Grabbing Control 2: Advantage Island

So, I decided that, since it is the summer, I should have my vacation at Advantage Island. You all know what I'm talking about. It's that tiny island off the coast of Florida. It's always sunny and... um... advantageous. Anyway, despite the fact that it was vacation, I learned a lot from that trip, and I'm willing to share it all with you. All the advantages on Advantage Island are experts in playing control decks. I even conducted some interviews with the indigenous advantages!

[i]Advantage Island proved to be some
inspiration for Unhinged.[/i]
Rules of Advantages

So, if you don't know (and you should), the population on Advantage Island is mostly made up of advantages, although there are always tourists, since it's such a wonderful attraction. There are even a few humans who live among the advantages, like J.D. Salinger. Anyway, one of the famous attractions at Advantage Island is the fighting pits. You see, advantages, while they are generally nice to tourists, hate each other. With the fighting pits they can kill two birds with one stone – they can entertain the humans while beating the living baloney out of each other. I decided to have an interview with one of the trainers.

Me: So, what are some things you tell your advantages to train them right?

Trainer: Who the hell are you?

Me: I'm a Magic player.

Trainer: A Magic player, huh?

Me: Yeah.

Trainer: Well, my main mantra is “more than your opponent.” I tell my advantages to recite that over and over. It gets them angry. In the fighting pits, the bigger advantages always win, since our fighting style is very logical, even if they're only bigger by a hair. Also, in Magic, when you're playing a control deck, that mantra is really important. In order to win, you gotta have more of whatever you're trying to use than your opponent.

Me: Great. Anything else?

Trainer: Yeah, two other things actually. For one, I tell them not to hide and be defensive. The guys that play those strategies are really unreliable because whether or not they win depends on how the opponent acts. You know, it's funny, it's the same way in Magic. The bad advantages come from reactive strategies. Take the card Swift Silence, for instance. You are definitely able to draw tons of cards and counter a lot of your opponent's spells, but that's only if your opponent plays a lot of spells. Nope, the best strategy is to be proactive.

[i]Necropotence knockoff? Sure.
Necropotence? Umm...[/i]
Me: Thanks. And the other one?

Trainer: Right. Well, this is kind of a secret. I don't think I can trust you.

Me: Please? I'm totally not writing this down and sharing it with an online community.

Trainer: Well, all right. I teach my guys a very special style. It's called "efficiency-jutsu." That style has things like one-inch punches and they ability to go for a kill real fast. Wow. You know, I never thought of this before, but it's kinda the same in Magic. In Magic, your proactivity must be efficient. Otherwise, you won't get the advantage you need when you want to. Take Nihilistic Glee, for example. It's a really inefficient card. It's true that Nihilistic Glee can get you tons of cards (you can stack the triggers), but to do so, you need to first get rid of your hand, pay mana, and pay life.

Me: Great. Thanks a whole lot. I'll cheer for your guys today. Anything else?

Trainer: Yeah. If you want to learn more to share with your online community, perhaps you could talk to the fighters. I'm sure they've got some great advice.

Me: How did you know I was gathering information for a Magic theory article?

Trainer: Your writing in a notebook. Silly tourist.

Types of Advantages

Well, in spite of being slightly embarrassed, he taught me some invaluable lessons about my favorite game. I decided to take the trainer's advice and talk to the different advantages running about. I found a card advantage and his younger brother.

Me: Hi.

Card Advantage: Hello. Oh, are you that silly tourist gathering information about Magic?

Me: Umm... no.

Card Advantage: Okay. What do you want? You can call me CA by the way.

Me: Ah, so what are you exactly?

CA: Well, I'm what you've got when you are drawing more cards than your opponent.

Me: Why are you advantageous?

CA: Because, when you're drawing more cards than your opponent, you've got more options to choose from.

Me: How can a player get a card advantage?

[i]A perfect example of a broken card
advantage engine.[/i]
CA: Hmm... There are plenty of ways, really. The most common, though, is through blue one-shot instants and sorceries like Telling Time and Compulsive Research. These cards usually get you more than one card back, and if they don't, they usually provide some kind of means of getting more cards you want like with scry. The next most commonly created (and rare) are black permanents that can get you a significant card advantage over time by trading life. Cards like this are Necropotence, Dark Confidant, Yawgmoth's Bargain, and Phyrexian Arena. Black also has the "trade life for cards" theme in instants and sorceries like Night's Whispers and Minions' Murmurs.

Me: Wonderful. So, what's the best way to abuse you?

CA: What the...?

Me: I mean, what's the best way to abuse a card advantage in Magic?

CA: Oh, I get it. The most common and straightforward way is to play a reactive strategy. The more cards you draw, the more you're likely to get that one (or two) card(s) that will ruin an opponent's plans. However, I support most kinds of proactive strategies, as well. If you're able to draw all your proactive spells, you'll be more able to play them on a consistent basis than when you're in topdeck mode. Oh yeah, and if you're playing a "lock" style deck, you'll be more likely to get your combo on a turn when you can still bring the game around.

Me: Thanks. And who is your little brother?

CA: This guy is TA (short for Tutor Advantage) --

TA: I can speak. Anyway, yes, I'm a tutor advantage. Rather than just having more cards than your opponent, I just get the cards you want or need. A tutor advantage virtually gains you access to an entire deck if you have enough tutors. I can really only be used in either a reactive deck or a "lock" style deck (to tutor for the combo pieces). The real problem is that, since tutors are really powerful, designers usually need to put restrictions on them like sorcery timing. This means that you really can't react as fast as if you were just drawing a lot of cards from a Phyrexian Arena or something.

Me: Great. Thanks a whole lot.

CA: Have fun gathering information for your article.

Me: Grr...

Next up, I managed to find a mana advantage preparing for battle by scaring kittens. He was a little shy, but I was still able to get the interview.

Me: Hello. Could I have an interview?

Mana Advantage: Hi tourist. Sure.

Me: So, what do you do?

Mana Advantage: Me? Oh, I don't really exist - I'm just a whole bunch of mana. I grant the ability to play spells. If I'm big, you can play a ton of spells so that your opponent(s) can't deal with them.

Me: Really? Intriguing. What's the best way to abuse a mana advantage in Magic?

[i]A perfect example of a broken
mana advantage engine.[/i]
Mana Advantage: What're you trying to say? Are you saying you want to shove me in some proactive deck with tons of drawing spells so that you can build up several turns in which you play over two spells a turn so that your opponent can't deal with you? Or are you saying you want to put me in a deck with Demonfire? Or a deck with cards that have a worse effect for people that have less mana like Boom/Bust and Numot, the Devastator? 'Cause I'm not free, you know. You gotta play some green cards that build up lands, or some red "ritual" cards like Seething Song, or at least some Signets. Although, you can also destroy your opponent's lands with cards like Stone Rain and Mwonvuli Acid-Moss if you really want me.

Me: No, no. I mean just in general.

Mana Advantage: Oh, why didn't you say that in the first place? Well, you can shove me in a proactive deck --

Me: I got that part.

Mana Advantage: Right, right. There are tons of other ways to get and abuse mana advantages, but the ones I shouted at you are some of the main ones in Standard right now.

Me: Thanks.

I was worried there for a second. He got really angry. I couldn't really get many more interviews with other advantages. I went to a hotel for the night, but couldn't get any sleep because the guy in the room next to me listened to Necrophagous to fall asleep. I arose the next morning with my hair standing straight up.

A Physics Class

My journey through Advantage Island continues with a mistake. You see, a pressure advantage decided it would be funny to switch the signs for the directions to the fighting pits and the school, while throwing unusually large rocks at passing cars. So, to make a long story short, I ended up in a basic level physics class. The teacher was a short little guy (a graveyard advantage, I think) with glasses and a long stick which he used to point to the blackboard and occasionally prod students. This week's lesson was on energy. He kept slapping that stick pointing to a single figure written on the board, which read: POTENTIAL becomes KINETIC.

He began: "Physics is simply a practical application of mathematics. Magic is another. You can find many correlations between these two applications, one of which is the idea of potential energy and kinetic energy." He paused as faces began to slam on the desks. "For those of you didn't do the homework last night, which I can safely assume would be all of you, I will explain the concepts of potential and kinetic energy.

[i]The storage lands are probably the most
recent and simplest example of the
Potential to Kinetic model.[/i]

"Within everything lies a given amount of potential energy. This is energy being conserved but not used. When that being uses that potential energy, it becomes kinetic energy. There are formulas for each of these, but they don't necessarily apply in Magic. Basically, in Magic, there are cards that create advantages, which would be considered 'potential,' (proactive) as well as there are cards that abuse advantages, or 'kinetic' (proactive) cards." I suddenly became intrigued with physics. "In Magic, when you're playing a control deck, you want your beginning hand to be filled with potential because of this rule (POTENTIAL becomes KINETIC). Since you're heading for the long game, it's better to spend your early game generating your advantage than to keep some kinetic cards in your hand. This way, you can play your deck at its full potential by the time you're planning to play your cards." I had a question, so I raised my hand.

Teacher: Who the hell are you?

Me: Um... I, um... want to learn physics?

Teacher: Really?

The kids stared at me with gaping mouths; the teacher's brow was furrowed.

Me: Um... yeah...

Teacher: Well then, [at this point he is applauding] what is your question?

Me: What about reactive cards? Are they potential or kinetic?

Teacher: Ah good question. You really can consider them both, either, or neither. [I sit there with a confused look on my face] You see, a reactive card like, say, Wrath of God, doesn't really require or abuse any sort of advantage. However, it can generate card advantage by taking out two or more cards with one, leaving your opponent at a net loss of cards. In this case, it is potential. A card, though, like Molten Disaster, can function in the same way as Wrath of God but also abuses a mana advantage. In this case, it is both. What you all must really take from this lesson is this: [he slams on the board hard such that all the students awaken] POTENTIAL becomes KINETIC.

Me: Great. Can I ask another question?

Teacher: Why, you just did. That's your three questions for the day. I'm afraid you'll have to wait for tomorrow to ask another question.

Me: Really? I just wanted to know how to get to the pits for the match today.

Teacher: What did I just say?! Advantages, attack!

Then, a big advantage kicked me so hard that I miraculously landed in my seat for the pit match.

The Tournament

So, I arrived quite late. In fact, I arrived only to see the finals.

The tournament structure was much different than I imagined. Instead of just wrestling, there are actually battles between the trainers. Each trainer can use special moves to attack the other. If it is successful, the trainer gains the ability to summon an advantage that they've trained to fight for them. It's not that simple, though. The completed move must be considered powerful enough to summon a large advantage.

Final Match: G/B Aggro-Control vs. MonoBlue Counterspells

While G/B Aggro-Control brought in a ton of advantages to call upon, MonoBlue relies solely on his own ability to effectively counter the opponent's special moves and then summons a pressure advantage. Onto the match!

G/B Aggro-Control uses a move called "Birds of Paradise," which MonoBlue allows, so a little mana advantage is summoned. Then, G/B Aggro-Control uses "Funeral Charm," but MonoBlue is quick to counter it. However, while MonoBlue is still attempting to get back to a ready stance, G/B Aggro Control jumps high and does a flying sidekick into MonoBlue's gut - a move called "Dark Confidant." This summons a really, really big card advantage. I mean colossal. I mean, this advantage was so big that G/B Aggro-Control won because the advantage accidentally hit his head on a ceiling beam and fell on top of MonoBlue.

"See there?" the guy sitting next to me said. "The Dark Confidant technique creates a huge advantage. Imagine if he used that move later on. It wouldn't have mattered because the other guy would already have the advantage. Dark Confidant is hugely potential." I turned over to see it was the teacher.

Me: What are you doing here?

Teacher: Another question?! How dare you!

Me: Nevermind.

Teacher: I brought my students here on a field trip. It's a great learning experience. I'm also trying to help you by giving you information to share with that community of yours.

Me: Grr...

Teacher: Silly tourist.


So, all in all, I had a great time, and my journey to Advantage Island was a wonderful learning experience. Not only did I learn that advantages are smarter than they look, but I now have a rather sore behind. Oh yeah, and I also learned tons of stuff about my favorite game. Join me next time when I adventure through the Synergy Jungle and enter the Temple of Duality.


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