Looking Past the Cards

So I'm sitting here in the hospital with my fiance and my newborn baby and I have to say it's amazing. I love our little big family and I can't wait to begin the rest of my life with them outside of the hospital! The process leading up to that beautiful moment when my son was born? Not so amazing. Most of the time I was by Darian's side trying to comfort her through her pain and the rest of the time I was just sitting in a chair with what seemed like an unlimited time to think. Thinking about Yu-Gi-Oh sort of helped take some stress and nervousness away so I tried to think of all the little, random things that actually play a big role in the game. From things like how ineffective siding Maxx "C" for the Wind-Up mirror is (even if you have it against Mage-Shark it's hard to get over their board without triggering their own Mage with your own effects) to realizing how bad Maxx "C" was against Chaos Dragons last format unless you were playing the deck yourself and were able to go over top your opponent and then drop Maxx "C" afterwards. Being able to use the best hand trap in the game post WCQ even against the Chaos Dragon deck probably swayed people into running the deck themselves. All the while I had the same phrase running through my mind: Knowledge is Power.

I was on a forum last week and I came across someone talking about a recent edit he had made to his Wind-Up deck. His list was fairly standard and you could tell he hated opening with bad hands. He even played 2 Messenger of Peace in his main deck to help draw out of them if he was unfortunate enough to be dealt with one. He posted saying he was going to try to eliminate bad opening hands even more by taking out unnecessary cards like the 3rd Rat and Avarice and adding 3 Upstart Goblin. What he didn't realize is how much those Upstart Goblins were going to change his whole game plan and in the back of my mind I knew he was going to come back and say how badly they tested. I check today and he had indeed posted the exact thing I expected him to say. "Upstart Goblin was sub-par. In theory the extra LP they gain shouldn't matter because Mage-Shark doesn't care about it and I can just take an extra turn to win, but in testing the free LP was actually problematic sometimes and I'd rather just play something else in place of Upstart."

But how did I know he'd have those results? He didn't consider the rest of his deck when he made the change. He figured playing 37 cards would let him draw his core strategy and staples more often and in turn he would get more consistent draws.. which is actually completely true. What he didn't do was look past the cards and see how playing 37 cards would affect his decks resources. Resources is the key word and the reason Upstart tested badly for him. We've all experienced those super long down-to-the-wire games where you and your opponent both get so low on cards in deck that you're actually scouring your graveyard to try to figure out what's left to put together a strategy on how to use whats left to win the game. This is where a lot of skill comes in: Having to figure out exactly what you have left while also trying to figure out what outs your opponent has to piece together the best way to go about your final turns. Cards like Upstart Goblin and Messenger of Peace are actually blank cards in these situations and even worse, they make you use your resources faster so you have less left if you do get to that point in the game. But that's exactly what Wind-Ups aim to do; survive the early game long enough to get to the late game and dominate with insane plusses off Factory, Magician, Rat, and Rabbit. Making your deck weaker in the game state it's trying to accomplish is just asking for failure. No matter how much skill you have, you most likely won't be able to win out of those situations without the resources necessary to do so.

Speaking of Upstart and Messenger of Peace, I'm probably the first person to tell you that they conflict when ran in the same deck. The more lifepoints your opponent has the more resources you need to get them down to 0. Messenger of Peace stalls you to those grind games and even if you're maxing cards like Rat and Avarice it could be a close call. It's almost near impossible to get your opponent down from 11,000 to 0 with only 2 Rats in a grind game. It's easy enough to Rat-Rabbit loop to re-use Rats but you only have a 15-card extra deck. Sometimes it's not even possible to just keep looping either. If your opponent makes a big push and you need an extra level 3 to make a counter field good enough to mount a comeback you'll be forced to xyz with that Rat instead of removing it with Rabbit. A lot of the time you can get your opponent low enough so that by the time you're forced to do that you'll be able to win the game without ever missing the 3rd Rat to fall back on. If you play Upstart it's a completely different ball game. His mistake probably seems pretty clear to you now. While he was trying to make his deck draw more consistently with Upstarts and the minimal amount of dead cards possible, he didn't realize how big the extra 2,000-3,000 life points a game would be to his game plan. It looked good on the surface but by looking deeper at how the cards interact and function together his failure was inevitable. If he were to even just add the 3rd Rat or Avarice to his deck I think he would have way better results and I made sure to voice my opinion to him before writing this.

Hand traps are another touchy subject. A lot of the time people look at the meta and use the top decks to gauge what hand trap is best to run. Even when Effect Veiler is good against more than half the format that doesn't necessarily mean you should use it. It'd probably be good to re-look at hand traps and what they do. Just like any other trap they slow your opponent's game down and kind of stuns them. Being able to use them from the hand means you're less susceptible to huge Heavy Storms and also makes you immune from cards like MST, Forbidden Lance, SJ, etc. So where are hand traps best? In decks that start slow I would rather have a real trap card that could deal with the threat like Dimensional Prison or even Fiendish Chain if you're looking for something to negate monster effects but also stop them from attacking to give you a better chance at stabilizing.

Decks with good early games are where hand traps really belong. Simon He Agents and Nizar's YCS Dalls winning deck with a full suite of 3 Effect Veiler and 3 Maxx "C" are perfect examples. Even their early plays of Venus, Thunder King, Sabersaurus, and Guaiba are hard to get around when they're backed by hand traps. Combining something like Maxx "C" with Master Hyperion or Evolzar Laggia almost always leads to victory. These decks also have a ton of standalone cards for the hand traps to go with and that's kind of the key. In combo-oriented decks you need to fill the rest of your deck with good 1 for 1 removal cards. Cards like Maxx "C", Pot of Avarice, etc are all cards that need a certain requirement to happen in order to use them and until that happens it's a -1 in your hand. The payoff is worth it in a deck like Rabbit or Agents but in any kind of combo-oriented deck it's a really hefty price to pay. Even when cards like Effect Veiler and Maxx "C" are good against the meta it's almost always just better to keep them in the side deck if anything. Bumping up your trap line-up instead of splitting your defense between your backrows and hand is beneficial anyway. Sure you might be more susceptible to Heavy Storm but mitigating the effectiveness of a blind MST is so huge when you're trying to get in control of the game. Usually real traps are better than the hand variety anyways (Fiendish Chain > Effect Veiler) and the only real draw to them is a)using them immediately if your opponent goes first and b)having a great board position and being able to say "Haha not even a blind MST will save you from my Effect Veiler!".

The next time you go to change your deck you should definitely look at the rest of your deck and realize how even just a single change could affect the rest of your deck and strategy. There a lot of little things that people overlook and being able to see those is going to put you way ahead of the game. There's always only so much you can do with what cards you're given in a game but having preexisting knowledge of all your plays, strategies, resources, and ratios is going to be better than trying to figure it out while you're already playing. Next week I'll be back with another segment of Past the Surface dealing with a lot of important side decking points that many people overlook. Some people say side decking is one of the most important skills in the game and I have to agree with them! Hopefully I can share some knowledge and help anyone who's been struggling but until next week, adios!

- Mike Steinman