Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Good Player's Toolbox: Card Advantage

Perhaps the biggest leap toward becoming a better player is understanding how the concept of card advantage (C.A.) works.  In fact, once you become somewhat familiar with the basics, you can use it as a measure of how well you’re doing in the current game.  A lot of players assume that life points are the measure of how well a game is going (though this is true, to an extent), but this theory is quite possibly the biggest misconception among players.  Answer the following question: Who is more likely to win the duel: Player A at 2100 life points with 6 cards in hand (one being Effect Veiler), a Stardust, Utopia, and Brionac backed up by a Solemn Judgment or Player B with 1 card in hand and 8000 life points?  At this point, I hope most of you said Player A!  
So obviously, there’s more to the story than life points.  What is it?  What else can tell you how well players are doing if life points aren’t everything?  Indeed, card advantage accounts for the rest of the story.  This major step forward requires you to know how to add and subtract, and the faster you can do it, the better off you are.  But don’t fret if you’re not a math major (or even math savvy), because it’s the underlying concepts that are important, rather than the calculations themselves.  But don’t get discouraged!  Learn the concepts and calculations, learn to keep track, and before you know it, you’ll be a much better player within a few matches.  Before I continue in detail, I’ll outline the basics, then explain how (as mentioned earlier) you can use this lesson to monitor your status in a duel.  
The Basics

1.  Overall Advantage:
Count the cards on your side of the field and in your hand.  This is the overall advantage, which is typically what you use to compare yourself to your opponent.  The more cards you have, the better chance there is for you to get out of a sticky situation or win the duel.  Simply put, the more cards you have, the more options you have and the better off you are.  You can easily compare your advantage to your opponent’s.  Here’s a simple example:
You have Scrap Dragon and a face-up Royal Oppression on the field, as well as 3 cards in your hand.  Your overall advantage is 2 (field) + 3 (hand) = 5.  Your opponent has 2 cards in hand with 1 set backrow.  His overall advantage is 1 (field) + 2 (hand) = 3.  Therefore, you’re at: 5 (you) - 3 (them) = [+2].  Pretty snazzy, keep it up!  
But let’s say you made the mistake of setting a monster and 2 backrow on your first turn.  Your opponent opens up with Heavy Storm, destroying both backrow.  Your opponent now has 5 cards in hand (1 less due to playing Heavy Storm), while you have 1 card on the field and 3 cards in hand; 1 (field) + 3 (hand) = 4.  Therefore, the overall advantage is now 4 (you) - 5 (opponent) = [-1].  You’re at a [-1] now, not cool!  Lesson: Don’t make the mistake of being minus’ed early by being foolish and setting more than 1 backrow.  Why?  Because you lose card advantage, eliminating options for you to come back.  Therefore, even as early as turn 1, your opponent has a big advantage over you, simply because he has more cards.  

If you're both at [X] (say, your opponent has 2 cards in hand, with 1 on the field, while you have 3 cards on the field, you both add up to an overall advantage of [3]), you're both progressing though the game at an even pace.  Generally speaking, if you're at [+X] in card advantage (as in the Scrap Dragon example), keep it up, you're winning!  If you're at [-X] compared to your opponent (as in the Heavy Storm example), you're not doing so well.  This is how card advantage is used to monitor how well you’re doing in the current duel - simply by counting resources (both yours and your opponent’s) and comparing.

2. Inherent Advantage:
Inherent advantage is the advantage produced by cards themselves.  They usually take the form of a [-1] or [+1], as we see from these examples:

Player A opens his turn by summoning Elemental Hero Stratos with 5 cards in his hand.  At this point, before Stratos resolves, the overall advantage is 1 (field) + 5 (hand) = 6.  The effect triggers and Stratos resolves, adding Elemental Hero Neos Alius to Player A’s hand.  The overall advantage is now 1 (field) + 6 (hand) = 7.  Player A just made a [+1], which we can see by comparing the overall advantage before and after the resolution of Stratos: 7 (after) - 6 (before) = [+1].  Therefore, Stratos is a [+1] in terms of card advantage.  He adds a card to Player A’s hand, effectively giving him more options to win the game against Player B, his opponent.  

Before I go further, please note: the card that you use, especially non-continuous spell or trap cards, need to be accounted for when computing the card advantage a play generates.  For example, you get [+2] from drawing 2 cards with the effect of Pot of Greed, but you also played (and resolved) Pot of Greed.  Therefore, the card advantage computation would look like this: [+2] (from drawing with Pot of Greed) + [-1] (the Pot of Greed that you used) = [+1].  Cards that generate [+1] or higher in inherent advantage are deemed “good cards”.  Notorious examples include:

Agent of Mystery - Earth: [+1], one card from deck to hand. 

Gorz the Emissary of Darkness: [+1], due to the summon of the token. 

Tour Guide from the Underworld: [+1], one card from deck to field.

Dark Armed Dragon: [+3], you waste no cards in your hand or field, while your opponent gets his face shoved in by having 3 cards destroyed.

However, there are cards that generate plusses, but players fail to use them the right way.  Ubiquitous examples include Heavy Storm and Dark Hole.  Activating Heavy Storm while your opponent has 2 backrow and you have none is a [+1] for you because they’re down 2 cards, while you’re only down 1: [+2] (them) + [-1] (you playing Heavy Storm) = [+1] for you.  However, you can misuse Heavy Storm, which inexperienced players frequently make the mistake of doing (and in that case, you can show them this article!).  Let’s say you have 2 backrow and your opponent has 1.  You play Heavy Storm, so you’re down 1 card from Heavy and 2 from your backrow, so you’re down a total of 3 cards, while your opponent is only down 1: [+1] (opponent) + [-3] (you) = [-2].  Bad move!  You just lost 2 options of getting rid of your opponent’s cards.  This is why understanding how card advantage works is important to understanding why some plays are good and some are just terrible, like the one above!  The same logic can be applied to Dark Hole with monsters.  

Note that I said earlier that only cards in the hand and on the field are counted toward overall card advantage.  Now, this is generally true, but there are some exceptions: cards in the graveyard can count toward card advantage as well.  These are very unique cards and the most well-known examples include monsters like Mezuki, Glow-Up Bulb, and SporeMezuki activates in the graveyard (where we typically don’t count card advantage), but by banishing itself, it summons a Zombie to your side of the field (where we do count card advantage). Therefore, you’re essentially getting a [+1] out of “nowhere” from the Zombie that was special summoned.  The same logic applies for Spore and Glow-Up Bulb (since cards in the deck don’t count toward card advantage either).  These are cards that are inherent plusses, meaning they self-generate card advantage.  

There are inherent minuses, but they are not necessarily bad cards.  A common example includes Foolish Burial.  You send 1 monster from your deck to your graveyard ([+0], since you don’t gain any advantage in terms of controlling cards in your hand or field), but you also used up the card itself: [+0] (Foolish Burial effect) + [-1] (from using up the Foolish Burial, itself) = [-1].  
3.  Play-by-Play (or Combo) Advantage:
Some cards will make up their card advantage when combo’ed with other cards.  Let’s look at the Foolish Burial example again.  By now (hopefully), you understand that Foolish Burial is an inherent [-1],  because you don’t gain advantage when the effect of Foolish resolves [+0] and you used up the actual card [-1].  But what if you combo this with Mezuki?  You take the [-1] from Foolish Burial, but Mezuki creates a [+1] when it special summons a Zombie to your side of the field.  Therefore, the play-by-play advantage is break-even [+0]: [-1] from Foolish + [+1] from Mezuki = [+0]!  Cool!  Now we understand why these combos, such as Foolish Burial into Mezuki [+0], Wulf, Lightsworn Beast [+0], or Dandylion [+1] are “good” plays.  This is because they provide (or nullify) card advantage!  And yes, in the case of Dandylion, tokens do count toward card advantage because they are options toward plays, such as synching into higher levels or using them for effects that require you to tribute cards, even though tokens are not actual “cards”.
4.  Battle Phase Advantage 
Attacking and successfully destroying a monster in your battle phase is a [+1] in terms of card advantage.  Why is this?  Well, let’s take a look, assuming the players have no cards other than the ones in the example:
Player A has Thunder King Rai-Oh face up, overall advantage = [1].  Player B has Revived King Ha Des, also having an overall advantage of [1].  Player B enters the battle phase and successfully attacks and destroys Thunder King.  Now, Player A has no cards: overall advantage = [0], while Player B has 1 card: overall advantage = [1].  Player B has now gained a [+1] through the battle phase, and hopefully this is pretty intuitive as to how this happens - a card is destroyed through battle with no cost to the attacking player.  Thus, the battle phase provides a gateway to free plusses.  Use it wisely!  To help you make the most of your battle phases, we’ll make an article on understanding the battle phase and damage step soon.  
5.  Inherent [Dis]Advantage of Synchros, Fusions, and Xyz:
I’m assuming that those who are reading this article know how to summon the above monsters.  Let’s say you’re trying to synchro summon a Brionac, Dragon of the Ice Barrier to get a pesky Stardust Dragon out the way.  You have a Zombie Master and a Plaguespreader Zombie.  You send both to the graveyard [-2] to synchro summon Brionac [+1].  Therefore, you gave up 2 cards to summon 1: 1 (synchro monster) + [-2] (materials) = [-1].  From this, you see every synchro summon is (at minimum) a [-1].  The same logic can be applied to “contact” fusions and Xyz.  But there is a way you can make up for this, discussed in the next section.

6.  Inherent Advantage of Searchers and Recruiters: 
Searchers are cards that search other cards, like Goblin Zombie, XX-Saber Darksoul, Sangan, and Gravekeeper’s Recruiter.  So when these cards are sent from the field to the graveyard, they make up for any lost card advantage.  This is a very powerful (and reliable) way to keep up card advantage - when your opponent destroys an XX-Saber Darksoul by battle, you don’t take an overall card advantage of [-1], rather: [-1] from the destruction of Darksoul + [+1] from Darksoul in the end phase = [+0].  From this, you see that searchers effectively bypass the inherent minuses of the battle phase!  Awesome!  However, searchers are not only used for battle phase shenanigans - they do a great job of making up for lost advantage when synchro summoning.  Let’s look at the Brionac example above, but use XX-Saber Fulhelmknight and XX-Saber Darksoul as the synchro materials.  We give up our two monsters to make the Brionac, as usual, but something peculiar happens: [-2] for materials + [+1] for Brionac + [+1] for Darksoul search = [+0].  Compare this to the normal [-1] of the synchro summon: it’s substantially better in terms of keeping up with advantage.  Congratulations!  You’ve just bypassed yet another inherent minus by using searchers as synchro material!  Indeed, this explains why searches are so prominent in top-tier decks, because they make up for or provide card advantage, giving the player more options to win.  

Recruiters are cards that summon other monsters to the field, like XX-Saber Emmersblade, Mystic Tomato, Shining Angel, Pyramid Turtle, and so forth.  These simply bypass battle phase minuses by replacing themselves during the damage step (more on that later!): [-1] from successful battle and destruction of Pyramid Turtle + [+1] from Turtle’s recruit = [+0].    
First of all, congratulations!  You read through the whole thing!  You’ve taken the first major step toward improving yourself and being the best player you can be.  Hopefully, with these six major points of card advantage, you have a much better idea of how well you’re doing in the current duel.  Just practice by keeping count of your and your opponent’s cards on the field and in the hand and keep comparing.  This will keep you informed of your overall advantage.  If you keep making plusses, you’re playing really well (or your cards are overpowered!), but if you’re constantly in the negative, you might need to change your strategy.  This is why most good players will ask you, “Cards in hand?”, because they too are keeping track of how well they’re doing.  Remember, practice makes perfect, but don’t get discouraged!  It’s simple addition and subtraction, and the more you do it, the better you get.  If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to comment below!

Dr. House

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