Reading Backrow

hobanTake a moment and consider the difference between a good player and an average player. One of the most popular answers is likely to be a good player’s ability to make accurate reads on the opponent. This often begs the question of “how do you make reads on the opponent?” This is one of the more difficult things to master in Yu-Gi-Oh as it’s not something you can simply memorize, but rather it is a process that takes time and a lot of practice. By this I mean that you can memorize what to do with Magician Shark or know that you’re generally supposed to summon [ccProd]Light and Darkness Dragon[/ccProd] before you summon any Monarchs, but you can’t memorize that your opponent has a set [ccProd]Torrential Tribute[/ccProd]. While this is something that is generally self-taught through practice, I will briefly go over the process and then move on to two of the major pitfalls many players make when applying this process.

The Process

It seems useful to be able to tell what your opponent has set, or at the very least tell what your opponent does not have set. If you know that they have [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd] set, most of the time you would never have to leave 2 monsters for it to destroy.

The best way to tell what your opponent has set or what they don’t have set is through a process of elimination. This is the part that is memorization. For this, you should know all the backrow a deck might set. Think about Fire Fist. Before reading any further, make a list of every card that they might set (not bluffs).

forbidden lanceThe list is [ccProd]Forbidden Lance[/ccProd], [ccProd]Mystical Space Typhoon[/ccProd], [ccProd]Fiendish Chain[/ccProd], [ccProd]Dimensional Prison[/ccProd], [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd], [ccProd]Torrential Tribute[/ccProd], [ccProd]Bottomless Trap Hole[/ccProd], [ccProd]Solemn Judgment[/ccProd], [ccProd]Solemn Warning[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Starlight Road[/ccProd].

Let’s consider a very simplistic example. You’re playing a Fire Fist mirror match. You summon a Bear to their 2 spell or traps. The summon is good. You attack. The attack is good. At this point, it is very unlikely that your opponent has [ccProd]Fiendish Chain[/ccProd], [ccProd]Dimensional Prison[/ccProd], [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd], [ccProd]Torrential Tribute[/ccProd], [ccProd]Bottomless Trap Hole[/ccProd], or [ccProd]Solemn Warning[/ccProd]. It is more likely that they have a [ccProd]Forbidden Lance[/ccProd], a MST, a [ccProd]Solemn Judgment[/ccProd], a [ccProd]Starlight Road[/ccProd], or a bluff. You can now assume that as long as those cards are set, they are not a part of the first group and are a part of the second group. Thus, if your opponent does not set any new Spell or Trap cards, you are free to disregard a potential [ccProd]Torrential Tribute[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd] and summon a second Bear the following turn.

The Order of the Set

I recently watched a game where a player went Tenki into Bear first turn and set 2 cards. The opponent play [ccProd]Heavy Storm[/ccProd] and destroyed [ccProd]Forbidden Lance[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd]. The next turn, the Fire Fist player set 2 more spells or traps. Do you have a clue as to what they might be? It seems that asking this would simply be asking you to pick two cards from the initial list of cards Fire Fists play and that it could be anything from Bottomless Torrential to Fiendish Prison. Is there any logical way to rule out some of the cards on that list?

mirror forceWell let’s say that you’re the Fire Fist player and you open a hand of Tenki, Lance, [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd], Bottomless, [ccProd]Fiendish Chain[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Dimensional Prison[/ccProd]. What are you likely to set the first turn? If this were your hand, do you think you would set the [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Forbidden Lance[/ccProd]? It’s unlikely that that is the optimal play. Why? [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Dimensional Prison[/ccProd] are cards that deal with a threat after it is already on the board. Let’s say you want to play around [ccProd]Mystical Space Typhoon[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Heavy Storm[/ccProd] as best you can. You concede that you lose harder to Heavy, but the odds are significantly higher that the opponent will open with [ccProd]Mystical Space Typhoon[/ccProd] than Heavy because there are 3 MSTs and only 1 Heavy. Therefore, you decide you want to set 2. You still want to play around Heavy as best as you can, so is there any 2 that are better to set?

If you set [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Dimensional Prison[/ccProd] and your opponent plays [ccProd]Heavy Storm[/ccProd], you’re left with Fiendish and Bottomless in hand. They are now free to attack over your Bear and Fiendish and Bottomless will do very little to whatever they used to attack over Bear. If instead you set Fiendish and Bottomless first and they play [ccProd]Heavy Storm[/ccProd], you now have [ccProd]Dimensional Prison[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd] to deal with whatever they used to get over Bear. Therefore, it is logical to assume that they would set cards like Bottomless or Fiendish before they set cards like [ccProd]Mirror Force [/ccProd]or [ccProd]Dimensional Prison[/ccProd].

Bottomless Trap HoleNow that we know what the Fire Fist player would be thinking when they set their Lance and Mirror Force first turn, we can assume it is unlikely that they have cards like Bottomless or Fiendish in their hand as they would be more likely to set those first.

So as I as I said, we played Heavy on the Lance and Force and they set two more cards the following turn. Keep in mind that it is possible that they drew a card like Bottomless or Fiendish, but it is impossible that they drew two cards in their one additional turn. Because of this, we can assume that one card has the potential of being a Fiendish, Bottomless, or other card that responds to summons, or a card that responds to attacks like [ccProd]Dimensional Prison[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd], but that the other card can almost certainly not be a card that responds to summons because they only had 1 draw to draw a card that responds to summons.

Let’s say that we draw a [ccProd]Mystical Space Typhoon[/ccProd] for our following turn. We decide to use it on one of the new spell or traps and we hit [ccProd]Bottomless Trap Hole[/ccProd]. We can now assume that they drew this for their turn and that the other was a card that they opened with. Because we know that the other card is a card that they opened with and we know they set Lance and Force first turn, where if they had Bottomless/Fiendish they would set that first, we can assume that the other card that we did not play Typhoon on is a card like [ccProd]Dimensional Prison[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd].

torrential tributeThe First Pitfall

What happens when we’re in a similar situation, except they did not summon a Bear. This opens the possibility of Torrential. We play [ccProd]Heavy Storm[/ccProd] and hit Lance and [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd]. They set two more cards the following turn. We play Typhoon on Bottomless and now know that the other cannot be a card that responds to summons like Torrential because they would have set it first turn and they logically drew Bottomless for their turn. We summon our second Bear and they play Torrential. What happened here?

One thing you’re going to have to do is evaluate the skill level of your opponent. In this scenario, it’s evident that you’re playing against someone of a lower skill level as they either had Bottomless, Torrential, or both the first turn and still opted to set [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd] and Lance and ignored the possibility Heavy. Well why did you set [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd] first turn? “I don’t want to be attacked” is a nonsensical justification they might give. Certainly the right play would have been to set Bottomless/Torrential first, but a player of a lower skill level might not know that. Because of this, it’s important to gauge how strong your opponent is. You cannot assume that everyone will always make the right play and assuming that everyone is as good as you are is a quick way to lose to a Torrential they shouldn’t have had. That’s why it’s important to ask things like “how many YCSes have you been to?” or “how well have you done in previous YCSes?” before the match begins. This gives you a read on how strong your opponent is.

MysticalSpaceTyphoon-LCYW-EN-ScR-1EThe Quantity of Cards

Let’s continue with our example where the last thing we did was play MST on a Bottomless. We’re going to assume that we have reason to believe they are a stronger player and therefore would have logic to their sets. Because of this, we know the second card is either [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd], [ccProd]Dimensional Prison[/ccProd], or a bluff. Now we should take into account the quantity of each card played. How many [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd]s and how many [ccProd]Dimensional Prison[/ccProd]s are played?

2-3 [ccProd]Dimensional Prison[/ccProd]s and 2 [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd]

Well, 1 [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd] is gone. That means there is 2-3 [ccProd]Dimensional Prison[/ccProd]s and only 1 [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd]. Because of this, we should consider that it is more likely that they have a [ccProd]Dimensional Prison[/ccProd] set than a [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd], but avoid outright losing to [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd] as it is still a possibility.

The Second Pitfall

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of this part of the article is going to be decreased as I planned to use a video talking about reads which gave an example from a game in a second video where Christopher Bowling is playing. Unfortunately, in the last week, Chris has taken down all the Yu-Gi-Oh content on his channel to start a Poker channel instead and the second video is no longer available. I still feel that this is an important lesson to address, so rather than watching the video I’m just going to explain the situation.

Let me start by linking you to Evan Vargas’ video on making reads. Go ahead and watch until 3:23 and then pause the video.

wind-up sharkAt this point, Evan says “I instantly knew what the card was.” Let me explain the situation. Chris’ opponent, let’s just call him Jacob, had a [ccProd]Wind-Up Shark[/ccProd] on the field and a set backrow. Chris had a [ccProd]Wind-Up Rabbit[/ccProd] returning and summoned a [ccProd]Wind-Up Hunter[/ccProd]. Chris attacked Shark with Hunter. His opponent thought for a few seconds and then let Shark die.

Watch from 3:23-7:20 and then pause the video again. What do you think the card is?

Once you think you know what the card is, watch from 7:20 to 9:45. This is where Evan talks about knowing that it was [ccProd]Fiendish Chain[/ccProd] set and gives his reason why he thinks it was that.

Ultimately, he’s right, it was [ccProd]Fiendish Chain[/ccProd] set, but this is a very dangerous practice. He didn’t want to play the [ccProd]Fiendish Chain[/ccProd] because he could either 1) remove with Rabbit or 2) loop his hand MP2 by making Zenmaity with Hunter and Rabbit. That’s true, but what if the set were [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd]? There is still a possibility that he would let the Shark die so that he could not remove something with Rabbit. We don’t want to ignore the possibility of other cards that are also reasonable for them to have in this scenario. At this time, Fiendish was played at 3 and [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd] was played at 0-1. Because of this, it’s more likely that it was [ccProd]Fiendish Chain[/ccProd] set, but it’s also dangerous to outright say that “his set is [ccProd]Fiendish Chain[/ccProd]” when it’s perfectly reasonable to account for the possibility of [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd]. If you say “his set is Fiendish Chain” and make a play to try and attack the opponent for game the following turn, you might get [ccProd]Mirror Force[/ccProd]d because you didn’t take into account that it was logical for him to also have that set. Because of this, it’s important to make a range of cards that it would be reasonable for them to have in that scenario rather than name a specific card only. Naming a specific card ignores all other cards that should be in that range.

That about wraps it up for this week’s article. This is something that doesn’t come overnight and isn’t something you can simply study and know it fully after studying. It takes a lot of practice to effectively be able to make accurate reads. Also remember the dangers of assuming that the opponent is of a comparable skill level and of making a specific read as opposed to a range of reads. This is definitely one of the defining skills that, once refined, will help you move from an average player to a good player. Until next time everybody, play hard or go home!

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

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