Resources in Magic: Card Quality

I recently played an enemy that constantly complained about me being so lucky and always drawing the right card when I need to. Well, this made me think. He was right, I usually got the cards I needed but I don’t think it was all about being lucky. I just was able to constantly improve the quality of cards I was going to draw, of the cards in my hand and finally the amount of cards I was going to draw. I was simply able to use my card resources in a more efficient way.

Insanely stronk...

Insanely stronk…

In general Magic relies on a lot of factors of success. Beginners might think it’s all about dropping lands and hope the insanely stronk creature will do what is needed to wrestle the enemy down. And if it doesn’t, the enemy obviously was lucky enough to draw the correct removal and I was just not lucky enough to draw the corresponding counter spell. Well, but that’s actually not how the game works. There are tons and tons of parameters, and yes, one of it might also be luck, but there are ways to boost your luck a bit. The key to win is to use all your resources and to make more better decisions compared to your opponent. The 2nd can only be achieved by playing. Yes. You have to get to know the environment you play in and know the cards. You have to know what card your opponent could possibly play when he leaves his last two mana open. But let’s assume you are playing against an evenly smart person so you can’t really get an advantage out of that. So what is left is that you have to exploit your resources in a better way. Better might be a bit vague here, but actually it is. Depending on your strategy and the board state better can mean faster and more efficient and everything in between…

In this article I will focus on card quality in general. Usually your card draw is limited to one card per turn. That’s the one you get “for free”. If you just don’t do anything, you will get that one. Same applies to your opponent. If we want to get an advantage out of that, we either have to draw more cards than our opponent, that we have to make the opponent draw less cards then we do or last but not least that we have to draw better cards.

The first two aspects are covered by a concept of called card advantage. In the scope of that concept, the card advantage describes the difference in the amount of cards that you control (on the board, in your hand), before and after playing a spell compared to your opponent. Let’s say your opponent controls a Grizzly Bear and you Lightning Bolt it. The cards you control change by -1 (you lost one by playing the spell). The cards the opponent controls also change by -1 (poor Grizzly). The difference is between -1 and -1 is 0, so in terms of card advantage nothing changed. However if you Hymn to Tourach (Sorcery, BB) your enemy, you will loose one card in exchange for two cards, resulting in an advantage of (-1) – (-2) = +1 for you. Ancestral Recall is considered pretty powerful. Why? Well, you get +3 cards, your opponent +0, so your card advantage will be +3. For U at instant speed. Pretty insane. So what does card advantage mean to the game? If you draw cards, it’s obvious. You get control over cards and thus get more threat to beat your enemy or more answers to counter your enemies threats. If you have more creatures than he has removals, you will prevail. If you have more counters than your opponent has spells, you will come out big. That’s the basic idea. If you want to know more, this is the article for you: http://archive.wizards.com/Magic/magazine/article.aspx?x=mtg/daily/li/174

Whenever you read articles about deck building you will read that. But what a lot of people underestimate is the power of card quality. The idea is, that you don’t even have to actually draw multiple cards, it’s enough if you can get access to the one you need. And in many cases that is much cheaper, in terms of mana cost and in terms of card rarities. Mark Rosewater, designer at Wizards of the Coast, once talked about that on his podcast. Cards granting net card advantage are cards making the game state more complex and thus it’s a quality you won’t see much on common cards. However just allowing you to look through your library isn’t considered to add that many new decisions and thus can easily be added to common cards.

Sensei's Divining TopSo the key improve your card quality and thus the possibility to “draw what you need when you need to” is to simply be able to dig down deep into your card library and to manipulate it to your favor. You can do that in many ways. A pretty famous one is Jalum Tome. You drop one of the “useless lands” you draw on turn 15 and get the game-winning Fireball without waiting another turn. Jalum Tome for sure is not the best card but a good example to start with. It’s ability is pretty expensive but it’s reuseable. Another downside is, that it needs a whole card slot in your deck. If you don’t find a way to use it in other ways (Affinity, Animate Artifact, Karn or something like that) I wouldn’t consider it to be playable today. Today’s new thing is Scry. You often get Scry for 1 added to cards you would already use like Counterspell vs Dissolve or Theros’ Scry Lands. You play lands, so why not play the ones that help you to improve your future card draws? I personally love cycling lands. Those lands improve your card quality a lot. Sure, the downside is the come into play tapped. But you might be able to work around or live with that. Your benefit is that you are able to cycle the lands away if you don’t need them. You get a new card for ‘nothing’ while and you get a land to your graveyard that you can use for your Deathrite Shaman. Especially in later turns, when you already got a bunch of lands on the table you might love them. The major benefit results from you being able to throw away a dead, currently unuseable card in exchange for the chance to draw something better. Combine that with flexible cards like Charms and what you get is to not only draw one function, but more the one. Cycle Barren Moor and get the chance to draw a removal, a cantrip or life gain (Azorius Charm). Other great cards include Sylvan Library (Reuseable digging for with the option to draw more cards? Anytime!) and for example Sensei’s Divining Top.

Now I guess you got the idea. If you spice up your deck with a few of those cards you will constantly dig deeper through your library than your opponent does. If you both draw the same amount of cards, yours will be better and that will allow you to make better plays and decisions. And on the long run you will win the game.

So next time you play against someone who constantly seems to be more lucky regarding his card draws, just count how many cards of his deck he simply saw compared to the ones you saw. I bet he just diggs deeper. Take that advice from the guy who still uses cycle lands…

 

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