We all know that card advantage is very often more important than life points, especially early game. In fact, if that changes during a duel then that’s probably a good sign that you’re losing, since sacrificing card advantage for life points tends to be bad in the long run. Even when life points aren’t yet a concern though, raw advantage isn’t the end of the story. I’d like to bring in terminology to think explicitly about some special cases of advantage: pseudo advantage, where you technically have card advantage but it isn’t useful (e.g. Fiendish Chain after the target has left the field without being destroyed), latent advantage which I think is most clearly exemplified by baby dragon format, where someone could start their turn drawing Reactan, Dragon Ruler of Pebbles and controlling no other cards, and then +4 out of their grave, and (thanks to Jeffrey Seydel for this last one) potential advantage which is similar to latent advantage except it is advantage gained over many turns rather than being redeemable immediately.
Why does this matter though? Because of one card: Evilswarm Exciton Knight. Exciton is a generic, splashable extra deck card, and is relatively hard to stop once it hits the board (and the things that stop it all have some form of counter-counter). Bottomless Trap Hole, Compulsory Evacuation Device, and Torrential Tribute won’t protect your five backrow you set thinking they’d be safe, and Fiendish Chain could be countered with Mystical Space Typhoon. Even Effect Veiler doesn’t necessarily stop it, since a chained Book of Moon will prevent Veiler and maybe Skill Prisoner will see some play later when people realize how amazing it is.
The point is, having an inert Fiendish Chain or any other do-nothing cards can become a serious liability. Pseudo advantage makes your field extra vulnerable, especially if you use backrow heavily or use a deck that necessarily commits to the field such as OTK-oriented decks that are very make-it-or-break-it.
The flip-side of this is latent advantage and potential advantage. Dragon Rulers are a clear example of latent advantage, but cards which are pseudo advantage sometimes can become latent advantage. Fiendish Chain, for example, stops a monster effect which typically would have caused a change in advantage, either a search, special summon from grave or deck, or the removal of resources of the opponent, or even the destruction of a monster by battle (which is an often-overlooked but essential +1). Even though Fiendish Chain does not get rid of the monster it targets, it is often a net one-for-one when it negates the monster effect. If later the controller of Fiendish summons Scrap Dragon and destroys their Fiendish and an opponent’s card, this synergy has resulted in a net gain in advantage. This kind of latent advantage isn’t as safe as that of Dragon Rulers, since it is risky pseudo advantage at first, but is still a well-known and powerful combo.
Another form of pseudo advantage is having your cards but which are useless. Drawing a Blue-Eyes White Dragon in a deck that needs to discard it with Trade In, while not having that Trade In, is a form of card advantage but is unhelpful. In the same vein, if your opponent controls only Royal Decree and a beater, having five power traps set along with six more in hand is meaningless. You can be +9 to your opponent but if that advantage is pseudo advantage then it’s not going to help you.
Other examples of latent advantage include a single splashed Dragon Ruler in its appropriate deck (be it Blaster in Fire Fists, Tidal in Mermails or whatever else you can come up with). With 14 waters in grave, you have a potential +7 from Tidal, even though you can’t make use of it all in one turn. Tenki with Fire Fist Bear is another example, where controlling just a Tenki is very unhelpful but the two together become extremely powerful.
Bujins acquire latent advantage as well since a Turtle or Hare in grave do not count toward card advantage as traditionally thought of, or toward Exciton, but if your opponent needs to spend a card to get rid of something that can be protected then the Bujin player’s opponent must -1, but the Bujin player is still spending resources so if latent advantage is included then it is a 1-for-1 (of course, those Bujins in grave were probably a latent +1 thanks to Yamato). It is here that I think it most effective to point out — latent and potential advantage are often public knowledge. Being public knowledge means that oftentimes a skillful opponent can play around that advantage rather than attempting to exhaust it.
Latent advantage like this can be taken away as well using stun cards. Of course D.D. Crow can banish those Bujins and Dragon Rulers, but for the player using Crow doing so is -1 in terms of raw card advantage. Even Ally of Justice Cycle Reader is a raw -1 here, although if latent advantage is considered then it’s a powerful +1! (If you can get lucky and chain it to Bujincarnation it’s a raw 1-for-1, potentially a latent +2!) Another option is to use something like Soul Drain or Necrovalley, which renders however much latent advantage they have entirely inert and useless much like Royal Decree can do to traps. Similarly, Vanity’s Emptiness can render Dragon Rulers in the grave useless. All latent and potential advantage has at least one stun card.
I’d like to mention another differentiation between latent and potential advantage. In the case of a player who has a Dragon Ruler in grave, they clearly have a form of advantage which is readily available during their turn, but in no meaningful sense does it count during the opposing player’s turn. Sure, it could get banished and then could get a search, but that’s not responsive and it’s quite situational. Bujins on the other hand can use Turtle or Hare during either player’s turn, at nearly any point they’d want to. It’s worthwhile to note however that Hare is once-per turn, whereas Turtle is not, so having two Turtles should count as two cards toward latent advantage but having two Hares is a single card toward latent advantage and the other is potential advantage.
I’d also like to take potential advantage a step further, though I admit this is much fuzzier. A savvy player may want to consider it in terms of continuous monster engines, for deck building or thinking about a style of play against an opposing deck. Take for example Gadgets and Wind-ups. Gadgets and Wind-ups each have a way of plusing, for Gadgets its their own summon effects and for Wind-ups it’s Wind-up Factory, Wind-up Magician and Wind-up Rat. Gadgets can potentially gain a +8 (less if multiple are drawn, more if they’re somehow put back in the deck). Wind-ups… I don’t want to count, but there’s a lot (plus they can control multiple copies of Wind-up Factory!).
If you compare this to decks like Constellars or Evilswarm, they each have a harder time getting +1s. Evilswarm can manage it by taking a -1 to make Ophion (unless they sack that Rescue Rabbit), getting Infestation Infection, and then searching out those Kerykeions. The Evilswarm engine is much more fragile though, since they rely on their trap not being destroyed, they often run just one of that trap and so can’t simply search another, and they have to choose between searching it or Infestation Pandemic, which can be a really tough choice. Note however that Kerykeion is usually used immediately for an XYZ summon, and then isn’t available for pluses anymore. Once they’re all used, that engine is typically depleted. It usually ends after a +3, and those pluses are usually traded in immediately for a bigger monster (that admittedly that monster usually gets a +1, it doesn’t set up for later plays). Constellar have a play style that relies more on control with an XYZ which is inherently safe from spells and traps (Omega), and another monster that bounces potential problems (Pleiades), on top of having access to cards like Honest, on top of backrow; they rely on making a monster and sitting on it rather than maintaining shear advantage and then attempting to make responsive plays with their remaining resources.
I don’t wish to discuss in detail here the advantages and disadvantages of decks and archetypes which make use of robust engines or defending a single juggernaut, since it’s a matter of preference, play style, and honestly, meta. I mean here merely to talk about different forms of advantage, and to bring this up in terms of deck building. Most of this article pertains to in-duel considerations of advantage, but I simply wanted to point out that it can be considered for deck-building as well.
To come back to Gadgets and Wind-ups, they both have a relatively consistent form of potential advantage which far exceeds those of some other decks, but are of course interruptible. Their potential advantage can be taken away by an Effect Veiler or Mystical Space Typhoon, although I might make whole posts devoted to how I think each of those cards should be used. And of course, Mistake can be quite devastating as well, and decks like Constellars can use it synergistically, unlike Gadgets.
What about considering latent and potential advantage in terms of something like having Infernity Launcher with two Infernity Archfiends in grave? Considering that Launcher can get a +1, then each Archfiend can gain a another +1 (+3 so far) and then an Infernity Necromancer or two can be searched, each of which (if Stygian Street Patrol is in grave) could get another +1 (+5 so far), potentially getting another Archfiend which gets another +1 (+6!) it gets to be a big deal the number of potential pluses. Those are quite conditional though: Launcher could be destroyed by Mystical Space Typhoon; the Archfiends could be destroyed by Bottomless Trap Hole or Torrential Tribute; Maxx “C” could be chained to Launcher, inhibiting the longer-term pluses which rely on a lot of special summoning; Skill Drain can negate their effects; Royal Decree could render Infernity Barrier and Infernity Break searches useless. Each of these pluses has a condition, and the probability of an opponent having at least one of them increases the further into this change of plus-incurring events you go. Gadgets and Wind-ups as a counter case have much fewer cards that can interrupt them at one time, as well as having a greater probability of redundancy, since you will probably draw another Gadget, might draw another Wind-up Factory, definitely won’t draw another Launcher, and usually have less than a 1/20 chance of top decking another Infernity Archfiend if there’s still one in deck. Comparing this to Dragon Rulers, a Bottomless Trap Hole, Dimensional Prison, Spellbook of Fate or D.D. Crow or other banishing cards takes away that potential advantage, and Honor Ark is a very consistent though less powerful solution, to remove those potential pluses as well.
I’d like to conclude by summarizing that I simply think that this extra terminology can be more useful than the traditional view of raw advantage, which doesn’t get the whole picture. How exactly you might use it, and what specific values you’d apply in specific situations, can depend on exactly what cards occur during a duel. But taking an objective, holistic look at cards and their interaction is yet another way to prepare before and during duels to beat an opponent and control for luck, as well as avoid getting blown away by Exciton (which isn’t going away by the way!).