You CAN Play Type I #119: Back to Basics, Part IX – The Ten-Second Card Advantage Solution Part 2

More Card Advantage Examples and Chasey Lain references. Honest.

The basics of Rule 3: Moat

Here’s another simple example:

Play: You are playing a creatureless deck and cast Moat. Your opponent stares sadly at his three White Knights on the board, and shows you his only card in hand: a fourth White Knight. WTF?

CA (you)

-1 (Rule 1: Moat leaves your hand)

+1 (Rule 2: Moat moves to the board)

-1 (Rule 3: Moat has no additional effect not covered by Rule 3)

CA (opponent)

-1 (Rule 3: White Knight on the board becomes dead)

-1 (Rule 3: White Knight on the board becomes dead)

-1 (Rule 3: White Knight on the board becomes dead)

-1 (Rule 3: White Knight in hand becomes dead)

Total CA: CA (you) – CA (opponent) = -1 – -4 = +3

Moat has a sweeping effect on the game, and at this point, it’s +3 CA. (You count Moat as -1 CA following the discussion in the preceding section. This is logical, since if the opponent had just one creature in play to nullify, playing Moat would be like making a trade, or like playing Arrest on that creature.) Note, however, that Moat’s CA goes up each time your opponent draws a non-flying creature, now dead.

Of course, it also means, he gets massive CA from Disenchanting your Moat and freeing his weenie army (this is also logical, since Disenchant at that point would be a very, very good play.)

This application of Rule 3 works for other broad effects such as Chalice of the Void, Ivory Mask, Blood Moon, Null Rod, Ensnaring Bridge, and Meddling Mage.

Advanced lesson

Rule 3 is applied when CA shifts but your hand size or the number of permanents in play do not change. It’s a broad rule that happens to cover many applications of what Eric“Danger” Taylor called”virtual” card advantage in 1999.

He described this in his Dojo article:”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 2 for 1 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 cards 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.”

The nuances of EDT’s discussion were covered in”Revisiting Card Advantage,” and I summarize”virtual” CA as basically CA produced without hand size or number of permanents in play actually changing. Rather, CA changes as cards become”dead” or useful once again.

I don’t consider”virtual” card advantage something outside”regular,””pure,” or”absolute” CA. Whether or not they’re the same thing, that’s beside the point because Rule 3 integrates every instance of”virtual” CA into the formula, anyway.

Again, the simplest theory (that gets the same result) is the most effective one.

It doesn’t really matter whether CA is temporary or permanent. You have to make CA count at a specific point in time, when you have to make a decision between two plays. At that point, you make your count, and then when CA changes – no matter how quickly or slowly – you make another count.

Rule 3 is broader than”virtual” card advantage situations, however, as the next section will show.

Advanced lesson

The more temporary instances of”virtual” card advantage may be more complicated, however. In the above situation, replace Moat with Wall of Heat, and you might justify the exact same result. However, what if you play Wall of Heat at four life? Those White Knights are no longer as dead as they would be under Moat. Rather than debating with yourself about how”dead” is”dead,” you may forego Rule 3 altogether and just count card advantage under Rule 2 whenever Wall of Heat kills a Knight.

So which is the right reasoning?

We can throw a monkey wrench into the discussion and instead reason under tempo: Wall of Heat negates your opponent’s attack phases, as discussed in”Counting Tempo, Part III.”

This is more complicated, though you don’t have to pin down exactly how much CA Wall of Heat gives to decide to play it.

For a lot of situations, though, I find myself favoring the tempo explanation. Piloting”The Deck” January 2004, I’ve victimized a number of players with a first-turn Isochron Scepter, Imprinting Mana Drain.

I feel it’s more intuitive to say this play kills their early tempo (following”Counting Tempo, Part II“) instead of making their entire hand dead until they build the mana to cast more than one spell a turn.

The not-so-basics of Rule 3: Glasses of Urza

The preceding examples seem straightforward enough, so I’ll try to throw you a curve ball to show you Rule 3 takes a little extra thinking on your part.

Note that once you get the hang of it, you can lump the Rule 3 notation with the other Rules’ for simplicity.

Play: Your opponent casts Glasses of Urza. You do nothing. WTF?

CA (you)

-0 (does nothing)

CA (opponent)

-1 (Rule 1: Glasses of Urza leaves your opponent’s hand)

+0 (Rule 2/3: Glasses of Urza moves to the board, but is practically useless)

Total CA: CA (you) – CA (opponent) = 0 – -1 = +1

Okay, give me a second before you accuse me of working for Enron again.

Here, in my opinion, you have a choice, and can justify applying Rule 3.

Why do I favor applying it?

Simply, I don’t feel threatened by Glasses of Urza, and would actually be happy if someone played it against me. I now know he had it instead of a more threatening card in his hand.

Glasses of Urza’ ability doesn’t affect cards in hand or permanents in play. It doesn’t affect anything else, and tempo theory doesn’t add to the explanation, either. In fact, its ability can be recreated by an opponent who studies your plays carefully and uses his brain. (Parenthetically, Glasses of Urza is barely better than the instant Spy Network.)

Applying Rule 3 here, in my opinion, makes for better decisions when you can Mana Leak or Naturalize the annoying Glasses.

I do it this way in a lot of other situations. I apply this against more casually-built decks with cute but ultimately irrelevant enchantments, usually obscure ones like Serra’s Blessing. I also used to apply this against Crusades in White Weenie decks, since I planned to Abyss, kill or counter all his creatures, anyway. I just smiled when they had nothing more to cast except Crusade, and barring too large an early swarm, it usually just sat on the board with nothing to enhance.

If this comment confuses you at this point, ignore it. I’m just saying that because the meaning of”dead” and”useless” depend on the situation, you have some leeway in applying Rule 3 to support your judgments, and there are some cases where either way is defensible.

You can poll ten economists and get twenty different opinions, right?

Advanced lesson

Compute the card advantage from Millstone or Grindstone.

Advanced lesson

You are playing a fast deck loaded with cheap spells. The game has dragged on, and it is now Turn 45. Compute the card advantage from topdecking the last land in your deck.

The basics of Additional Rule 4

Additional Rule 4 isn’t really a rule, it’s just the necessary assumption to keep CA discussion simple.

Except when you apply Rule 3, don’t concern yourself with the characteristics of a particular card or permanent. Again, leave them to the other theories you’ll study another day.

For our card counting purposes, drawing a land is +1 CA just as drawing a spell is +1 CA. Moving Fugitive Wizard onto the board is +1 CA just as moving Phyrexian Colossus is +1 CA. Losing Viridian Joiner is -1 CA just as losing Troll Ascetic is -1 CA.

Later, when you get a good grasp of CA, you can modify Additional Rule 4 if you think it helps. In my experience, however, you create a lot of additional issues and inconsistencies for very little added benefit, and you take a lot more than ten seconds to cut through them.

The basics of Additional Rule 5: Demonic Consultation

Additional Rule 5 isn’t really a rule, either. Card advantage deals with resources readily available, usually those in your hand and in play.

Picture this:

It’s the deciding game of the finals at your local PTQ, and you’re sweating bullets in front of the wrong end of a gigantic weenie horde. Only one card can save you.

You untap.

You say a little prayer.

You get down on your knees.

You say a novena and threaten to sell your soul to Satan if your mad topdeck skills fail you.

Then you knock on your deck and draw…


Your opponent cackles, untaps, and does the Dance of Joy from”Perfect Strangers” around the table.

And then you lose.

Where was your Wrath of God?

Under that Plains you topdecked.

With this in mind, compute:

Play: You cast Demonic Consultation for Necropotence. Your opponent does nothing. You remove twenty cards from the game, then put Necro, the twenty-first, into your hand. WTF?

CA (you)

-1 (Rule 1: Demonic Consultation leaves your hand)

+1 (Rule 1: Necropotence moves to your hand)

-0 (Rule 5: The twenty cards you removed from your library aren’t counted)

CA (opponent)

-0 (does nothing)

Total CA: CA (you) – CA (opponent) = 0 – 0 = +0 CA

The twenty cards don’t matter because they were as useful as that Wrath of God that didn’t save you. They could have easily been the cards at the bottom of your library, for all you knew.

The only time the number of cards left in your library matters is when you’re about to deck yourself. However, that’s outside CA theory, though still well within the realm of common sense.

Besides, if you consider cards in library part of CA, does this mean you gain CA by playing with a 1,000 card deck?

General lesson

The number of cards left in your library doesn’t matter until you’re about to deck yourself.

Compute the card advantage of Browse and explain why it’s actually an okay CA card.

Advanced lesson

This conclusion parallels another: Your life total doesn’t matter so long as you have at least one point. (You still take the same turn, use the same mana, and so on.)

This principle is the entire idea behind the most powerful card in the game, Necropotence. It lets you trade the first nineteen and useless life points for nineteen useful cards in hand.

General lesson

Demonic Consultation, a one-mana instant, is one of the most efficient tutors in the game. Compute what happens when you use Vampiric Tutor, another one-mana instant, and use Rule 1 to explain why Consult is more powerful.

Your conclusion applies to other library manipulation spells, too. For example, compute for Impulse and compare this to Frantic Search’s result.

Use Rule 1 to explain why cards like Frantic Search and Bazaar of Baghdad are only used in decks that need to dump cards into the graveyard, or with Squee, Goblin Nabob.

The basics of Additional Rule 5: Bribery

Here’s another good example for Additional Rule 5: Is Control Magic better than Bribery?

Play: You cast Control Magic on an opponent’s creature. He does nothing. WTF?

CA (you)

-1 (Rule 1: Control Magic leaves your hand)

+0 (Rule 2/3: Control Magic moves to the board but has no additional effect)

+1 (Rule 2: Your opponent’s creature moves to your side of the board)

CA (opponent)

-1 (Rule 2: Your opponent’s creature leaves his side of the board.)

Total CA: CA (you) – CA (opponent) = 0 – -1 = +1 CA

Why is Control Magic, at +1 CA, better than casting a creature?

Because you steal one of your opponent’s; he loses a card, which accounts for the difference.

Now examine Bribery:

Play: You cast Bribery on an opponent. He does nothing. WTF?

CA (you)

-1 (Rule 1: Bribery leaves your hand)

+1 (Rule 2: Your opponent’s creature moves to your side of the board)

CA (opponent)

-0 (Rule 5: The card removed from your opponent’s library isn’t counted.)

Total CA: CA (you) – CA (opponent) = 0 – 0 = +0 CA

With Bribery, the opponent doesn’t really lose anything; again, the creature might have been at the bottom of his library for all he knew.

Control Magic, which takes an active resource on the board, is clearly better.

Advanced lesson

The original CA lesson from Paul Pantera in 1995 was reproduced in”Revisiting Card Advantage.” He detailed how a Jester’s Cap could cripple the original”The Deck” by removing two Serra Angels and Braingeyser – all its possible win conditions back then.

Does Jester’s Cap produce CA?

Rule 5 says it doesn’t. Of course, common sense tells you that when you lose all the cards that can win you the game, you’re screwed, regardless of CA.

If you try to explain Cap using CA, you’d have to tell me how to compute the CA caused by removing three Shocks or three Mountains from a Red deck.

Better just stick to common sense than try to craft what is really a corner-case rule.

The basics of Additional Rule 5: Call of the Herd

Aside from the library, cards in the graveyard confuse some people:

Play: You flash back Call of the Herd from your graveyard. Your opponent does nothing. WTF?

CA (you)

-0 (Rule 5: The card removed from the graveyard isn’t counted)

+1 (Rule 2: 3/3 Elephant creature moves to your side of the board)

CA (opponent)

-0 (does nothing)

Total CA: CA (you) – CA (opponent) = 1 – 0 = +1 CA

You conclude that flashing back is better than casting a fresh Call from your hand, which makes sense since you don’t lose a card from your hand. (A Call from your hand is +0 CA, like a normal creature.)

Flashback is inherently problematic no matter how you count it, but Rule 5 is the simplest way out. It just counts the first Call normally, and counts the second as a”free” creature, which makes perfect sense.

One alternative proposed by another author is to count the original spell as -1/2 CA and the flashback as another -1/2 CA. In a lot of cases, the final result will be the same, but this only leads to more confusion. For example, if you cast Dark Banishing on the first Elephant token, do you get +1/2 CA instead of an even trade? Clearly, this is absurd.

Another possibility is to count a flashback card in the graveyard as a card in hand. What you get is the same result, from a more confusing method-this just reverses Rule 5 and counts the first Call as +1 CA and the flashback as +0 CA.

Further, both these alternatives also return absurd results when you dump Flashback cards into your graveyard. (Try it on Quiet Speculation for three Calls of the Herd, then flashing back all three. You get the funny results of +0.5 CA and -1 CA, respectively. Rule 5 gives the more sensible result of +2 CA.)

Nevertheless,”Revisiting Card Advantage” discussed more confusing flashback counts. For example, is it a good idea to use Coffin Purge on a Call of the Herd in your opponent’s graveyard?

(The formula handles this, though I’ll save the solution for the next article. Just compute for the decision normally. Option 1: Use Coffin Purge. Option 2: Don’t use Coffin Purge; opponent flashes back the Call in his main phase.)


Tan’s Highly Educational Formula for Uber-Card Counting (T.H.E.F.U.C.C.) allows you to count your way out of common card advantage dilemmas in less than ten seconds. You just need to remember its three main rules, summarized as:

Rule 1: Card in hand = +1 CA

Rule 2: Permanent in play = +1 CA

Rule 3:”Dead” card = -1 CA

Additional Rule 4: All cards in hand and permanents in play are each equally worth 1 CA, regardless of characteristics

Additional Rule 5: Cards in the library, graveyard and removed from game zone are each worth 0 CA

You can’t go wrong. This is the simplest, most intuitive card advantage formula in the market.

Also, remember that there are three different applications of T.H.E.F.U.C.C., and don’t mix them up:

Card (add up the CA produced by the various rules)

Play (subtract CA gained by the opponent from the CA you gain)

Decision (subtract CA of the second option from the CA of the first option)

These lead up to the third and most important application, which in turn should lead to your end goal: Win the game.

As a final note, just remember that not everything is explained by card advantage; there are other theories for other aspects of the game. Also remember that this formula is only a starting point, not something you rigidly stick to. It will serve you well if you keep in mind that it’s only a simplified guide to help you make decisions.

Expecting more is like expecting to become Casanova after one reading of”Dating for Dummies,” so don’t forget that common sense.

Next week, we’ll go through all the reader-submitted conundrums, and our formula will cut through them like a hot knife through butter, with time left over for the Chasey Lain video.

Let’s end with a test run, however.

Warm up for next week: Is casting Arcane Denial a good decision?

“Pf” on TheManaDrain.com said that Arcane Denial has an”intrinsic” card advantage of -1 CA, using, essentially, a shortcut of my formula:

-1 (Rule 1: Arcane Denial leaves your hand)

+1 (Rule 1: A card moves to your hand due to Arcane Denial)

+1 (Rule 1: The spell you counter leaves your opponent’s hand)

-2 (Rule 1: Two cards move to your opponent’s hand due to Arcane Denial)

Total: -1 CA

If you apply my formula, however, you get a different result.

Decision: Your opponent casts a spell. Do you counter it with Arcane Denial? WTF?

Option 1: Your opponent casts a spell. You counter it with Arcane Denial.

CA (you)

-1 (Rule 1: Arcane Denial leaves your hand)

+1 (Rule 1: A card moves to your hand due to Arcane Denial)

CA (opponent)

-0 (The spell you countered already left your opponent’s hand)

+2 (Rule 1: Two cards move to your opponent’s hand due to Arcane Denial)

Total CA of Option 1: CA (you) – CA (opponent) = 0 – 2 = -2 CA

Option 2: Your opponent casts a spell. You do nothing.

CA (you)

-0 (does nothing)

CA (opponent)

-0 (The spell you countered already left your opponent’s hand)

Total CA of Option 2: CA (you) – CA (opponent) = 0 – 0 = 0 CA

Total CA: CA (Option 1) – CA (Option 2) = -2 – 0 = -2 CA

What did Pf do wrong?

At the time you decide whether or not to counter, your opponent’s spell has already left his hand, so you don’t count it anymore. (Try counting it anyway. If you put -1 CA instead of -0 CA for the countered spell, the -1 CA for Option 1 and for Option 2 above just cancel out.)

This leads to an interesting conclusion for counterspells in general:

Decision: Your opponent casts a spell. Do you counter it with Counterspell? WTF?

Option 1: Your opponent casts a spell. You counter it with Counterspell. WTF?

CA (you)

-1 (Rule 1: Counterspell leaves your hand)

CA (opponent)

-0 (The spell you countered already left your opponent’s hand)

Total CA of Option 1: CA (you) – CA (opponent) = -1 – 0 = -1 CA

Option 2: Your opponent casts a spell. You do nothing. WTF?

CA (you)

-0 (does nothing)

CA (opponent)

-0 (The spell you countered already left your opponent’s hand)

Total CA of Option 2: CA (you) – CA (opponent) = -1 – 0 = 1 CA

Total CA: CA (Option 1) – CA (Option 2) = 0 – 1 = -1 CA

Thus, whenever you choose to counter, you lose a card. Is this right?

Yes it is. Pretend the spell above is Shock, and the result makes perfect sense.

Pinning Counterspell at -1 CA sounds counterintuitive, but the numbers don’t lie. The problem arises because you’re subconsciously thinking of countering permanents as the general rule, but that’s a different case:

Decision: Your opponent casts Hill Giant. Do you counter it with Counterspell? WTF?

Option 1: Your opponent casts Hill Giant. You counter it with Counterspell. WTF?

CA (you)

-1 (Rule 1: Counterspell leaves your hand)

CA (opponent)

-0 (The spell you countered already left your opponent’s hand)

Total CA of Option 1: CA (you) – CA (opponent) = -1 – 0 = -1 CA

Option 2: Your opponent casts Hill Giant. You do nothing. WTF?

CA (you)

-0 (does nothing)

CA (opponent)

-0 (The spell you countered already left your opponent’s hand)

+1 (Rule 2: Hill Giant moves to your opponent’s side of the board.)

Total CA of Option 2: CA (you) – CA (opponent) = 0 – 1 = -1 CA

Total CA: CA (Option 1) – CA (Option 2) = -1 – -1 = +0 CA

Thus, when you counter a permanent, your Counterspell nets you +0 CA, a trade. This explains why you rarely counter burn aimed at you, unless you’re very low on life already.

General lesson

If Counterspell is”intrinsically” -1 and usually +0 in practice, then why are Blue control decks considered strong in the CA department?

Beginning Blue players often focus on the counterspells, and fail to put in the support cards. These include draw cards such as Ophidian, Fact or Fiction, and Accumulated Knowledge, and mass removal such as Nevinyrral’s Disk and Powder Keg.

The latter support spells are the ones that gain the CA. When you omit them, you end up fighting a losing battle with your +0 CA counterspell trades, and usually lose the moment you fail to topdeck that next counter.

This was discussed in,”Recounting Card Advantage.”

Next week, we’ll go to many other applications of CA counting like this one.

Oscar Tan (e-mail: Rakso at StarCityGames.com)

rakso on #BDChat on EFNet

Paragon of Vintage

University of the Philippines, College of Law

Forum Administrator, Star City Games

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Author of the Control Player’s Bible

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