In the last “Learning Artifact” article, we talked about what “card advantage” is. We defined it as: A process by which we get closer to the threat or answer we need compared to our opponent.
Card advantage is gained when a player draws extra cards or efficiently destroys his opponent’s card. But there’s a sub-type of card advantage which manifests when an opponent simply can’t use the cards he has for one reason or another, or their value is reduced. We call that “virtual” card advantage: you aren’t really ahead in cards, but with the given board state, you might as well be.
Given the nature of Artifact, virtual card advantage doesn’t play such a huge role as it does in other card games. However, given that card value is an important concept to grasp, we ought to go over it regardless.
Drawing dead cards
Your opponent drawing a “dead card” is the simplest explanation of virtual card advantage. By dead card, we mean any card they can’t use this turn. This is also called a “dead draw” because the player has virtually drawn one fewer card.
Example: Jack is playing red/green midrange, and Jill is playing mono blue control. It’s start of Mana Turn 4 (MT4). Jack draws his Bronze Legionnaire and Roseleaf Druid. Jill isn’t so lucky, though. She draws one Annihilation and one Thundergod’s Wrath.
Both players have drawn the same number of cards. However, Jack can play his right away. Jill has to wait till 6 and 7 mana until she can play hers. This means that virtually, until she gets to those mana numbers, Jill has two dead cards, therefore fewer resources than Jack. Jack now has virtual card advantage.
Expanding on the previous topic, the lock cards mechanic in Artifact is one way to gain virtual card advantage. Locked cards can’t be played for N turns, so they’re virtually dead until then.
The lock mechanic targets random cards in hand, so there’s always the possibility of locking cards that are already dead. However, a good roll of the die can completely cripple a player’s hand through virtual card advantage.
Let’s go back to Jill. She has once again drawn Annihilation and Thundergod’s Wrath on MT4 (it’s just not her day), but now Zack, her blue/red control opponent, also casts Buying Time. Jill’s Foresight and Dimensional Portal are now locked until MT6. She now has four less cards to play until then and Zack is fully in control.
One thing to note that if a card generates virtual card advantage, it’s not necessary that it generates real card advantage, too. If Zack’s Lost in Time had locked Jill’s Thundergod’s Wrath and Annihilation, the card essentially achieved nothing. In fact, it is a 1 for 0 trade card-wise, so Zack is actually in a card disadvantage overall. This is why persisting lock effects like Fractured Timeline are way more valuable: they keep generating virtual card advantage turn over turn.
Denying color sources
The color source is another unique mechanic in Artifact, which can be exploited for virtual card advantage. The rule of the game is that if you don’t have a hero of a particular color in a lane, you can’t cast spells of that color in that lane.
Drow Ranger’s Gust is a perfect example. Casting it silences all heroes in a lane, thus removing their color for a turn, so players are essentially locked out of their entire hand, bar item cards. Since the Gust’d player doesn’t lose the cards and can actually play them in another lane that’s not silenced, he’s simply in card disadvantage in that lane for a turn. Cards that stun heroes function the same way.
Lost value on cards
A card doesn’t have to become “dead” to result in virtual card advantage. A mere decrease in their value does the same job.
Let’s look at an example match where Bill is playing red/green midrange against Murry’s mono black aggro.
— In a lane, Bill has an Axe, modified for +3 attack and +3 cleave from Empower and taunt from Pick of Fight, threatening Sniper and 2 empty slots
— Murry has a pair of Untested Grunts in hand.
— In any other situation, Murry will likely drop both Grunts, but if he does now, they’ll die to Axe.
Right now, Murry is in virtual card disadvantage. He hasn’t lost any cards. He can even play his Grunts so they’re not dead or locked either. What will happen, however, is Murry will lose both his Grunts and Sniper and won’t even kill Axe. Murry can, of course, play the Grunts and chip down Axe’s health, but that’s a crappy deal.
In another game, Murry has gathered a huge black army and is pushing hard for Bill’s tower. By the sheer volume of the attack, some cards in Bill’s hand lose value and generate virtual card advantage for Murry, because playing them will set Bill further behind. We’re talking Bill’s Nether Ward, Double Edge and Smash their Defenses! None of these will help him stay alive. What Bill needs is units to block or Berserker’s Call to clear the board. The more Murry pushes, the more virtual card advantage he will generate for each “useless” card in Bill’s deck.
Third example. Ivan plays a green/black aggro and is fighting for the left lane against Olga’s monored midrange. On initiative, he casts Hand of God on all his units. Now, Olga knows that whatever she plays, it won’t make a difference — all her units will only take damage and Ivan will get away without a scratch. With her hand being all units, she accepts the virtual card disadvantage here.
Artifact and virtual card advantage
I mentioned at the start, that due to the nature of Artifact, virtual card advantage is not as crucial as in other card games. The reason is Artifact’s triple board scenario.
Take a look at the examples we’ve mentioned so far? How many of them are game-wide? It’s basically only the lock mechanic and drawing dead cards. Silence, stun and board states only affect the lane they are in. Move one to the right and the same cards are no longer “dead”, “bad” or “useless”. In another lane, your heroes are not Gust’d and you can play all those spells. In another lane, there isn’t that absurd Axe or immortal units and you can develop your board without repercussions. In another lane, there isn’t a huge army of units, so you don’t feel bad about your non-removal cards.
At the same time, this is exactly why it’s important to understand virtual card advantage. It will help you figure out what cards are best use where and, as a result, which lanes to fight for and which to abandon. Even if there’s a lot more leeway in escaping virtual (or real) card disadvantage, optimizing this leeway will get you wins.