Incremental advantage is the theory that small advantages in a given game can turn into big advantages as the game goes on. This can be done in a variety of ways, nominally through card advantage — a ubiquitous catch-all term that we’re about to talk about in depth — but can be thought of as making the best decision in regards to the board state and the cards you have available every single turn.
If we were omniscient and could process an entire game in our heads, the decisions that could have been or things we could have done, we could likely identify through extensive and almost impossible calculation that there was a way to play where you did the right thing every turn.
Jon Finkel, one of the greatest players in Magic: The Gathering of all time, was and still is a huge proponent of incremental advantage. It’s minimizing your losses, and maximizing those of your opponent.
When you start the game, the board is clear, you have thirty health, and players are more or less on equal footing (although Hearthstone added The Coin and Elder Scrolls does The Elixer to solve the age-old problem that the first player will generally be able to be “one step ahead” the entire game). What happens from that point is a series of interactions that shift the game favorably or unfavorably towards you.
Some incremental advantages are based around best standards of play. In Magic, these are things like restraining from playing cards until your second main phase so that your opponent has to act on partial information when defending himself or casting instants; or trading your 2/1 for the opponents 2/2 instead of your 3/2 — things like that.
It’s sort of an abstract idea. When you hear a player say “Oh, crap, I should have done x”, that’s a failure in incremental advantage. He’s relaying that there was a better play; a more efficient way to squeak more out of his board state and his cards.
The most tangible way to give yourself an incremental advantage is through Card Advantage, or “CA”.
Card advantage has been a staple of CCG’s for some time. A rudimentary way of describing card advantage is simply having more cards than your opponent. However, as we will soon learn, there are quite a few different ways of going about this.
Forms of Card Advantage
- Draw: By drawing more cards than the opponent you have more options, and effectively have more ‘gas’. When an opponent has depleted his hand and is living off of the single card provided per turn, he is considered to be “top decking” — a generally unfavorable position.
- Disruption: Forcing the opponent to discard cards is another way of generating card advantage. Trading a card to cause an opponent to select and discard a card is a 1:1 trade. Trading a card to cause an opponent to discard at random is still a 1:1 trade, but denies the opponent the ability to throw the least valuable away. Trading a card to be able to pick which card the opponent throws away is proactive disruptive selection, and the best form of 1:1 disruption. A single card that forces the opponent to discard multiple cards is pure net advantage.
- Sweepers: Sweepers are cards such as Ice Storm or Dawn’s Wrath that, in exchange for a single card, can destroy multiple, netting card advantage.
- Unfavorable Combat: Using two attacking creatures or more to kill a single creature is a form of card advantage for the opponent, as multiple resources are being spent on a single resource.
- Virtual Card Advantage: Virtual card advantage is a bit trickier to describe, but can be something like a recurring card (Deshaan Avenger) or, if such a thing existed, a support that gave all your opponents creatures -1/-1. Such a support would make any card in his hand with a toughness of 1 a “blank” card, and thus, for as long as the support is in play, would generate virtual card advantage. The cards exist, but are unplayable and thus dead. Another example, as mentioned by the comments is a card like Tree Minder. 3 mana for a 1/1 with guard is worse on paper than practically every other 3 drop in the game. However, if it advances your strategy of “play big dudes earlier”, then it has given you virtual advantage by increasing the amount of mana you can use in subsequent turns.
- Tempo: Tempo is a style of play that generates card advantage by spending its resources quicker than its opponent in the belief that cards that are not played are considered dead. For instance, throwing a Lightning Bolt at the face can be considered a 1:0 trade – you are trading a card for no static change other than life total and in theory putting yourself at card disadvantage. However, if the opponent dies, then all the cards left over in his hand were “dead” and netted as card advantage because you killed your opponent quicker than he could play them.
- Items: These can be another form of card disadvantage. If an opponent equips an item to a creature only to have it removed or trade with another creature, he has spent two cards for one.
Thanks DYLVG for the article: https://www.reddit.com/r/elderscrollslegends/comments/581qr4/introductory_ccg_concepts_archetypes_and_game/