A little over two years ago when Frazier Smith wrote his Origins article series, I was still a relatively unknown player in the community. At that point I had spent over a decade playing this game and only had a handful of premier event tops and no rings to show for it. The transition to becoming a seven-time champion with the most tops ever is a change no one could have seen coming, but you can be certain it didn’t happen overnight. I would like to share with you my personal story and some of the lessons I learned along the way in a three-part article series to becoming the player and the person I am today.
Every Saturday I would meet up with some friends from school at Books-A-Million for the Pokemon league. To the best of my memory, I don’t remember knowing how to even play the game and I didn’t like trading because I never wanted to get rid of my cards. Despite this, I remember having, what my nine-year-old self would consider to be, a large binder full of collectable cards. In all honesty, I was completely spoiled in my younger years. My mom was a senior manager at a catalog company in Delray Beach, Florida. She was trying to juggle climbing the corporate latter with being a single parent, which often resulted in me being able to do or have most anything I wanted.
One Saturday I showed up for the Pokemon league only to be informed by one of my friends that they were into Yu-Gi-Oh now. I completely rejected the idea of giving up the game I loved, but was eventually persuaded into trying it. I begged and pleaded with my mom to buy me a single pack of Yu-Gi-Oh cards so that I could try the game out with my friends. Reluctantly, she gave in and bought me a pack of the latest booster set, Metal Raiders.
I pulled an Ultra Rare Time Wizard and was immediately hooked on the game. It became my new obsession and I got new cards and played with friends whenever possible. To this day, I still have that original Time Wizard and it is still my favorite card. Since you are not allowed to use real Yu-Gi-Oh cards as tokens, I use a Bandai Time Wizard that my best friend, Ben Leverett, gave me as one of my tokens in all of my decks.
Over the next couple of years, my love for the game grew, despite the fact that I had no idea what I was doing. My first encounter with the competitive atmosphere of the game came when I found International Cards n’ Games, while walking through Stonecrest Mall with my grandfather one afternoon. The storeowner told us about local tournaments that were held there every Saturday afternoon. After attending just a single tournament, I fell in love with the idea of competition and becoming the best at something.
It was here that I met Robbie. Robbie was sort of like the Raditz of my Yu-Gi-Oh experience. He was the first villain who seemed impossible to beat at the time, but was actually nothing in comparison to the actual best players of the time. I didn’t know this, of course, and to me he was the best of the best. He and his TP2 Morphing Jar would win the tournament every Saturday and I would be crushed each time I was unfortunate enough or made it far enough to be paired with him.
I wanted nothing more than to beat Robbie. I decided the best way to go about this was to go directly to Robbie and ask how he got so good. He revealed to me that he was actually nothing in comparison to people who travel across the country and play the game consistently. He told stories of how the people who played at the World Championship were so conservative with their cards, that they would rarely use more than one card per turn. I asked him how he knew about this, which is when he revealed to me a website that would become the root of my inspiration; Metagame.com.
I was instantly hooked to the website and loved waking up early on Saturday mornings to go read about some of my favorite players like Paul Levitin, Shane Scurry, and Jerry Wang. Being the little know-it-all brat that I was, I can remember being sprawled out on my grandmother’s bed while she was ironing, ranting about Max Suffridge’s choice of Gravekeeper’s Spy in Goat Control. I had no idea that he was an online legend and member of the team Alpha Omega, but that didn’t stop me from thinking I knew more than the 2005 National Champion.
It was not long after this that I had my first real life experience with competitive Yu-Gi-Oh. At this point, we had moved several times for my mom’s job. I went to a different school for first through third grade, two schools in fourth grade, two schools in fifth grade, and another school for sixth grade. The latest of which, had landed us in Greenville, North Carolina. By this time, I was hooked on Metagame and the idea of winning, but didn’t understand the game past a fundamental level.
Being the realest that I was, I knew I stood no chance against the pro players that would inevitably be attending the upcoming Shonen Jump in Durham. I saw this as an opportunity to excel at the regional level. While I had never been to one, I knew what they were from kids around my shop. I saw on the Upper Deck website that while the Shonen Jump was taking place on Saturday in Durham, a regional tournament was taking place in Raleigh on Sunday.
For those of you who don’t know your geography better than I did at this point, Raleigh and Durham are essentially one city. As a matter of fact, the regional was being held at the same convention center that the Shonen Jump was being held at. Now knowing they were the same place, I went expecting an easy regional, while all the good players were off winning in the Shonen Jump. Needless to say, it didn’t quite happen like that. A respectable 4-4 record with the thing I was wielding and calling a “deck.”
For the rest of 2006 and the beginning of 2007, I continued to avidly read Metagame and develop a basic understanding of the game’s competitive side. I watched Austin Kulman be crowned National Champion at only eleven-years-old. I watched players like Fili Luna, Dale Bellido, and Emon Ghaneian rack up top after top and eventually be crowned Champion.
The transition from playing my favorite cards like Nimble Momonga and Ekibyo Drakmord into a coherent strategy didn’t come until 2007. I would spend every Summer with my grandparents in Georgia, returning to International Cards N’ Games with hopes to beat the untouchable Robbie. Here I met lots of people that I’m still friends with like Luqman Mateen, James Miller, and of course my best friend David Rivera, better known as Meechie!
On a typical Saturday afternoon, someone suggested to me something that would change my course in the game forever. While I knew and religiously read Metagame, I knew nothing about other online resources that were available.
It was that day that I first heard about Yu-Gi-Oh ETC’s Forums, a website that jumpstarted my game through online warring. My entire game today is derived from the online experiences I gained by warring on ETC and eventually Duelistgroundz. This was an essential part of my growth as a player and a person struggling to make friends with so many changes to my schools. These next years were the years I grew the most. I hope you’ll join me for the story behind these years in the second part of the article series next week. Until next time, play hard or go home!