Today, we return to the iPad Demo Decks (following the experiment in the previous column) to revisit a simple yet important concept: Card Advantage. I first talked about Card Advantage back in Module #1, but a lot has changed since then: the deck size has decreased to 30 cards and a number of new cards have been revealed. Therefore, I think its time to take a fresh look at Card Advantage in a couple of new scenarios.
Recall that the primary resource in SolForge is card plays. In most circumstances, you only get to play two cards per turn. Therefore, when you get more value from the cards you play than your opponent does from cards she plays, you gain an advantage. In particular, we say you have obtained a card advantage when you can use a single one of your cards to counteract two of your opponent’s cards. (For example, if you play a creature card that kills two of your opponent’s creatures during its lifetime.) Additionally, we say that you have obtained fractional card advantage if you can use one of your cards to counter one of your opponent’s cards and a portion of a second card. (For example, if you play a Magma Hound to block your opponent’s Fleshfiend and also use the Magma Hound ability to kill one of your opponent’s Echowisps. In this case, your Magma Hound has destroyed one-and-half of your opponent’s cards, giving you fractional card advantage.) Fractional card advantage is a useful concept because fractional card advantage can add up to true card advantage. (For example, if you later use a second Magma Hound to block your opponent’s Zombie Infantry and also kill her second wisp, then your two Magma Hounds have destroyed three of your opponent’s cards, which yields true card advantage.)
When I think of Card Advantage, I typically think of it as a short-term consideration. That is, when I gain card advantage right now, the board improves and put pressure on my opponent. It is also the case that by leveling the right cards, you can create a situation where you are likely to gain card advantage in the future. Expected future card advantage is difficult to quantify and is a topic likely to be addressed in a future Module. This week we will focus on card advantage as a mechanism to obtain short-term gain.
This week we look at a game between the two SolForge Demo decks. It it is Turn 3, you played first, and you are playing the Nekrium/Uterra deck. Your opponent has previously played Technosmith, Air Spirit, Lightning Spark, and Volcanic Giant. You are faced with the following board position. Note that Fleshfiend received +1/+1 from your (now deceased) Grove Huntress.
Your opponent played Technosmith early to set herself up for a potentially strong late-game. Generally,* when my opponent starts playing for a strong late-game, my goal is to make her pay for playing a weak early-game card to set up her late-game. That is, I want to use my opponent’s weak early-game play to generate card advantage for myself. This puts pressure on my opponent and causes her to take a bunch of early game damage, and/or pass up opportunities to play her other strong late-game cards (e.g., the other Technomith, Scout Drone, Scorchmane Dragon).
In this situation, I feel there is little reason to give up another 4 life and so I recommend blocking the Technosmith. Clearly, any creature in your hand is capable of blocking and killing the Technosmith. However, I recommend against using Bonescythe Reaver or Fleshfiend to block the Technosmith because doing so will leave a two-health creature on the board. You have not yet seen either of your opponent’s Magma Hounds. If your opponent draws Magma Hound next turn, he uses it to kill your two-health creature. You gain fractional card advantage when your creature blocks Technosmith and lives, but your opponent’s Magma Hound gains back the advantage, which is not a good outcome for you. (Playing Alloyin General opposite your two-health creature is a good play for your opponent for similar reasons.) Finally, your opponent may draw her other Technosmith next turn (or the Scout Drone) and if you have a two-health creature on the board your opponent can use Technosmith to trade with that creature. It is true that if your opponent has used two Technosmiths to kill a single Bonescythe Reaver that you have gained a one-card advantage. However, your opponent gains a lot of potential late-game benefit from playing those two Technosmiths and thus you should be greedy and want more than a one-card advantage.
For similar reasons, I do not recommend playing Enrage on your Lane 4 Fleshfiend. Doing so spends one card to put an 8/2 creature into Lane 4 (without Enrage that Lane is empty). True, this 8/2 creature is offensive and so your opponent needs to deal with the creature next turn. However, any card your opponent plays in Lane 4 will kill the Enraged Fleshfiend, so at best you are getting a one-for-one exchange off your Enrage and if your opponent draws Magma Hound you are getting worse than a one-for-one trade. (Technosmith is similarly good for your opponent because it gives him a one-for-one trade with your Enrage, and his Technosmith does more to benefit her late-game than does your Enrage.)
In this situation, I recommend playing Cavern Hydra into Lane 2 and Zombie Infantry into Lane 5. The advantage of playing Hydra into Lane 2 is that (barring Lightning Wyrm, which is not a problem in this situation) your Hydra will not enter combat until your Turn 4. Therefore, by the time your Hydra next enters combat it will be back to full health. Your opponent has no Level 1 cards in his deck that do better than a one-for-one trade against a full-health Hydra and a number that die to the Hydra without killing it.
I recommend playing your second creature into Lane 5 for two reasons. First, given that your opponent has Alloyin General in her deck, it is slightly disadvantageous to play your creatures next to each other. Additionally, because you might draw Echowisp next turn, it is useful to leave open two adjacent lanes for wisps. The reason that I recommend Zombie Infantry is that your opponent has no cards that trades better than one-for-one against Zombie Infantry and a number of creatures (e.g., Flameshaper Acolyte, Forgeplate Sentry, Alloyin General) that the Zombie Infantry can kill without dying.
I think it is worth considering Bonescythe Reaver over Zombie Infantry, but in this case, I think Bonescythe Reaver is a mistake. The reason to consider Bonescythe Reaver is that Reaver has a special ability at Level 2 which can potentially generate card advantage by killing a Level 1 creature. However, in this case you need to think about how likely you are to draw your Level 2 Reaver when your opponent has a Level 1 creature on the board. In particular, your opponent is player 2 and has already played one Technosmith, therefore she will have at least 9 Level 2 cards in her deck going into Turn 5, which means she will probably only need to play two Level 1 cards during turns 5-8. Of course, your opponent might choose to play more Level 1 cards during Turns 5-8; particularly if she was leveling her Flameshaper Acolytes, which makes playing Level 1 cards more attractive. However, in this case, your opponent has not yet played any Flameshaper Acolyte. Finally, Level 2 Reaver can be very helpful on Turns 5 or 6 if your opponent is likely to leave lots of level 1 creatures on the board at the end of turns 1-4. However, since you are generating early-game card advantage, your opponent is likely to be behind on the board at end of Turn 4, reducing the opportunity to get good use out of your Level 2 Reaver. Therefore, in this circumstance, I prefer Zombie Infantry. (Note that at level 2, unlike Reaver, Zombie Infantry cannot be killed by Lightning Spark 2 and trades evenly against Volcanic Giant 2.)
In conclusion, playing Cavern Hydra in Lane 2 and Zombie Infantry in Lane 5 guarantees you that your two cards played will eliminate three of your opponents’ cards (Technosmith plus two cards subsequently played by your opponent on Turns 3 and 4). This gives you a one-card advantage, and may give you additional fractional card advantage if your opponent plays additional late-game cards like Technosmith, Scorchmane Dragon or Scout Drone.
One final play that deserves a brief mention is that you could Enrage your Lane 2 Cavern Hydra instead of play Zombie Infantry. There is no way that your opponent can deal with an Enraged Hydra without expending two cards, therefore this play also assures you a one-card advantage. I believe that this play, as compared to the Zombie Infantry in Lane 5, is less likely to generate additional fractional card advantage. However, if you believe it is valuable to level-up your Enrage (since your opponent’s deck lacks good ways to deal effectively with big creatures on turns 5-8), I believe this is a much stronger play than Enraging your Fleshfiend.
You just got a bad Turn 2 draw when it comes to dealing with the board position that your opponent left you. In this situation, many players find it tempting to hand their opponent card advantage by playing a creature in Lane 5. Notice that if you play any creature into Lane 5, your opponent will be left with a 7/3 Deepbranch Prowler in Lane 5 which will take an entire card for you to kill (either Lightning Spark or a future creature that kills the 7/3 Prowler but dies in the process.)
Therefore, in this situation, I strongly recommend taking the 7 damage from the Prowler instead of giving your opponent a two-for-one trade. In particular, the cost of playing Prowler was that your opponent has weakened his late-game deck. Therefore, if you level the right cards and can keep the board from getting out of control (i.e., don’t give up card advantage) then you can make up the 7 life later in the game.
The card in your hand that I would most want to level is Forgeplate Sentry. Forgeplate Sentry is a card that is very likely to generate favorable trade (i.e., fractional card advantage) at levels 2 and 3. Furthermore, your opponent has given you a great place to play Forgeplate Sentry. Move your Air Spirit to Lane 2 and play Forgeplate Sentry into Lane 3. (Note that moving your Air Spirit into Lane 2 also hits your opponent for 6 damage, which mostly compensates for leaving the Deepbranch Prowler unblocked.)
For your second play, I recommend playing your Alloyin General into Lane 4. The primary reason for this is that it set you up to take out the Prowler next turn. Your deck has a significant number of 5-power creatures (e.g., Volcanic Giant, Spark Bot, Magma Hound) and so playing General into Lane 4 greatly increases your chance of killing the Prowler next turn without giving your opponent card advantage. (True, your opponent might play Zombie Infantry or Cavern Hydra opposite your General to get an advantageous trade and fractional card advantage but that’s still better than doing a two-for-one trade with the Prowler.)
The dilemmas this week used the iPad Demo decks to demonstrate how thinking carefully about card advantage can set you up with a strong short-term board position. Obviously, there are times when you will choose to pass up short-term card advantage in order to position yourself for long-term gain. However, if you get in the habit of thinking about card advantage, you will be able to identify situations where you are voluntarily giving-up card advantage and evaluate such trade-offs accordingly.
Regular readers will notice that this column is a bit less complex than my last column. Indeed, I hope that this column was accessible to new readers (if you are new reader, I greatly appreciate any comments about the accessibility of this article). My intention, for the time being, is to provide an interesting mix of more and less complex columns to accommodate a potentially diverse audience.
As a final thought, consider if you had drawn Cull the Weak 1 instead of Enrage 1 in the first Dilemma. Notice that I discouraged playing Enrage on the Fleshfiend because it spent a card to put an 8/2 creature on the board. By contrast, casting Cull the Weak on the Air Spirit spends a card to do 5 damage to your opponent and leaving a 5/5 creature on the board. I believe that this is a better outcome than Enraging the Fleshfiend, but is it better than playing Zombie Infantry into Lane 5?
I encourage you to discuss the Final Thought in the comments, as well as to debate my analysis of the dilemmas. Until next time, I am the Noetherian and these are the SolForge Modules.
*: An alternative strategy, when your opponent attempts to set up a strong late-game, is to make plays that maximize the late-game effectiveness of your own deck (e.g., play a card like Chrogias 1). However, in this particular scenario, I believe that the Nekrium/Uterra player is better served by using card advantage to maximize his short-term gain.