Table of Contents
An Introduction to Card Advantage Theory
Card advantage has long been a defining concept of Yu-Gi-Oh theory, and for good reason. Careful management of your card economy will decide the outcome of a duel more often than not, and decks that can reliably generate more advantage than other contenders will rise to the top of the metagame pile (Zoodiac, for a glaring example).
Card advantage can be defined as follows: “The extent to which a player is able to obtain more cards than their opponent.”
At it’s most basic, card advantage can be looked at as simple addition and subtraction, expressed using integers such as -1, +0 and +1. A player can gain advantage by adding cards to their hand/field that weren’t previously accessible, or by removing cards from their opponent’s hand/field. As with most Yu-Gi-Oh concepts, there are layers of card interaction that dramatically complicate this model, and we will address those in future articles. For now, keep the following in mind: card advantage is important because the player who has it has more options than their opponent.
Let’s take a look at some examples of “plusses” and “minuses,” a simple way of determining the strength of cards and combos.
Trading Cards Through Removal
In the most simple model of card advantage, any time you lose a card that is on your hand or field, including simply activating it and sending it to the graveyard by game mechanics, you have taken a -1. What that card does before it is lost is what makes up for the loss. Because of the prevalence of removal and disruption in Yu-Gi-Oh, trading one card for an opponent’s card(s) is a common occurrence.
Let’s say an opponent’s monster declares an attack on your monster. Stopping the attack with a card like Paleozoic Dinomischus will trade 2 of your cards (the discard from hand and Dinomischus itself) for one of the opponent’s cards, resulting in a -1. That extra card you lost represents an option for play that you no longer have. Dimensional Prison will trade itself for the opponent’s monster–a 1-for-1 trade, +0. Both stop the attack, both protect your monster from destruction, both banish the opponent’s monster, but in this example Dimensional Prison cost one less card to do it, maintaining card card advantage for you. 1-for-1 trades like this have been a staple of competitive Yu-Gi-Oh for almost the entirety of the game’s history.
But what if you could gain card advantage in this situation, instead of just breaking even? Let’s say the opponent controls two Attack position monsters, and declares an attack. You activate Mirror Force, and blow away both of their monsters. You traded Mirror Force for two of your opponent’s cards, and obtained a +1. In fact, depending on the situation, Mirror Force has the potential to be a +5, if the opponent has all 6 Monster Zones full (including the new Extra Monster Zone). Against the right deck, making that kind of trade can seal the game in your favor. No wonder Mirror Force and its retrains see play in all sorts of metagames!
Which would you rather play? Tribute to the Doomed (-1), Smashing Ground (+0) or Raigeki (potentially a +5, usually at least a +1)? These are simple examples, but analyzing trades is a great way to assess the value of a new card at a glance, because generally the player who repeatedly makes advantageous trades over time will win.
Drawing and Searching
You can also trade resources for more resources in the form of adding cards from the deck to the hand.
Pot of Greed is a great example of a pure advantage-generating card. It gives you 2 cards for the cost of 1, the most direct form of +1. Allure of Darkness let’s you draw 2 cards, but then you banish a DARK monster from your hand. 2 cards gets you 2, a +0. Card of Demise has the potential to trade itself for three cards, a staggering +2. I’m sure by this point you get the idea, so I won’t bore you with any more obvious breakdowns. Here’s the point: In general, the more cards a card gains you at the lowest cost in terms of card economy, the better that card is.
For this reason, cards that float–replace themselves when they leave the field–are powerful and important cards. The concept goes all the way back to the beginning of the game with cards like Sangan and Witch of the Black Forest, as well as battle-floaters like Pyramid Turtle and Mystic Tomato. Obviously, the game has changed a lot since 2002-03 when these cards premiered, and the definition of floater has expanded to include any card that can be removed from the field or hand and leave you at a net +0 or better. At the most basic, a card is a floater if it:
- Searches/draws a card when it leaves the field. (Card Trooper, Metalfoes Combination)
- Special Summons a monster from deck/Graveyard when it leaves the field. (Denglong, First of the Yang Zing, Zoodiac Ramram)
- Destroys an opponent’s card when it leaves the field. (Artifact Sanctum, Metalfoes Orichalc)
But those aren’t the only qualifications. The definition of floater also includes a card that pays for itself through on-field effects and/or winning in battle with opponent’s monsters. Elemental HERO Stratos-esque searchers and cards with removal effects like Zoodiac Drident can also be considered floaters, because by the time they have left the field they have paid for themselves by gaining you at least one card of advantage. In Goat format, Berserk Gorilla is an example of a monster that can easily become a floater through battle because of its massive Attack stat.
To give you a cohesive definition, then, I’ll quote Jae Kim, an old-school theory guru, with some modifications to account for the fact that the game has changed so much since his time that even Field Spells like Kozmotown float today.
“A floater is a [card] that has either paid for itself already or a [card] that is implied to pay for itself at a future [time].”
If your opponent removes a floater from the field, they are doing so at a -1 or worse. Good decks start by including cards that are floaters and good players know how to play in such a way that they turn their cards into floaters.
A Combo Example
When these floating attributes are combined, you can get some scary results. Here’s an oldie:
- Normal Summon Star Seraph Scepter. (overall +0)
- Chain link 2: Scepter effect to search for Star Seraph Sovereignty. Chain Link 1: Second Sovereignty effect in hand to Special Summon itself and draw one card. Chain resolves. (+2,+2)
- Effect of searched Sovereignty in hand. (+1,+3)
- Overlay the three Star Seraphs for Stellarknight Delteros (-2, +1)
- Delteros on-summon effect via Scepter to destroy an opponent’s card and draw one card. (+2, +3)
- Delteros ignition effect to destroy a second opponent’s card. (+1,+4)
In this scenario, your opponent has lost two cards to destruction, and you have searched one card and drawn three. You have simultaneously stripped your opponent of options in the form of destroyed resources and given yourself more options in the form of draws. Because you used three monsters to make one, you lost two cards toward your advantage, but the fact that the summon allowed you to draw one card and destroy 2 cards means that summoning Delteros was a +1. He is now floating on the field.
On your next turn, if Delteros can destroy another of your opponent’s cards, you can add another +1 to your advantage. Furthermore, if Delteros is sent to the Graveyard and you have a valid “tellarknight” target in your hand or deck, Delteros will float by the more traditional definition, special summoning that target, and you will get another +1. Your opponent has a long way to go before they can catch up.
There are many combos in the game that generate all sorts of crazy advantage. Let’s take a look at another familiar combo and analyze the advantage earned at each step.
Every Zoodiac combo has the potential to gain huge advantage, thanks to the variety of powerful effects the archetype has at its disposal, as well as its ability to perform one-card Xyz summons. The latter is very important, because most extra deck summons require a -1 or worse, like the Delteros summon discussed above. But a Zoodiac Xyz summon is a +0, meaning that ALL of the advantage generated by the combo is preserved at each step, allowing a Zoodiac deck to take advantage of the complete slate of effects at its disposal on a given turn while continually plussing. Moreover, it all starts with one very searchable card. A Zoodiac player with zero cards can topdeck a single combo starter and generate an impressive amount of advantage.
Let’s look at the most recent iteration of the Zoodiac Drident + Rank 4 combo, from the June 2017 format, pre-Links.
- Normal summon Zoodiac Ratpier. Trigger effect to send Zoodiac Ramram from deck to grave. (overall +0)
- Summon Zoodiac Boarbow using Ratpier as material. (+0)
- Summon Zoodiac Tigermortar using Boarbow as material. (+0)
- Activate Tigermortar’s effect to summon a second Ratpier from the deck. (+1, +1)
- Summon Zoodiac Broadbull using Tigermortar as material. (+0, +1)
- Activate Broadbull’s effect to add a Beast-Warrior monster from from deck to hand. (+1, +2)
- Summon Zoodiac Chakanine using Broadbull as material. (+0, +2)
- Activate Chakanine’s effect to special summon Ramram from grave. (+1, +3)
- Summon Zoodiac Drident using Chakanine as material. (+0, +3)
- Activate Drident’s effect to destroy Ramram. (-1, +2)
- Trigger Ramram’s effect to special summon Ratpier from grave. (+1, +3)
- Summon Daigusto Emeral using the two Ratpiers as material. (-1, +2)
- Activate Emeral’s effect to shuffle three monsters into the deck and draw one card. (+1, +3)
One card turns into four for a +3. Of course, there are many other combos at the deck’s disposal, but all of them can turn just one card into many. No wonder the Zoodiac deck is so dominant!
Examining combos like this can help you determine their effectiveness and predict which decks will be at the top tables, especially if they start with just one card.
There are other considerations, to be sure. The Zoodiac combo is extremely resilient, and not easily interrupted, especially during the first turn. Often multiple disruptions are required to stop their plusses. Compare this to other one-card combos, like those found in OMG! Totally BROKEN 1-Crard Bombo! videos on YouTube, which are usually a house of cards that a Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit can easily collapse, or even consistent combo decks like Metalfoe Yang Zing that can be halted by just one handtrap. Balancing advantage-generation against consistency and resiliency is something all competitive Yu-Gi-Oh players must consider. That’s one of the reasons why Zoodiac has been ubiquitous since release and those other decks see little, if any, competitive play.
This article presents an extremely basic model for calculating card advantage and analyzing cards. Admittedly, the thoughts presented here ignore many aspects of the game and take a limited view on player interaction. This is necessary when discussing the simple addition of card advantage; other considerations, effects, and costs have to be weighed separately.
Yu-Gi-Oh is much more complex than it was when much of this theory was developed. In today’s games, simplistic methods of calculating card advantage are less effective. Who cares if Dimensional Barrier is a -1? Today, a -1 or +1 is negligible, but back in the old days these small advantages could be game-changing. Despite this, card advantage theory is still useful in evaluating cards, engines and combos, especially when you start to take a deeper look. But the simple methods of calculating card advantage are not everything.
In the next article, we will begin to look at elements of virtual card advantage, and discover that addition and subtraction do not paint the whole picture.
Duke, Reid. “The Basics of Card Advantage”
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