NAWCQ 2013 Top 32: Theory in Practice

Johnny LiHe wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated. - Sun Tzu, The Art of War

In one year, I have progressed far on my dreams.  My short term goals were to play in my first premier event, and then top one, and then another, to join ARG, to have a voice, and to become a great player.  Some of my goals seemed nearly impossible just under a year ago, but I have labored and striven toward them.  There were tough times along the way.  There were times I felt miserable about the game or about my ability.  However, no man is an island.  With the continued support of others I am going further and becoming better with each new pursuit.  In my first report, I celebrated my first top while discussing fundamentals I believe about the game.  You can read it here (it’s long but I promise you will enjoy it if your goal is to improve):

Today, I will share some reflections as I write on another milestone, my first WCQ and first WCQ top.

There is one principle that has helped me to improve significantly as a player this year.  It has been cited to death in the form of various quotes, which I will repeat now.

-Amateurs practice until they get it right; pros practice until they can’t get it wrong.
-I am a great believer in luck.  I find the harder I work, the more luck I have.
-Your goal should not be to win; your goal should be to make correct plays.  The more you do this, the more wins will naturally follow.

Work ethic is the strongest principle I would advise to anyone who wants to be good at anything.  Desire to be great at something, and then learn it so intimately that no secrets on heaven or on earth remain.  Study your craft until it has no mysteries left.

Know the enemy, know yourself; your victory will never be endangered. Know the ground, know the weather; your victory will then be total. - Sun Tzu, The Art of War


Table of Contents

I. Preparation

II. Answering Spellbooks

III. Theory in Practice: Undefeated

IV. Rejuvenated Chances

V. In a Grieving State

VI. Crowning a Champion

VII. Killing them Softly


I. Preparation


Consider trying literal coin flips with Gishkill rather than metaphorical coin flips with Mermail mirrors. - ACP

As the pre-LTGY format drew to a close, I was by no means sad to see it leave.  Although I had enjoyed much success in the format, I still did not appreciate the coin-toss nature of the Mermail mirror.  Allen Pennington, who had topped during Mermail format with a Gishki deck that utilized Cup of Ace, even said, “Consider trying literal coin flips with Gishkill rather than metaphorical coin flips with Mermail mirrors.”  On top of all this, I was slowly coming to terms with the reality that Infernity was the best deck.  Although Mermails dominated all premier events of its format, and thanks to Billy and Jeff, will forever be remembered as the symbol of this time period in Yugioh history, Infernity was the true sleeper best deck.  I didn’t like the idea of relearning everything for a format that had only one week left to live, so instead of trying to master Infernity, I awaited LTGY, which for me was a welcome addition to the game.

Gold SarcophagusA week after the set released, I placed 9th at a regional while not losing any mirrors (it was hilarious what kind of plays dragon players made at the time) but losing to Spellbook.  This was before significant adaptations were uncovered about the matchup, such as Sarcing for Heavy, siding out Rejuvenation, etc.  People offered their condolences on my unfortunate placement, but I honestly didn’t care since gathering information on the field was more important than topping a regional.  Nats was the event I really wanted to top, and I came out of the regional satisfied knowing that a) the mirror was skill intensive and b) most people were terrible at it.

However, North America always has one of the last if not THE last premier event during nationals season.  This means that everyone has time to catch up with all the ideas around, which in turn means that we have the most difficult WCQ each year (or maybe Europe, but we’re up there).  Players were figuring out how to Colossal Chalice, Armory Arm crash 3, summon Draco in defense, avoid Big Eye wars, run Emptiness, and so on.  I think similar to YCS San Diego, I realized that this event would be unusually more skill dependent than the average premier event.  Obviously, there is a sack factor in any given format of Yugioh, but this format was at least above the curve.  Encouraged by the knowledge that I would have more control over my results than in your typical WCQ format, I got to practicing.  Hard.

I discussed card choices with Patrick early on and valued his opinion, as he has what I feel is a gift when it comes to understanding good and bad card relationships, and is one of the strongest among the player base at accurately evaluating these relationships.  Pat lamented that the WCQ couldn’t be held the first week of June, as that would have bolstered our chances tremendously.  I mean, he won anyway.  But the wait made it more difficult.  As I improved with my deck, others improved with theirs.  There was a nuclear arms race of sorts going on between Dragons and Spellbooks, as each continued adapting to the other.  I’d have to say that the single scariest week of nats season for me was when Priestessless Books was unveiled.  Up to that point, I was happy every time my opponent summoned Justice instead of Kycoo or Jowgen, and that play would soon become scarce.

Eradicator Epidemic VirusThat was the time when I and my Houston circle were hellbent on maindecking cards for the Spellbook matchup.  The logic went: if most dragon mirrors ended because both players were responsible for their actions, why not tech harder for the matchup where one is less responsible?  The problem with game 1 against Books was that I couldn’t do much “outplaying” if they got up their lock.  Or much playing at all, for that matter.  Thus, we were trying out mained Bird, mained Eradicator, and mained Puppet Plant.  All three cards had some application in the mirror, however minute.  They were usually tested as 2-ofs.  Ideas like returning to Dark Hole in the main had also become popular nation-wide.

Whereas the overwhelming difficulty of game one against Books caused us to build our main for them, towards the end of preparation for the WCQ, this very reason became the justification for why many players optimized their main for the mirror.  The theory goes: if you’re going to lose game 1 against Books anyway, why not just win game 1s against Dragons?  This is the thought process I ultimately converted to, and I was pleased to find every last player I respected had done the same with his own build.  In that final stretch of practice before the weekend of the event, I decided to forsake game 1s against Books and to pursue stronger side deck options, including an answer to that stupid card, Defender, the Magical Knight.  It’s interesting how the same premise (that Books have a very strong game 1) led me down two entirely different conclusions at two different times.


II. Answering Spellbooks


redoxI was asked quite a few times leading up to the WCQ why I chose Dragons.  Some of my reasoning was logical, and some of it was more emotional or instinctive.  For instance, I like that Dragons are the “One True Style” deck of the format.  In my YCS San Diego report I discussed at length the four basic types of playstyles and archetypes, and the One True Style is usually the archetype in Yugioh that is both a) the best deck in the format and b) the deck that encourages your individual growth as a player the most when you practice it.  This is not always the case, but it is often the case.  Spellbook represents the “Obsessed” style this format.  That is not to say the deck isn’t skillful; as with any deck, there are many nuances to master.  Still, it seemed pretty clear to me that playing Dragons would grow me the most in my playing and in the way I thought about the game.  In addition, I didn’t like that Spellbook had a near autolose matchup in the form of turbo Dark World.  It’s rare, but still.

Some of the less rational things that led me to Dragons include that I was born in the Year of the Dragon, which just passed last year, and I had an inkling that they would pull out on top in the neck-and-neck best deck race that took place this summer.  I truly feel that in the final week of testing Dragons pulled way ahead of Books in that race.  I consider the time that Books were the most in the lead was when Wing Blast and zero Priestess became standard.  To combat Defender, I switched from Last Day of Witch back to Puppet Plant.  Last Day is undeniably strong for how it essentially put 3 to 4 copies of Dark Hole into your deck, but Defender gave it lots of trouble.  Patrick’s own mentality was that Last Day tries too much to play the card advantage game against Books, which is not what you should be trying to do in the matchup.  I tried cards like Fusilier too, which was excellent but too dependent on the EEV opening, which is a 28% chance if you run 2, and 39% chance if you run 3, assuming a main deck of 40 cards.  Instead of having 6 cards dedicated just to removing spells, I concluded a balanced approach that attacks the deck from all angles would be best.

dimensional fissureMind Drain and Dimensional Fissure’s ability to lock Puppets in your hand is very real and has stalled me on a number of occasions, which makes 3 MST all the more important.  Fairy Wind is a card I would reconsider since the event, as it can create blowouts far greater than MST can, at the cost of having to wait a turn.  Its burn damage effect is nothing to scoff at either, though some players were mistaken that the burn effect would cause optional triggers to miss the timing for activation.  They do not miss timing.  However, placing Fairy Wind on a chain as link 2 or higher easily gets around that and causes Star Halls and Towers to miss timing.  Spell Canceller has its own strengths to offer, such as comboing out with Puppet as a single tribute monster, and negating all spells, which includes erasing all spell counters on the field upon summon.  Michel Gruner placed 2nd at Euros while siding it, but he regrets the decision.  The reality is there is an even better one tribute monster, and this one can be searched via 5 different cards.  I’m talking about Horus 6 and 8.

Horus 8 creates a soft lock that does have answers, but the existence of answers is not reason enough alone to avoid running a card.  I may as well not run Heavy Storm since Books play Solemn Judgment, or never summon Dracossack into a Compulsory.  While Compulsory, Wind Blast, and Mirror Force do exist, one can still find ways to force them or trade with them.  Joe G just wrote an article on using MSTs with pinpoint precision.  This is very crucial when combatting Books.  Sometimes you find which card to MST by making reads and gathering information, and sometimes you just have to follow the cards in your opponent’s hand while he shuffles (on that note, a player is not allowed to shuffle his hand under the table).

On Friday before the event, I played in a 3 v 3 iron man match representing Texas.  It was good warm up, and we were able to take it.  That got me into Yugioh mode and ready to play.  At dinner, I spoke at length with Pat, and it became obvious to me that he was going to top the event, though I wasn’t going to jinx it by declaring it out loud.  I was already on the fence about Last Day because of the new Defender tech rendering it more difficult to succeed, and Pat’s advocacy of Puppet helped to convince me further.  We also discussed other card relationships such as 3 Sword’s similarity to 3 Duality (in that it’s worth running the playset despite the drawback of having two in hand), not running Maxx “C” in the previous Wind-Up format, and mental shortcuts based on opening hands.  We also joked about how we had to do a comical segment for his deck profile, and this plan ended up coming to fruition.  If you watch his deck profile and interview on any of the ARG affiliated channels, you’ll see it towards the end.  After dinner, we shared some leftovers with a homeless lady we had passed earlier, and Jarel stopped to talk to her and hand her some cash, which elevated my already high opinion of his character.  Pat and I played some pre-Oppression Teledad before going to bed, and Jarel mentioned that Jae Kim himself would be coming for the weekend.  This got my hopes up, and I was mentally making plans to ask Jae to sign my cards, but unfortunately I never did find him.  From what I heard, he left on Friday.  Even in my final moments before drifting to sleep, I was covering the side-ins/outs with Pat against all the obscure matchups (Samurai, Madolche, Boxers, Dark World, etc.) since one cannot be too prepared.


III. Theory in Practice: Undefeated


On Saturday morning, I gorged on fatty foods to store calories for the day and loaded my backpack with bananas, keeping in tradition with my usual YCS ritual.  Maintaining the same ritual is important to getting in the zone, in my opinion.  I sleeved up, registered my deck list, and sat quietly and waited for the event to begin.  I didn’t talk much, or even think much for that matter, as I wanted to maintain transcendent peace before battle.  I wiped all topics, even Yugioh, off of my mind.  Also keeping to tradition, I didn’t trade or walk around too much.  Something I noticed early on when I started traveling was that the players I most wanted to be like kept their focus on playing their rounds instead of the many other activities one can do at a premier event.  The players I admired packed light and never brought trade binders, and I’ve found that cutting out these extraneous activities has bolstered my own performance.

sanganDay 1 began just before 11:00 am.  2000 players were registered (after late registration, the total player count reached 2012, just ONE short of matching the current year).  The Head Judge clarified a number of rulings before commencing round 1, most of which pertained to Spellbooks, Dragons, and Evilswarm.  These rulings were all typical.  However, he did announce one more ruling that has rewritten the entire game.  The example he gave was Abyssturge targetting the same Infantry it discards as a cost, and how it would cause Infantry not to activate since it wasn’t in the grave during the time it would have started a chain link EVEN THOUGH its trigger was met.  Most people were probably not shocked by the news since Mermails weren’t very relevant, but a ruling nerd like myself was blown away because this has changed decade old rulings about how trigger effects like Sangan work.  Example: Tribute Sangan for Caius, start a chain with Laggia in response to Caius, chain Transmigration to Laggia targetting Sangan.  Sangan’s effect doesn’t activate anymore.  I conversed with Robert Wakeland a bit on this matter, and he seemed displeased that things were changed like this.  The discrepancy originates from some bad communication between Japan and the U.S., but I won’t delve into that.  After the rulings were given, round 1 commenced at 11:01 am.

Round 1 - Anston Chan
Thunder Family
Table 97
Dice Roll: 6 - 10 (2nd)
Game 1: 8000 - 6700 - 5300 - 3800 - 1500 - 0 to 8000 - 7500 loss
Game 2: 8000 - 6500 to 8000 - 6900 - scoop win
Game 3: 8000 - 9000 - 8700 - 7700 to 8000 - 6500 - 5200 - 4700 - 3200 - 1100 - 0 win

Usually players ask where their opponent is from to get an idea of their strength, but such a tactic is pretty useless at an event where almost everyone is travelling in like this one.  Still, I asked where he was from, and he said Canada, so I asked if he knew Bo or Josh, which he didn’t.  He was the only Canadian I faced during the event.

He flipped an early Iron Wall game 1 to my double Sacred Sword.  I tried to wall up behind Redox, but he summoned Crimson Blader using Vylon Prism.  I picked up Prism and read it like 3 times hoping that it would miss timing.  However, no matter how hard I stared at the card, the word “if” did not get erased, so that sucked.  Blader ironically triggered over my Redox, the one monster I summon to avoid getting Bladered.  He summoned Shock Master and froze my dragon effects, and I was frazzled at having lost the first game of the entire tournament…to Hunders.  I felt like this would not bode well for the day.

I was 100% certain I would win game 2 by virtue of going first alone, which I did.

In game 3, I did a weird play of summoning Psi-Blocker to call Shock Master because it was literally the only card he could drop on me that I didn’t have an answer for.  The Psi-Blocker got run over by battle for the neg 1, but I didn’t care as long as he didn’t make Shock Master.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I was spared from having to tell everyone I lost my first round at the WCQ to Hunders.


BureidoRound 2 - Jonathan Leveille
Table 95
Dice Roll: 10 - 6 (1st)
Game 1: 8000 - 6600 to 8000 - 5200 - 2600 - 600 - 0 win
Game 2: 8000 - 7800 - 7300 - 4700 - 1900 - scoop to 8000 - 7000 - 5000 loss
Game 3: 8000 to 8000 - 4000 - 3100 - 2100 - 0 win

This guy was cool, but not great with Karakuris.  He was doing things like summoning lone monsters to do damage instead of conserving for an OTK.  Once I realized what he was playing I applied the same tactic I use in the Mermail matchup, which is to wall up with Draco to avoid the OTK.  He did take game 2 off me, though, because of Iron Wall.  I also realized Karakuri is a difficult matchup to side for since you usually bring in MST when you take out Maxx “C” or leave in Maxx “C” when you don’t bring in MST, but you have to find a way to bring in both against Karakuri.


Round 3 - Alex Bergeron
Table 102
Dice Roll: 5 - 7 (2nd)
Game 1: 8000 to 8000 - 7350 - 4550 - scoop win
Game 2: 8000 - 6250 - 4300 - 2950 - 2650 - scoop to 8000 - 7500 loss
Game 3: 8000 to 8000 - 7950 - 5350 - 2750 - scoop win

This guy is sort of from my locals in that we share the same metropolis of Houston.  Game 1, he won the roll but didn’t open Ophion, which is never good for ES because ES has to go first and open Ophion.  I Sarced for Heavy Storm while Abyssgaios was up.  When I played the Heavy, Safe Zone chained and destroyed Gaios.  It didn’t matter.  In game 2, Blocker was my only answer to Ophion, and it was met by Effect Veiler.  Game 3 was a blowout.  I had Card Destruction, Rejuvenation, and some dragons all still in hand by the match’s end.


maxx cRound 4 - Timothy Jordan
Dragon Ruler
Table 96
Dice Roll: 7 - 2 (1st)
Game 1: 8000 to 8000 - scoop win
Game 2: 8000 to 8000 - 5200 - scoop win

I found out from Larry Chapman my opponent was playing Dragons.  I saw him take out gear that usually more competitive players use, so I readied myself for a good mirror match.  However, he played entirely incorrectly under Maxx “C”.  It was clear he did not practice for this event.


Round 5 - Alex Drees
Table 2
Dice Roll: 4 - 8 (2nd)
Game 1: 8000 - 6800 - 5900 - scoop to 8000 - 7800 loss
Game 2: 8000 - 7500 - 7000 - 5400 to 80000 - 7800 - 5400 - 2800 - 0 win
Game 3: 8000 - 7300 - 6900 - 6300 - 4100 - 2100 to 8000 - 6400 - 5500 - 3200 - 800 - 0

Since this match was at table 2, there were a number of onlookers.  My opponent did not seem confident, so I switched personalities for this one match (this was probably the one time I “acted” all day).  I acted outgoing and played enthusiastically to work off his natural sluggish movements and create a contrast that I surmised would make him feel like he was losing the entire time, regardless of the board state.  Even while scooping game 1 to avoid going into time, I still talked as if it were expected (and it honestly is in this matchup).

DarkHoleSYE-NA-C-1EIn game 2, I played Dark Hole while he was at 2800 so that I could summon Blaster from the grave and attack for game.  He stopped me and questioned whether I could play an autographed card.  I explained that it was legal if the card text wasn’t obstructed, realized that was pointless, and called a judge over immediately as I was not interested in wasting time trying to reason with someone who was too lazy to prepare for the event by reading Konami’s policy documents.  Trying to ruleshark right before losing is a great way to get everyone to like you.  I was glad that a crowd was watching, and they pulled for me after they saw this happen.  And now everyone can know the guy’s name too: Alex Joseph Drees.  Give me nonsense at a premier event and I WILL call you out.

In game 3, I Sarced for Heavy for the second or third time all tournament, a practice Pat had encouraged me to adopt just before the event.  I drew a dead Horus 8, and searched Horus 6 in case I needed it.  However, protection cards prevented me from getting a chance to use it, so instead I used them as dragon fodder in a crucial turn to try and take the game.  I should have lost the game though, since I was down by over 3000 LPs in time and was getting walled by a 2800 Kycoo backed by Tower and Star Halls.  In an utterance of defeat, I said, “I can’t win!” and played the Heavy Storm just to see what his facedown was.  He chained it: Solemn Judgment.  My eyes LIT up because his instinctive desire to protect 5 backrows made him foolishly lose half his life points in time without thinking.  I stared at my hand and thought hard.  And then I saw it: Blaster pitch useless Horus to destroy the lone Kycoo, summon two dragons and attack.  I asked him afterwards whether he had a second Jowgen in deck to search with Tower had Heavy gone through.  He said he didn’t have one.  Letting Heavy go would have given him a slight chance of winning, and a great chance of winning had he had a second Jowgen in deck.  Looking back, I think I halved his life points from 6400 to 3200 instead of 5500 to 2750.  This is something he conveniently neglected to mention when I asked him to confirm life points.  Dishonor and misplays for days.  Enjoy your loss, glad you didn’t top bro.


Lumina_Lightsworn_Summoner_5441Round 6 - Da Lee
Table 17
Dice Roll: 9 - 3 (1st)
Game 1: 8000 to 8000 - 6600 - 3800 - 1200 - scoop win
Game 2: 8000 to 8000 - 7000 - 5200 - scoop win

As I shuffled up for this round, I asked where my opponent was from, and he said Atlanta.  Since Pat was from that area, I asked if he knew Pat.  Conveniently, Pat was sitting at the table right behind us, so I called over, “Pat, you know this guy?”  My opponent turned around and made small talk with him.  I knew Pat wanted to tell me something, so I was hoping my opponent would turn back around before Pat did so that he could get his message across.  My opponent continued the banter by telling me he ran an old deck that he hadn’t switched from for years.  I thought, there’s no way he’s being honest because he’s 5-0.  He flipped over a Solar Recharge from his deck and showed it to me, then told me about his previous top with Lightsworn.  I now know to not overestimate what deck players run based on their records.  When I saw the Recharge, I thought, awesome, autowin.  I practice with one of the best Sworn players in the country, and even he has given up the deck for this format.

It was unusually honest of my opponent to reveal his deck to me before we began playing, and I aggressively used that knowledge by leaving him with too few life points to JD through Draco tokens.  I noticed that he kept playing with his hand underneath the table.  Considering his honesty in revealing his deck to me, I didn’t think it was malicious, but I asked him to keep his hand above the table regardless.

Game 2 ended fairly swiftly as well, as I brought in 3 MST assuming he would side correctly and bring in traps.  He had a ton of traps that made me regret not leaving in Storm.  Terrible traps like Dark Bribe, Fiendish, and Compulsory rendered his mills inconsistent.  The match was so easy that I questioned how he was able to beat Spellbook and Dragon decks going 5-0 thusfar.  He showed me his side and it wasn’t great, so I advised him to side out Fiendish against every deck for the weekend.

After the match, Pat came up to me and revealed what he had wanted to communicate with me before the round began: that my opponent was a savage cheater.  The super niceness, the unusual honesty, the 5-0 record against meta, and the cards under the table all came together with this revelation.

We played some Teledad and Goats between rounds, and it was getting late.  With round 7 starting at 8:42, it did not seem likely day 1 would properly finish.


TsukuyomiRound 7 - Nick Ma
Table 5
Dice Roll: 5 - 3 (1st)
Game 1: 8000 - 7800 to 8000 - 7500 - 3750 - scoop win
Game 2: 8000 - 6000 - 4500 - 3000 - scoop to 8000 - 7000 loss
Game 3: 8000 - 7500 to 8000 - 5600 - 3500 - scoop win

This round was pretty awesome because I got to meet Nick Ma after knowing about him since 2009.  I told him about how I ran his Lightsworn list from back in the day on YVD (the older and MUCH superior Yugioh simulator before Dueling Network/DevPro, for all you newer players), and we quickly became friends.  I counted 41 in his deck before starting, and said out loud, “What would a player like Nick Ma run if he ran Lightsworn in 2009 and plays 41 cards?”  I pondered and concluded Dragons, so I played my first turn as if he ran Dragons.  On his turn, he played Spellbook of Judgment.  D’oh!  Fortunately for me, he only could retrieve two in the end phase, and I proceeded to Rejuve like a madman.  With just a few cards left in deck, I still hadn’t seen Heavy Storm.  I contemplated Rejuving one last time to dig for it and shoulder the risk of bringing my deck down to 4 cards.  I went for it because I really wanted that Heavy.  I took the game on my next turn with 3 cards in deck.  Mmm, that delicious, nutritious rejuvenation like a Snorlax chomping on leftovers.

In game 2, I tried to run over a Kycoo with Tsukuyomi, but he flipped his tech, the 41st card: Offerings to the Doomed.  As I picked up my cards I thought about the relationship a card like Offerings would have to the rest of the deck, and realized it was pretty darn clever.  MST for monsters.  Who needs a draw phase?

Nick was an all around nice guy during the entire match, but the nicest gesture came in game 3 when I mistakenly detached a material from Dracossack against his face-up Jowgen, when what I meant to do was attack the Jowgen.  In my defense, it was after 9 pm and I was quite exhausted from Yugioh.  Nick was cool about it and let me get the attack in.  He made a rather unfortunate misplay in this game by summoning Jowgen to pitch in-hand Power to activate its ignition effect while Dimensional Fissure was up.  Something didn’t seem right about that, and I stopped to read Jowgen and realized it couldn’t be done under Fissure.  For those who would argue, “But his card in hand was not a monster!” I advise that you look into why Charge of the Light Brigade cannot activate under Fissure, even if you have previously used an effect that proves the top 3 cards in your deck are not monsters.  I don’t know what other play he could have done if he had known the ruling, but either way I was taking it.


Evilswarm OphionRound 8 - Jonathan Rosario
Table 3
Dice Roll: 4 - 7 (2nd)
Game 1: 8000 - 6450 - 3900 - scoop to 8000 loss
Game 2: 8000 to 8000 - 5200 - scoop win
Game 3: 8000 - 7850 - 10400 - 8050 - 5250 - 3600 to 8000 - 6200 - 6050 - 5800 - 8400 - 8300 - scoop win

This round took place after 10 pm, and round 9 was not going to happen, no chance.  They announced that round 9 would carry over to day 2, and that this would be the last round of the day.  I played like an idiot during this match, which I would like to attribute to exhaustion.  Bananas all day are better than nothing, but the hunger was still getting to me.  Ironically, one of the matchups I practiced the hardest was Evilswarm, having practiced against my friend Cris late into the night all summer long.  One time we even practiced until the sun rose.  Well, all that endurance training went out the door as I forgot how to play Yugioh this round.

Boyajian told me my opponent was playing Swarm, though prior knowledge ended up not mattering since I lost the roll.  My opponent opened Thunder Bird set 1, which is like the next best opening besides Ophion.  Instead of aggressively getting in damage and Dracossacking, I decided to be cute by summoning Reactan and not starting any chains to see if I could get the +1 by running over Thunderbird in battle.  This is normally a hilarious thing to do at the local level, but I didn’t stop and think my opponent was probably 7-0 for a reason, in other words, not terrible.  He played Compulsory on T-Bird, then chained T-Bird to compulsory and took the game without taking any damage.

Game 2, I opened the right cards to make Gaios, but my opponent had Maxx “C”.  I gave him the free draws because Gaios is a titan against Evilswarm.  He drew into Compulsory as expected, but I chained Gaios’s effect to Compulsory at the start of my turn so that I could summon through Ophion.

Game 3 looked like a game of football, considering how much punting occurred.  My life shot up to 10,400 thanks to Thought Ruler, but he took it with Bahamut.  I made Big Eye to take Thought Ruler back, attacked the Bahamut, and he Safe Zoned.  Next, Bahamut took Thought Ruler yet again, and his life went up to 8,400.  Finally, I ran over Thought Ruler with Scrap Dragon, destroyed Safe Zone with Scrap’s effect, and he drew into nothing and scooped with 8,300 life points remaining.  I’m pretty sure I sacked with Heavy Storm at some point this game as well.  On one of my final turns, I forgot to add a Blaster to hand with Sarc and realized it after making plays during main phase 1.  I called judge David over, and he gave us both warnings for missing a mandatory effect, and I added the Blaster since the gamestate was repairable.  This was the first warning I ever received.  I don’t know whether my opponent knew about the Sarc and just wanted me to miss it, but I made a mental note to never again place my Sarc searches behind my deckbox where I couldn’t see them.  I don’t remember my other misplays besides accidentally searching Corsesca and then Corsesca hilariously turning out to be the card I wanted the following turn, but I’m sure there were quite a few.  I wish I could watch a video of this round because I misplayed in it, but I was so exhausted that I can’t remember what I did.  I apologized for the sack and delightfully left the room undefeated and in 6th place after day 1.

I caught up with other players, and they seemed to be doing well.  Texas was going strong, like they do at every premier event.  Pat was x-1.  Jarel was x-1-1.  Speaking of that matter, it’s absurd that the issue of his draw is even controversial right now.  A player offered Jarel a draw in front of a judge (a judge that Jarel trained, so he says), and Jarel asked the judge whether he was going to do something about it.  The judge was willing to let them do whatever, so he moved away, and Jarel reported it.  The problem is that Jarel played the entire match out and checked the draw box, when he should have called for an appeal.  For that, Jarel suffered a draw instead of a win.  However, his opponent 100% deserved his disqualification.  He’s released a public statement since the event in an attempt to slander Jarel’s name and present his case as some sob story where he was banned, but that isn’t the case.  When you break tournament policy, you have to be ready to face the consequences should you be exposed.  This guy broke policy, and he wants to blame Jarel for the consequences.  Cool.  I’m constantly baffled at the lengths people will go to to excuse their underperformance.  When you draw in time, blame yourself for not playing faster.  When you misplay, berate yourself for your mistakes or get friends who are honest enough to berate you for them.  Be hard on yourself and work hard, and you will grow and improve.  Don’t go blaming others.


IV. Rejuvenated Chances


Swift ScarecrowRound 9 - Robert Boyajian
Dragon Ruler
Table 2
Dice Roll: 11 - 6 (1st)
Game 1: 8000 - scoop to 8000 loss
Game 2: 8000 - 5400 - scoop to 8000 - 5200 - 5000 loss

I knew day 2 would begin with a Dragon mirror, and the odds were about 50% that I was going to play someone I knew since I could have faced Robbie or Rapture.  Pat told me the night before that Robbie maindecked Scarecrow, but the knowledge didn’t help.  I opened really strong, allowing me Colossal Emptiness to a blank field.  He had the Blaster and fire.  On the turn I went for a game push (while not even under Maxx, mind you), he dropped his one maindecked Crow.  He sided into a full set game 2, and again diverted a game push and proceeded to OTK me.  It was my first loss of the tournament, and I must have been looking quite defeated, but the people around me, Rapture, Robbie even, encouraged me and said I would top.


Round 10 - Agustin Herrera
Dragon Ruler
Table 14
Dice Roll: 9 - 9, 7 - 7, 9 - 9, 4 - 10 (2nd)
Game 1: 8000 - 7800 - 7600 - 5200 - 2400 - 0 to 8000 - 7200 - 4400 loss
Game 2: 8000 - 6400 - 3600 - 0 to 8000 - 5200 - 2400 loss

Game 1 took up most of our allotted match time, and I was on the fence about calling a judge over for slowplay.  In game 2, I took a really strong early lead with 6400 to his 2400 and board presence.  It was clear that we would not be able to reach game 3, so I fought to win this game to at least draw the round, which would have ensured my top.  I felt confident that I could close the 2400 gap and take care of that, but he threw me for a loop by summoning Obelisk…after I had spent Dark Hole.  That seemed really grim, so I summoned two Dracossacks and made 3 tokens to stall out for a Veiler off the top.  However, he rushed forward with all his dragons plus Red Dragon’s effect to end me quickly.  I commend his play, and his 2-0 win over me was a legitimate full win, even if we removed the match clock.  I told Pat about this player later since they ended up facing each other, and warned him about Obelisk.  I was wondering how Pat would deal with that since he didn’t run Hole, and his answer was to bring in the Psi-Blocker, though Agustin never summoned Obelisk when they played.  I was pretty bummed after this round because it meant only one remaining chance to get into the top.  I had gotten out-Rejuvenated quite badly this match, and was hoping for luck to go my way, just a little bit, just for one last round…


EffectVeiler-ORCS-EN-SR-LERound 11 - Jacob Helfant
Table 57
Dice Roll: 6 - 4 (1st)
Game 1: 8000 to 8000 - 5200 - scoop win
Game 2: 8000 to 8000 - 6200 - 3400 - scoop win

This guy was really young, I’d bet a high schooler.  He was a really sweet kid who conversed well.  I piled his deck and counted 39.  I counted again to make sure, then called judge David over.  My opponent found the missing card in his side deck, and I held it up to David without looking at it to ask him to confirm that it looked like a card someone would main deck.  Once that was resolved, we soon began.  In game 1, I applied deep pressure with multi-sacks and made him work to Fate them away.  I managed to get value out of the maindecked Emptiness by flipping it before a (presumed) Jowgen summon off Judgment.  He went Judgment after normal summoning Justice, and before resolving Judgment in the end phase, owned me with Exchange.  My hand was Veiler, Maxx, Heavy which I was saving to take the game with, and he passed me the lone Droll and Lock in his hand.  I chained Veiler to Exchange like an idiot thinking that it would negate Justice, not that he would have taken it over Heavy anyway.  He passed with Justice still on board because he wasn’t interested in searching High Priestess with my Emptiness up.  I think he should have used it, since it would be unreasonable of me to try and leave Emptiness up for very long.  I wasn’t feeling too great since he had taken the most important power card out of my hand with Exchange.  On my own turn, I added for Sarc and played a ripped Card Destruction, which cleared the Emptiness while drawing 3 off the top.  Since Emptiness prevented the alleged Jowgen, I was able to win quickly from there.

Game 2, I put up a Draco he couldn’t clear and got a lot of value out of it.  He didn’t attempt any sort of table image as he openly admitted to a weak hand.  He showed me 2 Magician and some other feeble assortment and gave up.  He congratulated me on my top and we shook hands.  I felt relieved and thankful that things went my way for a match.


dimensional fissureRound 1 of Playoffs - Pedro Parreno
Table 3
Dice Roll: 8 - 4 (1st)
Game 1: 8000 to 8000 - 7000 - 4600 - scoop win
Game 2: 8000 - 7800 - 5700 - 6700 - 7700 to 8000 - 7000 - 5400 - 2600 - 0 win

I placed 16th after 11 rounds of swiss.  The first round of top 64 began at 12:46 in the afternoon.  D.J. “Let’m Know” Miles had a very fitting nickname here because he “let me know” what my opponent was playing as soon as standings were posted (you can use standings to figure out who you will play in top cut without the aid of pairings, at least for the NAWCQ).  Nearby, I heard my opponent asking people who I was, not realizing I could hear him.

Game 1 was a glorious occasion.  Knowing my opponent’s deck was HUGE.  I opened a hand that would normally get me nowhere against a stranger, since I wouldn’t play an opening turn in the dark as if my opponent played Book, ever (the default should be to assume you’re playing the Dragon mirror).  I discarded Maxx “C” for Reactan’s effect (thank you prior knowledge), which enabled me to end turn 1 with Dracossack and Scrap Dragon.  This proved to be absolutely beautiful, as the pair can do horrendous things against Books.  My friend Julian was intently watching and trying to see everything, so just to make sure he could see, I raised my hand high in the air to show him I won without the aid of my in-hand Dark Hole.  During this game, we were all given a top cut game mat, which I have now stored away in a vast collection of trophy mats I keep but never use.

Chapman and I had been crafting a hypothesis all weekend that a Spellbook player cannot win vs. Dragon if he loses the first game, assuming all appropriate variables held constant (correct plays only on both players’ parts, not going into time, nothing stupid about the builds, etc).  Well, I’m being humble by calling it a hypothesis, but it’s honestly darn close to a rule, which I have yet to see a proper exception to.  For this reason, I knew I was making top 32 after this single game.  I was feeling great about not losing the first round of top cut, which meant I beat my record from my previous premier event, where I lost the first match in top 32.

In game 2, my opponent started off slow, as is typical for Books’ sided games.  He played D-Fissure, which I did not draw any of 6 outs to for the longest time.  It kept my Puppet Plants at bay, but being locked didn’t even concern me because D-Fissure meant that any monster he would try to kill me with would get banished.  This matters a lot for a Book player because they have very few monsters that can actually deal lethal.  Thus, I banished two of his Kycoos to the shadow realm while waiting to finally draw Sarc.  I Sarced for Heavy, only to find Heavy was my very next draw.  I patiently awaited it, and then got in there over the next few turns.  My opponent was left playing the Goat Control version of Spellbooks, making even trades and using spells one at a time instead of conserving for Judgment.  Towards the end, my opponent sort of rolled his eyes every time I made a play and asked for a response, and by the very end when I offered the shake, he barely grazed me with a limp hand.  I could understand he was upset, but hey, this matchup was important to me.  I spent all summer practicing it and it paid off.


After this round, there was a lengthy intermission during which all 32 of us had our decks checked while Pegasus and Kaiba dueled on the big screen.  Pegasus was pulling off all kinds of nonsense with Magician-Shark-Factory, and Kaiba was running the new Maiden with Blue Eyes card as well as Return, which Pat and I laughed about because he had considered running it.  We all sat down and resleeved our decks with those WCQ sleeves.  Some players got an extra pack of them because their first pack had earmarked sleeves due to factory defects.  Looking back, I should have messed up a couple of my sleeves and raised my hand and been like, “Judge, can I have more sleeves?  Mine are bent too!” and then gotten more WCQ sleeves.

Return would be my 41st card if I believed in such a thing. - Patrick Hoban


V. In a Grieving State


Well before the round began, the fact that there were very few Book players and only one Madolche player remaining (the matchups that I would have considered free wins) left me certain that I would have a Dragon mirror coming up.  I was having last second doubts, and suddenly became very sad that I had not practiced the mirror even harder than I had.  I had a premonition that I was not going to make it to Worlds - I became as certain as if I had traveled back through time and told myself.  Earlier the previous day, Patrick had told me his mentality when playing events, “I’m the best player in the room with the most experience playing the best deck.  At regionals, this is actually true.  I’ve topped my last 3 regionals, so I just apply the same mentality to premier events.”  In these final moments, I realized that I couldn’t honestly say the same about myself.  Did I put in more hours than almost anyone?  I did.  But they weren’t enough.  Patrick was always there, just a chat message away, all month long, and I only asked him to play once.  I realized in that instant, in a prophetic way, that he was going to Worlds and I wasn’t.

Round 2 of Playoffs - Alexander Hodge

Dragon Ruler
Table 2
Dice Roll: 3-10 (2nd)
Game 1: 8000 - scoop to 8000 loss
Game 2: 8000 - 5600 - 3000 - 200 - scoop loss to 8000 - 5200 - 2400 loss

We made some small talk before starting.  He said this was his first top and that he didn’t travel much.  I opened the Emptiness game 1, but it was cleared by Heavy.  Going first and Tempesting into his colors along with maindecked Enemy Controller got him there.

After our game, we were deck checked.  I wasn’t nervous about the upcoming game or anything, but I did objectively realize that I was one loss away from getting dream crushed.  We received our decks and a 7-minute extension.  I began with confidence and thought I had a hand strong enough to take things to game 3, but he had Hole, Heavy, and put up Double Dracossack with a set Emptiness.  If I remember correctly, he didn’t play around Electric Virus because he had no choice to do so.  So there it was.  Two pieces of the trinity put an end to my long dream-filled run.  I drew for turn, looked at my hand and lamented the Emptiness I was 100% sure he had.  I baited it face-up and then sighed as I said, “This is how it ends…” out loud.  I could have set Burner, but there was no point in prolonging my defeat with 200 life points and no means to special summon.  We shook hands and I collected my prize card from the main event stage.

10-3 drop by elimination

I walked to the back of the room to sit down and weep.  I have never reacted so strongly to the game before, but then again, I have never been so strong at the game before.  The bigger you are, the harder you fall.  There were a number of things that held me in grief, such as knowing that I could have practiced harder, knowing how close yet far I came to competing in Worlds, knowing I was on the opposite side of the bracket as Patrick as if we were meant to go together.  Julian had asked me just the week before how far I thought I’d go and how I would feel about it.  Ironically I had explicitly stated how disappointed I would be to lose in something like top 64, 32, or 16 and miss the cut.  He asked me my favorite ice cream flavor (Cookies n’ Cream) and dropped $7 to get me a cone.


VI. Crowning a Champion


After some time in mourning, I recollected myself and got pumped up for the exciting fact that I was about to see Pat qualify for Worlds.  I watched as he steamrolled his way through the rounds, and made his way to top 8 for a feature against Robbie.  He won the roll, which was a good sign.  He took game 1, Robbie took game 2, and he took game 3, each decisively.  Going first seemed to matter a lot for these particular players and their match.  Pat made an unusual but finesse play in which he summoned one Draco token in attack mode in order to successfully crash Draco to deal damage via the Armory Arm he equipped to Robbie’s monster.

Pat was calm the entire time, moving back and forth between feature matches and regular matches in the closed-off top cut area.  In between rounds, he paced around the room a little and stayed relaxed.  We traded glances and I said, “Best player with the most experience playing the best deck.”  “Yep.”

For the final match, our hotel room (the Leveretts and Jarel) plus various dragon duelists and their parents plus Julian and I all got together in the front row facing the feature stage.  We pulled out the snacks and drinks and settled in like we were at a movie theater as we awaited the final match.  Similar to my own top 64 match, Pat used his knowledge of his opponent’s deck for a broken opening play.  He left up a tribute summoned Blaster plus a Dracossack, a variation on the Scrap-Dracossack opening I had gone for.  The beauty of leaving up Blaster is that if they deal with it, it floats and searches another monster, and if they don’t deal with it, it puts the Book player on a clock. Predictably, Dracossack was cleared right away, but David flaked at what to do about the Blaster dilemma.  Pat didn’t waste time as he summoned a Scrap Dragon to accompany the Blaster.  David used Book on Scrap Dragon instead of Magician, which was highly questionable.  The game ended soon after.

It was over at this point (refer back to my hypothesis on Books and game 1), but David did take the next game by drawing 2 Mind Drain to Pat’s one MST.  In game 3, Pat had Book and EEV in hand but wasn’t ready to use either yet.  I saw him set a card right away, which I thought was Book, and that seemed really strange.  In the end, he threw not only his opponent for a loop, but myself as well.  David flipped Compulsory to target Big Eye, and my heart dropped because I thought Pat’s initial set was the Book.  It was EEV!  When EEV flipped, the Asian Konami lady Jarel calls “the President” put on her jacket as she got ready to walk over to congratulate the winner.  David topdecked Compulsory and it was met with end phase MST.  The tournament concluded from there.

Give this man his trophy so we can eat! - Jarel Winston, SPP

After a whole lot of congratulating and cheering and prize handling, ARG’s President also came up to Pat to congratulate him and say, “Welcome to sponsorship.”  We left the venue and had a merry evening enjoying Chicago style pizza and goofing off with a tipsy Jarel.  The next morning, Pat and I interviewed each other on camera and then we went our separate ways.

For some reason the chess analogy I drew has aroused nonsensical debate comparing Yugioh and chess in other ways.  Maybe it was too hopeful of me to expect people on the internet to have basic listening comprehension skills, so in case it’s confusing: I point out that chess has one matchup (the mirror) to emphasize the importance of determination and work ethic, even when a two-deck format makes the game “stale.”  I didn’t say anything about chess being similar to Yugioh in any other way, but people will always take one’s words and run with them (see: the beginning of written history through the present).


VII. Killing them Softly


We’ve all heard the phase “preaching to the choir.”  It’s an idiom that describes trying to convince someone of an idea he already believes in.  Oftentimes, there is a chasm between competitive players and the remainder of the playerbase, not because there is a lack of resources to help players improve, but because only the “choir” is paying attention to these resources.  There’s nothing wrong with playing a game casually, but there is certainly something wrong with trying to be competitive while limiting your potential with self-defined constructs.  These constructs take various shapes, such as refusing to play certain decks, testing incorrectly, not admitting to one’s own faults and weaknesses, and an overemphasis of luck over skill.  As a player who has grown so much in 1 to 2 years, I hope to serve as a reminder that improvement is something you can choose.  The vast majority of players don’t improve because they don’t want to improve.  They would rather believe their losses were due to luck and not due to lack of preparation.  It’s the classic red-pill/blue-pill decision every player is faced with: blissful for ignorance, or improvement via dying to old ways.

The additional things I have to say on the matter of improvemet would fill a book, but I have decks to doctor, so I’ll leave it to the other writers.  For the naysayers who may now be warming up to Patrick in light of his win, consider reviewing his earlier writing contributions.  “The Road to Improvement,” “The Four Perspectives,” “The Diversity Argument,” “Risk Management,” and “Player Classification” are just a few of many articles he’s written on ARG that engage the competitive player’s mind and help one on the road to improvement - if one should so desire to improve.

Until next time,

Play Hard or Go Home.




Johnny Li

Johnny Li

Houston, TX
Johnny Li

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