The Importance of Efficient Side Decking Part One

Greetings duelists! My name is Bobby Barone but most of you probably know me by my online alias ‘Exhale’ on various forums. I have had some success at Yu-Gi-Oh! Championship Series and Shonen Jump Championship tournaments across North America and have been playing this game for 5 years now. I am writing this article to shed some light on my thoughts on the importance of side decking.

Whenever I discuss decklists with friends and other duelists at local tournaments, I always ask “What does your side deck look like?” and they almost always respond with “Oh well, it’s not really complete!” or “Oh, I haven’t really spent much time on it yet”, and I immediately think to myself “Why?”. To me, side decking has always been one of the most important aspects of this great game and it bothers me when I see duelists failing at large scale tournaments because they take a decklist they saw on the internet and just throw together a random side deck and hope for the best. I can’t really stress it enough; the side deck is probably one of the most important aspects of this game and if one does not side efficiently, they run the risk of losing games they had a good chance of winning.

I’ll begin by giving a little anecdote; at YCS Rhode Island which I attended this past month, I won 2 out of 10 die-rolls. Most duelists these days will tell you that the die roll is an incredibly important aspect nowadays and that anyone who wins a die-roll will win the match 55-60% of the time. Despite these statistics, I ended up 7-3, losing on day two in time.

Despite losing 8 die rolls and losing 5 game ones throughout the day, I managed to fight my way to a 7-3 finish despite my unfortunate luck with the die and my poor winning percentage on game ones. The main reason for my relative success at YCS Rhode Island was widely due to my side-deck which I believe was built very efficiently.

Whenever friends and I travel to tournaments together, we tend to run the same decklist or at least something very similar. The night before the event, 2-3 people usually walk up to me and ask me to write down what I side in and out for every matchup. They do this because they know that I take side decking very seriously and that I have that kind of information written down anyway. The thing about the current metagame is, despite the large amount of archtypes seeing play today, there is very little variance in the actual decklists. This means that any Tengu Plant deck I face throughout the deck will main maybe 3-5 cards that will be different from another that I am used to. This means that 35-37 of the cards will be exactly the same. The little amount of variance in decklists makes it incredibly easy to plan for side-decking throughout the tournament.

Now onto the actual substance; which cards I think are good for side-decks and which cards are not. First of all, the ideal card to side deck is the card that I can side in for multiple matchups. Cards like Thunder King Rai-Oh, Chain Dissapearance, and Malevolent Catastrophe are great examples of this. Siding cards that are great for multiple matchups instead of cards that are only good for one or two matchups is what makes the difference. People often say that 15 cards is not enough and that they wish they had more side deck space; well that’s probably because they’re siding a relatively small amount of cards which are useful in multiple matchups.

I think that the right amount of cards to side for tier 1 decks is 6-7 and the right amount of cards to side for rogue matchups is 3-4. Whenever I construct a side-deck, I always write down exactly which matchups I will side them in for, and how many cards I am siding in for each matchup. Let’s take a look at my side deck for YCS Rhode Island: (I played Tengu Plants with 2  copies of Tour Guide from the Underworld)

2 Cyber Dragon

2 Thunder King Rai-Oh

2 Puppet Plant

2 D.D. Crow

1 Light-Imprisoning Mirror

2 Chain Dissapearance

2 Malevolent Catastrophe

2 Debunk

Every single card I chose to side deck for the event is good in multiple matchups as you can see; Cyber Dragon is good vs. BW, Gemini, GB, Machina, Karakuri and GK, Thunder King Rai-Oh is good vs. GK, Plants, Karakuri, GB, Samurais and Fairies, Puppet Plant is good vs. Gemini, GK and Samurais, D.D. Crow is good against Frog Monarchs, Frog Synchro, Plants, and Scraps, Chain Dissapearance is good against Frog Monarchs, Frog Synchro, Plants and Samurais when I go first, Malevolent Catastrophe is good vs. Samurais, GB, GK, Gemini, BW, and Machina, and Debunk is good vs. anything that I think will side in 2 D.D. Crow on top of 2 Effect Veilers in an attempt to disrupt my major plays for swings in advantage.

As you can see, every major matchup is covered, and most big matchups are covered more than once. It is important to always be prepared for rogue matchups, and as a result I have decided to forgo cards like Kinetic Soldier which only really shines in one matchup; Samurais, instead making room for cards like Puppet Plant which will help in 2-3 matchups, including one which is my worst matchup (GK).

Another thing that I see a lot of people doing is siding one-of’s. Players like Chris Bowling have done this in the past and for some reason it has worked for him, but in my opinion, for the most part, siding one copy of a card seems redundant. Do you want to see the card or not? If you do, then why are you not playing more? And if you do not, then why are you playing the card at all? To me, players that have side decks consisting of: 1 Thunder King Rai-Oh, 1 Fossil Dyna, 1 Banisher of the Radiance, 1 D.D. Crow, 1 Puppet Plant, 1 Kinetic Soldier, 1 Enemy Controller, 1 Light-Imprisoning Mirror, 1 Debunk, 1 Chain Dissapearance, 1 Malevolent Catastrophe, 1 Effect Veiler, etc just confuse me. In my opinion it is to your advantage to side two copies of cards that you want to see often enough and three copies of cards that are of the utmost important to draw for any given matchup. The probability of opening up with a card that you side one copy of is only 15%, the probability of opening up with a card that you side two copies of  is 28% and the probability of opening up with a card that you side three copies of is 39%. This is if you are playing a 40-card deck and start with a 6-card hand. As you can see, there is a big difference between running two copies of a card in a side-deck and running one copy of a card in a side deck in terms of probability of opening up with it. Playing more copies of cards you want to see often will lead to drawing those cards, and will usually lead to success in the game.

I know that most of what I am posting is common sense to most, but a lot of players do not think this through, and insist on siding 1 copy of each card in hopes of perhaps “diversifying” their side decks. So to summarize everything I just said; side cards that work for multiple matchups, side multiple copies of these cards, and be prepared for the rogue matchups as well as the tier one matchups!

In my next article, I will expand on side deck theory and discuss the importance of planning what to side in and out vs. different matchups using a standard Tengu Plant deck as a template.

Thanks for reading and happy dueling everyone!