Hey everybody! In the last week, a lot of people asked me why I played certain cards and why I didn’t play other cards in the Mermail deck that I used to make Top 16 at YCS Atlanta and to win the ARG Circuit Series in Charlotte. Many of my card choices were different from the standard Mermail deck so I wanted to go over my thought process in making the deck. Last week I spoke about the three different attributes that I thought the best deck of any format should have and gave specific examples for this format to identify why I thought each of the other options currently available was not the best deck, but I intentionally left out Mermails. This week I’m going to apply what I talked about in last week’s article in depth by showing you how I determined Mermails to be the best deck, explain the process I went through for solving the deck’s problems, and provide reasons for my individual card choices. Here is the deck list that I played at both tournaments:[ccDeck="Main Deck"]3 Mermail Abyssteus:3 Mermail Abyssgunde:3 Mermail Abysslinde:3 Mermail Abysspike:2 Mermail Abyssturge:2 Mermail Abyssmegalo:2 Aqua Spirit:2 Atlantean Marksman:1 Atlantean Dragoons:1 Tidal, Dragon Ruler of Waterfalls:1 Genex Undine:1 Genex Controller:3 Upstart Goblin:3 Abyss-Sphere:3 Reckless Greed:2 Fiendish Chain:2 Raigeki Break:2 Vanity’s Emptiness:1 Torrential Tribute[/ccDeck] [ccDeck="Extra Deck"]1 Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossack:1 Number 11 Big Eye:1 Mermail Abyssgaios:1 Bahamaut Shark:1 Diamond Dire Wolf:1 Evilswarm Exciton Knight:1 Lavalval Chain:1 Number 101 Silent Honor ARK:1 Number 85 Crazy Box:2 Abyss Dweller:1 Ghostrick Alucard:1 Mermail Abysstrite:1 Leo, the Keeper of the Sacred Tree:1 Black Rose Dragon[/ccDeck] [ccDeck="Side Deck"]3 Maxx “C”:2 Effect Veiler:1 D.D. Crow:3 Mystical Space Typhoon:1 Dark Hole:1 Bottomless Trap Hole:2 Divine Wrath:2 Waboku[/ccDeck]
Determining Mermails to be the Best Deck
One of the points I talked about last week is that I would not enter a tournament with a deck that I did not think was the best deck in the format because doing so would give you an unnecessary disadvantage that you could avoid. That means that for me to play Mermails at both of the events, at some point I came to the conclusion that they were the best deck. Before the Wednesday before YCS Atlanta, I had actually come to the exact opposite conclusion: Mermails are not the best deck. This begs the question, what changed?
Mermails were the first deck I seriously play tested after the format changed in January. By the time the ARG Circuit had come to Nashville (two weeks prior to Atlanta), I figured out a lot of problems with Mermails and came to the conclusion that Hieratic Rulers were the best deck instead of actually attempting to fix the problems I saw in Mermails. As I play tested more with Hieratics, I discovered new problems with them too, which made me rethink my deck choice. I won’t go too in depth about why I moved away from Hieratics, but I’ll give the basic idea. This was that what made the deck powerful was playing cards like [ccProd]Hieratic Seal From the Ashes[/ccProd], [ccProd]Reckless Greed[/ccProd], [ccProd]Cardcar D[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Call of the Haunted[/ccProd]. I did not feel that the deck was good enough without playing some combination of these cards, but when I did play them, I found myself drawing them to established boards and losing because of it. This is going to be a repeated theme for some of my decisions about Mermails that you’ll see later in the article.
It was now the week before Atlanta and I was completely discontent with my choice of Hieratic. Time is the biggest challenge when it comes to preparing for an event. If you had unlimited time to test every idea available and learn how every card interacted with each other, there would be no problem. Coming to the realization that you were wrong about a deck four days before an event is exactly where you don’t want to be. At this point I had decided that switching to a different deck would be suicidal, as I wouldn’t have time to learn its interactions so I was still going to play Hieratic and hope for the best.
That Tuesday I caught a huge break as it was revealed a major ice storm would hit Atlanta later that night. I’m a full time college student with little spare time as is, so when class was canceled for Wednesday I got what I needed most; more time. Some friends of mine gave me a call and asked if I wanted to ride out the storm at our buddy Jesus’ house. I got in my car and drove the hour to his house before the storm him. When I got there they had a Mermail deck that was partially built. After playing a few games I noticed an incredibly powerful interaction that I had missed before because I had not been using Mermail Abyssturge when testing the deck earlier in the format. I noticed that if you had Turge in the grave, you could summon [ccProd]Mermail Abysspike[/ccProd], discard Gunde, add [ccProd]Atlantean Marksman[/ccProd], use Gunde to revive Turge, use Turge to discard Marksman and add Gunde, use Marksman to destroy a set, and then overlay for a rank 4. Now I don’t think this was some super secret combination of cards that no one knew about it, it was just very interesting to me as it was a very low risk, common play that would put you incredibly far ahead in the game and I had never noticed it before. This is when I first began to reconsider Mermails as an option for best deck, and as a result, a contender for YCS Atlanta.
Another fortunate thing was that the deck was Mermails and I mentioned already that it was the first deck of the format I heavily play tested. Because of this, I knew how most of the cards interacted already and had a good foundation with the deck. If I had this realization with a deck like Geargia or Spellbooks, I likely wouldn’t have done nearly as well as I had not previously put the time into learning those decks so they would not have been nearly as easy to pick back up with little testing.
The downside to this situation was that if I did end up playing Mermails, all of my decisions would have to have very strong theory behind them, as I could not play test the build more than a few matches. If I were to miss something that would otherwise reveal itself by actually testing the deck, then I would be stuck with my oversight for the YCS and it would likely cost me the top. In the end, I only play tested the deck five matches before round 1 of YCS Atlanta and zero matches in between Atlanta and Charlotte. To me this suggests that largely my theory about the deck was incredibly strong, but there are definitely some things that could be improved upon by actually testing the deck.
Identifying the Flaws
Above I talked in a very general sense that my initial play testing of Mermails in the beginning of the format revealed many problems with the deck that caused me to drop the deck. I’d now like to specify what I found those problems to be and explain my attempt to solve them.
Simplified Game State – This was the single biggest flaw I found when originally testing the deck. Mermails are inherently a combo deck. Just about everything you do in the deck requires at least two cards. Pike + water monster. Gunde + discard card. Megalo + 2 water monsters. Because of these interactions, combo decks are going to do the best when they have plenty of cards. Being in a simplified game state is not advantageous for combo decks. Since Mermails are a combo deck, they will want to avoid simplified game states, but commonly played cards such as Atlantean Marksman and [ccProd]Atlantean Heavy Infantry[/ccProd] take away a card from both players and create simplified game states. This problem is magnified by the fact that the majority of other top decks this format do well in a simplified game state because they have standalone cards such as [ccProd]Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Bear[/ccProd], [ccProd]Fire Formation - Tenki[/ccProd], [ccProd]Coach Soldier Wolfbark[/ccProd], [ccProd]Geargiarmor[/ccProd], [ccProd]Geargiano MK-II[/ccProd], and[ccProd] Geargiagear[/ccProd].
Dealing with Established Fields – Earlier in January, I saw that if my opponent were able to create an established board, Mermails would have difficulty breaking that board. Heavy Infantry would be the obvious go-to answer for this problem, but playing it or playing more copies of it contributed to the first problem of the deck being bad in a simplified game state. The release of Evilswarm Exciton Knight did a lot for fixing this problem. It allowed the deck to answer established fields without creating a contradiction that would otherwise exist by playing Infantry.
If you recall, the reason I dropped Hieratics was that they had to play too many cards that were bad against established fields. I wanted to keep this in mind when constructing my Mermail deck and make sure that I didn’t play too many cards that were bad in these scenarios.
All or Nothing Type of Play – The quickest way to lose with this deck is to drop a Megalo into multiple set cards. If they stop it, you’re going to be left in a really bad situation. It seemed to me that the traditional build of Mermails left you with few options but doing this.
Another thing I disliked about the standard build of Mermails was that they would commit the majority of their cards to the field in an attempt to establish some sort of soft lock such as [ccProd]Mermail Abyssgaios[/ccProd] or Dracossack. While whatever field the deck put up may have been relatively difficult to break, I noticed that Mermails would generally not have a backup plan and they would likely lose if whatever field they created was broken.
Extra Deck Space – Not all 15 cards in the extra deck may be 100% staple, but there isn’t much wiggle room either and the vast majority of them are necessary. Cards like Abyss-Squall, Genex Undine, and Mermail Abyssocea would require you to devote multiple spaces to an already tight extra deck.
Too Many Normal Summons – When constructing any deck, one of my concerns is always having too many normal summons in the deck. This is because for every card in your hand that you must normal summon other than the one that you are allowed to summon per turn, is essentially a -1 for the turn. So if you have 6 cards in your opening hand, but 3 of them are monsters that you have to normal summon to gain value out of, whichever 2 you can’t summon that turn aren’t giving you any benefits and it will be similar to only having 4 cards on your first turn. It doesn’t translate perfectly to being a -2 because you still have the option of picking which of the 3 normal summons you use for the turn, but regardless of which one you pick you won’t be able to use the other 2 that you didn’t pick for the turn. Because of this, you would want to minimize the amount of normal summons you play so that you have the most options available on any given turn.
Explaining Individual Card Choices
The last thing I’m going to do in this article is explain my individual card choices and provide reasons as to why I think my card choices help solve the problems I identified with the standard version of the deck.
0 Atlantean Heavy Infantry and 2 Atlantean Marksman – The most obvious difference between my build and the previous standard build is that I minimized the number of Atlanteans. I did this in an attempt to solve the problem the deck has with simplified game states. That’s really all these cards do is take away a card from both players. If the deck is not strong in that type of game state, why would I want to run more than a bare minimum of these cards that put me in an unfavorable type of game?
3 Mermail Abyssgunde, 3 Mermail Abysspike, and 2 Mermail Abyssturge – Any interaction with Gunde and another Mermail gave me an extra card, while any interaction with a Mermail and an Atlantean took away an extra card from my opponent. Because of Mermails being a combo deck, it would be more advantageous for me to gain and extra card than to take away an extra card from my opponent. I wanted to maximize the cards that would give me this advantage so I ran the above suite of cards.
The additional focus on rank 4s over rank 7s also helps to decrease the number of “all or nothing” plays I saw in the standard build. If I summon Pike and discard Gunde and they stop that, I’m going to be in a much better position than putting all of my chips into summoning Megalo where I’ll almost certainly lose if that Megalo gets stopped. It’s simply lower risk to focus on rank 4s than it is to focus on rank 7s.
I did not want to run a full 3 copies of Abyssturge for several reasons. Firstly, it does not fit with what a three of is. There are very few situations where I would want to have it in my opening hand and even fewer situations where I would want to draw multiples of it together. A couple weeks ago I wrote an article about what a 3 of should be, and this does not fit with that model. The other problem with running 3 Turge is that is more normal summons. I already stated that as one of my concerns and wanted to minimize the number of normal summons I played. These two reasons combined resulted in me deciding 2 was the ideal number of Turge.
2 Mermail Abyssmegalo - One of the repeating themes is becoming decreasing the dependence on all or nothing plays and Megalo is exactly that kind of card. It’s as high risk as it comes and for that reason I did not want to run 3. I’ve considered cutting it to 1 and it’s still something to consider, but I felt uncomfortable doing so without any real testing.
0 Mermail Abyssocea – I already did not want to play 3 Linde since I never really wanted to see the card in multiples, but conceded that I had to ensure Sphere was live, maximize the number of starter cards, and give myself some standalone cards. When you do not have the combo of Abyssteus and Aqua Spirit, but draw Abyssocea it did very little other than act as a 4th Linde, a card I struggled to play even 3 of. The combo was nice, but Abyssteus-Aqua Spirit unopposed would give me Lavalval Chain and Dracossack with access to Tidal even if I didn’t play Ocea. While Bahamut, Trite, Angineer may have been stronger, usually the first was good enough. Ocea also required me to play more rank 3s and the extra deck was tight as is.
2 Aqua Spirit – Even without Ocea, I felt Aqua Spirit provided value. The build is centered on rank 4s and Aqua Spirit gives you quick access to them. Multiples isn’t ideal so I didn’t think 3 was correct.
1 Undine and 1 Controller – I quickly realized that Tidal was the best card in the deck. A recurring +1 is something that most decks simply cannot deal with. Undine provided instant access to that. Controller gave me powerful options such as Leo and Black Rose. Leo was especially neat as summoning Undine to send Tidal and add Controller gave me both the level 7 and the tuner required to make Leo.
The reason for minimizing the number of them that I played was that any more was just unnecessary. It’s exceedingly unlikely that you will draw both of them together (the one match I lost between both tournaments this happened in game 3). Drawing Controller by itself is clearly not ideal, but it does have uses. If I were to add more Undine I’d have to add more Controllers, which would give me more awkward Controllers to draw. Seeing Undine often enough wouldn’t really be a problem even though you only play 1 of them because you can readily search it off of Pike. Adding more of these cards would also contribute to the problem of too many normal summons.
0 Mystical Space Typhoon – Mystical Space Typhoon does the exact same thing as Marksman and Infantry in that it takes away a card from both players and simplifies the game state. We’ve established that this isn’t an ideal thing to do in a combo deck. The only reason I sided MST was to hit floodgate cards such as Soul Drain and Dimensional Fissure that Marksman could not hit. Since these cards are generally not a threat in game 1, playing MST before they become a threat seems unnecessary. Combine that with the fact that it creates an unfavorable game state is more than enough reason for me to exclude it from the main deck.
Upstart Goblin – I suppose I’ll briefly speak on this, but really there’s no reason to not run it. It’s essentially the next card and statistically the minimum number of cards is ideal as you’ll see the best cards more often. If 40 cards were ideal because it is the minimum, why would 37 not be better? The life points are largely irrelevant and it’s unlikely that you’ll see more than one or two of them throughout the entire game. What started as a theory this time last year, I now largely consider as correct. I take pride in seeing 12/16 lists in top cut from this past weekend’s event to contain Upstart Goblin. By including it, you’re statistically playing a better deck so here’s to hoping that this time next year it will be 16/16 lists.
Reckless Greed – The other card everyone thinks I love is Reckless Greed. While I do think Upstart belongs in every deck, I do not think the same for Reckless Greed. I think Reckless is very strong in combo decks as they need extra cards to function. This is why I played it in Dragunity last format and continue to play it in Mermail this format. If you look at my Top 16 deck from St. Louis, I did not play it in the standard version of Dragon Rulers because that was not a combo deck.
Another huge benefit to Reckless Greed is that drawing multiples is almost certainly auto-win. Last week I talked about the importance of having auto-wins in the best deck. Without Reckless Greed Mermails have a fair amount of auto-wins (simply going first and resolving Sphere unopposed and hitting a backrow with Marksman is usually enough to win) without Reckless Greed. Accounting for Upstart, you have a 6% chance of drawing multiple Reckless in your opening hand. That means that by playing them, you’ll just add 6% onto your auto-win ratio.
Something that I think a lot of people don’t understand is that you don’t actually need multiples for the card to be good. In fact, you’re usually so far ahead after you activate one that you are almost guaranteed to win. I’ve come up with a concept that I’m still working on called marginal Yu-Gi-Oh. When I fully develop my thoughts I’ll present it in an article, but let it suffice to say that Reckless Greed fits with this concept. The basic premise is that whatever turn you use Reckless Greed it is a +1, even if it is a -1 overall. If you can transfer this +1 into more advantage by drawing into cards like Teus or Gunde to create more advantage that you otherwise would not have had without Reckless, it becomes advantageous to play it. Because of this, I almost always use Reckless immediately. I think a lot of people go wrong in trying to save the card because every turn you hold it, it is a -1 since it’s not giving you any benefit.
Keeping with the concept of marginal Yu-Gi-Oh, Reckless is a -1 the turn you draw it because you can’t do anything with it. Cards like this were the reason I dropped Hieratics and is the reason for my next card choice in Mermails.
0 Abyss-Squall – Abyss-Squall is a card that I literally could have seen running 0, 1, 2 or 3 of all the way up until the day before the event. Ultimately I decided to exclude the card because it had the same problem as Reckless and Ashes where it was bad to draw to an established field. Now I don’t necessarily think that you should exclude cards like this altogether because of this downside as they are some of the more powerful cards you can play, but I think you should minimize them so that drawing them at inopportune times happens less often. It reasons to say that if you play 6 of a card that is bad in X scenario or 3 of a card that is bad in X scenario, you’ll draw it in X scenario more with 6 than you would with 3. I had conceded that they were strong enough to play some number of, but not too many. Because of this it ended up coming down to 3 Reckless and 0 Squall or 3 Squall and 0 Reckless. Reckless is good at any point in the game, whereas Squall is potentially dead early game. There was also the added benefit of drawing multiple Reckless that you didn’t have if you were to draw multiple Squalls. This is why I ended up choosing Reckless over Squall. Note that it’s entirely possible that 3 copies of Reckless and 1 copy of Squall (or some card like Call) might be correct, but that would have to be seen in play testing and is pretty much impossible to determine to derive strictly from theory how many cards that are bad in these scenarios are okay before it becomes too many cards that are bad in these scenarios. I find it unlikely that the answer would be higher than 4, but could see 4 being correct.
Defensive Cards – I’m going to explain my choices for defensive cards in a single section. Again I place a huge emphasis on having cards that are going to be strong against established fields. One of the biggest criticisms I’ve seen of the deck is that I don’t play Solemn Warning or Bottomless Trap Hole, despite how obviously powerful they are. And I agree, they are powerful. Let’s take two examples to try and explain why I excluded them. Let’s say you have a field of Dweller and Gaios. If you’ve got Solemn Warning or Bottomless in that situation, it’s great! You already have an established field and these cards put you that much further ahead. What happens when the situation is reversed though? What happens when your opponent has Dweller Gaios and you draw Bottomless Trap Hole or Solemn Warning? It’s not nearly as perfect is it? Let’s look at a card such as Raigeki Break in those same scenarios. It’d be great when you have the established field, but it’s also much preferred to Warning when they have an established field. Any type of card that is strong in both scenarios is going to be inherently better than a card that is only good in one or the other. This is a concept my friend Brandon Wigley thought about last format in regards to other cards being better than Vanity’s Emptiness and I’ve embraced it ever since.
Vanity’s Emptiness. Hmm. Ironically, that’s the only defensive card I play that doesn’t actually follow that pattern of having a defensive card that’s good in both scenarios. So why did I choose to use them, especially when they seem so weak to some of the most played decks? I decided that I was less worried about decks that Vanity’s Emptiness was weak against than I was about decks that it was strong against. I decided that Mermails had a very strong game 1 against Fire and would win the vast majority of them, despite having a subpar card against them game 1. There is no doubt that either Warning or Bottomless would have been better against decks like Fire, but I felt that Vanity’s Emptiness would win me more games against the decks that it was good against than Vanity’s Emptiness would lose me against Fire if it were otherwise Bottomless or Warning. One of the matches that I played prior to Atlanta was against Hieratics. At that point I was testing Solemn Warning and used it when he summoned Atum. He proceeded to simply summon two Dragons and still win the game. I decided that if I was going to play a card that would be bad in one of the two situations (them having an established field and me having an established field), that I wanted that card to outright win me the game when I flip it. I felt that Vanity’s did that better than Warning or Bottomless. If there were other cards available that weren’t inherently weak against the top decks like Mirror Force and Compulsory Evacuation Device are, then I would play those as they would be good in both situations. It didn’t seem like options like that were available, so I made the concession of playing 2 cards that would be bad against established fields.
Ghostrick Alucard – I wanted to keep rank 3s to a minimum as the focus was rank 4s, but I wanted to give myself the option of 1 (Mermail Abysstrite isn’t really a rank 3 since it’s only summoned off of Bahamut Shark). Alucard fit that niche spot as it provided an out to backrow and Armor without giving up a battle phase. Being able to summon him, destroy whatever threat, and then summon more all before my battle phase proved to be more useful than protecting Gaios with Angineer since the focus is rank 4s, not rank 7s. Zenmaines and Leviair are two other cards I would have played if the extra deck were unlimited, but the situations they were ideal in did not come up often enough during my original testing of Mermails at the beginning of the format to warrant spots in the final build.
Diamond Dire Wolf – This provided similar options as Alucard by letting me summon it first, clear a problem, and then follow up with something like Teus Gunde, but had an additional benefit of being an out to Soul Drain and Dimensional Fissure when I did not draw Mystical Space Typhoon.
2 Abyss Dweller – The decks I was the most scared of were the ones capable of unfair things. These consistent of Geargia, Mermails, and Hieratics. The latter of the two were weak to Dweller so I felt that a second copy of it would come up more than other options (such as Cowboy burn for game).
Number 85: Crazy Box – I noticed there was a game that I lost to Hieratics that I felt I had the upper hand in until he summoned Blaster with Skill Drain up and I was unable to get past it. Crazy Box was my concession to Skill Drain without main decking MST.
Number 106: Giant Hand – I didn’t make an attempt to get one of these before the tournament, but looking back if I had access to one I would probably use it. Against Fire, whatever rank 4 play you have is countered by them summoning Wolfbark. Giant Hand gives you a way to stop that Wolfbark.
1 of Each Rank 7 – While the focus of the deck was on rank 4s, rank 7s were still incredibly powerful and could be summoned. Since doing so usually required a higher risk play, I didn’t think I would need many. I decided that it would be better to give myself the option of access to them all by playing 1 of each than it would be to play multiples of one of them (Dracossack or Gaios) and exclude the other altogether (Big Eye). Note that playing Abyss-Squall makes rank 7s come up more often, so including copies of that would force me to increase the number of rank 7s. This was another downside to playing Squall as every additional rank 7 I add is another card I would have to remove. This means that playing Squall wouldn’t just give me more access to Dracossack or Gaios, it would also cut me off from access to Alucard or whatever other card I would have to cut to add them.
Lastly I’m going to explain what I think needs to be explained in the side deck. I’d like to note that I think combo decks should usually side as few cards per matchup as possible. This is because every extra card they side in is another card they have to side out. You are only playing so many cards that don’t contribute to whatever combo (when I say combo I really mean engine and card interactions such as Teus-Gunde or Pike-Gunde rather than a specific combo such as Teus-Aqua Spirit with Ocea in your deck) you are trying to accomplish. If you side in too many cards, you’re inevitably going to have to take out more combo cards which will weaken your deck. Because of this, I think it is better for combo decks to side cards that are good in one or two specific matchups rather than cards that have a broad range of matchups that they will be useful in.
Effect Veiler – Keeping with what I said in the original paragraph on siding in combo decks, I used Veiler for a very narrow purpose. I only sided it against Spellbooks to hit Magician and Temperance. I understand that it might have applications against Fire or Geargia, but they are unnecessary and whatever extra card I have to take out against those decks in order to side Effect Veiler in is not worth it in my opinion.
D.D. Crow – Most of the Hieratic Ruler decks now play 1 level 6 normal and it becomes very difficult for them to win without it.
Dark Hole – I noticed several games against regular Water decks where if I had Dark Hole, they’d have no follow up after I broke their soft lock. It’s also an out to Armor and the big fields Geargia make.
Bottomless and Divine Wrath – When siding out Emptiness against decks that it isn’t good against, I don’t want to have significantly fewer defensive cards overall. Because of this I thought these would make generic good options to compensate for taking out 2 defensive cards. Wrath is especially strong against Books.
Waboku – Waboku is a dual-purpose card. Once again the only decks I was worried about were those that could do unfair things. This often was in the form of threatening game. Waboku protected me against this threat when playing against mirror matches and Hieratics. It also doubled as a time card. Time is largely unavoidable and will probably happen one or two times in a bigger tournament. It seems like a bad choice to have nothing for a situation that will decide 1+ matches in the tournament.
I hope I’ve answered any questions people have about why I played certain cards. If anyone still has questions, feel free to leave a comment down below and I’ll get back to you. Coming up next is the more traditional form of a tournament report in a round-by-round summary of YCS Atlanta. After that, I will do the same for ARGCS Charlotte. I’m not sure if anyone reading this will be at the YCS in Berlin this weekend, but I will be so if you see me come say hi! The Circuit Series makes its next stop in Akron, OH on February 22nd for a 1K in 1 Day!
Until next time, play hard or go home!