Our “Learning Artifact” series of novice-friendly guides continues. Last week, we looked at using our tower hit points as a resource, a somewhat advanced part of Artifact’s economy. Today, we’re taking a step back to a more fundamental concept: card advantage.
Like “tempo” (something we’ll examine later on), card advantage is a term you’ll hear very often. Casters will speak of it during tournaments and writers will mention it in their guides. But what is “card advantage” actually? What lies beyond the deceptively simple name of the term?
To understand card advantage, we must first understand something else, namely:
What does a card really cost?
The most logical answer to that question is: whatever the mana/gold cost is. Eclipse costs 6 mana. Time of Triumph costs 8 mana. Short Sword costs 3 gold and Blink Dagger costs 7 gold.
This is all correct, of course, but there’s more to a cost of a card then its mana or gold value. Each card in Artifact (with the partial exception of heroes) also costs one card or one card slot in a deck. Yes, cards are played by paying mana and gold, but the cards themselves are also part of the economy.
Confused? Very likely you are. Let’s elaborate further.
Let’s forget heroes for now and focus only on the cards you put in your deck. At the start of the game, each player draws five cards. Each of these cards is, simply put, some sort of threat or some sort of answer. Together, they make the pool of threat/answer resources a player has. Then, at the start of each turn, each player draws additional two cards and their threat/answer resource pool grows.
See how we don’t care about gold or mana at this point? We only talk about the cards as resources.
There’s more to a cost of a card then its mana or gold value.
Let’s move on. Now that we’ve established that cards themselves are a resource, we can now look at an Artifact deck as the overarching pool of card resources. Now technically, an Artifact deck doesn’t have card (or card resource) cap like in Hearthstone. However, Artifact does take after Magic: The Gathering’s philosophy, a game which also permits unlimited number of cards in a deck.
In MTG, all competitive constructed decks feature 60 cards, which is the bare minimum of cards. This is done because the thinner the deck, the higher the chance to draw the exact card resource you want. Therefore, a soft 60-card cap takes effect and players will build as if they always have only 60 card slots to use.
The same concept applies to Artifact, meaning that players will essentially limit their card resource pool to 40. Working with this imposed finite number (which contains only the card resources of utmost importance to a player) makes it easier for us to understand card advantage, not to mention it’s how the Artifact deck-building reality will likely stay.
So in the end, what Eclipse actually costs is 6 mana one of 40 card resources. Short Sword costs 3 mana and one of 9 item resources, etc.
Understanding card advantage
Let’s rehash what we have so far:
- Cards themselves are a resource and are part of the Artifact economy
- Artifact decks essentially have a finite amount of resources, set at 40, enforced by the good deckbuilding practices
- At any point of time, players will want to get to a particular card resource: a bit unit, an AoE removal spell, etc.
Following up on that, we can define card advantage in a few ways. An old definition by MTG writer Eric Taylor defines card advantage as “any process by which a player obtains effectively more cards than his [or her] opponent.” From there, we can add up, saying that card advantage is:
A process by which we get closer to the threat or answer we need compared to our opponent.
At the same time, if you’re burning more resources than your opponent you’re generating card disadvantage for yourself as your card resource pool drains faster.
What’s interesting is that while it’s a fundamental concept in card games, not all decks are equally concerned with generating card advantage. The same is true in Artifact and you will see it with how different colors are built. Slower colors like blue will be more concerned about winning the card resource game. This is because card advantage is acquired step-by-step and accumulates more the longer a game goes on.
In contrast, faster colors like black will not be as interested in card advantage and will gladly sacrifice card resources to win the race for the life resources.
But if all players start with 5 cards and then draw 2 cards every turn, how does one acquire card advantage? There are several basic ways.
Option 1: Draw more cards
Simple as that. If you somehow draw more cards than your opponent, you’ve gained card advantage. Playing Foresight, for example, expends one card and gains two. That’s card advantage. Provided that it doesn’t kill your own board, Diabolic Revelations does the same: 1 card spent, 2 gained, card advantage secured.
Option 2: Efficient killing
Cards that kill multiple units at a time are another way to generate card advantage. If Annihilation kills 5 enemy units and 1 of yours, that’s card advantage. If Berserker’s Call ends with three enemy units dead, that’s also card advantage, even if your red hero dies in the process.
Option 3: Using hero abilities
In Artifact, a good way to generate card advantage is using hero abilities to disrupt the enemy card resources or generate your own. Ogre Magi, for example, has a chance to “return” the blue spell you cast to your hand. When the spell no longer expends a card resource, that’s card advantage gained.
Killing a unit with Lion’s Finger of Death or Tinker’s Laser is also a card advantage gained. If you Slay a unit, you haven’t gained card advantage, for example, because you’ve expended one card to kill one other. Laser and Finger of Death don’t cost cards, however, simply a recharge time. They’ll be “return” in a few turns again while that Bronze Legionnaire won’t. A renewable resource has been expended to kill a non-renewable card resource. That’s card advantage again.
Option 4: Lock cards
The lock mechanic is unique to Artifact and is a way to generate card advantage. Although the opponent doesn’t really “lose” the locked cards, so it’s not a permanent card advantage, it’s still a temporary one for that amount of turns.
The lock mechanic falls under what we call “virtual card advantage” — a subtype of card advantage that we’ll discuss in our next article. For now though, let’s end it here before things get more complicated. See you in the next “Learning Artifact”.