Yu-Gi-Oh! On the Clock: Learn to Play Competitively in a Busy Life Part 1: Mind Games

Since my face and name will look mostly unfamiliar to you, I figured I’d take a moment to introduce myself.  Chances are you don’t know me if you live outside the Northeast Ohio region, but my name is Stuart Popagain.  I’ve been playing competitive Yu-Gi-Oh! since 2003, playing through the game and all the format changes up until the present year.  Now would be the time to list my credentials in this game, but I will be the first to admit that outside of my local level…  I have no national credentials.  I’ve attended 4 regionals in these past seven years, all with no tops to my name.  I’ve never been to an SJC or a YCS.  So you look at what I’ve just said and think to yourself, “Why should I even bother with the rest of this article?  What does this no-name have to offer me?”  My angle from the Yu-Gi-Oh! community has always been one of a competitive nature, but without much time to participate as actively as I would like to.  In addition to my card playing lifestyle, I’m a full-time college student, and I work two jobs to help keep my head above water.  This leaves me little to no time to be available to travel and attend larger events, even though now I feel like I have a great shot and opportunity to do well.  So, in this article, I hope to give you an insight into the way that I think and prepare myself for the tournament scene.  I’m an unconventional player because I operate under unconventional circumstances.  My goal with this series is to help those in my situation, especially those that are thinking about giving up on the game because they’re too “busy” for it, by giving a fresh spin on how to play competitively and still be successful when you’re crunched for time.  We begin today with, as the title aptly says, Mind Games.

Yu-Gi-Oh! this format, more than any other I’ve seen in recent history, is all about player knowledge rather than what deck they’re playing, or in most cases how much cash someone is willing to shell out to have “the winning deck”.  Just from studying regional reports and the YCS victories in this country, we can tell that this has been an extremely diverse format, with no deck that consistently wins large events.  While we’ve obviously had some notable front runners in the “Tier 0” race (Blackwings, X-Sabers, Debris Plants), we’ve also had tops this format from Gemini Stun, and what has more recently entered the scene, Gravekeepers.  As one can tell, there is a lot going on in this metagame right now that is keeping players on their toes.  Thus, in my case, I need to know what is out there, what to expect, and how to potentially counter it before it comes at me.  Before even attending a tournament, I do my research on how each deck plays, how the variants are run, and what I can expect to see when I enter a tournament.  This is what leads me to Step 1:

Know your opponents.

For those that can’t spend hours on end play testing in groups large or small, research is your secret weapon.  Reading event coverage on Konami’s website, visiting forum sites, and reading articles (like the ones found here), helps to make me aware of what kind competition is out there before I even set foot into a tournament location.  Forum sites, like DuelistGroundz, help you to read and talk about different ideas for decks and see what is being played, and also talk about how to counter the Meta.  When I scour the forums everyday, I always look to see what is current with the competitive decks in the Meta, and also look to see what it might be that would help my deck to counter what is being played against me.  Knowing what options your opponent’s deck might have not only assists you in deck building, but it also helps with reading your opponent’s plays during a tournament.  For example, the deck I’m currently piloting is Blackwings.  In a tournament, you can always expect to play a diverse amount of decks, so knowing your opponent helps you figure out what they might be playing.  If you see WATER monsters (an Absolute Zero deck), a Quickdraw Synchron, or any array of Lightsworn monsters (outside of Ryko), chances are your opponent is playing Royal Decree, meaning you need to know how to adapt your play-style if and when that Decree shows up.  This leads me to my second point of this article:

Know yourself and your own deck.

The biggest problem with new/inexperienced players these days are that they just go to Konami’s site, see what deck just won, and netdeck it expecting to go to a local or regional and automatically win without any practice.  This is a HUGE mistake.  Players who have a desire to play competitively need to take the time to know the ins and outs of their own deck just as much, if not more, than what their opponent might throw at them.  Remembering every card in the deck, what it does, and how each card potentially combos with another card specifically or the deck as a whole is crucial.  The first key to this (in my humble opinion) is to memorize your deck list.  Knowing every card in your deck might seem like a waste of time, but remembering this silly facet of the build will help you to know what your resources are during a game.  Knowing your deck allows you to look at your graveyard, hand, and field and know exactly what cards are left in your deck that you have to draw upon.  Secondly, you need to know how cards interact with each other in order to properly play them.  You should know that if you’re playing a Blackwing deck with 3 Sirocco, Shura, Bora, and Kalut, you would know that if you need to remove one for Allure of Darkness or Cards for Black Feathers, you should know what to remove.  Kalut should be a last resort, Sirocco is your beatstick, leaving you with the other 2, causing you to choose which one to remove based on the status of the board and what else if you have in your hand.  Knowing that XX-Saber Boggart Knight combos quite well with XX-Saber Fulhelmknight, allowing you to play XX-Saber Faultroll from the hand, creates a chance to pull out 2-3 synchros with Faultroll alone, not to mention what other resources you have.  Just like knowing your opponents, knowing yourself takes a lot of research and hard work, even if this is just a game.  Playing solitaire with your deck allows you to take a look at potential opening hands and how you would play out your first two or three turns.  The solitairing of one’s deck leads me to my final point in this article:

Make the best use of your available time.

Play test, play test, and play test some more.  I cannot say it enough.  When you’re with your friends, take the time to not only do practice duels (simulating a game 1 environment) but practice matches, giving you an opportunity to practice side boarding against certain decks, thus discovering what you should take out, and what you should add in for specific match-ups.  If you don’t have the time to meet up with friends all the time, I would suggest downloading YVD (Yugioh Virtual Desktop) and dueling against other people from across the country.  While it doesn’t simulate the sensation of actually shuffling your own deck, it gives great practice in playing hands and playing against other players (whether good or bad).  Playing your deck as much as possible is just a great way to conquer any insecurity that you might have with your own play style and your own deck.

In conclusion, the best way that you can “succeed on a budget” is to do your research, and know your own deck inside and out.  Enjoy the deck you choose to play, and above all else, win or lose, enjoy the experience, or you will never find the will to improve.

Until next time, study hard, play hard, and enjoy the game.

Stuart Popagain

Winner of AlterReality Games 1st Win-a-System Tournament