The Element of Surprise

There's a lot of luck in the game of Yu-Gi-Oh. That's nothing new, but there are a lot of things you can do to increase your win percentage that people overlook. Correct meta calls, optimal card choices and decks, refined siding skills, and the surprise factor among other things are all small things that add up very quickly. Back in the day the surprise factor could only take you so far. When the Top8 was announced, UDE would give the players all 8 of the decklists to study and prepare against overnight. Any kind of surprise that got you through the swiss rounds that you were counting on to help you win got thrown out the window. None of them would help you fight through the Top8 playoff rounds. Those days are long gone and now you can utilize the surprise factor to help take you all the way to the crown.

Here's a personal example of how the art of surprise can help turn a horrific matchup into a good one. Rewind to YCS Indy 2011. T.G.s had just won the North American WCQ and I had used GKs to Top64 that tournament. The deck had a great plant matchup and I wanted to use it again at Indy but T.G.s posed a serious problem. Horn of the Phantom Beast, Skill Drain, TG1-EM1, and Dark Bribe among others made it hard for GKs to win. I had talked to my friends Jonathan Weigle, Jbob, and Matt Hoey about how to strengthen the matchup and we were all using a single copy of Thunder King Rai-Oh and Forbidden Lance in our mains. Fast-forward to the night before the event and I still didn't feel confident about the matchup. I was driving to Indy with my friend Dalton Bousman and even though we talked about the deck from 9 PM that night to 6 AM Saturday morning, we couldn't find a good consistent way to sway the matchup in our favor. We talked to Jbob when we got to the convention center and you know what we did? We added 2 copies of Malevolent Catastrophe to our sidedecks. In GKs? Exactly. We were banking on the element of surprise to get us there against our hardest matchup.

Before I got knocked out of the tournament by back-to-back Plants opening Tour Guide-Gold Sarc for Trunade (and me not having TKRO, Veiler or Royal Tribute) I was able to pull off a huge Malevolent Catastrophe. I was playing my friend Garon at Table 1 and he was using Gladiator Beasts. He opened with Equeste and 5 backrows and I set Malevolent and Seven Tools before passing back. He attacked, and when I negated his Bribe with Seven Tools it was pretty much all over. You should've seen the look on the faces of him and all the watchers. Dalton battled through a swiss bracket of Robbie Boyajin, Joe Franzo, Alex Vansant and SIX T.G. decks before ending the day in 12th place. He then went on to beat Jesse Samek and only lost to Joe Franzo again who was maining Breaker the Magical Warrior and double Seven Tools. He even opened up with Malevolent Catastrophe against 3 backrows in his feature match! It was pretty unfortunate to watch it get MST'd but he still won 2-0: Then I watched him beat Justin Delton's Gadget deck in the 3rd/4th playoffs by flipping Malevolent vs 3 backrows including 2 Shadow-Imprisoning Mirrors. Successful tech and surprise? I'll let his Blood Mefist speak for itself.

Dalton Bousman (3rd Place – Gravekeepers)
Monsters: 14
3 Gravekeeper’s Spy
3 Gravekeeper’s Descendant
3 Gravekeeper’s Recruiter
3 Gravekeeper’s Commandant
1 Gravekeeper’s Assailant
1 Thunder King Rai-Oh

Spells: 13
1 Book of Moon
1 Dark Hole
2 Royal Tribute
2 Gravekeeper’s Stele
3 Pot of Duality
3 Necrovalley
1 Forbidden Lance

Traps: 13
2 Solemn Warning
2 Seven Tools of the Bandit
1 Solemn Judgment
1 Royal Oppression
1 Mirror Force
1 Torrential Tribute
1 Compulsory Evacuation Device
1 Fiendish Chain
3 Dimensional Prison

Side Deck: 15
2 Fossil Dyna Pachycephalo
2 Kinetic Soldier
2 Cyber Dragon
2 Rivalry of Warlords
2 Gozen Match
2 Effect Veiler
2 Malevolent Catastrophe
1 Thunder King Rai-Oh

Those 2 cards in the side turned his weekend of incredibly hard opponents and matchups into a 3rd Place finish and he was only 2 wins away from winning a T.G. and Tour Guide Plant YCS with GKs. If that doesn't show you the power of surprise then I don't know what will.

Whole side decking strategies can abuse the element of surprise as well. The whole concept of "conversion sides" aims to change your whole deck when your opponent sides in specific cards. Robbie Boyajin used the concept at that same YCS by siding into Stun when his opponents brought in hand traps and cards like Debunk. Even bigger than that in the Gravekeeper-Plant format, people were known to side out of GKs into Blackwings to aggro their opponent who was now drawing dead copies of Gemini Imps, Goldd, Wu-Lord of Dark Worlds, and Nobleman of Crossouts. More recently Paul Cooper created a Hero deck that sided into Wind-Ups at YCS Providence. He would dominate game 2 without fear of hand traps, Fiendish Chains, or Needle Ceilings. At an event where maindecked hand traps weren't as prevalent, Paul could've also found success in a Wind-Up build that sided into Heroes when all that hate came in game 2. These tricks are enough to steal games on their own and are very scary to play against. Once you know what you're up against it's usually too late. You're already drawing dead cards and playing the wrong way to fix it and if you lost the first game you just lost the match. If you had won the first game.. you're now in for a world of confusion on what to side for in Game 3.

The element of surprise isn't limited to single card choices or side strategies either. Alex Reed and Peter Gross were able to capture 1st and 2nd place at YCSes on the same weekend with Chaos Dragons before anyone knew how good they were. The lists were far from optimal too, and really showcases the power of the surprise factor. People were probably reading Lightpulsar Dragon and Darkflare Dragon all day and had no idea how the deck worked or how fast and easily it could OTK. Smack Future Fusion onto the deck and suddenly it's very easy to see how the deck performed so well even though it was only represented by a couple of people. Same could be said about Frazier Smith and Sean McCabe's Gravekeeper deck during YCS Atlanta 2010. Even Wind-Ups surprised people at the last North American WCQ. You can look back at just about every event in the past years and see how someone used the element of surprise to succeed. Even single tech choices like Macro Cosmos in Rabbit last format or Messenger of Peace on Wind-Ups that are now almost considered staple were at first surprise tech choices meant to catch people off guard and take advantage of their vulnerability.

The surprise factor is one of the best ways to succeed in the game. It isn't easy and usually takes a lot of time to think of a good strategy to apply the concept to but hard work always pays off in the end. There's also a really fine line between a good surprise strategy and just a straight out bad idea so that makes it tricky as well. The more you practice with surprise factors the better you'll get at it. Once you master this element of the game it'll open up a world of possibilities. Tricking your opponent and making reads on his cards suddenly become a lot easier once you can get inside their minds and make them do what you want them to do. Remember, if your opponent picks up one of your cards to read it you've pretty much already won the match. Same if they walk into a trap they weren't prepared for. Don't be the person getting tricked. Be the one wiping away 5 backrows with 1 card in GKs at Table 1 of a YCS! Until next time!

- Mike Steinman