About six months had passed since my first tournament at JMC. If you were wondering, I finished with an X-2 record and didn't make it to the Top4 cut that day. I actually continued to suck for a while. My only saving grace was finding out about Metagame.com from Kevin. From that point on, I became completely obsessed with competitive Yu-Gi-Oh, and wanted nothing more than to someday become a SJC winner. I read the daily articles, copied the top decklists from each event, analyzed the feature matches, studied the pros, and dreamed of having people follow me in the same way that I had followed them. I had idolized the champions in the same way that an adolescent boy idolizes his favorite basketball player. I knew their credentials, first and last names, the decks that made them famous, and how each of them played slightly different but still on a high level. Back then, the big names were Shane Scurry, Theerasak Poonsombat, Paul Levitin, Emon Ghaneian, Max Suffridge, Paul Levitin, Jerry Wang, Cesar Gonzalez, Hugo Adame, Anthony Alvarado, Jonathan Labounty, Robert Morgan, Kris Perovic, and the Bellido Brothers. There were several others with great credentials, but those are the names that immediately pop into my head when I think back. They were household names, and that’s what I aspired to become. JMC was going to be the training grounds for that success story, however, it wasn’t the only place that I went to get my fix for dueling. At that time, I needed it almost every day—if not every day—because it was the only way that I was going to get better.
Back when I first started, I remember visiting a hobby shop called Galaxy where the store owner, Matt, sold everything from anime action figures, manga, VHS tapes, DVDs, video games, TCGs, and all other types of memorabilia. It just so happened to also be a house to one of the largest local Yu-Gi-Oh teams in Philly. It wasn’t so much of a team as it was a family, but the name fit, so it became known as Team Galaxy. On the weekdays, before I suffered my crushing defeats by the hands of JMC’s best, I would travel down to Galaxy and play from the time that school let out, until they closed at ten or eleven at night. The store was always packed with gamers and Yu-Gi-Oh players, all with very unique personalities, who would fuss and fight over any and every topic you could imagine. With all the TVs and rowdiness, you could call it more of a sportsbar for nerds than a hobby shop. And because they had TVs, you could expect there to be plenty of trash talking when it came to fighting games. I happened to be a major fan of Super Smash Bros Melee, and when I started attending Galaxy on a regular basis, I was introduced to advanced level play in that game, too. They knew how to wavedash, L-Cancel, chain-grab, Ken Combo, SHDL, and many other things that I had never seen before then. I picked up all of those tricks in that time as well.
Eventually, one of the best videogame players there, Jon Vo, started a Yu-Gi-Oh team with me. It was only four people, consisting of Thai Bui (Top16 SJC Edison 2010), Jamaul Smith (Top16 SJC Philly 2006), Jon, and myself. We pooled our cards together and worked to control the local trading economy while bettering ourselves as players, too. The strangest thing was, at Galaxy, I was a legitimate threat—one of the best players there in fact (I actually earned the nickname “Lil Yugi”)—but at JMC, I was nothing more than a scrub. Having that duality became very humbling over time, and even more mentally taxing.
Despite my best efforts to win just a local tournament on Saturday at JMC, I was completely unsuccessful for the entire duration that Dontaye, Kevin, and McCabe played there. The skill gap was incredibly wide then with the growing popularity of Goat Control, which eventually became Chaos Return in the next format. You had to really play your cards right to beat someone consistently in a best 2 out of 3. I started winning games against the three titans, but I could never pull out the match win. I specifically remember one particular instance where I played Sean McCabe in the last round of swiss, and I almost won game three…until a series of unfortunate events befell upon me.
Game 3 started with McCabe going first. He opened with Pot of Greed—standard for him—and set a monster and a backrow. Luckily for me, I opened with Graceful, Sinister, and Delinquent Duo. Upon activating Delinquent, he spread his hand out on the table in a peculiar manner that made it seem like he wanted to keep a particular card. I pointed my finger to the card I wanted to discard and I ended up dropping his Sinister Serpent! I could see this was already off to a bad start. He pitched a copy of Airknight Parshath to his grave to complete the effect of Duo and paid 1000 for its cost. I used Nobleman of Crossout to banish his facedown Dekoichi and we both removed all copies from our decks. Next, I used Premature Burial to bring back my Sinister and tributed it for my own copy of Airknight! I felt his backrow might’ve been Scapegoats, and though it was a risky play, it paid off because he took the 1900. I drew a card from Airknight’s effect and passed with a set Sakuretsu Armor. He did indeed use Scapegoats on the end phase, and when he drew for his turn, he retrieved his snake, thought for a while, and proceeded to activate Metamorphosis. He stole my Airknight with Thousand Eyes Restrict and attacked right into my Armor. He set a monster and passed.
On the following turn, I dropped a D.D. Warrior Lady and swung into the facedown, hoping to hit Sinister or Sangan. It turned out to be a D.D. Assailant so I took 100. I passed my turn. He switched Assailant to attack and beat over my Lady for 200 more damage. We sent our respective monsters to the removed from play zone before Sean ended his turn. I was now down to 5900. I drew Goats and set it to go with my in-hand Metamorphosis and passed back. He must’ve read it as Bottomless Trap Hole because he summoned D.D Survivor and swung at me directly. I ate the damage in order to avoid a main phase 2 Lightning Vortex and went down to 4100. My lifepoints were still out of killing range so I felt comfortable, to say the least. I took his Survivor with my own Restrict next turn but he fired back with Tsukuyomi! She was going to be a problem. I sensed he might’ve had dead Noblemans in his hand because he hadn’t played many cards yet and I hadn’t set a monster to find out. I baited him on the following turn by setting my own Sinister and surely enough I would never see my Serpent again; he flicked a Nobleman to the grave and I knew what was up. Now I could safely set my Magician of Faith and get back Graceful. It wouldn’t be as good because of losing Sinister but it would accelerate me further into my deck so I could wrap things up.
On the following turns, I’d completely outpaced him in card advantage. Everything had gone according to plan. I dropped my BLS and started removing everything he set to protect himself. The only thing was that I had a hand full of monsters and nothing to actually protect myself with. They were big monsters, too, like Jinzo, Airknight, Zaborg, and my personal copy of Dark Magician of Chaos. And then lightning struck. He drew to 2 in hand and shuffled them back and forth. He kept looking at his calculator and doing a finger motion like he was planning out his next play. On the inside, I was smiling because I knew there was no way he could do much with 2 cards, especially since one of them was Tsukuyomi. At best, he probably drew another Nobleman to get rid of my BLS, but that wouldn’t be enough to come back by itself. Then he simply said, “That’s game.” I was ready to jump out of my shirt, overjoyed with my first real victory…until he summoned his own copy of Black Luster Soldier! It hadn’t registered yet; I thought he was going to remove mine from play and pass. But then that pesky Tsukuyomi that had been there the whole time came down, and put my BLS facedown. He swung with his Soldier and destroyed mine before swinging at me directly for 3000, then Tsukuyomi wiped out my remaining 1100 lifepoints. It was exact game.
I sat there devastated. How could that have happened? I was doing so well. I just couldn’t win, even when I’d won. I had so much card advantage and it meant nothing in the face of his BLS. Any relevant backrow would’ve been game for him, but instead, my hand consisted of all monsters. I was so mad that I couldn’t even call it a good game. “It was a really good game. I got savagely lucky so don’t think too much of it,” McCabe remarked as I silently picked my cards up from the table. I wasn’t trying to hear anything he had to say. I was furious to say the least. Having already been a sore loser, and then thinking you’re going to win only to have the door slammed in your face, that’s just cruel to anyone. “Yeah good game,” I mouthed the words lifelessly. He seemed too nonchalant; completely unaffected by the fact that he had just sacked me beyond belief. There was neither happiness nor remorse in his victory; he was utterly indifferent. He could at least be grateful that he’d drawn so well off the top; crack a smile, shake my hand, let out a sigh, anything. But nope. Nothing.
“Are you going to the regional tomorrow?” He said it so casually that it was like we’d never played before. “What regional?” I said the words too sharply to hide my anger. “There’s one tomorrow at some store called Infinite Quest not too far away. You should go.” At this point, it seemed like he was trying to be somewhat friendly. It was about time he showed some sort of emotion. “What’s the prize?” “Uhh, I think the winner gets a box and I know Top8 gets a playmat and a T-shirt. The Top4 all get invites to nationals, too.” “Oh they give out those mats like the one Dontaye has?” “Yeah, it’s pretty good.” He’d successfully broken my inner rage without even trying. And why was I making conversation about prizes like I would be the one getting any? “So have you ever topped a regional before?” “Nope.” "Wow, I can't believe that. You always beat me. Do you just get really unlucky there or something?" "No, the people are just better. I'm really not that good," he said as he shook his head from left to right carelessly. Without realizing it, he managed to insult me in saying that. I ran the words back in my head, "I'm really not that good," and then I started thinking back to my favorite anime at the time. I kept hearing the words of Nappa and Vegeta saying, "Raditz was just a weakling." The words spiraled in my brain for an eternity it seemed. To think that you could spend so much time trying to beat one person, only to find out that that person isn't even that great. How pathetic. I was lower on the totem pole than I originally thought. “Yeah I need to see if I can find a ride out there. I’ll go for sure.” I needed a tournament scene different from JMC. Maybe I was just the unlucky one here.
After making the necessary preparations, I was headed to my first ever regional. Let’s see how this thing goes…
To be continued…
**Origins will be on break next week for my monthly Q & A article. Happy reading!