April 22, 2013

Magic101 : Disadvantages of Cards and Time


I was thinking what to write about when I suddenly found myself looking at my deck. I tried to examine my deck list, what cards I put in; what cards I considered putting in and didn't make the cut. I also tried to ask myself why I choose a certain card to be in my deck, when clearly there may be other cards with greater power individually. Cards that may command immediate impact in the game at the time they hit the battlefield. Answering all these questions is not an easy task, and until now I may not be able to justify all my card choices or why I still choose to play Esper when clearly Esper is not finding a lot of success in the rest of the World - in the bigger picture of Standard play. Maybe I just believe in my deck. I still believe in it and because I know what I want and why I play with this strategy - why? it may solely be because I like one element in esper - card advantage.

Card Advantage

Magic endlessly revolves around the idea of Aggro and Control. People may try to argue one is better than the other but in reality, nothing may be better than the other. I say, you need to play what you are comfortable doing and understand how your deck wins and what's your game plan. It doesn't matter if 90% of the world plays control, it doesn't mean you will force yourself to play control when it is clear that you are comfortable (or love) playing aggro. Aggro and Control decks have their own way of winning and their own way of maximizing their turns to play around the rules of Magic and use them to their advantage. One of these rules is as follows:

In your draw step, draw one card.

Drawing a card each turn is the norm. And Control decks try to win by using this rule to their advantage. Control decks, if you try to observe their deck lists, try to outplay their opponents by gaining advantage to the number of physical cards in their hand or trading two for ones. This is the basic concept of card advantage. When the rule says draw a card each turn, your opponent is bound to this rule and you try to play around this by playing cards like Think Twice and Sphinx's Revelation. If you draw 2 cards per turn and your opponent draws only 1 card, you have more access to your spells and you may win by pure card advantage. Card advantage can also be observed in a card like Supreme Verdict. Say, your opponent has 3 creature cards in play and you cast Supreme Verdict to destroy all creatures. You only spent 1 card to destroy 3 of your opponent's cards, that is again card advantage for you.

But card advantage has its own disadvantages, Think Twice and Sphinx's Revelation may give you card advantage but when you only have 3 lands, your Revelation cannot help. Think Twice may get you cards but you may draw a land, these cards may not be able to affect the game directly. Control also needs to play more lands to ensure land drops each turn. But finding yourself drawing 5 consecutive lands late in the game may cause your defeat. When we rely on card advantage, we may include cards in our decks that doesn't affect the game directly when we draw them and we may find ourselves wishing it was something else. 

Time Advantage

One additional mana per turn.

The second norm in magic is to play only one land each turn. With this, we have the idea that both players need to pass through stages of early (or sometimes weaker) spells and eventually play more powerful and impact spells as the game progresses. Sometimes we also associate mana with creature size, like 1 mana for 1/1, 2 mana for 2/2 and so on. So lands and mana can be like the element of time in the game of magic and Aggro decks take advantage of this and try to win the games through time advantage.

Imagine the scenario of a player putting a Llanowar Elves in play in the first turn and immediately following up with a Leatherback Baloth in the 2nd turn. Not only does this give the player time advantage in terms of mana in the 2nd turn (3 mana during the 2nd turn) as opposed to the opponent's 2 mana in 2nd turn, but it also gives time advantage in terms of the quality of the spell played in the 2nd turn. In the second turn, the norm may be 2 mana for a 2/2 creature but the Leatherback Baloth is a 4/5 creature played in the 2nd turn. This is the idea of time advantage and this is an Aggro player's key to victory.

But again, time advantage also comes with a price. Sometimes, to achieve time advantage, we commit to the board early to finish the game quickly. If left unanswered, we win. But when the opponent answers all our threats despite the card quality that we have, then the aggro player may have a difficult time recovering.

As you can see, card advantage can beat time advantage. But time advantage can also beat card advantage. Understanding what advantages we will utilize is the key to one's game - also with the addition of luck and randomness in the game of course. Most good players try to combine card advantage and time advantage by using quality mana-efficient spells while also employing the concept of card advantage. But choosing either has its own disadvantages. And just like what I always stress in my articles, the keys to understanding the advantages and disadvantages of strategies is to play more games and try these two strategies - may it be building these decks by yourself or borrowing these decks from a friend - as long as you can try it. Keep an open mind and not limit yourself to playing aggro only - or playing only control. If you want to win, be sure you are aware of these disadvantages and you should have a way to protect yourself from these limitations.  

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