YCS San Diego Top 32: Theory in Practice

Johnny LiIn war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns. – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Greetings, I’m back with article #7.  Today, I will discuss a journey I took with two decks of my own rather than two fan-submitted decks.  Since I am primarily Deck Doctor for ARG, I usually don’t say much outside of commenting on fan-submitted decks.  However, there are some ideas about this game that I feel the player base would enjoy reading.  I don’t normally get to discuss those ideas when I doctor decks, so I’ve written them in this article.

In this YCS report, I will touch on highlights of the event, including controversies, notable matches, my preparation strategy, judge stories, how I handled conflict, the philosophy behind important decisions I made, and a round-by-round breakdown of my journey.  This report is not brief, but is rather a deeper look into my Yugioh story.  Come journey with me as I tell you about the game I love.  I hope that you laugh a little, learn a little, and at the very least, are well entertained.  Enjoy.

P.S. I don’t think it should all be read in one sitting.


Table of Contents

I. The Philosophy of Epic Dawn

II. A Halo Appears – 30 Cards toward Victory

III. Day 1 – Still as Water

IV. The One True Style – Mono Mermail

V. Day 2 – On Rushing Tides

VI. Afterword: Continuing Ambition


I. The Philosophy of Epic Dawn


In war, numbers alone confer no advantage.  Do not advance relying on sheer military power. – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The night I returned home from YCS Austin, I was up late, not ready to go to bed because I was disappointed in my performance.  While placing 169th put me in the respectable top 12% of players, I knew I had not yet had a premier event that actually worked out well for me.  The nature of my failure frustrated me greatly – my losses were uncontrollable.  I had lost all but one or two die rolls.  I had lost to a player who didn’t know how his Solemn Warning worked against my cards.  Seeking vengeance, I impulsively searched airfare to San Diego that same night.  To my surprise, it was affordable.  Another opportunity surfaced just over the horizon.

However, I questioned whether I was settling for less by trying to prove myself in a sealed event.  My friend Matt replied, “To be honest, I think topping San Diego would be a bigger deal than topping a normal YCS.”  I asked what he meant by that, and we proceeded to discuss why performance in sealed would in fact be a greater achievement than performance in constructed.  There are a few arguments to consider.

First, the only true merit of constructed play over sealed is that everyone shares equal access to the same card pool.  However, this one thing constructed has going for it is heavily offset by what is actually IN the card pool.  Games are stolen constantly by nutty hands, evolved as a result of a decade’s worth of power creep.  The results of advanced format speak for themselves – consider how it is possible for a player who never won at his own locals to take an entire event while being unable to afford Solemn Warning for his deck?  These days, it seems one in every three YCS champions matches a similar description.

However, Battle Pack: Epic Dawn mirrors an older time in Yugioh’s history, and gathers together some of the most balanced cards in the game before power creep started to snowball out of control, with a few exceptional power spells above the curve.  In a way, Battle Pack strips players naked and challenges them with the fundamentals of the game.

Sealed Play demands of the player, “Who is the beatdown, and who is the control right now?”  Sealed Play demands, “If you play this card now, what will you do when you need it later?  Why must it be played NOW?”  Sealed Play demands, “You are down on cards.  Now do something about it and take back control of the game.”  Sealed Play demands, “Play your life points as a resource – do you even know how?”  Sealed Play demands, “All of these cards have good effects in a vacuum.  Now evaluate the rest of your list and identify which are actually bad in this 50-card context.”  And perhaps simplest and most relevant of all, Sealed Play demands, “Are you familiar with game mechanics and problem solving card text?”  If you can meet the demands of Sealed Play, he will be your friend and honor you with crowns.  If you cannot answer his demands, he will leave you wallowing in defeat.

As I played round after round on day 1, I rest assured in the knowledge that nine times out of ten, my opponent had to actually be BETTER than me to win.  Usually only one in ten pools is truly so good that a player will regularly beat someone better with it.  I went into every game with the satisfaction of knowing that no one was going to steal a win off me with a strategy that Jeff or Billy invented, that no one was going to prevent me from playing Yugioh at all because he opened a costless Solemn Judgment with 2400 attack and supportive backrow.  I took delight in the fact that every player was responsible for his own strategy.  Netdecking would be impossible.  The same 35-card skeleton plus 5-cards of personal preference Mermail deck was not going to carry anyone through day 1.  Best of all, this was not going to be a dice-roll format.  I’m the worst at dice rolls.  I once rolled for a dollar and somehow lost my house before the die stopped spinning.


II. A Halo Appears – Thirty Cards toward Victory


He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated. – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Thus began my preparation.  While I didn’t go all-out like Pennington, who bought two cases to practice sealed play, I did use Excel to generate several pools and test with them against my friends.  As I grew in knowledge of the format and its card pool, this was for certain: I could not excuse my failures.  One of my Yugioh pet peeves is when players chronically try to excuse their failures.  Allow me to translate some of these excuses.

“I couldn’t draw anything.” – My deck has bad card choices.
“He sacked me.” – I am not interested in reflecting on my losses.
“He ripped the answer.” – I failed to play around his outs.
“I didn’t face any meta!” – I did not practice thoroughly.
“At least I’m not cheap/don’t run meta/don’t netdeck.” – I am unwilling to adapt my strategy to the evolving game due to a personal code of morals that is acknowledged in neither the rulebook nor the tournament structure.
“I prefer to be original.” – I am afraid of what losing a mirror match implies about my level of skill, so I will cling to an unoccupied niche and claim this niche as my defense against any and all accusations against my ability.
“I play for fun.” – I am willing to redefine a word in order to seize a nonexistent moral high ground in the face of failure.

The wonderful thing about the day I had ahead of me was that no one would be using these excuses on me, unless they were crazy.  Of course, I would not be able to claim these excuses for myself as well.  This would truly be a battle of technical skill, game knowledge, and the ability to conserve power cards.

I slept for nearly 11 hours the night before day 1 because I knew my physiological state would greatly impact my performance, especially when I wasn’t going to be running a pre-constructed deck whose combos I had learned inside and out.  In the morning, I gorged on food, slamming globs of carbohydrates, protein, and fat into my system.  I stuffed three bananas into my backpack to eat throughout the day because, like Frazier advised in an article, eating a big meal during an event will turn you into a sloth.  I made this mistake at two YCSes before learning to skip big meals during an event.

Day 1 got off to a very late start.  I was excited about receiving my card pool because I was confident that I had the format locked down and would construct a good deck no matter what I was dealt.  I knew what cards were traps (looked good but were false temptations), such as Solemn Judgment, Dark Bribe, Forbidden Chalice, Tour Guide, Makyura, and DMOC.  I knew what cards were borderline (their efficacy depending on the rest of your pool), such as Morphing Jar, Cyber Jar, Soul Exchange, Reckless Greed, Shadow Spell, and Guardian Sphinx.  I knew what cards were staple shoo-ins (I’d run them just about every time), such as Blue Thunder T-45, Dark Valkyria, Yaksha, Offerings to the Doomed, and Fox Fire.  Of course, there were also godlike cards which belonged in their own tier, such as the banned staples, the Monarchs, Treeborn Frog, Gorz, and Tragoedia.

Beyond the tiers of trap, borderline, staple, and tier 1, there was an even higher tier in my mind for this format.  The true Tier Zero of Battle Pack, to me, was Ring of Destruction and Pot of Greed (with Charity, Treeborn, Gorz, and Feather Duster following really close right after them).  Pot of Greed says draw 2 cards, but its real effect is something absurd, along the lines of, “When you activate this card, if you and your opponent are about even, you are now winning the game.”  Ring of Destruction’s effect is just as absurd, because the card is chainable, is generic threat removal with almost no relevant limitations, and is a safeguard against losing in its own right, especially in a format where main decks are thinner and games take more turns, giving you a high probability of seeing the card.

Thus, there was one word I repeated over and over in my mind as the judge was about to hand me my card pool.  “Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring.”  I chanted the name over and over as if my words were an incantation that would make the card appear on my deck list.  And then, the list came.

I’ve had friends who like to read the last chapter of a book before they start at the beginning, just because they want to know how it ends right away.  I always thought that was strange, but this particular morning, I mirrored their behavior.  As soon as I received my list, my eyes instinctively darted right to the Trap section.  There it was, a halo of death: Ring of Destruction.

I held the paper over my face to conceal my excitement.  The players around me gave me strange looks.  I was beaming.  I felt as if someone had just whispered in my ear, “You’re making day 2.”  Then I looked at my list more carefully to identify other power cards.  As far as other tier 0 cards, only Treeborn.  Tier 1 cards?  Change of Heart, Duality, Typhoon, Mobius, Torrential.  A handful of strong cards as well: double Witch, plus every rank 3 and 4 except Pearl.

While 20 minutes were going to be allotted for deck building, we spent a long period of time just looking at our decklists while the judges sorted out issues.  I took advantage of that time to pretty much finalize my list before we were allowed to touch or look at our cards.  I didn’t have to read my cards to know what I wanted to play.  I did three passes over my list.  In the first pass, I marked everything I would play without question.  In the second pass, I marked everything I would play if there was still room in my deck.  In the third pass, I marked everything I would play if there was too much room in my deck.  In the end, there were 27 cards I really needed for my deck.  When the 20-minute timer finally started and we were finally allowed to see and touch our cards, all I had left to do was sleeve my deck and decide on the last 3 cards I would main deck.

Pool #1505

Starfoils: Change of Heart, Cybernetic Magician, Gaap, Goblin Elite, Level Eater, Power Frame, Torrential Tribute, Treeborn Frog, Wind-Up Zenmaister, Witch

Monsters: Ape Fighter, Bazoo, Zephyros, Charcoal, Poison Cloud, Cybernetic, DMOC, Exarion, Fortress Warrior, Giant Soldier, Goblin Elite, Grave Squirmer, Guardian Sphinx, Gyroid, Hedge Guard, Hammerhead, Makyura, Mobius, Morphing Jar, Old Vindictive, Possessed Dark, Power Giant, Flame Sprite, Stealth Bird, Witch

Spells: Ego Boost, Fiend’s Sanctuary, MST, Offerings, Duality

Traps: Divine Wrath, Half, Magic Drain, Ceiling, Ring, Type-8

Extra: Grenosaurus, Number 17, Number 39, Zenmaister

Out of these 50 cards, 5 would go to my extra deck, and 30 would go to my main deck.  This meant I had to identify 15 cards to comprise my side deck.  Immediately I crossed off both Cybernetics, Level Eater, Power Frame, Poison Cloud, Charcoal, DMOC, Hammerhead, Makyura, Possessed Dark, Power Giant, Fiend’s Sanctuary, and Type-8.  I had to get rid of a couple more, and I was stuck on choices like Hedge Guard, Gyroid, Flame Sprite, Stealth Bird, Fortress Warrior, and Needle Ceiling.  None of these choices seemed that appealing to me.  Ultimately I excluded Fortress Warrior and Flame Sprite, though I ended up siding in Fortress Warrior constantly.


III. Day 1 – Still as Water


He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not, will be victorious. – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

While the player meeting began at 10:37, we didn’t start the first round until closer toward noon.  The Head Judge made a few key announcements: 1,523 entrants, 9 rounds, 19 points to advance to day 2.  I jotted down the possible records one could have in order to earn at least 19 points in my notebook..6-0-3, 6-1-2, 5-0-4, 6-2-1, and of course, 7-anything-anything.

Round 1 – Roberto Garcia
Table 484
Dice Roll: 3 – 11 (2nd)
Game 1: 8000 – 7200 – 6800 to 8000 – 7700 – 6700 – 5600 – 4000 – 1800 – 0 win
Game 2: 8000 – 7000 – 4300 – 2000 to 8000 – 7700 – 5600 – 4600 – 2100 – 0 win

I always appreciate playing people who are friendly.  Roberto was a refreshing first round opponent because he was just that.  Duelists in general are in better spirits at the start of the day as opposed to the end.  We shook hands and our duel went underway.  Because it was round 1, it would be very difficult to gauge my opponent’s skill level since we were both playing with a clean record.  To gather what little information I could, I pile shuffled his cards before the first game and counted his deck to see whether he was experienced with sealed play.  His deck count was something like 36 cards, so I figured it would be safe to play as if he were inexperienced.  Sure enough, he committed cards too early.  His pool was quite strong, too, containing the god-tier Gorz.

In game 2, I maintained the philosophy of being still like water, allowing my opponent to strike first and playing my life points as a resource.  As you can see in the LP score, I took lethal hits, going down to 2000 LPs, in an effort to conserve my strongest plays for the end.  My opponent ended up making day 2 but not topping.

To my left, I saw Ellis Maddalena in the process of defeating YCS Champion Steven Silverman.  Steven looked kind of disappointed, and I don’t blame him.  His opponent did not know that turn player resolves Cyber Jar’s effect first.


Round 2 – Sam Gilbert
Table 359
Dice Roll: 2 – 5 (2nd)
Game 1: 8000 to 8000 – 6900 – 5000 – 3600 – 2700 – 1300 – 0 win
Game 2: 8000 – 7200 – 5500 – 3400 – 2300 – 0 to 8000 – 7700 loss
Game 3: 8000 – 7500 – 6700 – 5100 – 4500 – 3900 – 2300 – 0 to 8000 – 7900 – 7600 – 6600 – 6200 – 3100 – 2100 – 0 draw

I will speak the most on this round because it was the best match I had.

When Sam and I sat down, he pulled out the goods one usually associates with serious players: SG mat, calculator case, and all.  I made a mental note to play as if he were good.  In game 1, we threw around cards like Exarion Universe and Scapegoat, and it was starting to feel like Goat Control.  I took complete control with an Ape Fighter boosted three times, while also taking advantage of his clogged monster zones after the resolution of his Goats.

In an attempt to salvage the game, he summoned Doomcaliber and attacked into Ape Fighter to negate its effect.  I kind of chuckled on the inside because this was a ruling I had always wanted clarification on, but never could find a definitive answer to.  In the past, I had googled Doomcaliber vs. BLS Envoy (which is an analogous situation to the one we had), and some very reputable judges disagreed on the issue.  The reason this ruling is controversial is because it depends on the event, whether it’s UDE or Konami, and the type of effect, even though in THEORY Dolkka/Doomcal and BLS/Guaiba/Ape Fighter should all be interchangeable on this ruling.  Also, Konami emails can be forged.  If you want some extra confusion thrown in, on Nintendo DS, Doomcaliber negates BLS but not Ape Fighter.  And the DS is usually reliable on rulings.  This ruling hurts my head and it should hurt yours too.

We called for a judge, and he was honestly clueless.  Having judged a YCS myself, I can easily spot who is new to judging and who isn’t.  This judge was rude to us without reason.  We calmly told him that I activated two different chains before the damage step, and he raised his nose in the air and mocked us for thinking that two chains could be activated before the damage step.  He asked how it was even possible.  “It’s the battle step,” I said to the judge.  When Sam mentioned substeps, the judge scoffed at us and said there were no such things as substeps.  We asked for an appeal, and as the judge left to get an AHJ, Sam and I slammed our faces onto the table in disbelief.  Blood splattered all over our mats.  Those who were at the event may recognize which judge I am talking about.  This judge had a very distinct look and was the only judge I found to be rude all weekend.  The others were all very accommodating and helpful.

Judge Robert to the rescue!  At YCS Dallas Robert was my team leader, and so I trusted him to rule our situation correctly.  Robert clarified that although Doomcaliber was destroyed, it could still tribute itself as a destroyed monster since it was not yet in the grave (strange, I know).  Thus, my Ape Fighter was destroyed, but Sam’s life dropped from 36 to 27 in the process.  In the end, I drew a Gaap that would have absolutely decimated his life through the Goat tokens, but I didn’t even need it since I had Change of Heart.  I also had a set Ring that I did not activate.

In game 2, I was somewhat concerned when the duel started dragging because I had seen Feather Duster in game 1.  The problem with your opponent having blowout cards like Ring or Duster in sealed is that a long game practically guarantees he will use it on you eventually.  Sure enough, he Dusted me for 2 cards.  In addition, he used Machina Fortress to pitch a Bazoo out of my hand, leaving me with flip effect monsters.  I set a backrow and Old Vindictive, hoping that he would think it’s the Morphing Jar I revealed off Fortress and play into it.  He didn’t.  Next, I set Jar, and he destroyed that one with I think Shield Crush.  I shook my head and went, “Why didn’t you do that to the first set?”  “Come on..I’m not awful,” he replied.  I grinned and realized it was true, this guy knew how to play.  Setting Jar second was too obvious; I should have done it first to really throw him off.  At one point he got a ruling wrong, thinking that Card Guard’s counter can protect Card Guard itself (it cannot in case you were wondering).  Through small things like this I took control of momentum as the game progressed, and got excited at another potential 2-0 finish, but then he committed everything into a DMOC play.  I had no outs, so we went to game 3.

If you observe the score in game 3, I did next to nothing to Sam’s life points.  Chipping him down to 6200 was all I could muster as he beat away at my life.  In addition, I think he had figured out that he no longer needed to play around Feather, Storm, or Raigeki since he did not see it games 1 and 2.  He took full control with a strong field, still at 6200 life.  Towards endgame, I drew Ring, and tried my best to think of a way to use it to force us both to die.  The task seemed impossible – I was at a 3900 life point deficit.  Just as luck would have it, Sam ran Solemn Judgment.  I was able to force its activation, bringing him down to 3100 life to my 2300.  I was still very concerned because he had beatsticks on board, and I had no way to close an 800 life deficit in order to end it all with a halo.  Sam summoned a Beast King, and the 1900 clock would have ended the match in two turns.  However, Sam had other plans.  In order to seal off any potential rips off the top, he wanted to win in one turn.  So he activated Skill Drain.  I mentally paused and thought, “This is incredible,” because my opponent had given me a way to avoid losing.  By then, time had been called.  He attacked with a BKB, I Ringed for 3,000, and our match ended in a draw.  This was the only time Ring saved me the entire day in 9 rounds of swiss.  I apologized after the match because I believed that it was the right thing to do in the situation, and assured him that I would be a good tiebreaker.  In the end, it didn’t matter.  He ended up going undefeated after our draw, taking 3rd place on day 1 with 25 points.  However, he did not top on day 2.


Round 3 – Agustin Merin
Table 190
Dice Roll: 7 – 4 (1st)
Game 1: 8000 – 7900 – 5800 – 3400 – 2800 to 8000 – 7700 – 7000 – 4800 – 4200 – 2300 – 0 win
Game 2: 8000 – 5800 – 5400 – 4600 to 8000 – 7400 – 7300 – 6600 – 6000 – 3400 – 2900 – 2600 – 1350 – 0 win

My opponent’s deck was not sleeved.  I pile shuffled his cards as I did in round 1 to count his deck and ascertain his approximate skill level.  It was in the mid-30s.  While I did this, I also arranged his cards so that they were all oriented in the same direction.  My opponent had a very honest demeanor, so I did not at all suspect him to be cheating with upside-down cards.  Still, I arranged them properly anyway just because it’s the rules and it’s better to be cautious than careless.

In game 1, we had a medium-length duel, and the only terrifying card I saw in his deck was Snatch Steal.  In game 2, I set Typhoon early in case he drew Snatch, but I ended up using it on another card to advance my gamestate.  I left him topdecking, realizing that Snatch Steal was the only thing that would keep him afloat.  My opponent realized this too because he sheepishly uttered “Snatch Steal” before he drew for his final turn.  It wasn’t Snatch.

Starting from this round, I stayed in my seat after my rounds because I knew that the people sitting around me were likely to be my future opponents in the rounds to come.  I predicted this was especially likely since players with draws were being paired against each other.  For this reason, I looked around after my match to scout the other players with draws and learn their decks as well as their method of play.


Round 4 – Eddy Giron
Table 95
Dice Roll: 6 – 3 (1st)
Game 1: 8000 to 8000 – 7000 – 6300 – 3700 – 2700 – 1700 – 0 win
Game 2: 8000 – 7000 – 6000 – 3900 to 8000 – 7000 – 4800 – 2100 – 900 – 0 win

At this point I was astonished that I was 2 – 2 in dice rolls.  Average luck is better luck than I usually get at a YCS or regional.  I’m happy just to go first half the time.  In game 1, I applied pressure with Stealth Bird and rode it to victory.  I still don’t like the card, though.  If I were allowed to run a 27 card deck, I would consider dropping Bird.  In game 2, he made a number of suboptimal plays due to carelessness and a lack of thorough rulings knowledge on his own Stealth Bird.  In one instance, he used Soul Exchange to tribute summon a monster and attack.  I said, “Wait.  Are you ending your main phase?”  He replied, “Yes.  Battle phase, attack.”  I reminded him that if he is ending his main phase, then he has gone directly to the end phase due to Soul Exchange.  He was forced to pass turn with an untidy setup due to his carelessness.


Round 5 – Robert Mushkatblat
Table 46
Dice Roll: 9 – 10 (2nd)
Game 1: 8000 – 5800 – 6800 – 4600 – 4100 to 8000 – 7700 – 5500 – 3300 – 800 – 0 win
Game 2: 8000 – 7500 – 7200 – 7100 – 5100 – 4100 – 3800 to 8000 – 5100 – 2600 – 100 – 0 win

I think this was one of the few rounds where I was unable to outrace my opponent to the seat facing the clock.  I love facing the match clock.  My opponent did not play perfectly here, and it cost him.  After the match, I observed the match going on to my right because this Japanese player had this ridiculously good field and he seemed to have too many power cards in his deck.  To make it worse, he had a draw on his record, so I was almost certain I will have to face him…


Round 6 – Abel Rodriguez
Table 25
Dice Roll: 7 – 6 (1st)
Game 1: 8000 – 6200 – 4700 – 4500 to 8000 – 6200 – 5700 – 5200 – 4700 – 4400 – 4300 – 3600 – 3100 – 1400 – 0 win
Game 2: 8000 – 7900 – 6100 – 6000 – 4300 – 2000 – 100 – 0 to 8000 – 7900 – 7400 – 6400 – 5900 – 3400 loss
Game 3: 8000 – 9000 – 7900 to 8000 – 7550 – 6550 – 4750 – 4650 win

By round 6 I felt at ease for two reasons.  One was that I didn’t believe I had made any errors in play and had 2-0’d my opponents with the exception of one player.  The other was that I only needed to win two out of the next four matches to make it to day 2.  In theory, a 50% win rate would be no sweat.

One thing I liked about my round 6 opponent was that he kept my deck literally on the table face-down when I asked him to shuffle parallel to the ground.  This is truly a sign of someone who has no intent to cheat.  However, when I pile shuffled his deck to count the cards, he peeked at my deck.  This is because players typically do not pile shuffle decks other than their own, and we both had black sleeves.  These two factors combined led him to think that he had his own deck.  He peeked because he was thrown off about whose deck was whose.  The circumstances suggested that it was just an accident on his part, so I did not fault him for his mistake.  I asked him what cards he saw, and he said, “Just some cards that I also run.  Treeborn Frog, etc.”  He named some cards in his deck.  This was another reason I liked my round 6 opponent.  He got free information off of me and then felt sorry enough that he volunteered information about his own deck in return for the accidental advantage he gained from peeking.

While it was clear that some of my opponents were significantly better than others, a common thread that tied all of them was that they all misplayed against me at some point.  I like that sealed play gives players more opportunities to misplay, and by consequence, rewards the player who plays better – generally.  In this match, my opponent attacked my Bazoo, even after reading it, overlooking that it was still at 2500.

In game 3, a really funky matter came up.  I attacked and my opponent had no response to the attack and no response in the battle step.  In the damage step, he activated Kunai with Chain on Raging Flame Sprite.  He intended to use the effect that does not say it is in response to attack declaration.  I called for a judge, and none other than Anti-Tcb aka Alex, my favorite Head Admin on DN (I am a junior admin on DN) and the only person I go to when I am unsure about a ruling, answered the call.  He ruled that it could be used.  Since we were in time, we had nothing to lose with an appeal.  In addition, I wanted to satisfy my curiosity about Kunai since it has rather unique wording.  Robert came to answer the appeal and said the HJ had overruled Alex and stated that the card could only be used in attack declaration.  We all had a weird look on our faces because the ruling didn’t seem to match the card text, but Head Judge’s word is final so we continue play as normal.  This took place on turn 3.

On turn 4, Abel had his last shot to close a deficit of 3250 LP.  He had a strong field, so it did look somewhat possible, provided he had the right cards.  Pot of Duality off the top followed by a flip summoned Slate Warrior at 2400 helped his situation out considerably.  In his main phase, he attempted to activate Kunai with Chain.  I called a judge over again, and as predicted, the judge ruled that the activation was legal.  Again, everyone in the room was pretty sure that Kunai worked just fine outside of attack declaration as long as you were using its second effect.  I agreed with everyone’s opinion on the activation.  However, I appealed because if I were to go along with everyone else’s opinion, I would be contradicting the ruling that the Head Judge had given just one turn earlier on the exact same card.

The judge left to enter the appeal into the computer, and some dialogue went on about our situation at the front desk.  The entire time we were waiting on the appeal, Abel said in a defeated tone, “I just want to scoop right now.”  I urged him not to because we’d had a good match so far, and I didn’t want him to lose unless I properly earned my victory.  Finally, the Head Judge himself came to our table instead of Robert this time, and apologized to the both of us for the confusion.  It turned out he had made a mistake with the first ruling he gave us.  This was a relief to me because I was so confused about his initial ruling on Kunai since it seemingly contradicted the card text and the opinion of the floor judges.

Finally, after the second appeal on the SAME CARD (wow), we were able to continue the duel.  Abel made the play he needed to make but was unable to close the life point deficit.  He ended his turn and I shook his hand as my last turn in time was irrelevant to the outcome of the game.  To give him peace of mind, I showed him my face down Torrential, Treeborn Frog, and my next draw to demonstrate that I would have won regardless of time and regardless of how Kunai’s activation would have been ruled (The initial incorrect ruling had cost him a 2100 attack Raging Flame Sprite).  When I lose in time (not often), I like to know what would have happened so that my mind can rest easy, so I try to offer the same to my opponents when I beat them in time as well.

Abel ended up making day 2 (but not topping).


Round 7 – Katsuma Takaya aka The Unbeatable Deck
Table 12
Dice Roll: 7 – 5 (1st)
Game 1: 8000 – 7300 – 5400 – 4400 – 2900 – 1900 – 200 – 0 to 8000 – 7100 – 6600 loss
Game 2: 8000 – 6800 – 5000 – 3300 – 1400 – 700 – 0 to 8000 – 5800 – 4200 – 2100 loss

I entered round 7 feeling pretty good because I just had to win one out of the next three matches to advance to day 2.  However, when I sat down across Takaya, I was pretty sure my quest was not going to finish in round 7.  He was the player I had scouted earlier and whom I had witnessed running nothing but good cards.  His deck carried double Magic Drain, Judgment, Duster, Raigeki, Morphing Jar, Cyber Jar, Blue Thunder, Etaqua, good beatdown monsters, and a plethora of other playable singles.  The defense in his deck allowed him to set without fear of power cards, and it also allowed him to prolong the duel to an extent that he could draw into his offensive power cards, Duster and Raigeki.  It was the ultimate control deck.  He steamrolled me 2-0.  Although Sam was the best player I faced all day, I would have to say Takaya was the most unbeatable player I faced all day, because of his deck.  Takaya slowplayed quite a bit as well.  If it were not for the sheer power of his deck, I doubt he would have done well in the event at all, given the pace at which he plays.  He ended up placing 4th after swiss, right under Sam, my draw from round 2.


Round 8 – Juan Fonseca
Table 46
Dice Roll: 6 – 3 (1st)
Game 1: 8000 – 7000 – 6900 – 5900 – 5100 – 4800 – 5800 to 8000 – 7400 – 6700 – 5900 – 0 win
Game 2: 8000 – 6000 – 5600 – 5500 – 5200 – 3300 – 0 to 8000 – 7600 – 6200 – 5400 – 5000 – 4700 – 2700 – 2600 – 2400 – 600 – 0 loss
Game 3: 8000 – 7600 – 5100 – 3000 to 8000 – 5800 – 5400 – 4100 – 2000 win

There was a delay at the start of the round for whatever reason, so I sat patiently as the duelist across and to the left of me started talking to everyone on various matters.  He got into a drawn out argument with his opponent about how many dice to roll and which dice to roll to determine who would go first.  It was the silliest argument I had ever seen in this game.  The player turned out to be Stephen Klaus.  I told him I recognized him from the Mermail thread on dgz, and he proceeded to tell everyone within earshot his Austin disqualification story.  A lot (most) people are not on his side on dgz.  I don’t know what really went down at Austin so I won’t argue one way or another.  However, the whole fight about how many dice to roll was strange to me.  All I have to say is: if you’re a clean player, then controversy will not surround you.

Also before the round, while Klaus was talking about good cards in Battle Pack, he mentioned Gorz.  I took that as an opportunity to convince my own opponent that I ran Gorz.  Without talking directly at anyone, I just closed my eyes, smiled, and said to myself, “Gorz is so good” as if the card had been carrying me all day.  I made sure my opponent could hear me.  This ended up being relevant because a bluffed Gorz helped me take game 1 (I convinced my opponent not to attack with his strongest monster).

My opponent was wearing a Core TCG shirt (and I was in an ARG shirt), so I kind of saw this match as ARG vs. Core.  In game 1, my opponent extended way too hard without actually going for game, and I found his method ridiculous.

In game 2, his habit of overextension continued.  At one point he drew no value out of an Exiled Force other than dealing 1000 damage to me.  In the endgame, I saw an opportunity to halo him for the 2-0.  This would be the first time I would do this all day, so I was thinking, “About time this card put in work.”  However, he had Dark Bribe for my Ring.  He then attacked my set Morphing Jar and I drew 3 cards to lose by deck out for the first time in over 20 matches I have played in sealed.

In game 3, I made an error with Gaap, the Divine Soldier.  I sat on defense position monsters while Gaap was on the field, and neither my opponent nor I realized this.  Eventually, he Creature Swapped for control of my Gaap.  I summoned Mobius, and he turned it to defense with Enemy Controller.  At that point, I realized that Mobius would switch to attack position right away due to Gaap’s effect.  However, this was pretty bad for my opponent because our overlooking of Gaap’s effect had already given me advantage in the game.  If we started using its effect now, it would give me even more advantage.  I brought this up with a judge and asked whether Gaap’s effect was a summon trigger.  The judge said it is.  I knew the judge was incorrect, but I didn’t want to frustrate my already frustrated opponent with ramblings on accepted gamestate, etc.  If I had pursued the matter further, the situation would have been ruled 100% in my favor.  However, I didn’t want to rattle any cages, so I played on with that slight disadvantage, leaving Mobius in defense position.  For the first time in my dueling career, I had cheated myself on a ruling to my own disadvantage.  On his turn, he activated Snatch Steal on it, presumably drawn off the top.  I found his play awful because he had already spent a card neutralizing the Mobius.  Still, I preferred he not have my 2400 beatstick, so I negated it with Magic Drain.  The duel drew to a close, time was called, and I proceeded to win by being up in life.

This was where things got nasty.  My opponent accused me of stalling.  I simply replied that I did not stall, though in my mind what I really wanted to say was, “What I did is not called stalling.  It’s called thinking about my plays.  Maybe you windmill slam Exiled Force and Premature Burial onto an open field when you are not pushing for game without a second thought, but some players actually like to evaluate their plays before throwing cards onto the table.”  I held my tongue.  He retorted once again that I did in fact stall.  That’s a strange thing to bring up at the end of a match.  If slow play were an issue, a player would call a judge during the match, not at the end.  The argument was really going nowhere, so I just stayed quiet.  I figured, if he would prefer to believe that he lost to time rather than to his ridiculous habit of overextending, then he could believe it all he wanted.  His deck was better than mine and I had no business winning, but he punted, and now he was mad at me because he was unwilling to look introspectively.  So be it.  The guy packed up quickly and thundered away with steam shooting out of his ears.  A judge took my match slip and ran after him to make sure he signed it.  Props to the judge for hustling.

The thing players need to understand about losing is that in no circumstance does getting angry help.  Did you lose misplaying?  Then evaluate your play and improve rather than get angry.  Did you lose by a bad beat?  Then shake it off.  Anger is a positive feedback loop that only increases itself, and if you get emotional, you will go on tilt and lose your next round too.  Players usually get visibly angry after a bad beat in order to let everyone around know how competitive they are.  Here’s a wakeup call: getting angry doesn’t communicate anything to other players except that you’re an angry person.

My opponent from this round did in fact lose his next round (either due to tilt, overextending, or a combination, I do not know) and did not make it to day 2.


After this round ended, I bumped into an acquaintance named Ian, whom I once met playing at a regional.  We chatted for a bit, and I learned he and his girlfriend were from the same town I lived in when I was in high school.  In addition, his girlfriend even went to my high school just one year below mine, and so we reminisced about teachers and friends.  And in addition to that, Ian was going to start medical school in the fall, like me.  I was blown away by the sheer coincidence of meeting people I had so much in common with at this event.  Ian was on the bubble, so I wished him luck before heading to my last round (he made it to day 2).

Round 9 – Aaron Luong
Table 24
Dice Roll: The first time I ever failed to record a dice roll because I was so excited
Game 1: 8000 – 6400 – 6000 – 5500 – 5000 – 4700 – 2900 to 8000 – 7700 – 7300 – 6200 – 5700 – 3500 – 1700 – 0 win
Game 2: 8000 – 5800 – 5300 – 5100 – 4900 – 2500 – 1900 – 1800 – 1700 to 8000 – 5600 – 4000 – 2300 – 0 win

With my day 2 entry secured, I was elated going into the round.  Like round 6 against Abel, my opponent attacked into my 2500 attack Bazoo.  He asked to take it back, and because this match did not matter, I allowed a take-back for the first time all day.  In game 2, I punished him severely for running Deep Diver.  It’s a bad card on so many levels.  It slowed his game down, gave me free information, and negged him in card advantage.


Being still as water paid off.  I conserved the cards I felt I would need for later, applied pressure when I detected weakness in my opponent, and overall played old-fashioned Yugioh – similar to the Goat Control kind of old-fashioned.

At the end of the day I was happy that the event was sealed.  It really gave me a chance to outplay my opponents as opposed to get rolled over by the usual Laggia set 4, flip Macro in draw phase.  Every single round, my opponents made at least one mistake, whether it was misreading cards, misunderstanding what cards did, forgetting about an effect, mismanaging the hand, or constructing the deck poorly.  The only round that I could not capitalize on any mistakes from my opponent was round 7 because Takaya’s deck was invincible and too easy to play with correctly.

I finished my day in 32nd place with 22 points, 3 more than I needed to advance.  The players whom I drew with and lost to placed 3rd and 4th respectively on day 1.  Out of my nine opponents, five made day 2.  Of my five opponents who made day 2, one earned 9 points on day 2 (Takaya), another earned 6 points (Luong), and the other three either dropped or did not attend day 2.

I called my friend Julian back home in Texas.  He has been my go-to contact whenever I’ve been out of state for a YCS, always willing to listen to my stories.  It meant a lot that I could share the moment with him.  In addition, the world’s most beloved Yugi-mom, Mrs. Alison Leverett, congratulated me, and I was glad to make her proud after keeping her updated on my progress between each round.  I stayed with her and her two Dragon Duelist extraordinaire sons Zach and Ben throughout the weekend.  (On Friday, we had even gotten stuck together with Pat Hoban trying to cross the border back from Mexico to San Diego.  I was afraid we wouldn’t make prereg because of it.)

Later, I met up with Cordero and he recorded my deck profile, which is on ARG’s facebook page at the following link: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151570894110033

I had a midnight dinner and crashed before 2 a.m.  I had just spent all of day 1 playing sealed, and I had to mentally switch gears for a different deck which I would be piloting at 9 am – just a few hours away.  I did not write my decklist that night, but rather forced myself to sleep, reminding myself that 5 hours is much better than zero.  I needed as much rest as I could get if I was going to make such a sudden switch from sealed to advanced constructed, two very different forms of Yugioh.  The conditions of the next day would be a very different battle ground.

As water has no constant form, there are in war no constant conditions. – Sun Tzu, The Art of War


IV. The One True Style – Mono Mermail


Know the enemy, know yourself; your victory will never be endangered. Know the ground, know the weather; your victory will then be total. – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The Four Pillars of March 2013
The Turtle – Dino Rabbit
The Attacker – Fire Fist
The Obsessed – Wind-Up
The One True Style – Mono Mermail

Leading up to the event, the apparent consensus was that aggressive OTK decks were the best choice for San Diego.  Since more players made day 2 at this event than almost any other event in history (158), and many with mediocre records, it stood to reason that rogue decks would appear in greater frequency than usual.

My main testing partner, Mark, patiently helped me practice against any and every deck I requested of him.  His high competence with every deck was a great asset.  I ruled out Electrum OTK fairly quickly.  The deck had too many answers, too many bad openings, and zero potential for Miracle plays.  I also tried Colby Blomstrom’s Inzektor build from Austin, but realized I didn’t have enough time to cram the knowledge of all the matchups into my head before the event.

Hieratics took center stage in testing.  I consulted Paul Cooper on nuances in card choice while hopping from matchup to matchup, exploring the results the deck offered.  I even messed with people on DN in Traditional format, running a build that abused Card of Safe Return.  One thing I liked was that Hieratics greatly punish the player base in general because its win condition is not adequately sided for and its method frequently misunderstood.  Cards like Wingbeat allow you to effectively run 4 copies of Heavy Storm in the main deck.  Combos involving Drago allow you to OTK through Gorz and Tragoedia, often leaving the opponent scooping with 20 cards in hand after you have taken the Maxx “C” challenge.  Best of all, I liked that Hieratics have a favorable matchup against the most revered deck, Water.

However, I noticed some glaring weaknesses.  One was losing to heavy disruption.  If a Fire Fist or Dino Rabbit player opened enough negation or removal, Hieratics had the least chance among top decks of playing out of it (due to a very linear strategy).  I had had an excellent run at locals just the week before with Hieratics, placing second and winning $140, but my two losses were in fact to Dino Rabbit and the ignorance of infinite backrow.  While even Veiler, Gorz, Maxx “C”, and Tragoedia are often not enough to stop Hieratics from comboing for game, the deck is still delicate like none other.  Surviving just the one push a Hieratic player makes essentially guarantees game.  A single Threatening Roar or Swift Scarecrow had the potential of ending my entire tournament run.

The last issue to consider was whether I really wanted to run a deck because of a favorable water matchup.  I had to ask myself how concentrated I thought the meta would be at this event.  Realistically, it would be not very concentrated at all.  Hieratics decimated at my locals because I could rely on the better players to run water and the rest of the field to be unprepared, but a YCS would be too volatile and too unfamiliar for me to take such a dare.  If I were to label water as scissors and Hieratics as rock, the rest of the field would be more like paper.  What good is it to choose rock for such manner of warfare?

I tested with Dino Rabbit as well because of my extensive history with the deck.  DR is an old and loyal friend to whom I owed at least my consideration.  I did not consider Fire Fist or Prophecy at all because until future card releases, their potential is unfulfilled and their water matchups are poor.  I fully believe that as of Cosmo Blazer, it is next to impossible for a deck like Bears or Spellbook to win an event.  Top, sure.  But not win.  Lastly, I did not consider Wind-Up due to weakness to fire and its dependency on Factory.  Like Inzektors in September format, Wind-Up had also lost some of its surprise factor (example: Steinman sidedecked Rivalry of Warlords).

In any given format, there is one best deck.  It is not necessarily the deck without unfavorable matchups, nor is it the deck with the most ways to autowin.  As I’ve explored other competitive games, I have come across a haunting realization: the rule about the “best deck” applies to all forms of competition.  If a game or sport has sufficient depth, there is usually One True Style that surpasses others.  Sometimes it is difficult to spot because no competitor has fully mastered it, and so it ends up more or less tied with the rest of the dominant strategies.

“Every gaming community is a weird mirror image of every other gaming community. The same personalities and the same play styles seem to repeat themselves, ad infinitum. While reading about the personalities throughout the history of chess, I was struck by how similar it all was to the personalities I grew up with playing Street Fighter. I will now relate to you some of those personalities, and I will also take a very controversial stand: I believe that there is one style of play that is superior to all others. The upper echelons of gamers always seem to show a similar mix of varied play styles, but the one true style has its way of coming out on top. This is certainly not the style I am known for, but I’m working on it. Perhaps you will recognize these players in your own gaming communities.” – David Sirlin

Sirlin writes on these styles in his legendary book on competitive play, “Playing to Win.”

The first style is defensive; it is the style of the Turtle.  High profile Turtle players are usually not big with the crowd as their games are not as fun to watch.  The philosophy of the Turtle is to take no risks while establishing an impregnable defense.  At mid-level, this type of player will play around Mirror Force, Torrential, Dark Hole, and Heavy Storm – to the point of his own ruin.  I began playing competitively as a Turtle player.  Turtle players feel least at home with decks like Lightsworn or Chaos Dragon, as they wish to leave nothing to chance.  Tech Genus is a historical Turtle deck, and currently Dino Rabbit is the top deck most analogous to the Turtle style.  Joe Giorlando is a player whom I would identify in this category, if I had to choose (this is neither a compliment nor insult so don’t read too much into it).

The second style is offensive; it is the style of the Attacker.  Players who subscribe to this form put their faith in stylistic moves rather than calculated defense.  They are often the type to engage the crowd.  I believe Jarel Winston typefies the Attacker, both in his deck choices throughout history as well as in his natural ability to engage an audience.  While his skill is questioned by many, there is no denying his charismatic personality.  Among current top decks, Fire Fist is the style of Attacker, exemplifying the art form via pressure through battle phase tactics.  Decks like Lightsworn and Chaos Dragon are also of this style.

The third style is The Obsessed, which characterizes a style that is focused on one tactic and forcefully repeats it over and over to overwhelm the opposition.  Chess grandmaster David Janowski was notorious for his obsession over playing the bishops, his two favorite pieces.  You have likely seen players of this discipline at your locals.  They are the ones who have stuck to the same deck over the years, constantly modifying and innovating their strategy to adapt to the meta without actually switching to the meta deck.  My friend David takes this approach to Sabers.  While Wind-Ups were at one time the One True Style, I would contend that they are currently the Obsessed because their once versatile array of finishers has been channeled into about two narrower win conditions: the otk with Volcasaurus and advantage spam with Factory.  I consider degenerate cycles such as DET, Electrum, and Gishkill as The Obsessed as well.  I should note that while Sirlin names the third category as The Obsessed, a more natural substitute for this category in Yugioh would be “combo decks.”  The argument can be made that Josh Graham is a natural combo player.

The last style is the One True Style.  In many sports and in most fighting games, the One True Style is a balance between defense and offense.  Interestingly, this philosophy does not always indicate the all-around best player in terms of raw stats.  Let’s take Roger Federer for example; he exemplified the One True Style in tennis.  However, he was neither the fastest player nor the strongest player on the circuit when he was the best.  Would he beat every other pro tennis player in a foot race?  Nope.  Could he bench more than every other player?  Not at all.  His grace, versatility, and ability to read minds made up for it.  Similar things could be said about Street Fighter player John Choi, whom Sirlin describes as having great reaction speed (but not the best) and great technique (but not the best).  Rather, his ability to read minds was what allowed him to reach the pinnacle of greatness in the U.S. scene.

Neither does this philosophy always indicate a player who makes the textbook best play.  In the early days of Melee, Azen Zagenite was said to be the prime example of a player who always made the correct move in any given situation.  However, Ken consistently performed better in tournaments, as the One True Style he played by was more loose and not constrained to what was textbook “correct.”  As the game grew older and players like Ken and Azen moved on, the same story was repeated with Mew2King (who rose to prominence as a more textbook player) and KoreanDJ and Mango (both of whom surpassed M2K by playing the game more as an art form).

In Yugioh, a player who reaches this pinnacle (or at least, comes close to it) can play as the cautious Turtle, not falling prey to the likes of Mirror Force or Torrential, but also possesses the Attacker’s sharp killer instinct, identifying the choice turn to extend for a game-ending sequence.  This is not to say that belonging in another category means you only make bad moves.  If you’re a good Turtle player, you will still have killer instinct (but less need for it).  If you’re a good Attacker, you will still know every combo your deck has (even if those combos are few and far between).  The Mono Mermail deck has nurtured my own killer instinct and in general encourages the abilities needed to play in accordance with the One True Style.  The deck has the greatest potential in the current meta, and I knew that if I could just stay focused and play solid, the deck would reward me by revealing its potential to me.  I did have to bear in mind that it is a double-edged sword.  Even to this day, I am still seeing examples of how unforgiving of a deck Mermails can be.  There are games where even one mistake on your part unravels the advantage gained from three mistakes from an opposing Turtle player.  Mermails must be piloted perfectly, or the distinction between it and the other three top decks becomes hazy.  However, that is not to say that the mirror match still tends to be a coin flip.


V. Day 2 – On Rushing Tides


As water shapes its flow in accordance with the ground, so an army manages its victory in accordance with the situation of the enemy. – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

On day 2, Julian called me before he had church and we talked over card choices.  It was really encouraging to receive support from back home.  To an extent, I felt like Yugi.  There are two reasons Yugi gave Kaiba a bad beat in their first duel ever (and I guess every duel they’ve ever had, for that matter).  First, Kaiba has no killer instinct.  He has the deck of an Attacker and the brain of a Turtle.  Second, Yugi draws strength from his friends.

I pondered with Julian over the potential of main decked Maxx “C,” but I realized it was way too bold of a prediction to assume I would face so much Mermail.  In addition, that card choice would make game 1 against Rabbit truly bleak.  We discussed Mind Crush and Debunk.  Everyone halfway decent I’ve talked to about the comparison says it’s a matter of preference, so I went with Mind Crush since it was what I was most used to playing.  We discussed Soul Taker vs. Mind Control, and I opted to main the Mind Control because of its versatility across the board in game 1s.  We discussed Judgment vs. Warning, and I decided that I would go with Warning since I use Judgment so often on a clutch monster.  Warning would be better in terms of cost on turn 1.

I bought a Threatening Roar from ARG for a dollar to include in my side over what used to be second Tragoedia or Swift Scarecrow because I wanted a well-rounded answer to Inzektors, Hieratics, and Mermails when they go for game.  I opted for 1 Abyssgaios on Billy’s suggestion because I really wanted to fit Black Rose for Six Samurai without taking out a situational but still useful Synchro like Gungnir or Librarian.

Besides that, I maintained a fairly standard list (the same 35 core cards and the rest preference), with eight cards in the side for stun (Rabbit and Fire Fist) and seven cards in the side for combo (Mermail).  I wrote my list down as I waited for the doors to the convention center to open, taking in the cool California air.

We were let in at 8:00 and day 2 players were given until 8:45 to register their deck lists before they would receive a complimentary game loss in round 1.  One scary thing was the pairings were already up, even as we were registering our lists.  Fortunately I didn’t recognize my opponent’s name.  My friend Bo was paired against Michael Balan, winner of last year’s Long Beach.  They drew round 1, but Bo pulled through (and topped) with Samurai.  I later learned Bo didn’t have Gateway of the Six in his deck the entire time, which was one of the most impressive things I heard all weekend.

At most large events I like to write a chart in my notebook to determine how many players of each record there will be at the end of the event.  Assuming no draws and better records winning in down-paired matchups, I calculated that two x-2s would make it to the top 32 cut.  Factoring in draws, essentially zero x-2s would make it.  I was determined not to lose more than one.

Round 1 – Rodney Lennon
Table 18
Dice Roll: 5 – 8 (2nd)
Game 1: 8000 to 8000 – 7000 – 4200 – 0 win

Game 1 began at 9:00 sharp.  I took control with an early Gaios.  As his resources dwindled, he played Secrets into Master.  He tried to take back his search before finishing shuffling, but I denied him the redo, simply declaring, “You searched Master.”  Sorry, but I did not make it to day 2 to give my opponent infinite chances to figure out how to play his deck.  He did not and could not activate the Master and the first game quickly ended.
When my friend Mikey and I judged Dallas last year, he noticed that the floor judge across from me looked like Tyranitar.  Judge Erik has a muscular physique, a tanned body, and powerful T-tar-shaped eyebrows.  I’ve secretly thought of him as Tyranitar in human form since that event one year ago.  Anyway, Tyranitar arrived at our match just as we had finished siding and shuffling for game two.  He announced that my opponent received a game loss for registering late.  I didn’t show any external reaction, but inside I felt offended that my opponent would conceal this from me (i.e. lie about his situation) since the judges specifically told all late players to notify their opponents if they received a game loss for registering late.  On top of that, my opponent had said he was “just playing day 2 for fun” at the start of the match.  Uh huh.  He went through nine rounds and lied to me to gain advantage because he was playing for fun.  Right.  My opponent dropped from the event soon after.


I proceeded to scout the field after the match.  With 158 players in day 2, that mean there were 78 players I could potentially face in the next round.  I watched as Allen Pennington won his round with Gishkill.  He ended up being on my mind for the rest of swiss as I followed his results.

Round 2 – Long Dao
48-Card Hybrid Mermails
Table 27
Dice Roll: 6 – 3 (1st)
Game 1: 8000 – 7900 – scoop to 8000 – 9000 – 7800 – 7000 loss
Game 2: 8000 – 6600 – 4800 – 3300 – 1800 – 0 to 8000 – 6300 loss

Long had the coolest name I had seen all event.  Depending on how you pronounce it, his name can translate to “Dragon Blade.”  I asked Long about his name when he sat down and he confirmed it meant Dragon.  This round saw the first game all tournament where either I or my opponent scooped before dropping to zero.  It just shows how decent sealed format is – players always play until their life hits zero.  I had watched Long and Peter practicing with the same deck against Frazier’s Dino Fists before round 1 started.  Long dealt me the most devastating beat I have received in some time.  I honestly don’t remember the last time I lost by such a huge margin.

In game 2, I forgot to switch Linde to defense before passing, but I had a set Mirror Force anyway.  Wanting Long to overextend into it, I overplayed the part by looking at my life points, touching my Linde, outwardly expressing regret, etc.  Long detected my overacting and put Tiger King in defense, allowing him to plus off Sphere several times over a few turns.  I decided in my mind that for the rest of the day, I would not try to trick anyone with acting.  I would just play unemotionally.

It was a brutal beating.  I was disappointed to lose early, but also glad to have someone whom I knew would be an excellent tie break.  There was no question in my mind that Long would top the event.  I asked to see his deck afterward, and he obliged.  It was a work of art.  Long placed 6th after swiss.


Round 3 – Christopher Kendrick
Table 27
Dice Roll: 6 – 11 (2nd)
Game 1: 8000 – 6500 – 3800 – 3400 – 1800 – 1600 – 100 to 8000 – 6200 – 4800 – 3000 – 2800 – 1200 – 0 win
Game 2: 8000 – 7900 – 5900 – 3700 to 8000 – 6600 – 4800 – 3000 – 1900 – 1500 – 0 win

I don’t know what it is about Caucasians loving post-Carrier Wind-Ups but it seems every Wind-Up player I come across is white.  I’m not saying this to be funny.  I truly think there is a sociological explanation for this.  Chris pulled out a SG mat and graphing calc and all that, so I assumed he’d be decent.

In game 1, I got Chris down to 2800 LP, ending with an awkward field of Dweller, Diva, Marksman, and perhaps something else, with only Dark Hole in hand.  In hindsight, I would have synchro summoned Catastor before passing.  On his turn, he ran numbers on his calculator as I watched the clock.  After about two minutes, I told him that I’d hate to have to call a judge over for slow play, so would he please hurry up.  He apologized but kept punching buttons on the calculator to see if he had game.  While I waited for him to finish calculating, I did the same calculations in my head twice over and determined that he did not have game as long as I let my Dweller die at 2200 attack (this was bittersweet for me because I really wanted to detach Dragoons for a search).  He proceeded to go for the OTK, which included using Leviair to summon a banished Linde.  I thought for sure I would lose at the start of his turn, but by the Battle Phase, things were looking very bright for me.  He killed everything on my field and left me with 100 LP.  On my turn, I drew Pike.  I played Dark Hole, and the Linde on his field searched a Megalo for me.  I normal summoned Pike and attacked for game.  He asked if I drew the Hole and I said no.  I always like when people think I topped a card because usually that suggests I conserved it correctly.  In a way, it’s a compliment.

Game 2 I sided my standard 2 Snowman 3 Dust (and possibly the Soul Taker, I don’t recall).  As is typical of Wind-Up vs. Mermail, the sided game was rather drawn out.  However, I could tell I was more experienced in it.  The night before Austin, I had played something like 17 sided games against Matt on DN, so I felt pretty comfortable.  Christopher placed 52nd after swiss.


After the match I was aware that Pennington and I shared the same record, and my concern over my increased odds of playing him grew.  I asked Jeff for tips on the matchup.  He said to scoop game 1 if it was apparent that the loop became self-sustaining, to call the ritual monster with Mind Crush if he played Aquamirror, and to make Gaios or Dweller turn 1 if possible.

I brought up the slowplay issue with some judges, including my local judge JD, after the round.  They recommended that next time I should call a judge if my opponent takes that long to do calculations.  Franklin Debrito made a good point about my situation: on day 2 of a premier event it is expected that players are competent enough to make their plays in a timely manner.  If they do not, a judge should be called.  I said that even after the calculations, my opponent did not have game.  JD wisecracked about me being good at math because of my..ahem..heritage.

Round 4 – Alex Saavedra
Table 21
Dice Roll: 7 – 3 (1st)
Game 1: 8000 – 6000 – 4300 – 1700 to 8000 – 6600 – 4800 – 2400 – 0 win
Game 2: 8000 – 7500 – 7000 to 8000 – 7000 – 4400 – 1800 – scoop win

In game 1, I set Warning turn 1 and on his turn he summoned Solar Wind Jammer.  I squealed inside because I knew that meant he didn’t have MST and that I would get 2-for-1 value out of Warning.  He summoned Strategist and I Solemned the Burrito.  The rest of the game was won with simple card advantage.

In game 2, I sided in the standard Dust + Maxx “C”.  Usually you aren’t supposed to bring Maxx in against decks that side into macro effects (such as Wind-Ups), but in the case of Karakuri, the card is so needed that it is worth the risk of dead drawing.  I had Maxx in hand when he played Machine Dupe on Strategist, but foolishly did not use it.  His Dupe was in Spanish, so I asked for a translation, just to be sure that the card said “500 or less” and not “less than 500.”  He said he had no translation, so I called a judge to ask what Dupe said.  The judge looked at my opponent’s field and said, “Oh wow, it actually matters here.”  He asked my opponent for a translation, and my opponent said that there was one in his deck.  The judge discreetly picked up the deck and searched for an English Dupe, but then my opponent stopped him and said, “Oh wait, it’s in my hand.”  My silly opponent made every effort to hide that he had a second Dupe in hand but failed.  The lesson is to always have translations for your foreign cards.  He set a facedown that turn which I knew to be Dupe, and I snatched a Burei with Mind Control and made Big Eye, which took Burrito, and I got to draw a card with Burrito.  After the match I called Julian to show my appreciation for his and Zach’s idea to main both the Warning and Mind Control.  My opponent ended up siding Soul Drain, so the Maxx – Macro conflict didn’t matter in the end.  He placed 61st after swiss.


I was one round away from a top.  Mrs. Leverett brought a delicious bowl of Chipotle, which I happily scarfed down.  However, the next round was severely delayed.  I walked over to the front tables to see what two matches were still going on so far into overtime.  One match was over a dispute about what had happened (which means you KNOW one of the players was straight up lying).  The other match was much more interesting; it had stopped entirely.  High level judges and even police officers were present.  Apparently, a high profile Japanese player (allegedly top 4’d worlds) had lapped his opponent’s card.  When his opponent attacked for game, the Japanese player asked to count his opponent’s deck, which was shown to be 39 cards (what a suspicious time to count cards).  Eventually, the missing Kabazauls was found under the Japanese player’s shoe.  Another player who faced him earlier also reported the same thing, that one of his cards was on the floor.  The Japanese player (whom I am told actually resides in L.A. and not Japan) attempted to activate the language barrier continuous trap card to negate his disqualification, but the judges weren’t having it.  It also so happened that Konami’s staff had people who could translate between players and judges.  The player was taken behind the judge curtain and was not seen for the remainder of the event.  The crowd applauded in those final moments.  I was neither happy nor sad, but just disappointed that yet another high profile player turned out to be a cheater.  Moreover, I was determined to take the next match.

Round 5 – Carlos Marzan
Table 13
Dice Roll: 8 – 8, 7 – 4 (1st)
Game 1: 8000 – 5400 – 3300 to 8000 – 7000 – 4600 – 5600 – scoop win
Game 2: 8000 – 6800 – 4900 – 3700 – 1800 – 0 to 8000 – 6000 loss
Game 3: 8000 – 6800 – 6500 to 8000 – 7700 – 7500 – 7200 – 5800 – 4300 – 2500 – 100 – 0 win

For the fifth round in a row, I successfully reached the table before my opponent and sat facing the clock.  When my opponent took his seat, we shuffled up, and then a judge came and called for a deck check.  This was my first deck check in five YCSes, and only my second one ever.  As we waited, I noticed my opponent had a lot of tokens, so I flipped through them.  They were K-Pop girl trading cards.  “Do you have any of these?” Carlos asked.  I grinned and said I didn’t really like K-Pop.  He expressed faux disdain.  I told him I had a lot of friends who love K-Pop, some of whom do K-Pop dances every year.  When the judge returned with our cards, he praised both my opponent and me for having our side and extra deck in perfect list order.  I beamed a little since this was the second time in the same day that a judge appreciated my neatness (the first being when I handed in my deck list).  We were given a 9-minute extension, which wasn’t entirely fair, since it didn’t account for the time we would spend shuffling up for a second time.  However, it didn’t really bother me.

As we shuffled our decks and faced each other (to demonstrate we weren’t looking at the deck), my opponent got a little bit flirtatious with me.  He commented about how awkwardly romantic the moments were when two players shuffle and look into each other’s eyes.  Oh boy.  Carlos had a rather feminine personality, but it’s all good.  Early on in the duel, he summoned Centipede and used Ladybug to search for Hornet.  I was on my toes because I knew the Inzektor-Mermail matchup could swing either way.  I made some strong plays to establish a field, essentially ensuring that nothing short of his single Dragonfly could adequately respond to my board.  He drew into 4 cards in hand, and sure enough, one of them was Dragonfly.  He made some good plays and took control.  However, he used all his Centipedes in the process.  Although my life was low, I knew that his engine had tanked out, so all I had to do was establish control one last time to seal the deal.

For game 2, I sided in 3 Dust, Threatening Roar, 3 Maxx, and possibly Soul Taker.  I opened a hand of good water cards, except he opened Thunder King.  On his next turn, he summoned Fossil Dyna.  My one attempt at a summon was negated by Solemn Warning.  His antimeta side made quick work of my life.  I had sided out the Mirror Forces and into Maxx knowing full well that if I were in his position, I would side in antimeta, too.  However, I took a gamble, and it didn’t work out.

When I began siding for game 3, I watched Carlos in my peripheral vision because whether or not he sided would be the sole determinant of how I would side for game 3.  When I saw that he was not touching his side deck at all, I was confident that I could safely bring Mirror Force back in and take out Maxx and Threatening Roar in order to punish his slow engine.  Just as anticipated, I overwhelmed his floodgate strategy with my core engine in game 3.  On my last turn, he had facedown backrows and a set Dyna, but my field of Bahamut Shark, Trite, Linde, etc. was so strong that I won through Mirror Force and Dyna with Linde and Trite’s effects.  Even his set Torrential was of no use.

We shook hands and I covered my face in relief.  Carlos placed 51st after swiss.

Across and to my right, Billy had lost his bubble match.  He ended up placing 34th, muscled out by players who had presumably intentional drawn.  I felt sorry that the most honest player I knew was slighted by (alleged) cheaters.


Before the top cut was called, I listened in on a conversation Jeff, Frazier, and Silverman were having with some judges.  They were warning them of the unique advantage Pennington had with how his deck interacted with round time.

I will explain their concern as best as I understand it.  In the absence of tournament structure, Gishkill itself is not revolutionary; it hovers around something like tier 2 or possibly lower.  I don’t know whether it’s even better than Dragon Exodia Turbo (DET).  Similar to DET or Tundo OTK, Gishkill doesn’t guarantee you will deck out your opponent every time.  Similar to DET, some opening hands don’t have the right cards to maintain momentum, and the turn 1 kill ends up fizzling out.  Also similar to DET, going second and getting sideboarded against makes what is already an imperfect strategy significantly less viable.  I don’t know the exact number, but I heard that the chance of opening the kill is something like 70%.  If that is so, then assuming a 50/50 chance of going first, you have a 35% chance of winning outright on turn 1 game 1.  Of course, the percentage chance of winning is increased by opponents passing turn, not being able to otk, not knowing what you are doing, etc.  As I discussed this with Mrs. Leverett, she asked a very simple but piercing question: why play the deck at all then?

Well, there is an important difference between Gishkill and DET.  DET either loses or draws Exodia and takes the opponent into the next game, which is a much more difficult game since the opponent goes first and has access to his side deck.  Gishkill, on the other hand, can opt to continue play indefinitely if it doesn’t fizzle out.  The player of Gishkill can choose between decking his opponent out or continuing play with variations of an infinite loop.  But wait, the rules explicitly state that infinite loops are illegal!  If a player is enacting an infinite loop, it is his duty to tell his opponent, “I will repeat this loop x number of times until your life points reach 0 or my life points reach y.”  However, the Gishkill deck can dodge this policy because its infinite plays have variations.  Thus, in the most technical sense, you are not repeating any infinites.  You are performing variations on infinites.  Thus, one may reach this conclusion when piloting Gishkill in a tournament structure: why deck my opponent out and give him a chance to side against me games 2 and 3, when I can simply win game 1 and win in time?  All the Gishkill player has to do is combo for 37 minutes, proceed to side deck for 3 minutes, and then let time run out.  The 40-minute timer makes all the difference in the world, transforming a tier 2 or lower deck into a tier 1 deck.

Granted, I don’t know what Pennington was doing exactly to win his rounds.  I did see him go to time constantly.  Did he use the above loophole?  I don’t know.  If so, did he use it almost every round?  I don’t know.  All I know is some players were concerned enough about the potential loophole that they took the matter to the judges.  The judges said they would watch Pennington closely from that point on.  I will not accuse Pennington of one thing or another since I was neither a judge nor an opponent of his who witnessed firsthand how he was winning.  However, I was afraid of being paired against him.

When the standings were posted, I found that I had placed 15th.  Thomas Vo, whom I knew to be playing Bears, placed 16th.  I didn’t think that Konami would do the 1st plays 32nd, 2nd plays 31st, etc. manner of pairings, but in case they did, I was mentally ready to face Thomas.  As luck (or misfortune) would have it, I was paired against fellow ARG writer Michael Steinman, who also played Bears.  I thought it was fortunate since I had not lost to Fire Fist in a long time and knew the matchup well.

Round 1 of Playoffs – Mike Steinman
Fire Fist (TGU variant)
Table 10
Dice Roll: 6 – 10 (2nd)
Game 1: 8000 – 6400 – 4400 – 2700 – 900 – 0 to 8000 – 9000 loss
Game 2: 8000 – 6400 – 5600 – 5500 – 5300 – 4800 – 4300 to 8000 – 6600 – 5700 – 4100 – 2300 – 2200 – 1700 – 1400 – 0 win
Game 3: 8000 – 6400 – 4800 – 2800 – 700 to 8000 loss

Steinman and I made small talk before the round.  I told him how I had even piloted his conversion side build of Fire Fist at a regional where I went 4-2 drop.  He showed me the plastic bag he was carrying everything in and shared how his Yugioh bag (with nothing in it) had gotten stolen at the airport.  He continued the banter well into the duel, continuously commenting on the gamestate.  Having interacted with him on dgz and having read his articles, I knew he was much more intelligent than his words let on, and I figured that he was using conversation to bait information out of me.  I remained relatively silent, staying true to my promise to myself to not give away information the way I had telegraphed Mirror Force to Long Dao in the second round.

In game 1, I had the most horrible opening hand I have ever seen with my deck.  I remember Soul Taker, Avarice, Abyssleed, and Heavy Infantry.  I believe I also had Squall and Mind Control.  Without seeing my deck, Steinman went for the Dweller – twice (he had seen me play earlier).  The only thing that really kept me in the game was that Steinman kept making Dweller instead of using his individual monsters to beat me down, one of which I played Soul Taker on.  When I finally drew Megalo, I summoned it for the -1 (since he had Dweller), and attacked into D Prison.  He ended up having double D Prison set.  This was the only questionable play I made.  I don’t think whether I attacked or did not attack would have made the slightest difference in the outcome of the match, but I do acknowledge that a case can be made for attacking being the wrong play (I would need to remember what else we both had to adequately evaluate the play).

In game 2, he opened Banisher with protection, which I cleared with removal.  Steinman expressed regret at not Lancing his Banisher in response to Hole, but it made no difference since my first play did not involve the graveyard at all (I attacked with Marksman).  In this game, Steinman showed the strength of TGU by pushing back with a twice-boosted Temtempo.  Too lazy to do math on a crucial turn, I failed to turn an Abysstrite to attack position and finish the game.  However, he had gone through sufficient resources such that I knew even the best of top decks would not turn the game around.  In no way do I excuse myself from punting a turn, but at the same time I wasn’t going to beat myself up over it when I was focused on finishing a game that was still in my favor.

In game 3, Steinman set four cards and passed.  Time was called early into the round, so I knew I had no chance of winning when I hadn’t even pressed through his backrow yet.  In the off chance that he had nothing, I made Black Rose, which was met with Fiendish.  After reading his report, I now know exactly what cards were set.  Since one of them was Solemn Judgment, I know all the more how impossible it was to win that game.  Steinman revealed Giga-Brilliant in this duel.  It was a rather odd choice, but it worked out well for him.

4-2 drop by elimination

In conclusion, literally the only thing I could have done differently to win was ask for more final cuts while shuffling up for game 1.  Not joking at all; if I could redo my top 32 match, I would have just shuffled differently.  The matchup between Water and Fire is something like 60 – 40 in Water’s favor at the very least.  I was paired against the most notable Fire duelist in the country (and a hard working one at that), I opened a hand full of cards I side out against Fire, and I went second in game 3 against Solemn Judgment.  Although these were external factors more or less out of my control, I was still pretty bummed about my loss.  I followed Mike from top 8 through the finals and watched as he won some relatively easy matchups to take it all the way to second place.  He was one of the best players in the top cut, and I was pulling for him throughout these matches despite my saltiness over the loss against him.

Some commentary on Mike’s matches for water players to consider…  In top 16, Norberto Leon kept in Pot of Avarice, the second Abyssgunde, and Abyss-Squall against Steinman in games 2 and 3.  This is objectively incorrect side decking, and sure enough, it backfired heavily on Leon.  In the finals, Angel Ascencio both misplayed and mis-sided by keeping in Moulinglacia, which he drew game 3.  This is again objectively incorrect.

This is a recording Cordero took of my deck for ARG’s channel and some discussion on it.  Yes, I realize that I said “Player C” when I meant to say “Player A.”

While the deck worked well for this particular event, I have no intention of repeating the same strategy again, especially since Evilswarms are right around the corner.

When I have won a victory I do not repeat my tactics but respond to circumstances in an infinite variety of ways. – Sun Tzu, The Art of War


VI. Afterword – Continuing Ambition


One year ago, I had done very little with my Yugioh hobby.  I thought myself a hotshot because I could top locals whenever I wanted and win cash/box tournaments here and there.  In the twelve months that followed, I achieved more and more “titles,” such as YCS judge, DN Admin, ARG writer, and now a YCS top.  While accomplishments are nice to have and I am proud of each of them, I am also keenly aware of how short of a distance I have traveled compared to the many miles of achievement paved by legends in this game, both past and present.

After San Diego, I read Frazier’s article on the disappointment he felt upon losing in top 32 as well as Joe G’s article where he states “10 tops, 10 failures,” and I felt a strong relation to both of their sentiments.  I’ve done ok, but not amazingly.  With medical school coming up, I will likely never win a YCS, and even if I did, then I would only have just BEGUN my journey on the path to greatness.  I suppose my personal lesson is that no matter how good I think I am, there is so much more room to grow and to increase in my knowledge, of this game and of life.

I hope that this story has increased your own knowledge in some way.

Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle;  – Ps 144:1


Until next time,

Play Hard or Go Home.




Johnny Li

Johnny Li

Houston, TX
Johnny Li

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