Snowballing Advantages in MTG – Deep Dive

Magic has changed a lot over the years. I often find myself asking why cards, decks and strategies that were effective in the old days don’t seem to pack the same punch in the modern era. The best answer I’ve come up with is that Magic’s relationship to resource management has changed. Relatively speaking, the early days had more cards dedicated to attacking the opponent’s resources, and modern times have more cards dedicated to snowballing advantages with your own resources.

Hymn to TourachStone RainSmokestack

Magic has changed, for better or for worse, and we as competitive players should change with it. Personally, I appreciate the resource management aspect of Magic, and I often enjoy scrappy games where both players need to make the most out of a bad situation. On the other hand, getting mana screwed via land destruction, or playing long top-deck battles where you often pass the turn with no play – these aren’t exactly riveting gaming experiences for the majority of players. 

The result of this paradigm shift is that snowballing advantages have become a central part of Magic deckbuilding and gameplay. Imagine a snowball rolling down a hill, collecting both mass and velocity as it goes, until eventually it becomes an unstoppable avalanche. You want to be like this snowball when you play, and you want to stop your opponent before their own avalanche becomes unmanageable. 

While we’re taking this trip down memory lane, I’ll provide one more example of old versus new, which illustrates the concept of snowballing advantages.

Hypnotic SpecterUro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

Hypnotic Specter was one of the best creatures from Magic’s early days. This was the terrifying boogie man that you did not want to see attacking you. If a player landed Hypnotic Specter early and started connecting with it, they could score a clean, easy win.

However, although Hypnotic Specter could provide repeated advantage that accumulated over time, I wouldn’t describe it as snowballing. You’d hit your opponent a few times, knock away some cards and then they’d be empty-handed. You’d have to draw a second threat in order to increase your clock, and your opponent could get back into the game if they had a good series of topdecks. 

Now let’s consider Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, which is one of the best creatures printed in recent times (there’s a big power level difference between these creatures, but I still think the analogy is worthwhile). When Uro enters the battlefield or attacks, you gain life, draw a card and put a land onto the battlefield. Let’s summarize some key differences between Specter and Uro:

  • With Hypnotic Specter, you can reach the floor of the opponent having no cards in hand, at which point the advantage stops accumulating. Uro never stops providing advantage. There’s no ceiling. 
  • Hypnotic Specter can be answered at any time, on a one-for-one basis by a removal spell. Between escape and an enters-the-battlefield trigger, Uro’s controller will profit on any such exchange. 
  • With Hypnotic Specter, you might attack, bank your advantage, and then end your turn. When drawing cards, you’ll continuously find more action, more threats, and more ways to support Uro.
  • Generating both more cards and more mana has a synergistic effect that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts (more on this to come). 

Seeing Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath attack is a potent indicator that the game is headed towards a decisive result. Uro is the snowball rolling down the hill. You only have a small window to deal with it before the momentum is too great. Since undoing the damage of an Uro attack is so hard, you either need to stop it before it starts, or generate an even bigger avalanche of your own.



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