To start things off, I do not want this article to come off as cocky or anything of that nature. I am trying to simply get better at the game of Yu-Gi-Oh! and want to share some things that I believe may make you better at the game too. Some readers will glance over this article and see nothing that they don’t already know, and that is fine. Hopefully, though, I can share what I have learned in the last year or so, and have it make an impact on our player base.
I got back into the game of Yu-Gi-Oh! in the summer of 2011, just about the time when Hansel Aguero won Nationals with T.G. Stun. When I say I was getting back into the game though, I mean to say that I never really knew my way around the game in the first place. I remember trying to YVD in 2006 (YVD was basically the forerunner to DuelingNetwork), and then getting stomped on by Cyber-Stein and of all things, Berserk Gorilla. I even posted a decklist on Pojo at the time which included random water-monsters and a teched Beta the Magnet Warrior. Jeeeeeeez. To say that I was not familiar with competitive Yu-Gi-Oh! was an understatement. However, seeing how the game had changed from then to now motivated me into truly learning the ins and outs of competitive play.
This is the first rule of getting better: playtest, playtest, and oh, did I mention playtest? Theory-oh is good and definitely has its place, but when it comes down to it, you only get better by playing (preferably playing in-person as opposed to Dueling Network). Try to play with people who are also trying to improve their playing skills. You gain nothing if you play a random on DN who doesn’t care about the consequences and keeps playing into your Maxx “C” or Torrential Tribute. You have to test with people who “practice how they play” and take it seriously 100% of the time. No summoning D.D. Crow and attacking for 100 here.
Anyway, there are three topics I would like to go over which I believe have been key to bettering how I play and think. They are:
1.) Stepping out of your comfort zone
2.) Reading and analyzing feature matches
3.) Learning the psychological aspects of the game
I really attempted to commit myself to the game when I decided to build X-Sabers on DN for the first time because I wanted to play something competitive (in hindsight, X-Sabers were already past their prime, haha). Before this, I was playing random Beatdown.dek because, hey, that’s what a lot of beginning randoms do. I remember destroying an opponent with a simple Faultroll play and it hooked me on the deck. Was I a good player then? Of course not. But deciding to play something I had not before, and learning the ropes of the deck helped me grow and understand Yu-Gi-Oh! much better. Playing a new and different deck will do that to you, and once you know how a certain deck works, it becomes infinitely easier to beat as well because you know all of its possible plays and outs.
Once I eventually built Plants, I felt really out of my comfort zone. The plays the deck could create were many, but trying to make sure you made the right one was incredibly difficult. I literally remember playing a plant mirror match, and thinking, “what the heck, I am so uncomfortable and feel so bad at this game.” I just had to tell myself to get over it, and learn the deck better and keep playing. Watching mirror matches of some of the pros on YouTube (Billy Brake and Alistar Albans for one) and reading feature matches from YCS Toronto, Columbus, and Kansas City helped me see plays I had not seen before, and let me become more comfortable with all the game states it could put someone in. This leads me to my next topic, reading feature matches!
While the game is always constantly changing, we can learn a lot by just analyzing old metagame feature matches and feature matches from recent YCS’. If you never knew what metagame.com was, then you’re in for a treat because this contains all the history of competitive Yu-Gi-Oh! from 2004 up to the waning days of the Tele-DAD era. You can actually become kind of starstruck by all the pro players names (as silly as that sounds), and read all about the Goat Control format where holding power cards and having card advantage reigned supreme, or about how Austin Kulman became our national champ at the tender age of eleven in 2006.
Basically, the way a pro player played certain cards as Torrential Tribute can still apply now and teach us how to play certain scenarios. Concepts of holding power cards, and knowing how to adjust to the current gamestate (not just categorizing yourself as a conservative/agressive player) is something all pros know how to do, and by reading how they played out certain scenarios, we can learn what to do when we come across similar scenarios; even in a different format. The Goat Control format may be a total 180 from the Chaos Dragon/Dino Rabbit/Winzektor format we are in now, but you most certainly can take key concepts from players back then and use them to your advantage today! My personal player to read about in feature matches is Jerry Wang, btw.
This will probably be what most people consider the cheesiest part of the article, but it is an important part nonetheless, and that is reading people and cards. Great players can read backrows, and a lot of the time it can be from just paying attention to the game at hand, and your opponent’s face and body language. One thing I have noticed playing at locals and even regionals is that a lot of players will not look at their opponents. They are too busy shuffling their hand or looking at the board. Pay attention to your opponent’s actions! There is so much to be gained by seeing the wincing expression of someone who just drew another vanilla Dino or a dead Avarice. Even the best players have trouble keeping their composure in a big tournament when they are at the risk of losing. So obviously, your average Joe of a player is not even thinking of keeping a poker face when playing. They might grin when they draw the nuts, or cover their mouth when they are bluffing a Mirror Force. Catch them on it.
One final point I would like to make from a psychological standpoint is to make your opponent think about why you are doing what you are doing. The goal is not to slow play, and you should definitely avoid doing that, but sometimes you should not go into the obvious move with haste. Set a card, pull it back, and set another card. Have your opponent question your actions and question their own actions. “Did he set a Mirror Force there? If so, why did he seem so reluctant to?” Make your opponent fear what you put down, and you can sometimes bluff out a player by having them use their lone MST on your set Avarice that you kept thinking if you should set or not. Who knows, that might save the other D-Prison you had that lets you win the game. However, against players who do not think of the consequences of just running into set cards? This may not work.
Keep these tips in mind when trying to become better at the game. I am trying to learn and play at a higher level every time I play, and you should be too! My goal in the next couple of months is to play at a YCS and hopefully top! Lack of funds makes this hard, but in the meantime, nothing is stopping us from practicing with a friend, proxying cards, and getting better. I hope reading this article will help you raise your game to that next level, whether it be topping your locals, regionals, a YCS, or heck, even winning one!