The Collectible Card Game Thread – Card Advantage: A Case Study

Welcome to the *CG thread, where we talk all manner of Card Games – Collectible, Trading, Living, and otherwise! Feel free to chat amongst yourselves about the card games you’re playing or anything card game-related that strikes your fancy.

Last week, I talked about functional resources, and this week, I wanted to delve deeper into that topic with a case-study on the most significant functional resource in a CCG: Cards (you can tell it’s important because it’s right in the name of the entire game genre):

A refresher on types of resources:

Resources loosely exist on two axes, Virtual/Actual and Potential/Realized, on which they can move based on in-game context and out-of-game strategy:

The Virtual/Actual dichotomy describes a resource’s value. Actual resources have a clearly defined value, like a life total or victory points. A virtual resource is fuzzier – it’s value is unknown or variable, or its value isn’t directly applicable to the game.

The Potential/Realized dichotomy describes how immediately a resource affects gameplay. A realized resource has a value and effect right now, and a potential resource needs to first be “converted” to be made use of.

Like water and ice, cards exist in many different states over the course of a game, and each state has different properties. Generally, cards start out in your deck, where they are strongly potential and virtual (some games use your deck as a secondary life total, making it a little more actual in those games).

When you draw a card, you turn it from a virtual resource into an actual one. The virtuality of cards in your deck can be made more actual by reducing the uncertainty inherent to them via effects that let you search or reorder your deck. You could also make cards in your opponent’s hand more virtual by reducing their “applicability” – if they can’t play the cards Maybe you’re playing a “prison” deck that prevents cards from being played, or maybe you only play cards that aren’t easily killed, making their removal spells worth less, their value effectively drops.

Then, when you play a card onto the board, it generally goes from a potential to a realized resource (except for spell/instant/sorcery cards that don’t affect the board – those are just spent or converted into a different resource) Likewise, when a card leaves the board, it is lost and/or converted in the other direction. (The specific amount of loss is determined by your particular deck – a “reanimator” deck can use dead cards as a resource, mitigating loss of resources)

All of this conversion of cards into various amounts of resources translates into what is known as “Card Advantage.” The idea behind Card Advantage is that, simplistically, games are won by the player who played the most cards, and therefore a players strategy should be to play more cards than their opponent. Normally, players are at parity – they only get one card every turn. When a player “breaks parity” by getting extra cards, that’s Card Advantage.

Returning to the idea that there are more than one forms that a card can come in, there are different forms of card advantage. The most prominent of these being:

Real Card Advantage: You get more physical cards over the course of the game than your opponent, or you make your opponent lose cards over the course of the game. When CCG players talk about 2-for-1’s this is usually what they are talking about.

Card Quality Advantage: Your cards are “worth” more than your opponent’s, because you use cards that manipulate your deck to draw more useful cards more often (sometimes referred to a “card filtering”) or because your strategy invalidates their cards by either directly or indirectly preventing them from playing them.

Aggro decks and Combo Decks tend to function on strategies of Card Quality Advantage – Aggro decks by playing many low-cost cards (thereby increasing the consistency of its draws) and then ending the game early while the opponent still has cards in their hand (thereby indirectly invalidating those cards) and Combo decks by attacking the opponent on a different axis (thereby invalidating cards intended to target “normal” strategies”) and by using card draw and filtering to find the specific keystone cards.

Control decks use Real Card Advantage – they have a lot of cheap, universal 1-for-1 answers (often in the form of counter spells or targeted removal) and 2-for-1s (often in the form of “sweepers” that kill many things at once and card draw) and eventually win via the inevitable incremental weight of their card advantage.

Your prompt this week: I feel like I’m getting really deep in the weeds on little technical stuff lately. How aware are you of high-level concepts like card advantage? Is it a mode of thinking that works for you in your play?

Or, as always, feel free to talk about anything going on with you in the world of *CGs. A bunch of stuff happened last week that I’ll probably go into more detail in in the comments (mainly re: Hearthstone and patches and eSports the weirdness of planning around the practical realities of digital systems) so if you’ve got any opinions on that, count that as your second weekly prompt.

Also, check out this cool M:tG poster set. The Chandra one is so very 80s.