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Beginner Guide to Card Advantage and Board Advantage

These 2 terms, Card Advantage and Board Advantage has been used very frequently in these forums. It can take some time and effort for new players to understand what these terms mean and how they translate into the actual SE game. This guide serves to inform new players how Card Advantage and Board Advantage principles can be applied to the game in order to improve anyone's win rate.

(Notes: Mojumbo posted an article on card advantage recently. It's a good one! This article of mine has actually been in my head for some time, but I never got down to it because I did not think it was necessary. But as I did my guides for beginners, I felt that they needed a supplementary article and hence I decided to finish it. As the saying goes, great minds think alike! lol, Mojumbo has a great mind!)

Advantage: any state, circumstance, opportunity, or means specially favorable to success.

NOTES: Card Descriptions here:

Card Advantage

Card Advantage as explained in Wikipedia,, edited by me for easier understanding:

There are 2 types of card advantage.

The first type of concept of card advantage known as Card Draw Advantage. It's about one player having more cards in hand than their opponent. Card Draw advantage is generally indicated in terms of a positive number.

For example, if a Bad Santa yielded 3 cards for you while your opponent drew 0 as his hand is full with 7 cards, the card advantage gained is +3 for you.

The second type of Card Advantage is as follows:

"Advantageous Trading" : Card advantage is often also the result of making a play where your own cards are used to neutralize or eliminate a greater number of your opponent's cards. This form of card advantage is often stated in terms of X-for-Y, where X and Y are numbers; if X is bigger then it expresses card advantage, if Y is bigger it expresses card disadvantage; i.e. a 3-for-1 is a positive advantage, a 1-for-2 is not.

Example: If in a game of SE a player plays Tidal Wave, a card which destroys all allies in play, when they themselves have no creatures in play and their opponent has 3 allies in play, they are said to have gotten a "3-for-1", where 3 indicates the number of opposing cards removed from play and 1 indicates the card spent in order to accomplish this task.

It is seen as a baseline to spend one card to get rid of one opposing card; this is often referred to as "trading". A player who "trades" one card of their own for two of their opponent's is often gaining a long-term advantage as their opponent will run out of cards before they do.

Vice versa, using 2 Fireballs to get rid of a Plasma Behemoth or a Aeon Stormcaller is less than optimal.

Before we discuss further, we need to list certain premises in order for this guide to be fruitful for you.

Premise 1

The aim of a SE game is to reduce your opponent's hero's health to zero via damage before your opponent does the same thing to your hero. (duh....)

Premise 2

There are 2 main types of cards in SE. Active cards vs Reactive cards. An active card either deals damage or creates advantage for you and are hence both are threats to your opponent. A Reactive card removes threats but does not deal damage.

Examples of an active card: allies, weapons, tome of knowledge, wizient staff.

Examples of a reactive card: Cripple blow, Tidal Wave, Smashing blow, Focused Prayer, Sever ties, Ley line nexus, Shriek of Vengeance.

Premise 3

Everyone starts out with 6 cards in your hand. The player who goes second gains the first Shadow Energy first and also gets to draw a card on his/her first turn. The player who goes first does not gain the shadow energy on his/her first turn, nor get to draw a card on this first turn. This is all part of Shadow Era rules as a means to mitigate what's known as the "First Player's advantage" (also known as "Initiative" and worthy of an article on its own) and it's monitored automatically via the game system.

There is no way anyone can win with only 6 cards in his/her hand.

And hence, as with all trading card games, there is a draw phrase, and in SE, every player gets to draw 1 card.

Premise 4

"Win conditions"

In order to win the game, one has to have cards in his deck that can deal damage. These cards can be generally be called "Win conditions" cards. Without them, the player cannot win. With that said, logic dictates that the more 'win cons' a deck has, the more likely the player will win. Naturally, many other factors exist: for example, how long your ally stays on board and the amount of influence it has on the board or the field, a.k.a the battleground.

That's why the discussion of card advantage, IMO, must be discussed in tandem with "Board Advantage". (Also known as Field Advantage)

Premise 5

This Guide does not discuss the Millstalker deck. What is the millstalker deck? It's a deck in SE that wins using a unconventional method by running his opponent out of cards. It's usually around 46 - 50+ cards. We are not going to discuss the Millstalker deck in this article, otherwise, it gets too complex.

(If you guys want me to write one on the Millstalker deck, I can do it if there is demand and I hava available time. The Millstalker deck itself is a study in card advantage and board advantage.)

Premise 6

Mathematical nature of Shadow Era (or any TCG)

Jasmine has 3 attack power and 4 health. That's a fact. Aeon is 3/8. Puwen is 2/3. Some allies have abilities that can reduce damage and they can survive "longer" on the board, a.k.a the field. For example, Armored Sandworm and Infernal Gargoyle. The reality is that the longer your ally remains on the board; the more it remains a continued threat to your opponent.

However, this does not change the mathematical nature of the game. If a my opponent is playing a mage and he casts a supernova; if I have a Jasmine on board, it dies. If I have a infernal gargoyle on board, it also dies. However, if my opponent only has a fireball, he can remove my Jasmine since Jasmine is a threat to him; but if I have a gargoyle on board, he has to use other means to remove it.

SE is an interesting game; as with all TCGs, other game mechanics exist to 'counter' the mathematical nature. Cards like Captured Prey, Now You Are Mine, Tidal Wave, Mind Control, and Retreat!, etc completely ignores the 'math' and these abilities affect all allies regardless of their power/health.

Back to Card Advantage:

"Card Draw Advantage"

A look at the first type of card advantage, "Card Draw Advantage" and premise 3 and 4. It's easy to figure out the following conclusion: If Player A can draw more cards than Player B, then Player A has a higher chance of winning the game. That's because Player A will be able to draw more 'win cons' as compared to Player B.

What does that mean really? In every deck, there must be cards that can bring you more draw than the usual one card per draw phrase.

Examples of these cards: Blood Frenzy, ill-gotten gains, Wrath of the forest, Wizient staff, Tome of knowledge.

How many should a player put inside his deck? Refer to this:

That leads to another interesting discussion; since now we've established that having more relative draw than your opponent is important, it makes a LOT of sense to put in "reactive" cards to REMOVE your opponent's draw "engines" or restrict his ability to draw.

What's a draw engine? As defined by me, these are cards that can bring "consistent" draw, like a reliable engine. Examples include Blood Frenzy, ill-gotten gains, Wizent staff. What's NOT a draw engine, in my books, would be cards like Bad Santa and Tainted Oracle and Honored Dead. These are more like a shot of adrenaline: it give you a burst of fast but unsustained supply of cards.

(With all that discussed, I want to talk briefly about Bazaar. I hope you can understand by now why Bazaar is a very bad card to have in your deck. There are some exceptions, of course, for example like Blanketeffect's ZTC deck, the millstalker, but once again, if I discuss them, there will be no end to this article.

Ok, Bazaar. Essentially, when you play this card, you'll have to waste 2 resources to get it into play. Your opponent gets to draw the first "extra" card due to Bazaar's effect BEFORE you do. Also, do not forget that Bazaar is also a card in itself; that means you essentially do NOT gain at all during your draw phrase; the extra 'card' drawn due to bazaar's effect merely replaces the Bazaar as a 'card'.

That sounded complex? In real terms, say you cast a Bazaar on your turn 2, your opponent casts a Puwen on HIS Turn 2. You wasted 2 resources to cast an item that allowed your opponent to draw 1 more card during his Turn 2. It would have been better to cast a Puwen of YOUR own on your turn 2. Your opponent has Puwen as a threat vs you, and you only have a 'useless' bazaar that cannot be used to reduce or neutralize the threat.)

"Trading" to gain Card advantage

Now unto the second type of Card advantage. Using relatively less cards to neutralize your opponent's threats. Let's take a look at Premise 2 and 4.

The derived analysis would indicate that if I can remove my opponent's threats as quickly as I can while trying to keep my own allies/weapons alive or on board as long as I can, I would eventually win.

"Trading" forms the basis of a "control" deck. (No, I am not going to discuss what control decks are!!!) The priests in Shadow era game are considered to be the best heroes to choose if a player decides to build and play a deck that employs many of the 'control' tactics to win a game in SE. That's simply because of the cards that priests have access to cards that favors the 'control' concept. Examples include Tidal Wave, Focused prayer, Ice Storm, Healing touch and the draw engine: Wizient Staff.

So how does the Priests gain the "trading" card advantage? As mentioned earlier, if Player A "Priest" uses a Tidal wave when he does not have any allies on board while the opponent has 3, Player A essentially removed 3 threats with the use of 1 card. The net gain is a +2 in Player 1's favor. Supernova can also be used to achieve a similar effect and the drawbacks of supernova (i.e, may kill your own allies) can even be reduced if the Nova user is playing with a deck without any allies!

Another example of card advantage: If Player B is using Lance and he casts a Anklebreaker, he can immediately use it on his opponent's brutalis, reducing the brutalis to 0 attack and hence neutralizing the threat. The Anklebreaker still have 3 Durability left and hence can be used to neutralize or affect other allies that his opponent is going to play or are in play. That's a gain in card advantage.

It also slows the pace and tempo of Player B's opponent. Any successful attempt at impeding your opponent's progress is always good because that would mean a relative gain in speed for you. This has to do with board advantage and this example will be revisited later to discuss board advantage more in detail.

Yet another example, a good one: Say Player C cast a Jasmine on turn 4, on Player D's turn, he (Hero:Amber) plays a Dimension Ripper using 5 resources and activates Amber's ability, increasing the Ripper's damage to 4. He attacks the Jasmine with it and kills her. Due to Dimension Ripper's effect, Player D gained a card but so did Player C.

What has happened so far? Player C used 3 resources and introduced a threat in the form of Jasmine. Player D was able to neutralize the threat by casting a Ripper with 5 resources and using up 3 Shadow Energy. The trade is worth it; at least in mathematical terms (see premise 6). The Jasmine failed to deal any damage; she also failed to stay alive to use her ability on any allies that Player D might have. AND, Player D has a enhanced 4-damage Ripper that still have 2 more durability left, i.e. still a threat to Player C.

BUT, due to Ripper's ability, as the relative early progression of the game, Player D is unable to USE the card that was gained during that turn. Player D already used up all his resources to cast the Ripper. However, when Player D's turn ends and initiative goes back to Player C, Player C MAY be able to use the card that was gained through the Ripper on HIS turn. As we discussed earlier, it's not good to give cards to your opponent.

Board Advantage

3 things to be discussed:

1. The basic concept of "Initiative" to achieve board advantage

2. Use of Heroes' abilities to facilitate board advantage

3. Cornerstone of Board advantage: Resources

1. The basic concept of "Initiative" to achieve board advantage

Premise 2 and 4:

The derived analysis would indicate that if I can remove my opponent's threats as quickly as I can while trying to keep my own allies/weapons alive or on board as long as I can, I would eventually win.

Based on the rules of Shadow Era, one player goes first and while the other goes second. That simply means that the first player will always be able to reach a higher number of resources first, assuming that every player sacrifices a resource every turn. This is usually the case for turn 1 to 5, since each player starts out with 6 cards in his/her hand, there are sufficient 'sacrificial fuels' (i.e, Cards in hand) to be sacrificed as resources.

Translated into an game example, the first player will be able to summon a 5 casting cost ally before the second player does.

A look into 2 allies: Raven and Plasma Behemoth.

If Player 1 (the first player) summons a Raven on his turn 5, he gains "Initiative". Player 2 is forced to "react" to the Raven. (See Premise 2) It would be illogical for Player 2 to play a Brutal Minotaur, Puwen, or even a Raven of his own because, when the turn ends and Player 1's Raven is able to attack, the Raven will target the said allies as mentioned and effectively "nulls" them, causing Player 2 to lose Card Advantage.

Player 2 "must" first remove or reduce or stall the threat of the Raven by using "reactive cards" as 'tools' (Premise 2) before he can proceed to push his own deck agenda towards a win. (Premise 1)

The ways to 'react' to the Raven:

"Reduce": Crippled Blow, Captured Prey

"Stall": Retreat!, Dagger of Unmaking, Anklebreaker

Important: The failure to remove your opponent's threats is a relative gain in board advantage for your opponent. In the above case, if Player 2 is unable to respond adequately to the Raven, when the turn ends and Player 1's turn starts again, Player 1 already has a Raven who is able to attack. and:

1. Null any of Player 2's allies on board.

2. Start causing damage to Player 2's hero.

The Player 1 is now able to further strengthen his board advantage by casting more weapons, allies or strengthening the Raven by using cards like Inner Strength and Aldon or making Raven "un-targetable" by casting out a Aeon Stormcaller.

Let's take a look at another scenario: Plasma Behemoth.

Suppose Player 3 goes first and summons a PB on his turn 5, similarly, Player 4 needs to respond to the threat, hopefully in a manner that results in minimal loss of Card Advantage and "Tempo" (an important concept that needs to be addressed in another article). For many new players, when they are the player going second, they might have a problem dealing with their opponent's Turn 5 PB, especially if they do not have the 'tools' (i.e reactive cards).

What makes it hard to respond to a Plasma Behemoth is that, if left unchecked, he is able to effectively apply 2 sources of damage to 2 different targets every turn. It's more versatile as compared to Brutal Minotaur's single source of 6 damage.

The catch is that Player 3 will need to use 3 resources per turn in order to deal the 1 x 3 dmg and 1 x 4 dmg. I call this concept the "Exchange". In basic concept, what that means is that a player gives up something in order to have more board control, card advantage, or both. For example, in Blood Frenzy, what it does is that in exchange for 1 life, the player gets to draw 1 more card during draw phrase. No one likes taking damage but it is perceived that the loss of 1 life in 'exchange' for 1 more card is worth it. Back to the example of the Plasma Behemoth, for the exchange of 3 resources per turn, Player 3 is able to deal 2 sources of damage, making the Behemoth a great card to add in any Shadow deck which is created to win via board control.

Plasma Behemoth's example can also be applied to Jasmine.

(PS: not all decks need to win via 'complete' board control, some decks win by the 'rush' concept, i.e. casting a lot of low cost allies, flooding the board with them and using direct damage (Fireball, Lightning Strike) to kill the opponent as soon as possible.)

2. Use of Heroes' abilities to facilitate board advantage

Shadow Era has a feature: Heroes.

(While there will be schools of thoughts discussing whether the choice of hero is more important or the most important factor in determining the deck contents, this is not the concept that I'll be discussing here.)

Referring back to this:

Premise 2 and 4:

The derived analysis would indicate that if I can remove my opponent's threats as quickly as I can while trying to keep my own allies/weapons alive or on board as long as I can, I would eventually win.

During every turn, each hero gains a Shadow Energy point. (Except the Player going first on his first turn) The points accumulated up to a certain point and the hero is able to activate it. What this essentially means is that the players 'gain' an extra spell that can be cast without the need to use resources. Some of these abilities can determine to a large degree which player wins in a particular match-up. Some heroes are perceived to do better against other heroes. This is because while the cards in hand are determined by 'luck', there is no way to remove the opposing hero's abilities, although there are cards that can reduce/remove the Shadow Energy points.

A brief look at Zhanna. (Used by our current World Champion iClipse) Any loss of life in early game does not mean much to Zhanna; she can regain the life back later on. Any loss of life is fine; as long as your opponent's life reaches 0 before yours! Also, Zhanna's ability can also be used on allies, and that means her allies can stay on the board longer, giving her board advantage.

Some heroes have abilities that uses less SE, like Zhanna and Banebow, 3 SE. Some heroes need more, like Zaladar and Gwen, who needs 4 SE. Generally speaking, 3SE abilities are weaker than 4 SE abilities but suppose a game goes to turn 13 and beyond, a player using a '3 SE' hero would have been able to activate 4 times; as compared to a '4 SE' Hero who can only activate his/her ability 3 times. This relative gain in being able to use the SE abilities may prove to crucial; since the use of the SE abilities uses SE points, not resources.

In terms of deck construction, a good player would look at the card pool available (i.e. the total cards population that the particular hero has access to), and build his deck accordingly. For example, Badaruu (Shadow Hunter) and Amber (Human Warrior) needs to ensure there are sufficient weapons in their deck. If they do not draw a weapon in time, their abilities are useless. It would be comparatively "better off" playing with Banebow (Shadow Hunter) and Boris (Human Warrior) respectively as their card pools are exactly the same.

Some heroes are clearly better at board control/advantage as compared to others. For example, Zaladar, Banebow, Boris and Ter Adun. Without the use of card abilities/spells, they can remove threats from their opponent's board, allowing them to direct precious resources into abilities to further their deck agenda and towards the win.

Premise 6

Mathematical nature of Shadow Era: This is important in the discussion of hero's abilities. While I've clearly stated the weakness of Gwen earlier, i.e. requiring a weapon in order to use her abilities and SE, Gwen also has huge board advantage potential when she DOES draw her weapon. With a Turn 5 Soul Seeker, she can remove any opposing 4-life allies (except Infernal Gargoyle), with the potential to deal more damage in her following turns. (And gain life!) That's huge board advantage. It's only relevant because Gwen's Soul Seeker can remove the threats; IF all the 3-casting cost allies have 5 life instead of 4, no one would play Gwen; simply because the 4 Damage Soul Seeker is unable to provide the comparative board advantage needed.

I use the term 'comparative' a lot. That's due to the mathematical nature of the game. In order to be a good player, one needs to be very sharp on spotting the tiniest of details when assigning ally attackers and blockers; in order to 1. remove your opponent's threats. 2. Deal as much damage as you can to the opposing hero during the same turn.

That also means that one must watch the Shadow Energy gain of both heroes. Be aware when your opponent is unable/able to use his/her hero's abilities on his incoming turn. One must also take note of cards that can change the dynamics of Shadow Energy. (Shadowspawn, Shadow Font, Priest of the Light, etc.)

3. Cornerstone of Board advantage: Resources

While there are numerous facets to the discussion of Board Advantage, I would like to just touch on one last basic concept that I believe new players would find it useful. The use of resources in 'later' game.

Premise 3 and 6

During the early game, most players would only usually be able to cast 1 card per turn. If Player 1 is able to cast 2 spells per turn, he is a lot more likely to win due to the concept of board advantage, that's because the opposing Player 2 needs to keep up with his threat removal in order to 'recover'; if Player 2 is unable to match up to the 2 spells per turn, Player 1 would eventually swarm and win Player 2.

The real question is: So how does anyone be able to cast 2 spells per turn?

There are 2 aspects to this:

1. Sufficient resources to cast 2 spells per turn.

2. Being able to draw 2 cards per turn consistently unilaterally. (duh.)

These 2 aspects are actually linked; if Player 1 is able to draw 2 cards per turn, he also has more cards that he can sacrifice as resources. There are only 3 classes of heroes that can achieve this optimal situation: Warriors (Blood Frenzy), Priests (Wizient Staff), Mages (Tome of Knowledge). I am not saying that these are the best heroes. Because there are many ways to win a Shadow Era game, for example, it's possible that a 'rush' deck (Player 3) can take down any deck (Player 4) before Player 4 can reach sufficient resources to be able to do "2 spells per turn".

As brief discussion on Amber

Amber has access to Blood Frenzy and Jeweler's Dream. With these combined, and coupled with Amber's ability, she represents the 'perfect' example of resource and draw acceleration, and board advantage. In the early game, she can potentially deal out 3 damage, regain 2 resources and use these 2 resources to further her board advantage. (i.e. casting a Puwen) or board control (i.e. casting a Crippling Blow on opposing ally.)

A brief example on the use of Retreat!

In late game, suppose Player 1 has a Raven on board, Player 2's turn starts. Player 2, with 7 resources, can do a Retreat! on Player 1's Raven and cast a Raven of his own. This way, Player 1's board advantage is completely nulled and in fact, Player 2 now has the Initiative and board advantage. Player 2 is said to have 'recovered'. In any Shadow Era game, in good games, it's all about trying to gain board control/advantage and trying to 'recover'. The player who does this better (through better deck construction and actual playing skills and a bit of luck) will be the winner.

A brief example about Portal

Everyone knows that Portal gives 'Haste' to any allies that are summoned for the next 2 turns. However, not everyone knows that any ally summoned on the same turn that Portal is cast ALSO gains haste. So make use of it. At turn 8, cast Portal and a Medusil at the same time, you can activate Medisul ability and attack with her on the same turn. Also, in late game, with 8 resources, if you had cast a Portal on Turn 7, you can cast 2 allies (instead of just 1 ally) out on Turn 8 (Brutal Minotaur and Medusil) and they can attack. That's how good players gain board advantage and it comes with lots of experience by knowing intuitively (or by playing a lot!) how much cards he should sacrifice in order to reach an optimal number of resources to maximize the use of Portal.

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