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Analyzing What You Have for a Trading Card Game

Although you need solid gameplay skills to win at trading card games, you also need to invest time figuring out what the cards do and how they interact with each other. Discerning each card's basic strengths and weaknesses marks the first step toward developing deck-building strategies in the game. As your playing ability in the game grows, you discover how to look beyond the basic stats to see cards in terms of how they relate to the ebb and flow of the game. This kind of skill comes in time, but it starts with a solid knowledge of your game's basics.

Your first step toward evaluating the in-game power of the cards in your collection begins not by fiddling with the cards, but rather by diving into the game's rule book. Knowing how the game plays gives you a framework for figuring out each card's real power. If you don't understand the game, you can't judge the cards.

Keep the rule book handy during your first few games. When questions come up in the game, grab the book and find the answer. Never worry about referring to the rules as you play. Checking the rules when in doubt is a good habit to get into, regardless of whether you play at home with your friends or competitively in your local store or at game conventions.

With the rules firmly in mind, start looking through your cards. At this point in the process, pay attention to the basic stats on each card — stuff like the numbers that indicate one card's strength relative to another — rather than the game text. When learning a new game, the stats make the most sense at first. They're numbers, so they generally speak for themselves. High numbers usually mean strength; low numbers traditionally mean weakness. It's pretty simple.

Game text, on the other hand, deals with how the cards interact with each other. If you've played only one or two games thus far, you're still learning the basic mechanics; things like which phase comes next and how many cards you draw on a turn dominate your thoughts. After you internalize the game's basic concepts, each card's game text will make a lot more sense.

As you look at card statistics, remember that each card in a well-designed game includes a balance between its raw power and its cost. If you find a card with a high strength and defense, then it probably costs a lot of resources to bring that card into the game. Something with a very low resource cost probably can't fight its way out of a paper bag. When you see a card that seems to break this rule — one with a high power and a low resource cost, for instance — the card's game text usually keeps things in balance by reducing the card's value in some other way.

By the time you feel confident with the game mechanics and understand the card statistics, you naturally start discovering how each card's game text affects the game. Most cards derive their true power from both their game text and from the game text of other cards played in combination with them.

Grasping how a card's stats and game text interact leads you to that nirvana of game moments when you can gauge a card's economy. Economy in this case doesn't have anything to do with money (although very economic cards often command a good price on the singles market). Instead, think of it more as the card's flexibility during the game. A card that hits hard, defends well, and throws a curve at your opponent through its game text brings quite a lot of value to your playing deck. That's a very economic card. It packs a lot of punch into a single package.

Look for card economy as you build decks. Advanced players sometimes use the term min-maxing to describe the process of finding the most valuable cards for their strategy and matching them with the best helper cards. They minimize the number of cards necessary to make their strategy work, while maximizing the offensive and defensive power of the deck.

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