Beyond the Top Deck: The Power of Nothing

I have been wanting to write this article ever since YCS Seattle a little bit ago. I took note of something that occurred in the second game of my Top 32 feature match, and told myself it was a perfect topic for an upcoming article. So today I have decided to take our journey to improving as Yu-Gi-Oh players and talk about something as simple as - doing nothing.

Doing nothing can apply to a variety of different situations in the game of Yu-Gi-Oh, but the general concept all reverts back to the idea of doing whatever gives you the best chance to not only win the game you are playing - but the match you are involved in. And sometimes those things are going to be inherently different, and today I want to talk about what thought processes you need to have when deciding what can be done to better your chances of winning the match when a singleton game is in question.

The first example I am going to talk about today is conceding the first game of a match without playing a single card. Now we have all played Yu-Gi-Oh these past couple of years, and we all know what can happen on the first turn of a given game. Assuming you lost the di-roll, you can easily be staring down an insurmountable board presence consisting of cards such as Evolzar Laggia, Shock Master or Six Samurai Shi-En. These type of negation based, or simply advantage based, board states require a specific group of cards to sufficiently breakthrough. For example, if your opponent slams down Wind-Up Shark and Wind-Up Magician, and you are staring at an opening hand consisting of an extremely lackluster collection of cards - but ones that reveal what you are playing, there is a simple question that needs to be asked. Is the likelihood of me breaking through my opponent's board high enough to reveal to them what type of deck I am playing? Often times while playing an archtype such as Heroes, I would find myself encountering the dreaded Wind-Up Hunter loop last format, and simply scooping the moment I saw the loop in the first game. As a matter of fact, that exact circumstance came up at YCS Long Beach. I was sitting with a 8-1 record, lost the di-roll and my opponent opened Magician/Shark. Instantly scooped. What happened then? My opponent had dead copies of Maxx "C", Fiendish Chain and Effect Veiler in their deck for the second game.

Assuming I let my opponent play out the entire loop, I had virtually no realistic chance of winning and my opponent would have constructed their deck for game two in a more advantageous configuration.

In today's format, you have the opportunity to play your turns in a similar fashion. Let's assume your opponent opened up with a first turn Shock Master, and subsequently called spells. You are staring at your opening hand of five spell oriented Dark World discard outlets and a Snoww. Should you set the Snoww and hope to protect yourself from life point damage? Absolutely not. Set a bunch of your spells. Maybe you can bluff them into calling traps and somehow miscalculate 8000 damage. If they drop Heavy Storm of their following turn, instantly concede. What would have happened if you let the Snoww die? Perhaps another drawstep? Under what, another turn of no spells? The best you can draw is a Tour Guide that goes completely unphased against Shock Master and whatever else the opponent has amassed. The best decision here is to simply conceal what you are playing, the last thing you want is to play against dramatic side board hate in the next game.

I have actually scooped the first game of a YCS a number of times. It happened more than once at Seattle actually. One time occurred against an opponent who was running Wind-Ups. I opened with a hand consisting of 3 Jurrac Guiaba, Rescue Rabbit and two weak cards. My opponent was able to open with Tour Guide and Wind-Up Factory with other trap card support. I could have tried to run my Rescue Rabbit into that board and hoped a Dolkka could bypass all of his cards. But honestly... what were my chances of winning that game. 5%? I would much rather scoop my cards up and try and avoid Messenger of Peace from the side board the next game.

A final example actually came against fellow ARG writer Frazier Smith. Back at YCS Dallas 2010, the event after Frazier had won with Gravekeeper's, and the first event I was able to place in the Top 32.  We played round 4 in a Six Samurai mirror match, and he had the joy of winning the di-roll. I was actually able to stall out the first few turns as I stared down his Six Samurai Shi-En, and an opportunity came where I could try and use Kagemusha and Kizan to break out of the lock, but again, any type of response and he knows what I am playing.

You'd be surprised how often I would say conceding the first game of the match to actually be the correct line of play. It is obviously a horrific situation to find yourself in, but exposing your archtype may give you a miniscule chance of salvaging the first game, but has too detrimental of an effect on the entire match. Think about going into game two with your entire side board plan while the opponent has no idea what to do. Gives you an immense edge in the game you have to win before forcing a game three... where anything can happen.

The other time where I think it is appropriate to pass an opportunity to do something comes up much more often. As a matter of fact, it is an option you absolutely have to consider during every turn of Yu-Gi-Oh you play. It doesn't necessarily come up that often, but it is one of the most underutilized aspects of the game out there. People seem to assume that since there are cards at their disposal that can be activated, or that each turn their allotted a normal summon, that they are therefore forced to act upon those abilities. But the reality of the situation is that, simply allowing the game to remain at parity may be the most appropriate course of action. No attacks, no normal summons - nothing at all. I actually have an example from my Top 32 feature match at YCS Seattle. Obviously the entire match went entirely against my favor, let alone this game - but I still think there is something that can be taken from the second game of that match. I opened the game up with the following cards:

Monster Reborn

Forbidden Lance

Forbidden Lance

Solemn Judgment

Torrential Tribute

Jurrac Guiaba

Take into consider that I am playing against a Mermail deck and I think the correct course of action if actually pretty clear. My hand isn't necessarily the strongest hand, but can easily establish a favorable board state, but doing so is dependent on my ability to trigger the effect of Jurrac Guiaba. Therefore, with that in mind, it seems counter-productive to set any of the spell and trap cards I opened up with. I would quite handedly be punished by Genex Undine, and honestly, I only want to set them spell and traps card after hitting with Guiaba, and with two Forbidden Lance/Monster Reborn  - that seems like a likely occurrence.

So I stared at my hand for some time, considering how the next turn would play out - and said go.

As the feature match would show, I would be able to hit with Guiaba on the following turn, but the match took a dramatic turn for the worst with each additional draw step for each player. But I still stand by passing my opening turn. After falling victim to a top decked Undine into Moulinglacia, I went and spoke with ARG writers Patrick Hoban and Frazier Smith about how I played out my first turn - and they agreed with the decision of passing. I am not entirely sure what setting three or four spell and trap cards would have exactly done to the outcome of that game. I would have been able to stop Marksman from hitting, which I suppose is ideal. But the fact that my opponent attacked with both Marksman and Dragoons the following turn, without any fear of Gorz, I was able to infer my opponent was likely to have some form of monster removal - which he did with a Soul Taker. Passing the turn actually went quite far in the develop of that game - just not so much in the conclusion.

Deeper into the game it might now seem as obvious as to when you should just pass the turn. One thing I can say is to always ask yourself this question - on every turn of the game.

"What happens if I just pass?"
This will allow you to analyze the game state and help sway your decision toward whatever you deem correct, and may actually convince you to avoid recklessly playing a certain card. Patience is a difficult trait to develop in the game of Yu-Gi-Oh, but that concept leads me into the role of tempo on each game - a subject I would rather discuss at a later date.

But remember,

The idea of continually improving all aspects of your game is undeniably vital in evolving and progressing as a player.

Joe Giorlando

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