My friends and I usually joke by saying “oh good, I’m winning” when our opponent takes 2 life loss from an Overgrown Tomb and plays Farseek on turn two. We are at 20 life, and our opponent is at 18, so we are winning right? Well, maybe, except that our opponent played first and is now at 3 lands to our 1, and after our next turn, they will still be ahead in resources. The following turns usually play out something like Huntmaster of the Fells followed by a Thragtusk as we fall further behind. The reason for our sarcasm when we say “oh good, I’m winning” is this: we know that the first 19 life we lose is insignificant compared to the resources in our hand and on the battlefield.
A lot of professional players and magic writers talk about something called card advantage. Anyone who has had the Opportunity to draw 4 cards using 1 spell in limited understands the value of having more cards in hand than your opponent. You’ve now acquired more threats, more answers, and that 7th land you so desperately needed to resolve your Colossal Whale. This feels good, but is only a very narrow view of what card advantage really is. The very best decks in constructed use something I like to call “Resource Advantage.”
The best spells in any format are the ones that generate the most resource advantage. I like to divide resources into units. A vanilla creature (one with no special abilities, ex. Canyon Minotaur) or a removal spell (ex. Murder is equivalent to one unit of resource. An exceptional creature like Thragtusk generates about 2.5 resources, because your opponent will need to expend 2 removal spells, and find a way to deal an additional 5 points of damage to you. Sphinx’s Revelation generates X resources, where X is the number of additional cards in your hand. As a general principle, the more resources you can generate than your opponent, the more likely you are to win.
One of the many skills that separates a professional magic player from your average FNM winner is their ability to generate the maximum number of resources from each and every card. If you have ever had the pleasure of playing against a professional level player you have seen this in action. It feels like they are drawing extra cards, when in reality, they are simply using their resources more efficiently than you are. Very experienced players can even make cards that are usually only worth 1 resource, for example a removal spell, into a resource generator by using it at the proper time. For example, destroying the creature Rancor is targeting before it resolves nets you 1 resource ahead of your opponent.
I want to end this article with a story from Grand Prix Calgary. I had the pleasure of playing beside (not against, thankfully) Melissa DeTora in day two of the GP. Her and I were playing very similar Jund mid-range decks, so I was familiar with the set of spells available to her. This gave me an opportunity to test my problem solving skills against a pro. Melissa and her opponent, who was playing a Bant control list, were headed to time. DeTora had a Garruk, Primal Hunter and several 3/3 beast tokens on the field. Her opponent flashed in a Restoration Angel into the battlefield and targeted his Thragtusk with the flicker ability. Melissa had a Doom Blade in hand and the mana to cast it. Her decision in this crucial moment won her the game.
When you’re headed into the last 6 rounds of play at time, the last thing you want to do is let your opponent gain 5 life and put another blocker into play right? So you should remove Thragtusk from the battlefield before the flicker ability resolves… right? Melissa didn’t think so, and now I don’t either. The tusk is a 5/3, and while threatening, still trades with a beast token. The angel on the other hand is a 3/4. It does not trade with a beast token, and effectively nullifies DeTora’s Garruk by eating up beasts as fast as Garruk can generate them. Melissa killed the Restoration Angel after the trigger had resolved so that she could continue trading resources with her opponent, and this was favorable because she was generating resources faster than her opponent was. After the final 3 turns, Melissa and her opponent had generated the following as a result of that interaction:
DeTora won the game with a Rakdos’s return on the final turn of extra rounds, but she had defeated her opponent many turns earlier by refusing to take the obvious decision, and instead electing to employ proper resource management. So at your next FNM, PTQ, or GP try out playing a game of magic with resource advantage in mind.
(Artwork by Jesse Munoz.)