A week before the Circuit Series in Syracuse, I went to the one in Edison and played a super ignorant build of Nekroz. I mained three copies of Solemn Scolding and two copies of Secret Village of the Spellcasters. Essentially, I wasn’t trying to duel…at all. I won my round one mirror match where I opened both games with the Djinn lock and Scolding, but the tournament didn’t quite stay that way. In round two, I played against what had to be my worst matchup—Nekroz Shaddolls—and I got 2-0ed fairly easily. I played my second least favorable matchup in round three—Burning Abyss—and got hit with Crush Card in both games. I did, however, manage to win a game, forcing a draw, but things would have to go very well for me in order to have a chance at topping. As fate would have it, I played against another Nekroz player who swept the floor with me when I bricked in game one and had my Djinn lock broken on turn one in game three. So that was that. I was over the whole idea of preventing my opponents from playing any Yu-Gi-Oh, and decided that I would be switching it up for the very next event.
During the actual week of Syracuse, I didn’t do any playtesting outside of my usual Thursday night local. I used Hoban’s Mathematician Glow-up Bulb build that sided into the Shaddoll engine, and I lost in Top8 when my Satellarknight opponent summoned Abyss Dweller and set four backrows. The most frustrating part about that whole ordeal was the fact that he had no idea I sided into the Shaddoll engine. He made Abyss Dweller because he saw that I had two Nekroz ritual spells in my grave after he cleared my field. I happened to have two Shaddoll Fusions in my hand, but they were as good as normal summons against his board. That incident made me realize how perilous it was to depend on the Shaddoll engine when so many things had to go right in order for it to work. I brought it up to McCabe that the only side deck card that can bring you back from several backrows is Denko Sekka. She makes unwinnable games winnable. The same could be said for Royal Decree, but you need a turn to set it up, and you don’t always have that luxury. Also, if you get caught by Triverr, you can kiss any chances of escaping with Royal Decree goodbye.
Unfortunately, since Trapless BA was the new flavor of the week, I didn’t want to give side deck space to a card that may not get used during the whole tournament, nor did I want to dedicate any side deck cards to just Satellarknights. I decided that I would discuss my theories with my good friends from New Jersey, who happened to also be my travel companions for the weekend. After discussing Nekroz and the game in general with ARG Richmond champion Nick Ma and 2014 World Championship Qualifier Tej Trivedi, I realized how much differently other people look at the game. You would think that in my 10+ years of playing Yu-Gi-Oh that I would have known this already, but it never crossed my mind just how unique someone else’s thought patterns could be when approaching certain scenarios or card choices. For me, it was imperative that we had this session since I work as a full-time accountant five days a week. I do not have the luxury of playtesting and properly preparing for events as I once did in prior years. My technical skills have suffered as a result, but the current format has more of an emphasis on deck building. I don’t necessarily have to be the best player in the room; I just need to have a good enough decklist.
Nick and Tej showed me their lists and I derived mine from what I saw. I knew a few things for certain—I wasn’t maining any backrow disruption (Mystical Space Typhoon, Galaxy Cyclone, Denko Sekka, Trap Stun, etc), and I wasn’t playing more than 40 cards. They were both playing 41 cards with only two copies of ROTA, so I bumped it up to three and took out the backrow hate. While it may look standard on paper, the list was very geared towards just the mirror match. Three copies of Maxx “C” and two copies of Shared Ride weren’t unheard of, but playing no copies of MST in the main after TJ Kinsley won was pretty much blasphemy. I figured my out to Emptiness would be Bull Blader, and if they had Mistake in game one I would just scoop and trust my side deck. You have to realize that ARG events are a lot different from Konami events. They are super competitive. This means you are more likely to play against the best deck every round than you are at a Konami event. Also, if the event is exceptionally small, you’re going to run into better players far more often. Lastly, you must realize that your decklist will be public knowledge should you make the top cut, in which case any tricks would be exposed. This can actually work for you or against you, depending on the gravity of the trick.
For example, if I were to side Mirror of the Ice Barrier, my Top16 opponents would never Trish me when I have a set backrow that hasn’t been activated. At that point, Mirror of the Ice Barrier would be a dead card during the entire playoffs. However, the fact that they know you side Mirror of the Ice Barrier could allow you to mind game them into foregoing a Trishula play, which is absurd. As you can see, this is something that can only be done at an ARG event where all of your playoff opponents will know your exact list. I happen to enjoy the fact that there are different ways to approach the two types of major events available to us.
Instead of going into round by round details, I will explain only the noteworthy parts of the tournament. In swiss, I ended up playing five Nekroz mirror matches, two Satellarknights, and one Yosenju. The mirror matches were very straight forward—both players play a game of hit-and-run until someone messes up. And by “messing up” I mean not playing around Maxx “C” or Shared Ride. I realized that most people do not know how to properly do this. To play around Maxx “C”, you just need to set it up so that when you activate Kaleidoscope, you have the option of summoning Unicore and Valkyrus, or the option of summoning just Valkyrus with Shurit. Anytime you Kaleidoscope with just Unicore as your only option, you will be leaving yourself open to a quick defeat by the hands of Trishula. If your opponent uses Maxx “C” and you summoning Unicore and Valkyrus, you can just tribute off both, draw two, and then banish the Unicore and Kaleidoscope to add a Ritual Spell to your hand. The same type of trick can be done when you have Kaleidoscope, Valkyrus and Shurit. You activate Kaleidoscope, they chain Maxx “C”, and then you just tribute Shurit to summon Valk. Afterwards, you tribute the Valk to clear your field, draw some cards, and then banish it from the graveyard to add a Ritual Spell. These are not hard plays, but the majority of Nekroz players seem to disregard them.
Playing around Shared Ride is also easy. If your opponent has a set backrow in the mirror match, you should be making your first search Valkyrus if you can. Because of this, anyone who uses Shared Ride on a Nekroz of Brionac--when it’s the first thing you do to start your turn—is probably not the best player in the world. Even using it on a Manju or Senju summon is questionable because you can’t really capitalize on it. Sure, you draw a card, but your opponent won’t have a graveyard yet, and they’re just going to pass their turn after searching one card. If your hand can definitely kill them, then playing Shared Ride on a Manju or Senju is the correct play. In most cases, you should let them search with Brionac or Manju, and then wait until they also put something in the graveyard before you use Shared Ride. This essentially gives them two options: Get caught by Trishula, or give me more cards with Shared Ride in order to dodge Trishula. It’s a win-win either way.
I won four out of my five swiss mirror matches with the aforementioned line of play, and I also took a loss to a Satellarknight player who I should have gone first against in game three. Allow me to expand on both losses. In the mirror match, I decided to Trish my opponent too early and he Trishula’d me back. Needless to say, it’s very hard to win when that happens. In game three, I used Artifact Lancea on his Nekroz Mirror and did not realize that he should be forced to resolve it by tributing his in-hand Manju to summon his in-hand Unicore. The weirdest thing about it was that I had been checking to make sure that nothing could be summoned in my prior Nekroz mirror matches whenever I used Lancea, but I blatantly forgot in this match. In fact, one of my earlier opponents was forced to summon Trishula by tributing a Gungnir and Maxx “C” from his hand. Had my opponent been forced to summon Unicore in that way, he would have immediately lost the game because he would not have been able to search Gungnir and kill me.
Against my Satellarknight opponent, I won game one by Djinn locking him on turn one and backing it up with a Gungnir and Trishula. In game two, I summoned a first turn Gungnir, which I’m sure would have absolutely won me that game, but he had Raigeki on his first turn to clear it. The part where I misplayed and lost the match is when I decided to let him go first in game three. I knew I wasn’t siding Denko Sekka, and I knew I had no real answer to several backrows should they be set on turn one. I was so used to always letting other decks go first that I forgot the importance of setting up on turn one before they can get trap cards down. He ended up opening with Deneb and four bakrows. Four real backrows. I lost that game on turn two. I decided that for the rest of the format, when given the opportunity, I would be going first against Satellarknights. Also, they actually just have a hard time breaking the Djinn lock, in case you were unaware. There are no sure-shot outs in that deck like Book of Eclipse. Everything can be stopped by either Gungnir or Trishula.
After swiss I found out that I would have to play against Tej in Top16, and after thinking about his side deck the night before, I realized that I was going to decline his offer to take out Djinn and Emptiness. The reason was simple: his side deck for the mirror match was much better than mine. His game plan for the tournament was to bank on people siding them out so that he could put in things like Retort and Mirror Force for blowouts. My decision would make it awkward for him to properly side against me because he couldn’t legitimately take out his Djinn outs. The Nekroz engine is so tight that you can’t really take out combo pieces either, so I knew he wouldn’t be able to fit in everything he wanted for games two and three. If he did, it meant he would be risking getting Djinn locked out of the tournament. I did the same thing against Nick Ma in Top8, and I won game three because of a Djinn locked Gungnir after I Mind Crushed him to reveal an in-hand Bull Blader. Since I knew he played Mirror Force, I just kept her in defense position and attacked with other monsters until he lost.
The finals turned out to be a Nekroz mirror match (surprise, surprise), and it would be best 3 out of 5. Looking back on it, I could have won the tournament if I had won one of the two games where I was forced to go first. I actually had the cards to do it, but I also had tunnel vision. In game three, it gets to a point where I have Valkyrus and Unicore on the field and an Artifact Lancea in my hand. I also have Gungnir and Trishula in my hand. My lifepoints were at 1400, so I couldn’t clear my board anymore. If I did, it would make any Senju or Manju lethal because of Gungnir. The hard decision that needed to be made here was to tribute off just my on field Unicore to draw a card, and leave the Valk in attack position. The reason I needed to tribute my on field Unicore was in case he summoned his own Valk and attacked over it. That would put me at 800, which would make Gagaga Cowboy lethal. I understood that part. I also understood that having Lancea in my hand meant that he couldn’t Trishula me, and having Gungnir in my hand meant that he couldn’t crash his own Valk into mine and kill me with a second monster. My problem was that I was so sure that he would try to crash Valks that I banked on it to win me the game. I remembered that he didn’t play Number 101: Silent Honor ARK, and I told myself that he would have no way to clear my Valk after I used Lancea. I completely forgot about Castel. This is why the Trishula was important. It even goes a step further than that.
Having Trishula, Lancea, and Gungnir in hand was the holy trinity. If he would have been able to summon Valk and Gungnir, he could have attacked with Valk, forcing me to use Gungnir on the attack declaration, and then chain his own Gungnir’s effect to destroy my Valk. Trishula would have stopped that, too. Now, don’t get me wrong, it would have been incredibly difficult to summon Valk and Gungnir under Lancea, but not impossible. Without my Trishula, he didn’t need to do anything extra to win that game. He just needed to summon Castel and that was that.
In game five I went first, summoned Manju, searched Valkyrus, and activated Nekroz Mirror. He slightly flinched which told me he had Maxx “C” but he didn’t want to use it on that, which makes perfect sense since I was blatantly about to summon Valkyrus. After the Valkyrus hit the field, I searched Brionac with Shurit and searched Unicore with Brionac. I proceeded to activate Kaleidoscope and he chained Maxx “C” to that, which was the correct thing to do, but I also had a correct play to make. I had Lancea in my hand, so I should have immediately tributed my Manju and Unicore to draw two cards. This would leave me with Valk on the field and a five card hand that included Lancea. Instead, I completely overlooked the Lancea and decided to make Lavalval Chain to stack Maxx “C” onto the top of my deck, and then draw two by tributing both Valk and Lavalval. This wouldn’t have been so bad had he not drawn into Emptiness and Djinn soon after, but it was my fault for giving him leeway in the first place. In the end, I learned an incredible amount about the Nekroz deck from this tournament and I’d hoped that it would prepare me for Nationals, but that’s a story for a different day.
Until next time, duelists! Remember, Play Hard or Go Home!
-The Dark Magician