How to Use Card Advantage to Win at Magic the Gathering


The number one way to win games of Magic is through having cards that are better than your opponents, and drawing into them by the time you need them. To draw into cards to win you the game, the best method is through what many players call “card advantage.”

What Is Card Advantage?

Card advantage is a very broad term and can be defined in a number of different ways. While drawing cards seems to be a very obvious form of card advantage, there are also other ways to gain card advantage. Card advantage, speaking very broadly, is a way for your own cards to equal more, in comparison to your opponent. A card like Divination, for example, allows you to draw two cards at the cost of one, which in fair circumstances puts you a card ahead of your opponent. However, there are several other mechanics that also result in card advantage:
Different Forms of Card Advantage
Besides drawing cards, forcing your opponent to discard cards is equally a powerful form of card advantage. Cards such as Unnerve force each opponent to discard two cards, for the price of one of your own cards, which is more valuable for you than your opponent. A card such as Brainbite that lets you choose which card an opponent discards, and replaces itself is an exceptionally powerful ability, allowing you to sculpt your opponents hand while maintaining your own hand size. Be careful with cards that draw cards or make your opponent discard, having too many in your deck means that you might not draw anything else.
Two-for-ones are a common saying in magic, and is another form of card advantage. The general idea of these is having your opponent use two cards to deal with one of your cards, or similarly dealing with two of your opponent’s cards using a single card of your own. Two examples of this are removing tokens; such as the two 1/1s produced by Raise the Alarm, using two separate removal spells likeFatal Push and Ultimate Price. Using two cards to remove the tokens is much worse for the player who used two cards only to remove the effects of only one spell. However, if a player casts two copies of Raise the Alarm, then their opponent casts bile blight or a similar spell to remove all the tokens, then that person used one spell to remove that effects of two separate cards, again more productive for the player casting the spell that did more for fewer cards.
Magic the Gathering is a game that has been around a long time, and because of this there are many more forms of card advantage included in the game. For example, creatures with bonus effects are a form of card advantage, like drawing a card (Elvish Visionary), allowing you to cast a card from your graveyard (Snapcaster Mage), turning useless cards into useful ones (Rummaging Goblin, or countless other effects to gain the leg up over your opponent. It’s all a matter of finding the best effects for your own deck you are playing.

How do I Win with Card Advantage?

Now that you have picked some cards for card advantage, how does that actually impact the game? Obviously, having better cards than your opponents is a good thing, and using as few cards as possible to interact with your opponent is nice to leave space for your own game plan. However, card advantage is less useful in some decks as compared to others. Very aggressive game plans rely on pushing damage out to their opponent rather than drawing extra cards or interacting with their opponents’ board and hand. Card advantage in aggressive decks might be in the form of casting spells for free or using mana abilities like Burning-Tree Emissary. A slower deck might rely on drawing cards and having opponents discard cards, as well as mass removal effects like Supreme Verdict to slow down the game and draw bigger spells. Card advantage is especially important in games that last many turns when each player is relying on the top card of their library, and drawing better cards than your opponent can be the difference between winning and losing the game.
The biggest idea behind building a deck is that each card should do one of two things: help win the game, or to get to a point to win the game. Card advantage usually is a part of the second category, as a way to draw the big important ways to win the game and not lose the game early on. So while card advantage is not the direct way to win the game, it can be a way to not lose the game, which in turn is the key to winning a game. Checking out the top decks in several formats is a great way to see how other players use card advantage in conjunction with other spells. The format of Modern is a good place to see the different forms of card advantage in separate deck archetypes, and visiting MTG Top 8 can be a resource to see how decks use card advantage in the most powerful way. Powerful spells to draw cards quickly become abused and banned, as was the case of Treasure Cruise. Cards that serve multiple purposes as a single card also retain playability because of the massive advantages they provide, such as  Kolaghan’s Command, when used efficiently against an opponent. However, none of these cards are game-breaking and cause a win when cast, but incremental amounts of advantage add up over the course of a game eventually producing a winner who had more of an advantage then their opponent through the whole game.

Things to Remember About Card Advantage

Before you go, here are a few other tips to gain advantages over your opponents, and maximize your Magic the Gathering experience:
Life, Libraries, and the graveyard can all be resources in the same way as mana is- While it is still important to watch life totals, and keeping at least one card in your library as to not lose is important, one is not dead. Some cards require life in order for an affect, in ways like sign in blood, and sometimes this can be worth it. The same applies to using delve cards and using the cards in your library to cast spells to get ahead of your opponent.
Don’t forget to have a way to win- This was already mentioned, but is very important. No matter how many cards your opponent has discarded, or cards you have draw, you still need a way to close out the game.
Don’t forget to have fun- Magic is a game where the objective is to have fun, and if you can win while doing that, even better. The most important thing is to find a deck you enjoy playing and works the best for you. So, don’t be afraid to try new things!

By Gage Dewsbury


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