Learning Efficiently for the Returning Player

Greetings. This article is an aid to returning players. It presents my method for how to play “catch up” on learning when under time constraints. A returning player’s greatest difficulty is not being able to apply prior knowledge of the game to the current game until he or she reaches a certain threshold of familiarity with the current game. How to go about bridging that gap is the topic of this article.


I recently had the opportunity to return from a six-month absence from cards for one brief weekend. Pat told me the ARGCS was making another pass through Texas, and I saw that there was an availability in my schedule to both attend and prepare for the event. I decided to make the trip.

In the past, I wrote articles from the perspective of a member of the YGO community. Today, I write from a new perspective: that of an outsider. Returning after a hiatus presents a unique set of challenges that active players do not face. There are some things that I took for granted in the past that were very difficult for me as a returning player. I’m thankful for this experience because I don’t think I would have understood these struggles had I not experienced them firsthand.

This article summarizes the perspective I gained as an outsider that I would have lacked had I kept playing YGO. Trying to navigate the whole process of re-learning the game can be a daunting task at first, and this experience has given me an approach for just that.

Going back to “what to think”

The most humbling and frustrating challenge of returning is having to regress to infancy in thought process. I’ve played enough in the past to know how to think about the game, but coming back after a long time effectively locks that “how” knowledge and disables me from using it until I go through all the “what” material again.

I have a cheesy example from an RPG I played back in the day (Maple Story). There is this character whose backstory is that he was max level, but because of some curse, he is back to square one. Returning to a game with an evolving meta can be like that. You have to restart with “noob” equipment and stats, even if you may have the knowledge on how to use higher level gear.

And now in less abstract terms:
-An example of how to think is understanding card relationships.
-The what equivalent of that would be knowing whether card A is better or card B is better in a head-to-head comparison.

-Another example of how is using card advantage and board position to evaluate the benefits and tradeoffs of synchro summoning vs. leaving the monsters on board.
-The what equivalent would be learning what a synchro summon is, learning what the synchro monster does, and being told when to do it.

The what-to-think stage is a place where a player can only absorb information and not contribute any of his own. It is a humbling place of dependency. In discussion, we often expect others to give as much as they receive. In the YGO community, I have seen players criticized for asking to be spoonfed. I don’t think that’s the right way to go about treating novice players. If a player is at the what stage, he has no other choice but to be spoonfed.

Sure, he could discover established patterns all on his own, but that would be an irresponsible use of his time. That type of learning is unacceptable in other areas, and Yugioh should not be an exception. Furthermore, it would even be detrimental to ask such a player to contribute as much as he asks for help because he could say something incorrect and potentially mislead others who are also wandering through the what stage.

Selecting learning resources

The second most difficult challenge I faced while returning from the different dimension was choosing how I would catch up. I wanted to gather all my shortcuts, that is, my “what” information, so that I could start unlocking my “how” experience to make more complex decisions for the event, such as specific card choices.

There are many ways to learn the shortcuts within a format. Practicing on a simulator is a top-down way of learning. Reading takes the bottom-up approach. I wanted to do a good amount of both, but there is so much information out there to choose from, and time is limited.

We can’t play a card just because it’s good. It has to be better than the alternative. That same reasoning applies to learning resources. Here’s a simple made-up formula to represent that.

Approach efficiency = (BR1 – DR1) – (BR2 – DR2)

BR is the benefit of the resource (adjusted for time) and DR is the detriment of the resource (adjusted for time). The resource that gives you the most positive value is the one to use. You have to factor in detriment because it is an inevitable part of learning. For instance, we have all read incorrect ideas in online forums. That needs to be accounted for when deciding where we go to learn.


I personally like to start with bottom-up when I learn something. I like to read about a topic, and then try it later, rather than the other way around. If I were forced to choose between experiencing something firsthand or reading books about it, I would take the books.

Trying to find readings in an evolving game can be very frustrating. This is because the game changes constantly – every few months, if not more frequent! When I was a newer player, I dug and dug and dug for good readings to help me improve and was disappointed by how scattered the resources were. Generally speaking, it is much easier to find reliable longitudinal reading than reading on the current game.

For example, ARG has an archive of fantastic articles for players looking to discover truths that transcend multiple formats. “The Diversity Argument” or “The Four Perspectives” can forever change how a duelist thinks, but for a duelist who just wants to learn the current format? They are not as productive resources.

I think one of the best places to start, reading-wise, is to look at decklists from YCS and Circuit Series events for ideas on what cards to use and what will be used against you, and to create a list of shortcuts to use those cards correctly.

Shortcuts are everything in Yugioh. Someday, I will go deeply into this topic, but not now.

Clarification: Every instance I use the word “reading” in this article, I use it as a catch-all to include consulting others, writing, and so on...anything that isn’t playing or watching a match.


For the top-down approach, there are many choices available. Yugioh is a very, very popular game, so there are all kinds of resources to pick from.

1. One option is to play in locals. The unique advantage to locals is that a player can gain experience playing in time. There is a social aspect to locals as well, but that is not within the scope of this discussion. The drawbacks are: limited meta, wearing of cards/sleeves, and fewer matches played per unit of time. About a year ago, official tournament stores were no longer allowed to give out store credit as a prize, to respect the wishes of Yugioh’s creator. This, along with the time demand of locals, was the primary reason I discontinued attendance.

2. Another option is to play with friends. This option saves time compared to locals, but it still suffers similar drawbacks. The limited meta drawback can be a huge red herring. In preparation for Vegas last year, I practiced the Mermail matchup only against two friends. Because I consistently won, I made a deck mistake and chose not to play Mermails at that event. Sigh.

There are still positives though. Playing with a face-up hand and deliberating shortcuts is one of the best forms of practice and the method of choice among the family (Leveretts/Desmond/Pat). Just be careful to make the correct play and not the “perfect knowledge” play when taking this route.

3. Simulators are the fastest. If you were to measure progress strictly in shortcuts learned per hour, simulators are several times faster than playing at locals. Each has its own advantages. DN is slower, but more similar to playing in real life. You have to know player management and rulings to not give away free games on DN. You have to keep track of things yourself, just like with physical games. DevPro is an automatic simulator and trades these two options in favor of pure speed. DevPro is Yugioh on crack. If DN were a marriage, DevPro is speed dating. Speed dating on crack.


I intentionally do not endorse one particular choice at this time because the process of selecting resources and the justification for those resources is more important than which resources are chosen. I don’t think one is necessarily the best across all formats.

For this particular event, my priority was to get out of the “what to think” stage as soon as possible. My bottom-up approach was to construct a booklet with Pat on Burning Abyss. Initially, he filled in all the blanks: 20 single-spaced pages of them. As I emerged from the “what” stage, I was able to then expand on the work by applying my own prior wisdom. Google Docs is one of the best tools ever to record ideas. It saves revision history automatically so that you can always go back and see how your ideas evolve over time.
The top-down approach I chose was DevPro and watching a few matches on 2x speed on youtube. Again, what we choose is not important so much as why we choose it. I chose DevPro because the speed was worth more to me than player management practice. I chose to watch a few match videos (which I normally would not do) because there were some shortcuts against Qliphort I had trouble figuring out.

Although I do not play anymore, I look forward bringing you some more articles in the near future. Stay tuned.

Thank you to the guy who turned in my deck!

Lastly, a shout-out to ARG’s president, Jim, who celebrated his birthday earlier this week. You’ve contributed wonderful things to this game.

Play hard or go home!

Johnny Li

Johnny Li

Houston, TX
Johnny Li

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