The Winter holidays provide not only a much needed break from school, but also a break from competitive Yu-Gi-Oh. There are four full weeks in between the last event this year and the first event, ARGCS Orlando, next year. This gives us a perfect opportunity to reflect on the year as a whole and see what we can learn from our experiences this year. This week, I’ll reflect on my own year.
Let’s start by taking a look at the premier events that occurred this year and how I did:
ARGCS Nashville – Didn’t Top
YCS Sydney – Didn’t Attend
YCS Atlanta – Top 16
ARGCS Charlotte – 1st Place
YCS Berlin – Didn’t Top
YCS San Paulo – Didn’t Attend
ARGCS Las Vegas – Didn’t Top
YCS Chicago – Didn’t Top
YCS Mexico City – Didn’t Top
YCS Las Vegas – Top 32
ARGCS Richmond – 1st Place
YCS Paris – Didn’t Attend
YCS Philadelphia – Didn’t Top
ARGCS Washington D.C. – Didn’t Top
ARGCS Milwaukee – Top 8
ARGCS Philadelphia – Top 4
European Championship WCQ – Didn’t Attend
Oceanic WCQ – Didn’t Attend
South American WCQ – Didn’t Attend
North American WCQ – Top 16
Central American WCQ – Didn’t Attend
ARGCS Championship – Didn’t Top
World Championship – Didn’t Attend
ARGCS Providence – Didn’t Top
ARGCS Atlantic City - Didn’t Top
YCS Toronto – 1st Place
YCS Madrid – Didn’t Attend
YCS Lima - Didn’t Attend
ARGCS Indianapolis - Top 16
YCS Dallas – Didn’t Top
ARGCS Columbus – Didn’t Top
ARGCS Des Moines – Didn’t Top
YCS London – Didn’t Attend
ARGCS Raleigh – 1st Place
ARGCS Seattle – Didn’t Attend
YCS Anaheim - 1st Place
ARGCS Chicago – Top 16
ARGCS Atlanta – Didn’t Play
YCS Milan – Didn’t Attend
YCS Sydney – Didn’t Attend
One of the most notable things that happened this year was that there were 6 people who won a championship who had already won a previous championship. Those people are Chris Leblanc, Alpay Engin, Sehabi Kheireddine, Billy Brake, Jeff Jones, and myself.
Of the 25 events that I attended this year, I made top cut at 12 of them, 5 of which I won (more wins in a year than anyone else has total). That gives me the most tops for the year for a second year in a row and the most tops overall to pass Adam Corn as the number 1 player, but those 12 events aren’t what matters. What matters is the other half of events that I attended and didn’t top. There’s nothing to be learned by sitting around and patting yourself on the back. It’s failure that you learn the most from. This year I failed 13 times. If we can figure out what caused me to not top those events, we can avoid making those same mistakes in the coming year.
There are two different strategies you can take when it comes to trying to top events over an extended amount of time. The first is to simply play the deck that is regarded as the most consistent. This year, we can observe Dalton Bousman and Brandon Wigley implementing this strategy with great success. They got 9 tops and a win and 8 tops respectively, this year alone.
We saw them both use Fire Fist at the beginning of the year, HAT and Geargia near the middle of the year, and Burning Abyss near the end of the year. This is a safe strategy for any good player. The idea is that if you just play for consistency, you won’t lose very many games to bad draws. Since you can interact with your opponent by almost guaranteeing yourself playable cards, theoretically you’d play your cards better than they would and you’d be able to win. It will result in a considerable number of tops and the potential for a win. Jordan Winters, James Frazier, and Tahmid Zaman are also examples of players who took this approach this year and saw success.
Their approach is rooted in the idea that there is a tradeoff between consistency and power in most decks. Powerful plays usually require multiple pieces, so it’s not uncommon to draw one necessary piece, but not the other one. By giving these pieces up for stand-alone cards like Tenki, they forfeited powerful combos and explosive plays to increase their consistency.
My circle took a different approach. We felt that while consistency was important, power is the more important aspect between the two. Powerful plays like Lonefire Soul Charge have the ability to win the game without interacting with the opponent and can overpower the more consistent approach that Dalton’s circle took.
These are two radically different approaches. One focuses on consistency and technical play and the other focuses on power and deckbuilding skill. That isn’t to say that deckbuilding isn’t important for their approach or that technical play isn’t important for our approach, just that each approach focuses on one more than the other.
The two approaches each have their limits. The power approach is somewhat self-limiting. More often than not, there is some trade off between power and consistency. To be able to have a play like Lonefire Soul Charge in your deck, you’re putting yourself at risk of drawing Komushroomo, Marshalleaf, and so on. These cards don’t really do anything by themselves and you’d rather not draw them. Their approach didn’t really have cards like this since pretty much every card does something by itself. It’s important to maximize consistency here by minimizing dead weight.
Our approach also heavily relied on being able to consistently make a bigger and better deck. It’s important to note that we weren’t trying to top or win any single event; we were trying to top and win the most possible. This means we have to consider the implications the deck will have on the format after the first event. If we make a deck that auto wins whenever it draws Lonefire and Soul Charge, it may work well for the first event, but if we don’t have something even better the next event, people will have copied the strategy and they can open Lonefire Soul Charge and be able to auto win against us.
If we aren’t able to consistently improve our decks (either card choices to combat our previous choices or entirely new decks that are better), we’re going to essentially be flipping coins. There’s no advantage to be had over the rest of the field if we have the same deck. Being able to consistently build a better deck is an extremely time consuming process.
The consistency approach has pretty much the same problem. Since it relies on being able to outplay your opponent, those using it will do better when we fail to successfully implement the power approach. If there’s no Lonefire Soul Charge interaction in the meta, you’ll find yourself in things like HAT mirrors that have lots of back and forth. This is where you’ll thrive. If someone successfully implements the power approach, you’re not going to be able to play a lot of those games because your opponent will start with the powerful combo.
So what makes one better than the other? There are three aspects that I believe make the power approach superior to the consistency approach.
The first is that there is no way for the consistency approach to overcome a successful power approach. Consistency may thrive when the power approach isn’t part of the format, but if the power approach becomes part of the format, consistency will never be able to outplay power. It will resort to floodgates like Soul Drain or Macro Cosmos. It will win some games due to floodgates, but lose others where they have outs. It derails their entire approach, as it’s not possible to outplay the power approach.
What is possible, however, is to out power the power approach. You can still build a better deck and continue to have success throughout the entire format. It’s also possible that you cannot do this. Sometimes the card pool is too restricted. There isn’t always a better deck. Sometimes you have the best you can get and there isn’t much room to go up and make something better. Power approach still has an advantage as the possibility to continue to go up exists, but in the case that it isn’t possible, the consistency approach is already at a disadvantage, as they can’t outplay the already successful power approach.
The next reason I say that the power approach is better than the consistency approach is because it has a higher ceiling. When you get it right, you get it really right. You have a huge advantage whenever you’re right. You literally have a better deck than everyone else in the room. This means that when you’re right, you’re not just going to top the tournament, you’re going to win the tournament.
The consistency approach doesn’t have this same guarantee. You have many more deckbuilding options available to you than you do in game technical play options available to you. For the most part, most lines of play are fairly obvious. The consistency approach is completely rooted in outplaying the opponent. If they’re making even half the right plays, you only have an advantage in the other half. This means that even if you make it to top cut, it’s possible to lose to someone taking the consistency approach, even if you’re better at it than they are. This perfectly explains why Dalton and I had a similar number of tops this year, but I had 5 wins, while he only had 1. The 5 instances where I got it right, I got it very right and did so because I had more of an opportunity to get it right than Dalton did. I had the higher ceiling.
The last advantage the power approach has over the consistency approach is the potential for auto wins.
Let’s next look at how this concept played out throughout the year. The first event was the ARGCS in Nashville. Here my circle and I piloted a Hieratic Dragon Ruler deck that used Hieratic Seal From the Ashes to fuel the Dragon Rulers. My concept of the power and consistency relationship developed throughout the year and this early on I was largely unfamiliar with it. I ended up dropping out of the tournament at 5-2-1 having lost to 2 mirror matches. A week ago, this deck did not exist. We were testing the deck and decided to play it at a regional, also in Nashville, the weekend before the Circuit. There I went 8-0. The deck caught on and plenty of people showed up to Nashville piloting it. I made the mistake of playing it at the regional and giving up the advantage that I did have. Without an advantage over the other decks, I lost out.
Not long after were YCS Atlanta and ARGCS Charlotte. Here we had come up with a Mermail deck. It was our attempt at improving on the Hieratic deck that we made in Nashville. Dalton won Nashville and set Fire Fist as the standard, but big decks have an advantage over smaller decks like Fire Fist. The Mermail deck focused on rank 4s and gaining advantage through abusing Gunde; appropriately dubbed “Gunde Control.” All Mermail decks prior to this focuses on rank 7s and were very much all or nothing strategies. The emphasis on 4s proved to be a much better alternative and was a huge success. YCS Atlanta was the first event they implemented draft in top cut. I made it through the swiss rounds undefeated in matches and only dropping two games, but hadn’t practiced draft and lost out in the first round of draft.
Charlotte was the following weekend and I decided not to share my decklist, having learned from Nashville about the importance of an edge in deckbuilding. Since I was able to retain the edge, I still had a better deck than the people I played against in Charlotte and this time there was no draft, which lead me to win the entire event.
Berlin and Las Vegas were next, neither of which I topped. I played a Mermail deck very similar to the one that I played in Charlotte and Atlanta. I didn’t really improve on the design. My decklist from Charlotte was public and I was now playing on a level playing field. No edge to be had resulted in not topping.
I acknowledged that I needed to regain my advantage over the competition and that Mermail had reached its ceiling and couldn’t be significantly improved upon. This lead me back to Hieratics for the YCS in Chicago. Hieratics had a strong Mermail matchup, but underlying inconsistencies in the deck (such as not having a win condition if your level 6 normal got banished) lead to me not topping.
The new banlist came out after this event, which put Gunde down to one. The last format was an example of how Mermail was significantly better than every other deck, but could not be significantly improved upon and the combo nature of the deck gave the deck a bad mirror match as either player could open up an unbreakable field. This didn’t leave room for many skillful interactions.
Despite our attempts at finding alternatives, our testing lead us back to Mermails even after Gunde was limited. The inherent advantage to be had was the discovery of a combo with Abyssteus and Abysshilde that allowed you to open Bahamaut Shark, Angineer, and Trite any time you opened Teus, something to discard for it, and a level 4. We used this relatively easy to accomplish combo as a basis to gain an advantage in deckbuilding.
The problem was that the advantage was simply not big enough. Our deck may have been slightly better than those we were competing against, but not significantly enough to dominate the tournaments. This lead to Desmond topping in Mexico City, but not topping in Las Vegas and me not topping in Mexico City, but topping in Las Vegas.
The Sunday of Las Vegas, I got several texts about a ridiculous new card coming out, a card that would define most of the rest of the year; Soul Charge. Soul Charge was exactly what we wanted. It didn’t necessarily promote skillful interactions in the game, but it did promote skillful deckbuilding concepts. The game was quite literally about to become one of “who can build a deck to abuse Soul Charge the best?”
We decided that building a deck to abuse Soul Charge would be the focus of all our decks until the card was limited. The first event was Richmond. We wanted a deck that could deal with an opposing field without a battle phase and one that could provide defense from the extra deck. Dragon Rulers provided both of these things. Heliopolis and Number 15 dealt with opposing fields, without having to attack over them and Felgrand gave us a trap that we didn’t have to draw.
We took this concept to ARGCS Richmond. It resulted in Desmond and I both making top cut (he was knocked out by me) and a Dragon Ruler mirror match in the final, despite its clear under representation. This was a pretty clear indication that we were right in our thoughts about the impact of Soul Charge and how to most effectively abuse it and it let me win a second event this year.
YCS Philadelphia and ARGCS Washington DC were the next two events, neither of which I topped. It’s important to be honest in your reflections so that you can improve from your mistakes, but these are the two events that I am most unclear on why I did not make top cut. It’s likely that we simply did not have an advantage over the other decks anymore since we played similar Dragon decks at both events to the one we played in Richmond. I question this, however, because when we lost our advantage with Hieratics and Mermails, we lost to mirror matches. In this case, we found the Dragon mirror to be skillful and rarely lost it, which might suggest our edge didn’t matter as much, almost as if we were using the consistency approach.
Another possible explanation is that this was right after the release of Artifacts, which gave rise to HAT (aka searchable Bottomless Trap Hole). This potentially hurt us more than we thought it would have.
The final potential reason I have been able to come up with for an explanation of these events is that they fell right around finals. We weren’t able to commit as much to preparing for them as we were for other events. This could have lead us to underestimating the impact of searchable Bottomless and not finding a better deck in time to form a new edge. In all likelihood, it’s probably a mixture of all three factors.
At the time, we decided that searchable Bottomless was likely the reason we were struggling. We decided to regain our edge at the next event by main decking Royal Decree as an answer to searchable Bottomless. This worked and I made Top 8 in Milwaukee.
What’s more important to note about Milwaukee was the deck that won; Sylvans. It was Jeff Jones’ innovation and at some point when I was watching him play on Sunday, he said that he thought Sylvans was a deck that I would like. The more I thought about it, the more right he seemed. We still firmly believed that the best deck would revolve around abusing Soul Charge so long as it was at 3, something Sylvans seemed to do quite well.
When we initially tested Sylvans, it became apparent that the deck was a better version of the Dragon Ruler deck we were already playing. They did pretty much the same thing, Sylvans just did it better.
At this point, the North American WCQ was quickly approaching. At the time, I was the reigning North American Champion, but had fallen short at the World Championship. I decided to place getting a second chance at the World Championship above all else. This lead to the most successful deckbuilding concept I’ve had to date.
The ARGCS in Philadelphia was the only event between the Milwaukee and the WCQ. At this point, I acknowledged why I was able to see success with Mermails early on, but couldn’t see continued success with it. They were the best. There was nowhere to go. We got it right the first time and when we did, there was no improving upon it.
Sylvans presented a unique opportunity. Lee’s name didn’t have enough weight behind it to dictate Sylvans to become the meta after his win with them in Milwaukee, which meant we could still exploit them, but to avoid recreating a similar situation to that of the Mermail format, we decided to hold off on Sylvans. We decided to play a different deck, one that would be good enough to top, but still give us the potential for upward mobility.
The Lightsworn structure deck was released just in time for the ARGCS in Philadelphia. Using Dragon Rulers would mean that we would have to win the event to dictate them becoming a significantly larger portion of the meta since they were already an established deck that format. Lightsworn, on the other hand, was brand new. It wasn’t a part of the meta. That meant that making it to top cut would be enough to make it the standard, a much easier task than actually winning the entire event. Then we could beat the strategy we established in Philly at the WCQ.
We focused our testing primarily on Sylvans, but did enough to make a Lightsworn deck that was “good enough.” It worked just as we’d hoped. Desmond wasn’t convinced and played Dragons reluctantly after he was told that he couldn’t play Sylvans, but didn’t top. Ben and I both played the Lightsworn deck and both made it to top. I made it to Top 4, more than enough to establish a new standard.
For me, the WCQ was the focal point of my tournament experience of the year. We practiced for 2 months perfecting our deck, played a dummy deck to avoid exposure, and took every necessary measure to ensure our success. Ultimately, I fell one round short of a second chance at Worlds, losing in Top 16.
Losing in Top 16 was surreal. I opened Lonefire and Soul Charge, game 3, going first, playing for a seat at the World Championship, and lost. So many thoughts swirled in my head after the loss. I should have played faster, I wouldn’t have lost in time if I had more turns. I should have practiced the combos more so I could go faster. I should have practiced the combos better and ended with a different field that could have avoided the situation. I should have called the judge for stalling when he asked for translations in game 3. I should have appealed my slow play warning from round 2 so I wouldn’t have been scared to count the number of Sylvans in my deck in fear of a second penalty and ultimately a game loss.
I have never given a single match more analysis than I did in the minutes, hours, days, and weeks I did after that match. This match had me questioning everything I knew about the game. It had me asking myself what did I want from the game? Was it all worth it?
The next two events were the ARG Circuit Series Championship and ARGCS Providence. My interest in the game was drastically reduced in the aftermath of that match. I spent significantly less time preparing for these events than ever before.
Everything is about what you make of it. That match eventually resulted in my decision to settle for nothing less than World Champion, but not without much deliberation that lasted for both of those tournaments. I decided to strive for perfection and resume my journey as a student of the game.
Shaddolls were released following Providence and were legal for Atlantic City. I liked the strategy that we had used to have success at the WCQ, so we decided to try it out again with Shaddolls. We immediately saw the power of Super Polymerization, but committed to playing 0 for Atlantic City so that it would become standard and we could play 3 at the next event. Unfortunately, we failed to address thee underlying problems in Shaddolls for this event and didn’t top. Fortunately, those who did top made 1 Super Polymerization standard anyway.
We managed to fix those problems by adding a Lightsworn engine to the deck. We now went ahead with a full playset of Super Polymerization in Toronto. It was also a YCS and Battle Pack 3 had just been released. I learned my lesson about not practicing draft from Atlanta, so we practiced that plenty. I went undefeated in swiss, scooped the last two rounds to practice draft more, and then went undefeated in draft, only losing a single game to McCabe in the finals giving me a third championship for the year and my first YCS title.
The next event was Indianapolis. I wanted to maintain my advantage over the competition by main decking Puppet Plant for the mirror match. The idea was that it excellent in the mirror and Shaddoll was significantly better than all the other decks. It worked and I finished undefeated in swiss. I got close to the record for most consecutive matches won between Toronto and Indianapolis (19-0 to Adam Corn’s 23-0), but lost in Top 16 to main-decked Shadow Mirror.
I planned for Puppet Plant to be the final evolution in the format. It wasn’t a skillful interaction and I didn’t want to have to play against it, so I planned on using it at the last event of the format so there wouldn’t be any events to have to play against it at. Unfortunately, the banlist didn’t change very much and Shaddolls and Burning Abyss were still the top two decks. We hadn’t planned to have to incorporate any more innovation in the format, expecting it to change, and therefore reached our deck’s highest ceiling at the last event we planned for.
This resulted in a situation similar to the second half of the Mermail format where we played what we thought to be the best deck, but couldn’t continue to improve on it. This resulted in not topping at YCS Dallas since we didn’t have an advantage.
At this point, Shaddolls had taken a hit from Super Polymerization getting limited. This made resulted in a very conflicting meta where neither Shaddoll nor Burning Abyss was significantly better than the other deck and everything that was good against one was bad against the other. We attempted to innovate, trying things such as 3 Shaddoll Fusion and 2 Shaddoll Dragon in a Burning Abyss deck to give it a higher ceiling. The problem is that there were 3 events back-to-back-to-back weekends. Innovating and perfecting your innovation takes time. If we’re leaving every weekend to a different city and going to school during the week, this doesn’t leave us much time for perfecting our innovation. We weren’t too far off and Desmond topped both Columbus and Iowa, but I didn’t top Columbus and he knocked me out of Iowa.
We should have acknowledged the time constraints for these tournaments and adapted with a consistency approach instead of ignoring them and continuing with the power approach, something that takes more time than we had. We should have played standard Burning Abyss decks at these tournaments and gone for consistency.
The next pack came out a week before Raleigh. We used our one weekend off from traveling to put in the time to innovate. Again wanting to keep our edge, we decided to play the inferior deck first so we had room to go up. This is when I came up with the idea of Big Burning Abyss, a deck using Alich and Calcabs to raise the deck’s ceiling. We legitimately thought Shaddolls to be better than Burning Abyss going into Charlotte. Desmond and I both topped, I knocked him out in the first round of top cut and went on to get first. The deck performed much better than we had originally hoped. We literally thought it was a worse deck and chose to play it to give ourselves room to improve.
As it turns out, we had gotten it right without meaning to. Shaddolls were inferior. They couldn’t consistently beat Burning Abyss and the Qliphort matchup was impossible. Thankfully, I had acknowledged there was a possibility of this happening and chose to not play certain cards in Raleigh, despite knowing they were good, just in case.
I saved Ojama Trio and Enemy Controller for YCS Anaheim, which gave me an advantage over all the mirrors I played against and let me make it to top cut. We had once again practiced for draft, while most of my opponents had not and I made it through draft without dropping a game giving me a fifth win this year.
Since decklists aren’t released at YCSes unless you choose to release them, I decided to keep Enemy Controller and Ojama Trio a secret. This let Desmond, Ben, Zach and I all make top cut in Chicago the following weekend. I didn’t play in Atlanta, so Chicago was my last event of the year.
At the beginning of the year I didn’t have much of a concept of the two strategies that people can take. I now firmly believe that the power approach is the better option.
Currently Burning Abyss seems a lot like Mermails did. I doubt there is very much upward mobility left for the deck. Considering that the ban list didn’t change much of anything as far as the top decks go and the format really begins with the release of the next pack, I’d expect Burning Abyss mirrors to be pretty much a coin flip from here on out. Building your deck to give you an advantage by opening double Dante and traps consistently is one thing, but now that it is mainstream and anybody can do it without having to come to those conclusions on their own, they will be opening double Dante and traps just as often.
Since there is no effective way of dealing with this, my experiences this year indicate that the likelihood of any one Burning Abyss player topping aren’t very high since the mirror is unskilled and there isn’t a way to gain an advantage through deckbuilding. Because of this, it might be wise to consider an alternative deck for the Circuit in Orlando, even if Burning Abyss does exactly what you want a deck to do. The mirror is indicative of a riskier strategy being more likely to see success next weekend, as you’ll never be able to consistently win the mirror.
While I’m still deciding on what to play for Orlando myself, I’d like to think that I have learned from my Mermail experience this year that sticking with Burning Abyss for Orlando will likely end with me not topping. It’s difficult to find an alternative if you’re trying to top, because the problem is Burning Abyss really is that good to the point that other decks just don’t compare. In Mermail format, we saw this manifest itself in coin flip mirrors, but no way to consistently beat the Mermails if you’re playing another deck, leaving you with no option but to play Mermails. While this seems much the same, I’ve been putting in tons of effort to find an alternative this weekend. My circle finally has something completely new and never seen that might be able to compete, but there’s still plenty of testing to be done before next weekend. I think the riskier deck will be worthwhile, as indicated by my experiences this year. I hope you guys all have a great holiday season and that you come out to Orlando on January 3 and 4th for the first Circuit Series of 2015!
To conclude a reflection upon what was learned this year, we should look to the future with what we hope to accomplish. As for my Yu-Gi-Oh goals for the upcoming year, I hope to be able to get Ben to where he needs to be to one day surpass where I currently am. I also want to complete my book.And with what may be my last year of traveling as I graduate college in December, this is the year I become World Champion and settle for nothing less. Until next time, play hard or go home!