Finding What Works for You

Hi everyone.  My name is James Johnson, but most of you probably know me as Jimi, or my online alias, Living Legend.  I’ve had a decent amount of tournament success, but more importantly I’ve been playing the game for a long time and have been to tons of events.  Today I’ll be shedding light on the way to optimize your decklist for your own playstyle.

Put simply, when building a deck, you need to find what works for you.  What this means is, you want your deck to be the combination of 40+ cards that will allow you to win the most.  Sounds obvious, right?  But the best deck for me might not be the best deck for you.  In fact, unless we have identical playstyles, it almost certainly will not be the same.

That’s why there is never an empirical “best deck”, and why playtesting is so important.  Through playtesting your deck, and trying out lots of different cards, you can find the ones that work best for you.  For example, there are two cards that just seem to never work for me: Mind Crush and The Transmigration Prophecy.  Almost every format these cards seem to come up as cool tech picks, and in theory they work really well.  Say you are playing an X-Saber deck, that seeks to clear your Spells or Traps then explode with XX-Saber Faultroll.  You can chain Mind Crush to a Giant Trunade, Mystical Space Typhoon, or Cold Wave, and call XX-Saber Faultroll, making them waste their Spell/Trap removal as well as protecting yourself from their explosive play.  The Transmigration Prophecy is a card that isn’t seen that much any more, but I remember in past formats people would always talk about, say, chaining it to an Infernity Launcher to put both targets back in the deck, whereas D.D. Crow would only remove 1 of the targets.  Both Mind Crush and The Transmigration Prophecy sound really good when you think about how devastating they could be in certain situations, so I decided to give them a try.

What I found was that both these cards simply don’t work for me.  It seemed like every format I would try them in my decks, and simply end up cutting them after playtesting because they would always be dead because I drew them at the wrong time.  However, I had friends who would try Mind Crush or The Transmigration Prophecy, and tell me how well they were working for them.  This baffled me for a while.  Were my friends a lot better than me?  Were they playing against easier opponents or easier matchups?  Were they cheating?  What could lead them to have better results with the same card?

The answer is differences in playstyle and luck.  Playstyle is a word that is thrown around a lot by Yu-Gi-Oh! players and I’m not convinced that anyone truly knows what it means or could define it.  The best way to explain it is the way in which you play your cards (I know that’s vague).  A lot of times, there is a real “best play” that can be made, but over the course of a large tournament minor decisions in the way you play manifest themselves.  Even two players of equal skill might make different decisions on, say, setting a Ryko, Lightsworn Hunter or Dandylion on the first turn.  There is sound reasoning for making either play, and even the best players might be split on the decision.  Sometimes neither play is really wrong, it is just a difference in playstyle.  Different players will also make different reads, causing them to play differently.  And some players may be making misplays.  The point is, no 2 players going through a given tournament will have made all the exact same plays at the same points throughout the day.

The other factor that leads to different results is simply luck. When I was running an X-Saber build with 3 copies of XX-Saber Faultroll you would always find myself drawing 2 Faultroll with no way to put 2 X-Sabers on the field to utilize them, so I decided to only run 2.  Statistically, I understand that I was probably just getting really unlucky.  Maybe it was the way I was shuffling, or just dumb luck (or lack of luck), but regardless of the cause it was the right decision to cut the Faultroll.  It doesn’t matter if you are getting ridiculously unlucky or if you are simply getting outplayed, if you are losing a lot (I’m not talking about just dropping a few matches) you NEED to make a change.  That fix worked a lot better for me, but I know a lot of good players that swear by running 3 Faultroll.  I don’t try to argue with them, because I understand that we have different playstyles and different luck so we choose to make different deckbuilding decisions.

So we have established that playstyle and luck account for the subtle differences in testing results.  But even with that knowledge, what can we do?  Not many players are so in touch with their own playstyle, and no one can predict their luck.  But through playtesting, LOTS of playtesting, you can arrive with a build that will allow you to win the most.  Just like I cut the 3rd Faultroll, you should cut cards that are causing you to draw badly and lose games, even if they’re cards that are usually regarded as ‘staples’ like Mirror Force or Torrential Tribute.  Even though these cards are incredibly powerful when used correctly, I know very good players that are removing those cards because they weren’t working that well.

Even though I understand that their decisions are based off their personal decisions, I still disagree most of the time when players are cutting cards like Mirror Force or Torrential Tribute.  I’ve even heard players discussing dropping Dark Hole!  My gut reaction is they simply aren’t playing correctly.  But it is much, much easier to just make a simple change to your deck than drastically improve your dueling skills.  So, especially if you have an event coming up without much time to prepare, I would prioritize optimizing your deck for your skill set as opposed to running cards that don’t work for you because you are not that skilled.   After practicing with your deck for a while, your skills will probably improve, and then you may even find that cards that did not originally work for you suddenly work great.  To me, that is one of the most satisfying parts of Yu-Gi-Oh!

I leave you with three simple words of advice.  Playtest, playtest, playtest.  Although it does happen, tournaments are not often won by untested decks.  The top players test their decks relentlessly, and if you want to become one of the elite, you must too.  Getting a team together will help you do this.  Test your deck against a variety of matchups, definitely including all Tier 1 decks but also against a few rogue decks.  Test against players of a variety of different skill levels.  After doing this, if you found that certain cards weren’t working well for you, take them out, and try something else.  Then test some more.  Through this process, you will arrive at your ideal build, become prepared for upcoming events, and increase your skill level by the sheer fact you are playing so much with your deck.  After a while, you will learn that certain cards work very well for you (a personal favorite of mine is Spirit Reaper), or cards that work very poorly (like Mind Crush for me).  You will begin to understand your playstyle, and thus you will be able to build better decks from scratch, without much testing, because you will have a feeling of what cards will work well for you.  But even if you have reached that level, do not neglect the testing!  You cannot predict everything with Theory-Oh, you need to put in the time.  Cards that you have previously written off as “simply not working for you” may end up surprising you.

If this sounds like a lot of work, you’re right.  It is.  The top players in any game or sport put in a lot of time and energy to get where they are, and Yu-Gi-Oh! is no different.  Becoming an elite player is just a matter of putting that work in, and maybe a smidge of natural talent.  Hopefully this article hopes you reach that level.

Until next time, happy dueling!

Jimi Johnson

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