 and losing.)

Dilemma: Counting local enchantments and irrelevant cards

Ben Bleiweiss asked an interesting question on the forums: What’s the card advantage produced by Animate Dead?

If we count normally, we’d get +1:

+0 card (Animate Dead moves from your hand to the board)

+1 card (A creature card moves from your graveyard to the board)

This is clearly nonsense, because it implies that Animate Dead is better than casting a regular creature spell. Moreover, if we take Reanimate or Resurrection:

-1 card (Reanimate or Resurrection moves from your hand to your graveyard)

+1 card (A creature card moves from your graveyard to the board)

We get +0, the same result for your usual creature.

Now, I never discussed this because local enchantments are rare in Type I, but the answer was already in”Counting Card Advantage“: Write off irrelevant permanents in the same way you discount”dead” cards in hand.

The examples in the original article included:

-1 card (Necropotence moves from the hand to the board, but has no effect on the board)

+19 cards (You may theoretically trade your first nineteen life points for nineteen cards)

This makes a lot of sense since, independent of the draw effects which you’re already counting, Necropotence does nothing positive and in fact stops you from drawing. Thus, Animate Dead is properly counted as +0 like any creature spell:

-1 card (Animate Dead moves from your hand to the board, but has little practical effect on the board)

+1 card (A creature card moves from your graveyard to the board)

I don’t consider this counterintuitive at all; consider the alternative of counting Sarcomancy as a +1 card:

-0 card (Sarcomancy moves from your hand to the board and proceeds to bite you)

+1 card (You put a Zombie token on the board)

It gets even more counterintuitive when you count Carnophage differently, though it also bites you. Note Necropotence and Sarcomancy are relevant as permanents only in a handful of cases, like with Smokestack or Phyrexian Negator (in these cases, just count that you lost a permanent you already wrote off).

As for Animate Dead, you might reason that Disenchant effects now kill the Animated creature, but you can factor all that into the card advantage framework. In fact, you have to avoid counting a Disenchant on Animate Dead as a +1 play instead of an even trade. Note that if you just write off local enchantments as a general rule, you’ll still count a total of two cards lost when the enchanted permanent is destroyed, though you write off the local enchantment ahead of time.

Dilemma: Counting Local Enchantments and Irrelevant Cards, Part II

Your common sense might dictate exceptions like Psychic Venom, Forbidden Lore, Tourach’s Gate and other Enchant Lands, where the abilities and the destruction of the Enchant Land and the land itself are better taken apart, but these are very obscure cases. Another might be Wanderlust, which could lead you to kill your own creature, but this is again obscure.

These obscure cases have little practical value, and the most sensible cases I can think of are Capashen Standard, Illuminated Wings, and Onslaught Crowns. Yes, I can hear your thunderous applause all the way from Manila. (You also have Crackling Club, Floating Shield, Tattoo Ward or Fire Whip, and Licids, but the former mimic Seal of Fire and Seal of Cleansing, global enchantments, and the latter are really creatures, so common sense dictates you don’t write these off as irrelevant so hastily.)

Compare these to, say, gauging Control Magic and Bribery.

First, take Control Magic:

-1 card (Control Magic moves from your hand to the board, but has little additional effect after it resolves)

+1 card (You gain a creature)

-1 card (Your opponent loses a creature)

Total: 0 – -1 = +1 card advantage

Now, take Bribery:

-1 card (Bribery moves from your hand to your graveyard)

+1 card (You move a creature from your opponent’s library to the board)

-0 card (Your opponent loses a creature card from his library)

Total: 0 – 0 = +0 card advantage

Clearly, card advantage theory explains why Control Magic is superior to Bribery. It’s also superior to an ordinary creature spell in the sense that your opponent loses a creature in the same stroke.

However, it’s superior precisely because the opponent also loses a creature, not because it gives +2 card advantage.

(Of course, in practice, Control Magic cannot gain card advantage if the opponent has no creature in play. Moreover, there are tempo issues that plague using a four-mana play to steal a one- or two-mana creature.)

Dilemma: Counting Local Enchantments and Irrelevant Cards, Part III

Mike Flores brought an interesting argument to the thread, and it began with the venerable”instantment” Armor of Thorns.

First off, where I would write it off when it resolves, Mike insists that Armor of Thorns is -0 card advantage until destroyed. He justifies that it still has a”persistent” effect on the game. That’s logical.

However, this creates an equally logical problem in turn: Grizzly Bears with Armor of Thorns should be treated differently from a Durkwood Boars.

At first, this doesn’t look problematic, since both add up to -0 card advantage until destroyed. However, what if we throw Control Magic into the mix? We already know that Control Magic on Durkwood Boards would give you +1 card advantage, but what about the Bears?

-0 card (Control Magic moves from your hand to the board)

+1 card (You gain Grizzly Bears)

+1 card (You gain Armor of Thorns for all practical purposes)

-1 card (Your opponent loses Grizzly Bears)

-1 card (Your opponent loses Armor of Thorns for all practical purposes)

Total: 2 – -2 = +4 card advantage

Clearly, something is wrong here. It doesn’t make sense to argue against the”for all practical purposes” slapped onto Armor of Thorns, and even if you talk about enchantments where actual control matters like Firebreathing, it still creates more confusion than worth resolving.

Again, it’s simpler to stay within the limits of card advantage theory and count one creature as one card, regardless of its power, toughness and abilities. Let tempo, general combat math or the elusive”card quality” handle that, in another lesson.

Dilemma: Counting Local Enchantments and Irrelevant Cards, Part IV

Mike brought in Armor of Thorns, however, to argue that Forge[/author] Armor”][author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] Armor is -0 card advantage, despite being a sorcery.

However, this runs right smack into the Control Magic example at 100 mph – the Blue player will clearly get the +1/+1 counters.

-0 card (Control Magic moves from your hand to the board)

+1 card (You gain Grizzly Bears)

+1 card (You gain the +1/+1 Forge[/author] Armor”][author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] Armor counters on Grizzly Bears)

-1 card (Your opponent loses Grizzly Bears)

-1 card (Your opponent loses the +1/+1 Forge[/author] Armor”][author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] Armor counters on Grizzly Bears)

Total: 2 – -2 = +4 card advantage

To give you another problem this creates, you’d now have to consider Spike Weaver as potentially generating +2 and not +0 card advantage, due to the Spike ability. In the same way, you might have to count Crusade and Bad Moon as generating more and more card advantage as you play more creatures. Thus, while Mike’s proposition has logical foundation, it’s untenable.

Geordie Tait, however, made another argument:”Another thing I haven’t touched on is the fact that Forge[/author] Armor”][author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] Armor is done and can’t be undone whereas something like Armor of Thorns can be Disenchanted. That’s another reason my definition makes sense.”

However, this is a distinction without a difference.

Since you’ll count two cards lost in the end, anyway, you have to give me the practical value of not writing off Armor in the meantime, yet treating +1/+1 counters differently.

Geordie also wrote:”Because of the fact that any card can be considered an investment, even things like Volcanic Hammer to the face, the only way you can possible quantify card advantage is by tracking the actual, physical cards themselves.” However, this falls flat in the face of beads, coins, and pornographic playing cards.

As for being able to Disenchant Armor of Thorns, that’s almost like saying multiple Lightning Bolts generate card advantage, too, when used on a giant Rock Hydra.

Seriously, though, I can’t pin any practical value on it. If you Disenchant Armor of Thorns then block the now naked Bear with a Hill Giant, Disenchant is just analogous to removal. If you Disenchant Armor so you can kill Bear with Bolt, you’re still just saying you traded two cards for the Bears (but you feel better when you add the Armor in the graveyard back to the equation).

The only practical application I can think of is Disenchanting Armor when you’re low on life and have no removal. However, this isn’t best explained by card advantage; you might do better to just say you traded a card (Disenchant) to buy time (something discussed in”Counting Tempo, Part III“).

A card advantage explanation of Disenchant on Armor of Thorns just feels different from Swords to Plowshares on a Durkwood Boars, though they both add up to zero. Moreover, if you had a hypothetical instant that removed all +1/+1 counters from a creature, you’re hard-pressed to justify the distinction and explain the now nonexistent difference.

Again, card advantage theory is just a simplified model of a very specific aspect of Magic. Once you try to stretch it to cover decisions beyond the realm of card advantage, or try to come up with fixed subrules for every conceivable situation, you pile explanation upon explanation until you render your simplified teaching tool useless because it collapses under its own weight.

It’s better to just get a sense of how to tell what cards are dead and what permanents are irrelevant in a given situation. With all the possible permutations in Magic from Type I to Limited, I’d rather teach someone how to fish rather than attempt to point out the exact locations of every single fish in the ocean.

The former is the practical option.

Dilemma: Counting Local Enchantments and Irrelevant Cards, Part V

As a last example, I’ll take Geordie’s Item #14:

“14. You cast and use Mindslaver. During your opponent’s turn, you draw for him, then you make him attack into your team, losing three creatures to your none, and cast Arrest on his own Skyhunter Patrol.

“14. You are up four cards. You spent the Mindslaver (-1), but it trades for three creature cards via combat, and two more cards (the Arrest and the Arrested creature) afterwards. (+5). A net gain of four cards.”

I explain it this way:

-1 card (You move Mindslaver from the board to your graveyard)

-3 cards (Your opponent loses three creatures)

-1 card (Arrest moves from your opponent’s hand to the board but has little additional effect)

-1 card (Your opponent loses Skyhunter Patrol for all practical purposes)

Total: -1 – -5 = +4 card advantage

Clearly, Arrest and Skyhunter Patrol are now irrelevant to this board situation.

The counterargument here is that the opponent might, for example, topdeck Disenchant and get the Skyhunter Patrol back on line. But so what? In card advantage terms, Disenchanting Arrest is no different from simply casting another Skyhunter Patrol, and the general framework already accommodates it:

-1 card (Disenchant moves from your hand to your graveyard)

-0 card (Arrest moves from the board to your graveyard, but you already wrote it off)

+1 card (You regain Skyhunter Patrol for all practical purposes)

Total: +0 card advantage

Note this is the same computation for Disenchanting an opponent’s Control Magic except your opponent also loses a creature, and the numbers you get are logical for both. The alternative, having to resolve all the dilemmas in the preceding sections, is clearly less appealing and – most important of all – less simple.

Dilemma: Counting Flashback

Some mechanics seem to throw curve balls at you, but you don’t need any special rules. Cycling and buyback, for example, just give you +0, since your hand size doesn’t change. Madness is similar, and isn’t very different from casting spells. [There are numerous situations where one could disagree with this statement, but it’s probably better addressed in a response article, as the forums are proving cumbersome for this discussion. – Knut]

Flashback appears more complicated because it involves the graveyard, but it’s not. In”Counting Card Advantage,” for example, I used this example:

-1 card (Quiet Speculation moves from the hand to the graveyard)

+2 cards (first Deep Analysis moves two cards from the library to the hand)

+2 cards (second
Deep Analysis moves two cards from the library to the hand)

+2 cards (third
Deep Analysis moves two cards from the library to the hand)

Simply, you lose a card in hand the first time, but not when you Flash Back.

This is logical since cards in the graveyard don’t normally affect the game anymore and you don’t lose anything by removing these. Thus, a Flashback creature is intrinsically +1:

-1 card (Call of the Herd moves from the hand to the graveyard)

+1 card (Elephant token moves onto the board)

-0 card (Call of the Herd moves from the graveyard to the removed from game zone)

+1 card (Elephant token moves onto the board)

Geordie, however, gave this Flashback example:

“8. Your opponent casts Beast Attack, you Circular Logic it. Next turn, he flashes back Beast Attack, which trades in combat with your Arrogant Wurm.

“8. You are down one card. Your opponent casts Beast Attack, which you counter. This puts him up half a card- he has spent 0.5 of a card, while you have spent a full card. The next turn, he invests the other 50% of his Beast Attack. You trade it with an Arrogant Wurm, which you yourself have invested. Both cards are now spent (another -1 for you, another -0.5 for him). Net loss, one card.”

Now, you can readily show the -1:

-1 card (Circular Logic moves from your hand to your graveyard)

-1 card (Arrogant Wurm moves from the board to your graveyard)

-1 card (Opponent moves Beast Attack from his hand to his graveyard, but does not put a Beast token on the board)

-0 card (Opponent puts a Beast token on the board, then puts it in his graveyard)

-0 card (Beast Attack moves from your opponent’s graveyard to your opponent’s removed from game zone)

Total: -2 – -1 = -1 card advantage

However, the problem arises when you take each interaction separately. Clearly, countering Beast Attack the first time is an even trade and countering on the second is a losing one-you’re trading a card in your hand for a card in your opponent’s graveyard-not a loss of half a card each time.

It seems minor, but it may mislead you when you deal with the original card. Simply, it may never get Flashed Back in the game, but you might tell yourself you lost half a card dealing with it the first time.

This is clear in the above Quiet Speculation example, where you never cast Deep Analysis the first time, and the net card advantage is really +5, not +3.5. The same applies to Intuition for triple Deep Analysis.

Dilemma: Counting Flashback, Part II

To give another example, Coffin Purge on your opponent’s two Roars of the Wurm is -1 against you, not an even trade. This makes sense because otherwise, you might make what you think are even trades, then wonder where your hand went off to – it disappeared trading for cards in graveyards.

(Of course, it’s still better than saving a card only to see your opponent getting two free permanents. Relative to this frame of reference, using the Purge saves you a card.)

It might appear fuzzy when you bring Incarnations into the picture, but it’s not when you just note they’re in graveyards – hence not counted as permanents – then count the cards. When the Incarnation is Genesis, again, just count. For example, you lose a card Purging it, but you can gauge this relative to the worse loss if your opponent starts adding to his hand.

Choosing to Purge here, you’re really forced to take the alternative that results in less card disadvantage, but remember you don’t gain any cards by taking the better choice. It’s similar to using Force of Will and pitching a blue card to stop a big Mind Twist.

With this logic, we can address Ben Bleiweiss scenario: Coffin Purge your Dematerialize in response to Anarchist targeting it during your main phase.

The answer is simply -1, the generic result for an opponent’s coming-into-play effect creature:

-1 card (Coffin Purge moves from your hand to your graveyard)

-0 card (Anarchist moves from your opponent’s hand to the board)

Total: -1 – 0 = -1 card advantage

It’s the same result if you don’t do anything, and it’s a choice of whether or not to trade Purge for Dematerialize.

-0 card (Coffin Purge stays in your hand)

-0 card (Anarchist moves from your opponent’s hand to the board)

+1 card (Dematerialize moves from your opponent’s graveyard to his hand)

Total: 0 – 1 = -1 card advantage

You only have a choice between two equally card disadvantageous results. Note that if you consider a Dematerialize in the graveyard as part of your opponent’s hand, you’ll actually conclude that doing nothing is a better option:

-0 card (Coffin Purge stays in your hand)

-0 card (Anarchist moves from your opponent’s hand to the board)

+0.5 card (The”first half” of Dematerialize moves from your opponent’s graveyard to his hand)

Total: 0 – 0.5 = -0.5 card advantage

Again, in general, you’ll only mislead yourself into thinking you’re making even trades while slowly losing the card advantage race. You might even be tempted to somehow start counting Brain Freeze and Vision Charm as producing some kind of card advantage, so don’t.

And again, all the counting logic here was already in the original article,”Counting Card Advantage.”

[Editor’s note: The rest of this lengthy article is continued in Part II.]