Originality VS Competitiveness: The Timeless Debate

It was a typical friday night at my local, and I couldn’t wait to show Rob Cedar my sick new Final Countdown deck. The deck played a full 30 effects that stopped all battle damage for the turn, alongside 3 copies of “Final Countdown” itself & draw spells to find them. I was particularly fond of my brew, as I had eschewed any cards whose activation could be stopped by “Thunder King Rai-Oh,” a popular card in the current Advanced Format. “This deck looks awesome! Would you mind if I borrowed it for a tournament tomorrow?” Rob was clearly impressed, and I was excited both by his approval and the thought that maybe I had stumbled across an inexpensive, original tournament deck. Round 1 pairings were posted, and I hurried to my table with sweet thoughts of “Zero Gardna” dancing in my head.

"Sorry dude. This seems like a horrible matchup for you…” Yeah, no kidding. Mike Jarrold had just finished destroying me 2-0 with his Dino Rabbit deck, despite my having split a few games with him prior to the event. “Evolzar Dolkka” was proving to be a huge problem, what with its ability to negate 2 of my “Battle Fader” type monster effects at no loss of card advantage. Why hadn’t I considered the Rabbit deck when I was brainstorming? Had I been blinded by “originality,” or as I like to put it, “cuteness,” again? I thought back to a recent conversation of mine with Alex Vansant regarding this exact issue. “You know what our problem is Alex? We never play “real” decks. I don’t know if it’s a desire to be noticed for our “originality,” or if we’re just subconsciously trying to make things more challenging for ourselves. But it’s definitely a problem.” Alex was too busy eating his delicious chinese take-out to care, but I had singled out the root cause of my inability to consistently top large tournaments.

There is a constant debate amongst those in the YGO scene between the merits of “originality” & “competitiveness.” While both are admirable qualities to look for in one’s choice of deck, their value can vary greatly depending on your ultimate goal. Are you the type of player who wants to be known for their wacky ideas and interesting Feature Matches? Then by all means, chose a deck whose origins fall outside of the beaten path. Are you looking to actually win the YCS? Go all the way? Then you had better weigh that “competitiveness” aspect a lot more heavily. Everyone wants to be the guy who pioneered “that cool new deck,” but I believe that many of us are actively hurting our own chances at winning by pursuing that ideal. It is not impossible to find a previously unheard of strategy which “breaks” the format, but it doesn’t happen every day, and players must always give proper consideration to the current metagame before sleeving up that crazy brew on Saturday morning.

Keys to a Format

“What are the “best” decks & cards in the format, and how should I combat them?”

“How fast is the format?”

“How varied is the metagame?”

These three questions sum up what I believe to be the “barometer” of a format. By answering these questions carefully and in full, a player should be able to reach some sense of viability for their “original” decklist, hopefully before it’s too late (every deck, whether it follows an established theme or not, should go through extensive testing prior to a tournament, but that’s another article for another day). Let’s break down the 3 keys:

1. “What are the “best” decks & cards in the format, and how should I combat them?”

Dark Armed Return was one of the most degenerate decks to ever exist outside of the Traditional Format. The set Phantom Darkness, which released stateside in February 2008, introduced the extremely powerful “Dark Armed Dragon,” as well as the format-warping TCG exclusive “Allure of Darkness.” These two standouts, combined with cards from the first “broken” set Invasion of Chaos such as “Dark Magician of Chaos” & “Dimension Fusion, formed a Voltron like power that was predicted to run roughshod over the format. Its coming-out party was to be SJC Houston 2008, but Jonathan Moore had other plans…

Jonathan Moore - Six Samurai


1 Enishi, Shien’s Chancellor

1 The Six Samurai – Kamon

2 Spirit of the Six Samurai

2 Cyber Dragon

2 The Six Samurai – Zanji

3 The Six Samurai – Yaichi

3 The Six Samurai – Irou

3 Great Shogun Shien

3 Grandmaster of the Six Samurai


1 Swords of Revealing Light

1 Premature Burial

1 Mystical Space Typhoon

1 Brain Control

1 Heavy Storm

2 Reinforcement of the Army

2 Six Samurai United

3 Reasoning


1 Torrential Tribute

1 Call of the Haunted

1 Mirror Force

2 Phoenix Wing Wind Blast

3 Solemn Judgment

The ever-present vocal minority was predicting SJC Houston to be full of FTK & OTK, and Dark Armed Return was going to be there to sweep up whatever was left after the 1st turn carnage. Moore capitalized on the infancy of the format, taking advantage of the fact that most top-tier decks were full of powerful Spells like Allure & D-Fusion. While the overall power level of Six Samurai pales in comparison to the well-tuned DAD lists in the Top 16, DAD Return relied on its card draw to both find & fuel the graveyard for its titular Dragon, which proved to be an Achilles Heel. Dropping an early “Great Shogun Shien” allowed Moore to counteract the incredible speed of DAD by limiting the number of Spells which could be played each turn. In addition, Moore’s opponents would almost always call “LV 8” for “Reasoning” in Game 1, as they would be anticipating the DDT deck’s “Dark Magician of Chaos.” This meant a free Special Summon for Moore, and often the game itself if Shien came off the top.

Jonathan Moore successfully analyzed the metagame in advance, and found a good counter for the Tier 1 decks at Houston. By taking a hard look at the “best” decks & cards, he was able to translate that knowledge into a SJC win. New formats are often the best times to spring such a trap, as players will often flock to 1 or 2 “known” strategies. It is much harder to counter the perceived metagame if there are a wider variety of options, which we will discuss more in depth later on.

2. “How fast is the format?”

The Tele-DAD format is often lauded as “the most skill intensive format of all time,” despite suffering from many of the same problems as the first DAD dominated era. Just like DAD Return, Tele-DAD used “Allure of Darkness” & “Destiny Draw” to quickly dig for its power cards, often winning through the combo of “Destiny HERO - Malicious” & “Emergency Teleport” (for the LV 2 Tuner “Krebons”) to quickly Synchro Summon multiple threats. While it was true that the “better” player would often win the mirror, every match was the mirror. The deck was so prevalent that many players became disillusioned with the game, as creativity was stifled and the cost of the DAD deck and its accompanying Extra Deck was relatively high.

SJC Detroit 2008 featured 13 such decks in its Top 16 playoff, compromising a whopping 80% of the field. However, the non-DAD decks did a great job of slowing the game down to their own pace, and while they didn’t take the gold, they proved that innovation was still possible in such a lopsided format. Take a look at the following two lists:

Robbie Kohl - Gadgets


1 Gorz the Emissary of Darkness

1 Cyber Dragon

2 Kycoo the Ghost Destroyer

2 Red Gadget

2 Yellow Gadget

2 Green Gadget

3 Thunder King Rai-Oh

2 Banisher of the Radiance

1 Breaker the Magical Warrior


2 Book of Moon

1 Smashing Ground

1 Mystical Space Typhoon

1 Fissure

2 Soul Taker

1 Monster Reborn


2 Mirror Wall

3 Dimensional Prison

3 Bottomless Trap Hole

3 Solemn Judgment

1 Trap Dustshoot

1 Torrential Tribute

1 Mirror Force

3 Royal Oppression

Rob Cedar - Lightsworn


2 Judgment Dragon

3 Celestia, Lightsworn Angel

3 Wulf, Lightsworn Beast

3 Honest

3 Lumina, Lightsworn Summoner

2 Garoth, Lightsworn Warrior

2 Lyla, Lightsworn Sorceress

2 Necro Gardna

2 Plaguespreader Zombie

1 Jain, Lightsworn Paladin

1 Ehren, Lightsworn Monk

1 Ryko, Lightsworn Hunter


3 Charge of the Light Brigade

3 Solar Recharge

2 Foolish Burial

1 Brain Control

1 Monster Reborn


3 Anti-Spell Fragrance

3 Beckoning Light

1 Crush Card Virus

Both Robs attacked specific weaknesses of the Tele-DAD deck, and were rewarded for their efforts with a T16 berth. Robbie Kohl utilized “Royal Oppression,” a brutal Trap which shut down all of the DAD deck’s Special Summons. Without its best plays, the DAD deck was reduced to fighting simplified 1 for 1 battles with Kohl’s Gadgets, a losing proposition at best against the self-replacing machines. Rob Cedar relied on innovative tech in “Anti-Spell Fragrance,” greatly slowing down the advancement of Tele-DAD’s forces while at the same time setting up back rows to target with “Lyla, Lightsworn Sorceress,” “Celestia, Lightsworn Angel,” & “Judgment Dragon.” Cedar’s deck in particular had a very favorable matchup against the standard DAD decks during testing, but fell to eventual champion Steven Harris due to his teched “Psychic Commander” (used to Synchro Summon “Black Rose Dragon” as an out to many anti-meta strategies. This would become standard at the following tournaments).

Even though 1st turn kills were a common occurrence from Tele-DAD, these players managed to successfully combat an unusually fast format. If your list cannot set itself up quickly enough to beat the “norm” on a regular basis, or lacks the resources or specific “tech” to slow the game down, you should probably be considering other options. Remember, the best deck is often “the best” for a reason!

3. “How varied is the metagame?”

SJC Edison 2010. The 75th & last Shonen Jump Championship, and one of the most wide-open metagames in history. The tournament date fell just after a ban list update, and no single strategy was dominant. While Rescue Cat was legal, X-Saber decks were not yet a threat as “XX-Saber Emmersblade” had not yet been released. I remember being personally ecstatic to play in this event, as it was to be the largest attended YGO tournament ever, and my Machina Gadget deck was predicted to be a powerful new strategy. My teammates Chris Pittao, Rob Cedar, Chris McGarrett, and Alex Vansant were all playing Twilight with “Super-Nimble Mega Hamster” tech to fetch “Ryko, Lightsworn Hunter,” an idea that the up-and-coming Jarel Winston was also advocating. A ham-sandwich would have been playable in that event, as the format was very slow & grinding, in contrast to the aforementioned DAD eras.

Duels here were methodical, often breaking down into even card-for-card trades. Any “plus” was welcome, and one deck did this better than all the rest, with the help of a Synchro Monster named “Drill Warrior.” Jeff Jones became a 2 time champion with his Quickdraw Dandywarrior deck, a card advantage machine whose star “Drill Warrior” & cards like “Pot of Avarice” turned “plusses” into inevitable wins.

Jeff Jones - Quickdraw Dandywarrior


3 Ryko, Lightsworn Hunter

2 Caius the Shadow Monarch

2 Super-Nimble Mega Hamster

2 Debris Dragon

2 Quickdraw Synchron

2 Lonefire Blossom

2 Dandylion

1 Light and Darkness Dragon

1 Tytannial, Princess of Camellias

1 Sangan

1 Card Trooper

1 Morphing Jar

1 Night Assailant


3 Pot of Avarice

2 Book of Moon

1 Brain Control

1 Heavy Storm

1 Mystical Space Typhoon

1 Foolish Burial


2 Bottomless Trap Hole

2 Dust Tornado

2 Dimensional Prison

1 Mirror Force

1 Torrential Tribute

1 Solemn Judgment

1 Call of the Haunted

1 Starlight Road

Jeff’s deck featured all the common “1 for 1” trimmings of the day, such as “Bottomless Trap Hole,” “Dimensional Prison,” and the Ryko/Hamster combo. In addition, “Quickdraw Synchron” was used to summon “Drill Warrior,” whose effect both dodged most removal and provided free Monster recursion every turn. Opponents would be quickly buried by Jeff’s ability to essentially draw 2 cards per turn. The deck minimized its usage of Lightsworn theme cards, instead focusing on a plant engine with “Lonefire Blossom” and its ilk. In doing so, the Dandywarrior player could still utilize “Pot of Avarice” to its full effect, without losing games to the random self-milling associated with Twilight.

In studying the format, Jeff Jones isolated the key theme of slow, methodical trades, and found a deck which both did it best and had no glaring weaknesses against the myriad of other competitive options. Many players today make the mistake of singling out one deck to combat such as Plants or Dino Rabbit, without considering the possibility that they may be “soft” to other rogue strategies such as the omnipresent (although mediocre) Gladiator Beast deck. One most consider the entire field, especially if they are planning on traveling the rogue or anti-meta route.

What does all of this mean?

In short, originality can win and has already on multiple occasions, as demonstrated by the example lists above. That being said, many factors go into a deck’s success, with the most important being the metagame (environment) around it. If your ultimate goal is to win, and you’re investing the time & money into doing so, make sure you’re either playing the “best” strategy, or one that can tackle the “3 Keys.” Don’t fret too much if you can’t find that “cool new deck” that still puts up the W’s; they don’t come every YCS, and you’ll always have more opportunities! Don’t force it.

The week after I played Final Countdown, I took a Chain Burn deck to my local, again with high hopes. In similar fashion to the previous week, I was demolished… It didn’t matter how tight my play was, or how many outs my opponent was leaving me through his own misplay(s). I had fallen for the classic pitfall of too much originality and not enough competitive drive. If my goal was to win, I would have considered the “Shiens” and “Dolkkas” of the format and came to win. Was winning my motivation all along, or simply to be “different?” The sense of disappointment after my loss was the answer. I guess I’ve always been a competitive person…

Play Hard or Go Home!

~Paul McCann~

P.S. Since people will undoubtably ask, here is the Final Countdown list I was using. Keep in mind this was for a local tournament, and has not been tuned for a highly competitive environment (nor should it be, necessarily). Some cards which may seem like glaring omissions, such as “Pot of Avarice” & “Reinforcement of the Army,” were purposefully cut due to the presence of “Thunder King Rai-Oh.” Following a lackluster 1-2 drop performance, I asked Rob if he still wanted to borrow the deck. “Umm, no thanks…”

Final Countdown - Rough Sketch


3 Battle Fader

3 Metaion, the Time Lord

1 Morphing Jar

3 Swift Scarecrow

3 Zero Gardna


3 Final Countdown

3 Gold Sarcophagus

3 One Day of Peace

3 The Warrior Returning Alive

3 Upstart Goblin


3 Frozen Soul

3 Threatening Roar

3 Thunder of Ruler

3 Waboku

Hometown: Redford, MI
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