(Metagame Archive) Theoretically Speaking: Hand Advantage

By Shane Wiggans

Pro Circuit season is upon us. You can smell it in the air. If you throw a stone in the various online Vs. communities, you are bound to hit a topic that pertains to the Pro Circuit. Thus, I decided to give you a topic that I feel could really come into play when you are sitting across from your opponent. That topic is, of course, hand advantage.

The Old Wives’ Tale . . .

When I informed my candidate for player of the year, Tim Batow, of my decision to write on this topic, he laughed at me. He said, “Hand advantage isn’t important in this game.” I respectfully disagree. No, your ears did not deceive you—I actually sided against Tim Batow. I am still waiting for the lightning to strike. He later informed me I would be jinxing myself for PC San Francisco if I went against his wisdom, but in an attempt to impart my own wisdom to you, I took the chance. (So, if I am doing coverage on Day 2, I surely hope those who read this article will share in their winnings.)

Hand Advantage and . . . Seinfeld?

One thing you should know about me is that I am a rabid Seinfeld fan. If I am not giving you Tim Batow stories, the stories will invariably come from Seinfeld. I know that other Seinfeldians (I know, I just coined a new word . . . hurrah for me!) will get this reference. If you are unfamiliar with the show, it essentially follows Jerry, George (Jerry’s best friend), Kramer (Jerry’s neighbor), and Elaine (Jerry’s ex) through all their relationships and the quirky things that happen to them. Throughout one episode, George talks about something called “hand.” When he has “hand,” he is in control of the relationship he is in. By the end of the show, he loses “hand.” Essentially, he is referring to having the upper hand in any given situation. This can translate to Vs. System very well.

What is Hand Advantage, and Why is it Important?

Let’s hit the very basics first, shall we? Drawing cards is a good thing. A really good thing. The more cards you see, the more opportunities and options you have. There is a reason that the draw step comes before the resource and recruit steps. Okay, I know you think that it’s ridiculous for me to even say this. However, I want to start very basic and build from there, because not every card that lets you draw a card necessarily impacts your hand advantage.

So, what does hand advantage impact other than play choices? It influences what your opponent does. I know I touched on this in my previous articles, but consider those tidbits just small previews of what I am now focusing on. For example, if I have six cards in my hand, my opponent will have to engage in some critical thinking to determine what I may hold. If I am playing a deck that has defensive tricks, what are the odds I have one of those tricks in my hand? If it is my attack step, will I have any attack tricks that will hurt my opponent? Again, we are still in relatively shallow water, but this is what hand advantage is all about:

  1. What options and opportunities are available to you?
  2. What information about your options and opportunities does your hand advantage give to your opponents?

 

Test Tube Baby: Life After Birthing Chamber

Let’s start with the obvious card-drawing engine that is present for Silver Age. Birthing Chamber single-handedly enables many decks to function. Cards like this that allow you to draw cards have multiple functions in a deck: Birthing Chamber allows deck thinning (by drawing a card) and cycling through your deck (by ditching a card you don’t want) if you have the requisite six characters in play. Drawing one or two more cards than your opponent each turn is a huge advantage no matter how you cut it.

What you must consider now, as a budding deck builder and up-and-comer in the Vs. community, is how to maximize a hand advantage engine. It is my prediction (I have a swami hat on as I say this, so you know I am serious) that the various Faces and G’Lock builds will be running this wonder card. Okay, I took off my swami hat. In all seriousness, Birthing Chamber will be present in these decks, and I want to take just a few seconds to recognize what sort of impact a card can have on two very different archetypes.

First, let’s examine Faces. For those who do not know of Faces, it’s a deck that focuses on getting as many copies of Faces of Evil out as possible while maximizing the card’s benefit by playing only characters with a cost of 3 or less. It’s not hard to imagine that if you are laying several cheap characters a turn, your hand will run out rather fast. Birthing Chamber allows a Faces player the opportunity to rebuild his hand and helps dig for search cards and utility cards like Yellowjacket, Hard Sound Construct, and Beetle, Armorsmith. Drawing even one of these cards can turn into several cards given the right game state.  Without Birthing Chamber, I do not think this deck could function nearly as competitively as it does.

Next, we get the extreme pleasure of looking at how Birthing Chamber operates in a deck that, instead of pumping out characters, tries to stall to a late victory. The deck that utilizes this plan is called G’Lock and is the brainchild of Patrick Yapjoco. This deck abuses Dr. Light, Master of Holograms to pump out extra characters each turn, as well as utilizing recovery techniques like Lanterns in Love and defensive pumps like Helping Hand. All three of these cards in concert, along with a cast of characters whose DEF values are above the curve significantly (Malvolio and Katma Tui, for example), make it likely that the player piloting this stall deck will have the opportunity to abuse a card like Birthing Chamber.

Hand Disadvantage?
While I’ve spent significant time discussing how Birthing Chamber can create hand advantage, there are significantly more cards that create a hand disadvantage—or at least an information disadvantage—to any given player. I’m talking about effects that require a player to discard a card in order to gain an effect or ability. Since there are so many cards that create disadvantages, let me run down several that may be present in the upcoming Silver Age format, as well as a few thoughts on them.

Blue Beetle, Ted Kord: This guy is a lynchpin of any JLA/JLI build. His ability to keep you on curve by fetching his pal Booster Gold or getting you that equipment card is surely valuable, even though his cost can sometimes be high.

Latverian Embassy: This card is a staple. I love this card. Unfortunately, it is by and large unplayable in the dominant decks of the format. The discard can be randomly really painful, as its effect isn’t necessary to further your path to victory but can severely hinder your opponents. If you subscribe to the concept of “if your opponent isn’t winning, then you aren’t losing,” you may value this card more than others.

The Ring Has Chosen: This card is unique. It can create negative hand advantage, as it requires a discard, but a lot of the time, the card that is searched out is the one that is discarded. This is because the player who does this normally plans to utilize Dr. Light, Master of Holograms or Slaughter Swamp to get the character back. Obviously, if the card is put in your resource row, it is just a swap. More on this to come.

Last, but certainly not least . . .

Enemy of My Enemy: This will be the most-played card at PC San Francisco. If it isn’t, it should be. UDE went a little bonkers when they printed this card and made all of my (and obviously, Spooky Michael Barnes’s) dreams come true. This card single-handedly enables decks to be viable. With the cost of a discard, you can get any character you want, and that makes it a-okay in my book.

One for One . . . Is it Not That Simple?

I know that you may look at a couple of the cards I listed above and say, “Well, Shane, that’s not hand disadvantage. You are discarding one card, but getting another that is arguably better.” If you thought this to yourself, you are absolutely right. However, let’s take this in context of the upcoming Silver Age format. There are no defined decks. There are archetypes that are expected to show up, and many players may be able to guess within a few cards in any given build. But what happens when you run up against a player who has Revenge Squad craziness? That one little discard will open up a world of opportunity to you. When you are going into a format and hit a deck that you know nothing about, every little piece of information could be game-breaking. What if, on turn 3, your opponent ditches a 6-drop to Enemy of My Enemy? All of a sudden, you have a clue as to what your opponent’s game plan is for later in the game. Honestly, I think this is a huge part of the game that can be the difference between a moderately successful player and a very successful one.

Enemy of My Enemy . . . Part Two?

When the Marvel Knights set hit the shelves, many gamers were floored by a two-card combo. Dagger, Child of Light could be discarded to search for a copy of Midnight Sons. What made this so unbelievable was that there was never before a way to search your deck for a team-up card so effectively. Now, I want you to think about that for just a moment and then think about my next statement.

It is my belief that Mr. Mxyzptlk, Troublesome Trickster will reach that level of combo goodness that is Dagger/Midnight Sons. This card essentially changes the text of many effects that require a discard, barring any KO’d pile removal effects. For example, Slaughter Swamp now can return a card to your hand with no cost other than a temporary parting of you and your favorite imp. Don’t get me started on how good he is in conjunction with Enemy of My Enemy. All of a sudden, we could see Secret Society being the most splashed team in the world.

Overall, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Troublesome Trickster enables any card that requires a discard to gain a tremendous amount of consideration when building a deck. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that utilizing this little imp’s ability will greatly impact your hand advantage.

Recap Time

So, what have we learned from our little foray into the hand advantage arena? Well, we’ve learned that keeping cards in hand can be difficult, and cards that enable you to maintain your hand are really good. Also, we learned that sometimes effects that create hand disadvantage aren’t worth the juice.* But then again, at other times, they can be absolutely deck defining. Overall, I hope (as I normally do) that I have challenged you, my faithful readers, to think a little bit more about how you manage your hand and game, and encouraged you all to learn a little bit more about this game we all know and love.

* This is a little something that my teammates and I say regarding whether a card’s cost justifies the result it gives. Oh yeah, and it’s also a line in a classic movie, The Girl Next Door.

As always, you can reach me at piercedlawyer@yahoo.com, and I will be happy to say hello and answer your questions. Oh, I will continue to reply to emails faster than Michael Barnes as well, but that is pretty much a given at this point!

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