The 4 Types of Advantage: Definition, Types & How to Calculate It.
11/03/2023 · 11 min read
Playing a game of Magic can be unpredictable. You can gain resources and make favorable exchanges, but you can also be forced into unfavorable ones. You may feel like you're in a good spot to win, only for your opponent to surprise you with their combo. "GG's," they say as you're left scratching your head, wondering how you managed to lose despite having the upper hand. To make matters even worse, your opponent is still left with only 1 life.
To be in a better position the next time and understand the dark secrets of Magic, in this article we will try to cover three things:
- What is the correct definition of advantage?
- Distinguish what are the different types of advantages.
- Learn how to do a simple exercise to calculate who has it
Are you ready? Let's get started!
Definition of advantage
Let's start with the definition of advantage by Wizards of the Coast:
"By definition, the term advantage has to do with your own position relative to your opponent. You can gain card advantage through favorable interactions with your opponent's cards."
In other words, in Magic, having the advantage can mean many different things - from having a strategic edge in your game plan; having more cards in hand than your opponent; having more life; being closer to executing your win condition; having taken more actions than your opponent; and so on.
Types of advantage
With that definition as reference, we can define different types of advantage, which can be categorized as follows: raw card advantage, damage advantage, board advantage, and tempo advantage.
RAW CARD ADVANTAGE
This type of advantage is given by the amount of resources we have in relation to our opponent. In other words, it is created by those actions that give us 'more' of that specific resource: cards. Divination, for example, is a card that gives us +1 card advantage, but requires 2U to cast, so if our opponent casts Blood Divination and sacrifices a creature, we will be slightly behind in card advantage, since their mana was used more efficiently.
In the same way, cards that make us discard cards, such as Mind Rot, create an advantage that would also fall into this same category.
For players who are familiar with more aggressive strategies, damage advantage can be situational. This is because, even if we're at 20 and our opponent is at 8, it depends a lot on what their win condition is to really know if we're close to our win condition or that life advantage will be rendered moot. For these types of situations, I always have a small calculation to determine who really has the advantage.
Every 4 damage points represented by a single source can be seen as a +1 advantage for the aggressive player. With just 5 spells, a game could be closed out. However, if out of those 12 damage points I had to expend 5 spells and my opponent still has more resources than me, we can say that our damage advantage has been neutralized, so we need to adjust our game plan to a potential comeback and see how, with our available resources, we can make those 8 damage points before their advantage turns into a win condition.
The board advantage is the most difficult to quantify, as we now have more cards than ever that can perform a variety of actions, which can make us think we are in the right position, when there is much more to consider.
During combat, for example, resources are often exchanged throughout the game. Resource exchanging is an integral part of Magic, so we have to take advantage of those that give us an edge.
Let's take a look at a few examples!
Example #1: Fable
Fable of the Mirror Breaker proved to be a difficult card for players to identify as a true multi-format STAPLE. But how did this come to be?
In essence, this card has a lot of text and is difficult to measure its power. It gives you a 2/2 that can generate treasure, which can cost around 2 mana, then allows you to discard up to 2 to draw up to 2, an effect for which many cards will ask for between 1 and 2 mana. At this point, the card is already generating "value". It then gives you a creature with win condition text. In other words, this card has a mana value of around 5-6, but is played for 3.
Example #2: Omnath
Omnath, the four-colored one, is even more complex to understand, as it replaces itself, then has three consecutive Landfall abilities, something that has never been seen before. First, it gives you four life (which is approximately equivalent to one card), then it adds RGWU, which can be quantified as another card, and finally, it does four damage to opponents and planeswalkers. So, if we connect the three abilities, we will have a +4 card advantage, which is unreal for a four-mana card. Not even Jace, the Mind Sculptor, can reach such numbers so quickly.
Example #3: Stoneforge
Finally, Stoneforge Mystic is a card that replaces itself, so for 2 mana we get a "free" spell, but also allows us to change the dynamics of the game on the next turn, focusing on if our opponent can make a better play than flashing a Batterskull, and us responding with untapped mana or activating our Stoneforge.
All of these advantages are tough to evaluate, since it's always contextual to the match and not "raw advantage". Nevertheless, we can suggest various strategies to carry out an analysis that will be beneficial when making decisions.
For those unfamiliar with the term, I suggest taking a look at this article I wrote on 'What is Tempo?' to not miss any detail.
The advantage of Tempo is given by the number of actions I can take that my opponent won't be able to respond to in time. Speeding up our game and slowing down our opponent's are both ways of achieving Tempo advantage. Being able to respond to our opponent's spell with less mana also falls under this definition. Therefore, cards that allow us to gain this type of advantage are key.
How to “calculate” it
Now that we know the different types of advantage, let's try to get a way to calculate who has it.
To determine who has the advantage, one must answer the following questions:
THE 5 WHOS:
- 1.- Who has the most permanents on the board?
- 2.- Who has the most cards in hand?
- 3.- Who has taken the most actions since the game began, or who is the aggro?
- 4.- If it is relevant to the matchup: Who has more or less life?
- 5.- Who is in the driver's seat to achieve their win condition ?
Additional notes about who is the driver's seat
From the first to the fourth, we focus on the aspects that can be most quantified numerically, as they are there, we can see them. However, none of this matters if, for example, my opponent is missing one mana to get 15 and cast Emrakul from their hand.
Let's remember that advantage is not just a quantifiable number to keep track of the "game atmosphere," but it is a risk factor as well. No matter what format we are playing, we should always consider what we are doing when taking actions or exchanging resources.
My opponent may be aware that they are at a creature disadvantage on the board, but their win condition completely nullifies my position as the aggro player, so I should be able to capitalize on my advantage before that occurs.
A good way to figure out if we have the advantage is to estimate the outcomes of resources that we're not utilizing right now (or that aren't available yet but will be in the foreseeable future). In this way, we can calculate if what we have in this moment, plus what we will have in the following turns, will be enough to close the game in our favor.
I'm playing a UW Birds deck in Limited. My opponent is at 8 life and just spent a removal spell on a creature that did 8 damage over 3 turns. I have a 2/2 bird left and no blockers for my opponent. I'm at 8 life as well, but I have one blocker. If no one plays any more cards, I should win. I have a bigger bird in hand (4/4) and my opponent is on the defensive.
Here, we're clearly in a position to close out the match. We have the advantage, but we also have to make sure our opponent doesn't pull off a Demonfire (or similar ) and burn us with their nine available mana.
Once we have identified our opponent's options, we need to devise a plan to minimize their win condition and win before this happens (in this example, it would be attacking and casting the big bird to have lethal damage next turn). One of the reasons why professional Magic the Gathering players often add one copy of Cancel or a similar counterspell to their limited decks is to have some kind of response against something that we can't predict, but that will clearly overpower our resources and our relative advantage.
Winning More Matches: Visualizing It on a Global Scale
We all love to be in a winning position, but this is a deceptive idea if we just look at the measurable aspect. Who has the advantage can change quickly, so it's not something we can count on throughout the entire game.
The types of advantages we can gain from our opponent are dictated by the nature of our decks, so we must not only identify them, but project where we want to go as soon as we have some certainty of what our opponent is playing.
In this regard, visualizing the game in terms of what advantages I can gain and which ones my opponent will gain allows me to understand, on a global scale, how I can develop my gameplay in relation to how resource exchanges will be made.
I'm playing an RG midrange against a mono White Soldiers deck. On each turn I have the possibility to use a bolt to kill any creature with toughness 2 from my opponent. I know that the Soldiers deck has almost 80% of creatures that die to my bolt. I look at my hand and I have a curve of creatures and a bolt. To maximize my only removal, the ideal would be to trade my curve with my opponent's curve, so that when they play the best creature with toughness 2, I can kill it with the bolt.
In other words, neutral exchanges, those where both players do not gain a visible or quantifiable advantage, are highly useful for preserving resources that are more important for responding to threats that are much more mana-costly.
Let's imagine that we play a 2/1 flyer for 2 mana and have 1 mana open, and our opponent plays a 3/3 spider with reach for 3 mana. If we have a Lightning Bolt or other 1 mana removal to take out the spider, we would have gained a Tempo Advantage. However, this isn't possible if we use the Bolt on our opponent's face or destroy a creature of the same cost on turn one. On the other hand, if our opponent plays a Birds of Paradise on turn one, we are obliged to use the Bolt, since our opponent's subsequent plays are going to invalidate our removal completely.
In today's Magic, there are increasingly more ways to represent a player's advantage over their opponent. We often focus on things like "how many cards are in your hand" or "how many lives?" Taking a look at the 5 "who questions" can help you understand your current position within the game and, therefore, create or revise your game plan .
Simply conceding the match when you realize you are so overwhelmed by the position of disadvantage you are in can be the best advice to save time, energy and emotional state.
However, bear in mind that one only concedes when they know they cannot win. So if your opponent does not concede, even though you are representing a strong position on the board, they may be struggling to find that spell that could turn the game around or give them the edge at the least expected moment.
In conclusion, having the advantage is an indication of who is in the lead of the match, we can calculate it, define it, identify it, and even theorize about it, but it does us no good if we let the obvious slip by: The advantage is relative given the context of the match and the capabilities of each deck to make a comeback. Therefore, it's not only about having the lead, but also projecting the rest of the match based on how my opponent can make a comeback and how I can close out the match before that happens. An incorrect analysis will lead us to make inefficient decisions, which will make us lose more than we'd like.
If you made it this far with the reading, thank you very much!
For the next article, I plan to explore the concept of "bluffing" and how to read your opponent. How is it done? We'll have to apply all the articles I've written on MTGdecks.net!
If you liked this article maybe you will also find interesting on of the following ones Playing Around: 5 Actionable Tips to Win the Information Game, How to Beat Tilt and Win More Games in Magic: The Gathering!, How To Get Ready for Your Next Magic: The Gathering Tournament, Know the Difference: Win Condition vs. Game Plan
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Game Theory Expert
David Kaliski from Chile, also known as “El Turko”, is a former National Champion, and Pro Tour competitor. His best performance is 39th at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica. He loves to explain anything magic related and quickdraft his way to Mythic in MTG: Arena.
Published: 2023-03-11 00:00:00