Card advantage is one of the most fundamental and important aspects of trading card games. While most players of other card games will understand the phrase, I have not seen it discussed much in the Pokémon TCG. This spurred me to write this article so that new players and players who play the Pokémon TCG exclusively will have a better understanding of the topic.
To start off, what is card advantage? A basic definition may be as follow:
A play or sequence of plays that lead to a player having more cards than the other player.
A straightforward example would be playing the Supporter Cheren. You gain a card advantage of +2 as you drew 3 cards with the cost of playing one, leading to a net gain of 2 cards.
The Importance of Card Advantage
>While knowledge of the term varies, any player who has played a trading card game for long enough will know that the person who has the most access to his cards (i.e. can draw the most cards) will usually gain the upper hand in any game.
Let’s say two players of equal skill are running the exact same deck. The player more likely to win would then be the one who is able to use their draw and search cards in a timely fashion. If you are able to use Professor Juniper consecutively while you opponent is stuck drawing a card per turn, you will have a huge card advantage simply because you have more resources to use.
Once you understand card advantage, you can make better decisions in games. The intrinsic value of the quantity and quality of the cards in your hand can be consciously understood. In fact, most experienced players would have internalized that thought process as “intuition” or “gut feeling.”
Being able to understand and explain why certain plays should be made will also lead to a fuller enjoyment of the game whether playing or spectating.
Of course, card advantage is not the game by itself. There are other factors that can determine a game, such as coin flips. After all, it doesn’t matter if you have the best hand in the world when your Active Pokémon is stuck Asleep because of your opponent’s Hypnotoxic Laser.
Forms of Card Advantage
There are a few ways card advantage can arise in a game.
When you play down a Trainer card or use an Ability to draw cards from your deck, you generate a card advantage if you drew more cards than you used. The advantage comes from the larger hand size, which equates to having more resources and a larger variety of choices available to you.
Most recently we have the Supporter Ghetsis which not only removes Item cards from your opponent’s hand, but allows you to draw the same amount of cards. This allows you to generate a card advantage of 2X – 1, where X is the amount of Item cards in your opponent’s hand.
Historically, Gengar Prime‘s Hurl Into Darkness is also a example of a powerful discard-type effect. By sending your opponent’s Pokémon into the Lost Zone, those cards are completely removed from play. This gives you an absolute card advantage as you literally have more cards to play than your opponent.
Lastly, cards like Tool Scrapper also generate card advantage by removing cards from your opponent’s playing field. The value of your opponent’s Float Stone and Eviolite being played disappears and he experiences a net loss of -1 card.
An unfavorable exchange is when your opponent has to use more resources than you in order to prevent a game loss. Forcing your opponent to use more resources to Knock Out your Pokémon is a significant form of card advantage as they have to deplete their resources while you can conserve yours.
Bouffalant DRX exemplifies the unfavorable exchange. Most Pokémon-EX will have to invest a great deal of resources, either in Energy or Trainers like Dark Claw or Hypnotoxic Laser to Knock it Out for a measly Prize. Conversely, Bouffalant can deal 120 damage to an EX for 3 C Energy, possibly netting you 2 Prizes.
Virtual Card Advantage
A different type of card advantage, the content of which tends to become quite contentious among players as the theory gets more complicated. In any case, it is still a fundamental part of card advantage and I will also briefly introduce with some examples that I hope will not cause any riots.
Virtual card advantage is created when the value of a card in the game is increased or diminished.
Bringing up a common example, the use of Garbodor BCR’s Garbotoxin creates a virtual card advantage by nullifying all abilities in play. Suddenly, your opponent’s Eelektrik NVI or Blastoise BRC’s raison d’être disappears. Your opponent might as well have not played them. See what I mean?
Speaking of Eelektrik and Blastoise, the two provide a virtual card advantage by having recurring effects. Let’s say you spent 3 cards in order to bring Blastoise into play; a Squirtle, Rare Candy, and the Blastoise itself.
By using Deluge to bring 3 Water Energy into play, you have already accrued the benefits of 3 turns of manual Energy attachment. Every time you use Deluge you gain more utility than you had from the 3 cards you invested.
As you can see, setup and control decks like Blastoise and Eelektrik tend to manipulate virtual card advantage. By rendering your cards more useful or your opponent’s useless, a disparity in card advantage is created. That is the key to being ahead of your opponent.
Beatdown decks like Darkrai and Landorus, on the other hand, work mainly on raw card advantage. The cornerstone of speed Darkrai decks, Sableye DEX’s Junk Hunt, recycles 2 Items cards to your hand which is a solid +2 to your hand size.
Moreover, manipulating both is what both good lists and players can do as shown by the Garbodor/Landorus decks that did very well during Regionals. A player’s flexibility is recognizing and utilizing both forms of advantage is what makes them outstanding.
It is not just Pokémon that can provide a virtual card advantage. The contents of the deck can even generate a virtual advantage before the game begins.
Say you are playing a deck with 2 Enhanced Hammer and you go up against a Rayquaza EX/Eelektrik deck that runs only basic Fire and Lightning Energy. Right off the bat, you are at a disadvantage as you are virtually playing a 58 card deck against an opponent with 60 cards that still might come in useful.
This type of virtual advantage is where reading the metagame comes in highly useful. A player will need to judge the amount of utility of their cards in each matchup and decide how many copies of a card one should run.
pokemon.theirstar.comWhile the importance of card advantage cannot be understated, it is as I’ve mentioned before, only part of the game. Luck still plays a part, especially in today’s format. What is colloquially known as “board position” and how you use your resources is also important. There is no use in having a large hand if your Pokémon are constantly destroyed by Black Kyurem EX.
Likewise if you squander away vital Trainers and Pokémon with Professor Juniper in order to “dig deep,” your card advantage will be for naught as you have did not exercise the full value of the cards in your hand.
I hope this article has excited your brain and whet your appetite on the theory of playing the game!
Most of the information here came from the Wikipedia entry on card advantage as well as Magic’s own introduction to card advantage. Those interested in learning more about card advantage can check out those pages as well.