The Road to Nationals Pt. 2: A Theme That Brought Us Together

frazier smithDNA Surgery. It was the answer we had all been looking for; a card that can accomplish multiple things at one time and could be activated before or after the troublesome deck went off. We were on the road to nationals with about 12 hours ahead of us, and the only thing I wanted to know was just how good this new side deck card would be.

“So like, exactly what did you do with it,” I asked Steve. “You just flip it immediately and they can’t do anything. They can’t use Power, Fate, Master, Wisdom. Sometimes it shuts down Tower, too. It’s just broken.” I could see that he was confident about it, but for me, it was too soon to draw any conclusions.

I slept most of the way there, which was customary for me since I hate arriving at a destination only to sleep for an entire day. We call that “Black Holing.” I try to avoid it as much as possible since these trips are like a mini-vacation for me. In any event, we made it to our hotel around 11AM, but were too early to check-in. This meant entertaining ourselves in the lobby for an hour, which—with smart phones, iPads, and Yu-Gi-Oh cards—was not too difficult. I had both decks built, Prophecy and Dragons. I wanted to do some real testing on Thursday and Friday, just to sharpen up a bit before the main event. I also wanted to see how effective DNA Surgery was with my own two eyes. 

Obviously, none of these things ended up happening. We spent our free time in Chicago just eating at places we liked and relaxing for the most part. There was little to no test playing, really. For some strange reason, I had an incredible urge to use Prophecy for every duel we did play. A trip to Buffalo Wild Wings on Thursday would have me playing against my friend, Cory Fowser, right at the lunch table. He was using Dragon Rulers and I was playing his and every other Dragon player’s worst nightmare. Our games were neither fair nor close. I was opening the stone cold nuts half of the time, and the other half would be me just countering his hand piece by piece. He was fortunate enough to open with Light and Darkness Dragon a few times, and I was more fortunate to have the one copy of High Priestess of Prophecy just waiting in my hand. I could feel his frustration. The worst part was, I was frustrated, too, because I planned to use Dragons for the tournament.

In those practice games, we never used our side decks. For awhile, I was afraid to be disappointed by trying them out only to find that DNA Surgery wasn’t so good. It was an awkward dilemma. I needed to test it and I needed to know if it was really good or not, and yet I knew that if I tested it and didn’t like it, I would lose all confidence going into the tournament.

Cory and I continued to play sporadically throughout the day, and I kept winning game after game with little to no contention. I knew better, though, especially since this happens to me right before every major event; whatever deck I’ve decided not to use always looks absolutely amazing in testing. I wasn’t about to be snake charmed. It had happened too many times in the past and my gut instinct was telling me that Dragons were the absolute best deck despite what many good players were saying about matchups. In theory, the deck really doesn’t have great matchups, either. You don’t want to play against Evilswarms, Prophecy, or Constellars. You’d hope for mirror matches all day because those were easy, and the best player wins more often than not, but realistically, you are not going to play against strictly mirror matches.

skill drainAt some point in our hotel room on Thursday, I watched Billy play against Silverman in a Dragon mirror match. Silverman was already up two games to one with our zero Super Rejuvenation build. This was great news since the deck seemed to be performing quite well against other good players. The surprise factor of some of the cards in game one was too much to handle. A person who knew the decklist might have a better chance of beating it, obviously, but if you had no idea there were three copies of Vanity’s Emptiness and two copies of Skill Drain in the main, you could be in for a rude awakening.

I told Steve that I had been thinking about a way to fit Super Rejuvenation back into the main and I even made a list. It basically looked like a standard Dragon deck except there were still three copies of Emptiness. That was the card that was winning all of our matches, which is why I didn’t want to touch the quantity.

On the following morning, we talked about the deck again and Steve mentioned that he changed it back to a completely standard build that just teched the Light and Darkness Dragon package. “What happened, why’d you change back?” I was legitimately concerned at this point. We were both so ready coming into this event, so why the sudden change? “I just couldn’t do it; Billy creamed me last night really bad.”

EffectVeiler-ORCS-EN-SR-LEThis news confounded me. I distinctly remember him being up in games yesterday when they finished playing. “I thought you were winning yesterday, did you play again when I left?” “Yeah we played last night and I got destroyed. The games weren’t even close. Pretty sure I might’ve gotten 6 or 7-0ed.” “Wow, really? I just can’t see that with all the main decked hate towards the mirror, but I do agree that we should be playing Super Rejuvenation at least.” “Yeah and like, you need Veiler. You can’t just play without that card…”—“No, I know,” I interrupted. “If you play Rejuvenation, you have to play Veiler so you have something to draw into during the End Phase. The list I showed you yesterday was playing Veiler with the Rejuvenations but it just mained Vanity’s Emptiness, too.”

vanity's emptinessHe stumbled over to his deck box and passed me his main, clearly still disoriented from sleep. “Here, this is what I’m playing.” I took a look and asked, “Oh you’re not playing Emptiness anymore?” “Nah, I don’t think we need that card. It’s only good against one matchup.” “I agree, but I still expect to play infinite Dragons tomorrow. So that means our decks are only three cards different—I’m playing two Emptiness and Card Destruction, and you’re playing  Light and Darkness, Eclipse Wyvern, and Red-Eyes. I still think you’re crazy for not playing Card Destruction, though, that card is so insane.” “Maybe. I don’t know, I just don’t like that card.”

dna surgeryWe chalked our three-card difference up to personal preference. In the next few hours, everyone was showered and dressed, and ready to leave for preregistration. The ride was about forty-five minutes from our hotel but it went by quickly as we quietly explored the city of Chicago. I was still concerned about getting three copies of DNA Surgery for my side deck, and I already knew that ARG was sold out. For some reason, everyone must have come to the same conclusion regarding the card, because as soon as we arrived, it was the only thing people were asking for. I mean literally everyone was asking for it.

I decided that the first course of action would be to make my way over to ARG’s vending booth. I picked up my care package—complete with sleeves, new shirts, and various other things that I’d asked for. After that, I checked the other vendor’s tables to see if they had any copies of DNA Surgery for cheap, but to no avail. The floor would most likely be the best place to look for this card.

There were so many people in the room that I couldn’t imagine leaving without everything I needed. I walked up to the closest table and asked a group of duelists if they had any, and one of them pulled out two from the back of his binder. I asked what he valued them at and he told me to just take them, but only if I signed one of his cards. I obliged and looked for one more.

It took a bit more searching to find the last copy. Most of the people kept asking me, “what does everyone want it for?” I spent time explaining it each time, too. I was surprised to find that so many were uninformed, and yet equally as surprised at how many people were asking for it. Eventually, I came across a guy who gave me the last copy while I reassured him that I would return it at the end of the event.

I was pleased to have completed my side deck within minutes. The anxiety was slowly dissipating. I was just about to relax a little when my phone started vibrating, showing a call from Joe Giorlando. He was excited about Fogo De Chao which was within walking distance of the event, apparently. I told him I was down for the Brazilian Steakhouse since I wasn’t into the whole side event scene too much. Silverman, Billy, Jeff, and Robby were all playing in the Attack of the Giant Card.

We made the walk to Fogo while discussing various topics that were both Yu-Gi-Oh related and non-Yu-Gi-Oh related. The restaurant workers greeted and seated us quickly before taking our drink orders. More discussions ensued about the newly popular DNA Surgery. Since Joe and Paul Clarke were playing Prophecy, they hadn’t tested with it, but for the rest of us who were playing Dragons, it was agreed that it was better than all the other cards people were siding instead.

In no time, we were bombarded with food. I was without a plate when the onslaught began, and it had me all too anxious to find something—anything—to eat with. We devoured tons of meat and even ordered dessert. I went with my usual chocolate lava cake. I don’t know what it is about hot and cold desserts, but I can’t seem to get enough of them.  

maxx cWe talked, took pictures, and compared old IDs before paying the bill and heading back to the event. When we got back, it was only round two of the Giant Card side event and Billy was playing. He was facing off against a much younger kid in a Dragon Ruler mirror match. I was surprised to find out that he had already lost game one, and his hand in game two wasn’t looking so hot, either. Something controversial happened when his opponent activated a baby dragon’s effect and Billy opted to not use one of his two copies of Maxx “C.” I argued that after taking everything into consideration, especially his terrible hand, it would be best to use one of the Maxx “Cs” to help dig for cards, regardless of the fact that it was Redox being summoned. We all knew the standard procedure in that situation was to hold on to your Maxx “C,” but there are always exceptions. Also, if his opponent has Super Rejuvenation, he is going to activate another baby’s effect in that turn to get more value out of his cards, despite the one extra draw that Billy would get from Maxx “C.” In any event, he did not use it and his opponent won the game despite making a series of misplays.

I hung out with Tyree Tinsley and several other players before they began closing the room for the night. Silverman was still playing in the finals while we were waiting right outside the giant double doors. I took some pictures with a Yu-Gi-Oh team known as the Magical Hats, and then decided to sit patiently with Billy and Robby while they play tested more Dragon mirrors. Time passed for what seemed like hours, and Silverman finally emerged from the room as victor of the Giant Card, making it his 9th win in that particular event. He’s only played in twelve of them by the way.

Back at the hotel, we stayed up later than we should’ve, which was nothing new, and probably nothing new to any Yu-Gi-Oh players, honestly. I continued to use Prophecy against my friend Cory, and the results were exactly the same; I was handing out Cold Stone creamings like they were on sale. I stopped caring at some point and said to myself, “I’m already set into what I’m playing, so there’s no point in thinking about making any changes now.”

 I ended up in bed around 2AM, and woke up around 6:30. Once again, we showered and got dressed, then headed out to the event. Most of us had not preregistered so getting there on time was imperative. Luckily, there wasn’t a long line which meant that we were more than likely early. I wrote out my decklist, talked to my sponsor, and then went to register. I briefly spoke to the Konami staff, wishing them all good luck on a smooth event, and walked to a nearby table to relax. Hours later, the pairings for the first round had been posted.

 The usual first round jitters had set in. If I didn’t keep my mouth shut, I’m pretty sure my teeth would’ve been chattering. On the way to my seat, I wished everyone I knew good luck. I arrived to my table before my opponent and began to set up my little workshop—an original grey Spellground mat, an anime double deck box, infinite dice, an ARG notepad and, of course, my Dragon deck. I shuffled it vigorously and sat quietly, awaiting the announcements.

My palms were sweating but I kept them under the table. I looked around, making sure to avoid eye contact with my opponent—just in case he could sense fear through the eyes—and decided to pull out my phone. I scrolled through Facebook without looking at anything in particular, but the comfort of performing a motion that I was so familiar with would help to calm me down. And all of this while my opponent sat there indifferently. I caught a glimpse of his face and wondered if he had any idea of the psychological battle that was going on in my head. Then again, how could he? I was told I have one of the most stern-looking poker faces on the market.

He started shuffling his deck and I noticed a Pot of Duality. This was great news since I could rest assured that he wasn’t playing Dragons or Prophecy, and anything that used that card would most likely be tier two or lower. Just as I was about to come to terms with my anxiety, thanks to slight relief given by the sight of that outdated spell card, a familiar sound began to emanate from the loud speakers. I knew exactly what it was; there was no doubt in my mind. And in that moment, my palms began to sweat even harder. I felt my throat tighten a little as a smile crept across my face, and then I received confirmation when I heard…


Frazier Smith

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