Slicing the Top Cut

So with the North American World Championship Qualifier (which will again be referred to as Nationals from this point forward) only a few weeks away, I think it is only suitable to sit down and have a little chat about the premiere level tournament structure in the game of Yu-Gi-Oh. Having played in the majority of YCS events over the course of the last few years, and having played in the largest trading card game tournament in history, there are most certainly a few aspects of premiere level play I want to draw attention to.

The first is the somewhat recent decision to continually push back the amount of players in the Top cuts of a tournament. The Yu-Gi-Oh trading card game began with the idea that placing in the Top 8 was the ultimate goal at any, at the time, Shonen Jump Championship. Of course as the game grew and the fields widened there was a need to expand the opportunity for players to make the Top cut. There were times in this game’s history where finishing Swiss with an x-1 record did not guarantee a spot in the Top cut – something we would cringe at thinking about now. So alas the Top 8 was expanded to Top 16 and eventually Top 32, making it so that virtually all players who end up x-2 will be in position to play in the Top cut. And while I would strongly favor additional Swiss rounds (I am talking a total of 16+) and a cut to Top 8, I can concede the idea of cutting to an expanded bracket – like a Top 32.

YCS Long Beach pushed the limits of a Top cut by stretching it to a Top 64 – but for the size of the field, I guess it was warranted. But have any of the readers taken a look at the FAQs on the Konami website? If you have you might have come across this little tidbit.

Q: How many Duelists will advance to the Top Cut?

A: If there are 129 – 2048 Duelists registered for the World Championship Qualifier Main Event, the tournament will cut to Top 64 after all rounds of Swiss are completed.

If there are 2049 or more Duelists registered for the World Championship Qualifier Main Event, the tournament will cut to Top 128 after all rounds of Swiss are completed.

No sir you did not misread that – we would be playing in a Top 128.

My first instinct to reading that was to question if it was a typo or not. Cutting to a Top 128 is absolute insanity in terms of keeping in place the integrity of a tournament. This year’s champion is going to need to survive the 12 rounds of Swiss with anywhere from a 12-0 record to 9-3, but ultimately need to run off a streak of seven straight in order to win the tournament. Certainly it is an accomplish of anyone to run off seven straight wins at a premiere level tournament, but I am not going to necessarily say that is indicative of someone who deserves the crown of National champion. Cutting to a Top 128 stacks the odds so heavily against better players because it gives the game of Yu-Gi-Oh seven more chances to dictate the winner without giving a player a chance to mitigate it.

When I enter a YCS I mentally get over the fact that I am going to lose rounds of the event to things completely and totally out of my control. An opponent is going to win the dice roll and open with a combination of cards that I have no way of combating. It is something we all need to come to grips with if we want to do well at these events. My problem with a Top 128 is that it puts too much added emphasis on seven additional rounds where no longer can top players have the ability to put a round they had no control over behind them. If we were to take the additional rounds in the Top 128 and add Swiss rounds then the top players would be able to be handed an uncontrollable lose over those rounds – but still have a chance once the top cut rolls around. An elongated Swiss structure, that cuts to a Top 8, makes it so that there are only a few rounds where top players have their back against the wall. This idea that a National champion should be crowned after seven rounds of single-elimination devalues the title in my opinion because it rewards the person who is able to dodge the underlying elements of luck in Yu-Gi-Oh for the longest time – instead of rewarding the players who are able to mitigate those elements for the longest period of time.

And if we really need to cut to a Top 128 how about we get rid of this whole best two-out-of-three thing and institute what Magic the Gathering use in the single elimination on the Pro Tour – best three-out-of-five. If we are trying to crown a National champion (or even YCS champion for that matter), why should time be an issue? I am all for sticking around the extra few minutes if it means that the matches played that are determining the National champion are being held under circumstances which give the best players the most opportunities to balance the games inherent luck. What this would also do is weakened the ability of suicide bomber decks, such as Final Countdown, because the Top cut would have four games where the opponent is able to side in cards like Stealth Bird and Royal Decree. So at the same time that we are designing a tournament structure which favors the better players, we are helping to damage decks no one wants to see succeed anyway!

And while I am on the topic of possible ways to fix the Top cut structure in the game of Yu-Gi-Oh how about this one. If we really need to cut to a Top 128 why not do something to reward the player who goes 12-0 during the Swiss rounds. That player could feasible go undefeated throughout the Swiss rounds, only be knocked out by the lucky guy who went 9-3 and squeezed into 128 place. So why not steal another idea from Magic the Gathering and give the player with the higher ranking at the end of Swiss the option to either go first or second throughout the Top cut. This would help reward those players who were able to do exceptionally well in the Swiss rounds – like going undefeated for example. And it would completely eliminate the element of luck in winning the dice roll throughout the Top cut. No one wants to know a National champion was crowned because their 9 beat a 6 and they opened double Rescue Rabbit games one and three.

So what do you guys think about cutting to a Top 128 at Nationals? Do you think it is a viable way to crown a National champion? Would you prefer additional rounds of Swiss and a cut to a Top 8? Would anyone out there be receptive to some of the suggestions I have made? All in all, how do you guys feel about the current tournament structure in the game of Yu-Gi-Oh, and what would you like to see change?

Joe Giorlando

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