Playtesting for Deckbuilding

Hi everybody, it’s been a while. I have been trying to do what I normally do around this time of the year: recharge my batteries. If you didn’t read Joe’s article on how to use your breaks between competitive play, then I recommend taking a look:

If you’re not going to YCS Miami you still have time, too. The format’s coming to a close and any playtesting you do is at your own risk—since the only deck we really know is going to take a hit is Wind-Ups. If you’re really smart, you might drop off the radar until after the new Forbidden & Limited list becomes official and avoid all of the chaos that ensues around this time of year. (Even if you did take a break, you’d be back before then, though, because we both know you secretly enjoy the mania!)

By the time the list gets announced—whether you like it or not—you’re going to be overflowing with the excitement that change brings! You want to make sure you have enough energy to carry you through Nationals format so you’re ready earn yourself a trip to Las Vegas as a representative of the United States for the Yu-Gi-Oh World Championships! Oh, who am I kidding? New format? Nationals format? World Championships?! I’ve effectively talked you out of taking a break already.

That even gets me excited and to be completely honest, while I took my foot off the gas pedal, I never came to a complete stop during this “off-season”. I’ve been using these past couple months to really work on my deck.

That’s what inspired me to write this article on how to playtest for deckbuilding. In my last article, I spent a decent amount of time defending today’s playerbase from Kris Perovik’s accusation that we lack creativity and innovation. I’m not going to rehash that, since if you read that article, you already know that I believe there are very few opportunities in today’s meta game to build a deck from scratch. The archetype-driven meta-game we have today makes it so that your best chance of winning typically comes from using one of Konami’s cookie cutter decks. But that doesn’t mean you can’t innovate! While everybody else was using the same Inzektor build, I crafted something completely different and took it to a Top 32 finish at the 2012 WCQ. Read more about that here:

I’m always looking for something different that I can do that’ll give me an edge.  But it doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul of a commonly accepted build for one of the meta decks from the beginning—sometimes a change as simple as moving a side deck card to the main deck can set everything in motion. Take Joe Giorlando’s Dino Rabbit deck, for example. In the March 2012 format, Joe maindecked Macro Coscmos to counter the influx in Chaos Dragons and took it to a Top 4 finish in Philadelphia. But he didn’t come up with the entire decklist right away. There was a process to it. It required testing, then tweaking, testing, and then some more tweaking until it was just right. Don’t believe me? Compare his decklist to the Dino Rabbit decks that made it to the Finals of YCS Long Beach and YCS Dallas. Everything changed. Simon He ran four hand traps and Nizar ran six but Joe? None. Naturally, the trap lineup almost doubled in size to compensate for the lack of hand traps. Starlight Road made an appearance, too, in order to protect all of the backrows.

That’s why, in my own tournament reports, like the one from last year’s WCQ, I attempt to tell the story of how I created that decklist so you get an idea of why I chose the cards I did. More often than not, you’ll read how I tested the deck out, found its weaknesses and then tested out cards that I thought would address those weaknesses. Identify a problem and find a solution—pretty basic logic.

I haven’t talked about, up until now, the actual playtesting involved when trying to test out new cards. I believe this is important because there are many duelists out there who don’t always have the right mindset. Understandably so. If you want to maximize the value you get out of playtesting when you’re trying out new cards, well, you might be surprised by what you read next.

Don’t play to win.

I remember playtesting with Billy at locals a few weeks ago. I opened the Shock Lock and Billy set a couple cards while opting to hold his Solemn Judgment in hand. Our spectator, a mutual friend of ours, began criticizing Billy for not setting it. He went on about how he would lose because of it. Sure enough Billy lost that game, even though he might have had a chance if he had set Judgment. Then in another game, Billy opened really well. Instead of making his normal play, Billy used double Diva to go into Stardust Dragon and set a couple of backrows. I had an absurd response like Book of Moon, Mystical Space Tyhpoon, Magician and Shark so it didn’t go so well.

At this point you would expect Billy to be pretty disappointed, because despite my strong openings in both games, he might have won both had be played his cards differently. Instead, he explained to our friend Adrian that he didn’t care if he won or lost. He held no personal grief after a loss because the outcome of the game gave him something more important than the victory, information on the cards and plays he made with them. “I’ve had the opportunity to make that play multiple times during a tournament but always went for what I felt was the safer play,” Billy continued, “and now I know for sure.” He didn’t mind taking a loss while we were playtesting because he knew it didn’t mean anything. The opportunity to learn from it was far more valuable than the actual outcome.

Problem is, Adrian and his friends though are usually too caught up with the outcome. They’ve become accustomed to teasing each other when one of them strings together some wins. If you’re playing Yu-Gi-Oh competitively, it’s the type of action that will probably bother you unless you fully understand the concept of playtesting to learn and can ignore the words. If you know you’re going to get criticized when you lose, even if you’re playing for practice, you’re less likely to explore your options and will almost always make the play you think gives you the best chance of winning. They’ve created an environment that discourages explorative playtesting.


But you need to be able to explore. For example, let’s say you’re testing out Compulsory Evacuation Device. You’ve never used it before. You play a few games and it helps get a Dolkka off the field but other than that yields pretty mediocre results. All of your friends said it was really good in Wind-Ups! What’s wrong? Then you decide to play a few more games with it before giving up on it. You open with Tour Guide, Compulsory and some other backrows. Rather than summoning TGU, you set Compulsory and Bottomless and pass. It comes back to you, you summon TGU, they Fiendish Chain and you chain Compulsory! You grab Sangan, and send TGU back to your hand to use again next turn. Nice! Suddenly now you’re seeing value in how you could add Rat back to your hand and after a few more daring plays, some successful, others not so much, decide it is pretty good.

Passing when you already had Tour Guide in hand might not have been what you thought was the best play, but because you were willing to experiment, you learned that if you have the right combination of cards you can make a pretty good play with Compulsory.

Of course, this is why you can’t give up on a card too quickly. I’ve seen people add a card to their deck, playtest without ever drawing it and then take it out because “it never did anything for me”! That’s an extreme example but remember sometimes it takes a while in order to see all of the possible interactions that a card has. Don’t give up on a card just because you don’t see all of the plays right away. That’s why you have to playtest, playtest, playtest.

Playtest. Keep playtesting. Then playtest some more.

Repetition is sooo important. It’s what allows you to see all of the different interactions that a card has to offer. Mike Steinman said it best: it’s about “Looking Past the Cards” and seeing how they interact with one another. If you haven’t read that article, I highly recommend it:

By the time both players draw there are a total of twelve cards in play. That means from the very beginning of a game each card is interacting with eleven others. But at the same time, there are another 34 (or more) cards in each players decks. Really, the possibilities are endless and that’s just for one matchup! The meta is so diverse right now there are so many different card combinations. That’s what makes the game so fun. But it also makes card choices really challenging and is why you have to playtest so much in order to find what works and what doesn’t.

Don’t get discouraged when you’re testing card after card that doesn’t work, though. Remember you only need to play 40 (most of which are already pre-determined) and if you’re trying to find something new and innovative then you have to test a range of cards far broader than that.


Retrospect on your results.

Joe’s “Off-Season” article talks about taking some time off in order analyze your results for the year. You should be doing the same after you’re done playtesting. Take some time to think about your results. How did a certain card perform? Would it have been better if it were another card? Don’t be afraid to discuss “staples”, either. I didn’t run Zektkaliber at the WCQ. Even after Recruiter came out, people still used Monster Reborn in Gravekeeper’s because it’s that good. But over time people realized that it just doesn't have enough synergy with the deck.

Keep these tips in mind when you’re playtesting and maybe, just maybe, you’ll take the World—the World Championships—by storm with your own innovative take on one of today’s meta decks, or perhaps you'll surprise us all with something completely your own.  Thanks for reading and good luck! See you in Miami and Bochum.

Don’t play to win.


Playtest. Keep playtesting. Then playtest some more.

Retrospect on your results.


Samuel Pedigo
I began playing competitively at YCS Dallas in 2011 and currently have seven premier event tops, including a 2nd place finish at the 2011 NA WCQ. I pride myself on playing complex decks that often challenge the player with in-game puzzles to determine the optimal play. My friends make fun of me for creating spreadsheets detailing most (or all) of the combos in the deck that I'm playing. In addition to the mental stimulation, I feel as though these kinds of decks offer the most flexibility and gives the player a much higher influence on the outcome of the game. I'm also the host of the Yu-GI-Cast! It's a podcast dedicated to Yu-Gi-Oh. Although Billy, Scott and I aren't able to make podcasts very often, I try to update the page regularly with articles and news about the three of us. Here's the URL: PLAY HARD, PLAY SMART, OR GO HOME!
Samuel Pedigo

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