Becoming a Time Wizard Part I

Seeing as how we are in that boring time period between YCS events, I thought it would be a good idea to dig into those more timeless topics I speak about from time to time. YCS Providence is in about a week, and it will be the last YCS before the release of Abyss Rising. Seeing as how there have been no significant card releases between Day One of the format back at YCS Toronto and now, there really is nothing substantial to talk about it terms of the format. I tossed around the idea of writing an article about not overreacting to a rogue deck winning an event (ex. Six Samurai in Indianapolis), but there really isn’t enough substance to write about. I could sum up the theme at that article in about one sentence: Just because a deck wins an event out of no where; doesn’t mean it suddenly becomes top tier.

What I do want to write about today can be a somewhat controversial topic. If you have been playing the game of Yu-Gi-Oh competitively for some time, it is almost impossible to not encounter this anomaly. It should completely redefine what you have learned about in the past, and goes against almost every basic mechanic of playing. What I am talking about is the role of Time. Now it should be stated in as clear of text as humanly possible that what I am writing about should be applied when you naturally go into Time. Perhaps your matchup warrants a slower paced match, or the decks involved spur off combos which can naturally take a long time (ex. Wind-Ups). The issue that can arise with writing about this topic is that it can often times be interpreted as something a player can do to take advantage of the game, outside what would be deemed appropriate. That is not what I want to do with this article. I am not trying to construct a blueprint for players to use after they intentionally go into Time. However, it is absolutely critical to take all of possible advantages given to you when Time naturally approaches. Since the two approaches are dramatically different in nature, I have decided to split this topic into two articles. The first of which will talk about playing with a lead in life points, while the second with talk about playing from behind, with mention of all other situations I deem appropriate.

Before getting to in detail about how to handle Time, I guess it would seem logical to talk about the rules pertaining to time. Simply put, during the course of the Swiss rounds of a YCS, once time is called there will be five additional turns played and the winner of the given game will be decided by who has the most life points remaining (unless the game was naturally won). After the end of that game the match will then be assessed. If the match stands at 1-1 then a draw will be issued, otherwise a winner should have normally been decided once that game is assessed. However, if you happen to go into time in the Top 32 of a YCS (which has happened to me), the winner is determined after only three turns. I have both witnessed, and been apart of matches where one player (or even both) were unaware of that fact, and the match ended to their surprise. In the Top 16 of YCS Toronto I witnessed Jeff Jones play against a Hero Beat player who could have used both Honest and Miracle Fusion on his last turn of time, but since he believed he would be given one additional turn they were left in his hand to rot. And in my case, my Top 16 opponent at YCS Long Beach went through two elaborate Wind-Up loops during the course of own match. After going through a loop which spanned from five minutes remaining on the clock, to the end of the clock he went into the final three turns in dominating position. Unfortunately for him, the majority of his loop did not result in a significant loss of life because I still had a copy of Beast King Barbaros with 3000 attack points. After being unable to bridge the life point gap on his final turn he not only lost in dominating position, I had a single Elemental Hero Neos Alius to my name. Not going to say it was my proudest YCS moment, but I guess that is what happens when Konami creates card interactions which took 30 minutes to perform twice (Pot of Avarice was involved both times!). Anyway, the main point I want to get across here is you need to know the rules if you are going to understand how to handle Time.

The first thing I want to talk about is thinking turns ahead. There really is no time where this aspect of the game is more apparent. I could go into talking about how one thinks turns ahead in the game in a general sense, but that is an article for another day. The moment time is called the first and foremost thing you need to do is take a moment to analyze the entire gamestate. I am talking about cards at your disposal, cards your opponent has and the life point count. No longer are you playing to grind away their resources and in turn poke through to their life points. That time is long past. The goal is either bridging the life point gap or maintaining your lead. Seeing as how the Time procedure is only five turns long, it shouldn’t be terribly difficult for you to think about how it is going to play out.

The general concept behind thinking turns ahead is quite self-explanatory; it is exactly what it sounds like. However, unlike a normal game where this applies to finding ways to take advantage and amass an insurmountable degree of tempo or card advantage, we are solely looking at life point swings. Each play you make needs to be reflected upon this question:

Will my play increase the likelihood that I am going to be leading in life points in five turns?

That is the game we are now playing, not who reduces the opponent to zero life points. Simply put, if you are making plays which are questionable by these standards, we need to reassess our approach. Here is an example for you.

Say we are looking at a boardstate where the opponent has three face-down spell and trap cards (for this example we are playing Hero Beat against a Geargia player). Say you summoned a copy of Elemental Hero Neos Alius the previous turn and were able to attack into those three backrows with no response. Meaning the life points now stand at 6100-8000. Before passing back you were able to set two backrows, to which the opponent did not respond. On your opponents following turn they simply set a forth backrow before passing the turn back. While your opponent was contemplating their turn Time was called.

The remainder of the game will progress as follows:

Turn Zero: The current turn (opponent)

Turn One: You

Turn Two: Opponent

Turn Three: You

Turn Four: Opponent

Turn Five: You

The moment that clock reads 00:00 you need to look at these five turns and determine exactly what you want to have happen. However, there is no blanketed answer to deriving that answer. Each scenario is going to call for a different path of victory. In the situation above there are a few things we need to take into consideration. They are as follows:

-         We are currently ahead in life points

-         We will have the final turn

-         Our opponent seems to be in a defensive position

As your opponent passes back to you, and the five turn clock begins, our mindset needs to zero in on how we are going to widen the life point gap. In order to understand that, it is vital to understand what does the opposite. The first thing we need to take into consideration is the deck we are playing against and how that deck generates damage. For example, the Geargia deck we are playing against is generally a passive deck. It has the potential to generate massive swings in momentum, such as utilizing the Karakuri or Machina engine. However, the majority of their game plan is amassing resources until they are able to capitalize on that. Another similar deck is the Hero Beat deck we are playing. Hero Beat is the single best grind deck in the game today. It has an uncanny ability to generate immense amounts of card advantage. The drawback on this dynamic is that those interactions are extraordinarily mundane and focus on the basic principles of card advantage. For those out there who played this games years ago, they know the basic principles of card advantage may be advantageous in some instances, but the current game has so many explosive combos that it is difficult to use that as a win condition every time. So unfortunately for us, Hero Beat is not going to be able to generate a large field presence, and in turn, may have a difficulty pushing through damage when it is necessary during time. Beyond the examples we are using here, there are other decks like Wind-Ups which fall between the ability to grind out resources (ex. Wind-Up Rabbit/Wind-Up Factory), but has a high likelihood of extremely explosive plays. You must take into consideration what both your deck and your opponent’s deck are trying to do when you are playing in time.

Once we understand the dynamics of each deck we can game plan these five turns. The first thing I brought up was, understanding that we are currently ahead in life points, is going to go a long way in constructing our plays. In this instance we are ahead by a mere 1900 life points, but that is 1899 enough to walk away the winner. The question we now need to ask is how the opponent is going to generate the 1901 points of damage needed to swing the game in their favor. This reverts back to understanding how our opponent’s deck functions. Here we are playing against a Geargia deck. Geargias are able to generate that type of damage, but often times would need a hand consisting of Geargia Accelerators in conjunction with either Geargiarsenal or Armor. However, those together would only be able to special summon a Rank 4 monster. Something which would not be able to generate the damage needed to win against our Elemental Hero Neos Alius. Outside of the Geargia effects, both the Machina and Karakuri engines have the capability of generating board pressure. A simply Machina Gearframe into Machina Fortress play would put 2600 points of damage on the board, and do so against our Elemental Hero Neos Alius.

These are the most likely scenarios out there. There are of course those which can consistent of things like Limiter Removal and Monster Reborn, but often times those would be enough to deal over 8000 points of damage anyway.

Once we had concluded upon the methods in which our opponent would be able to deal the necessary damage to bridge the gap we have to directly tie that into how we play our turn. For doing this we need to analyze every card at our disposal. In the situation I outlined before I did not name any of the other cards we had outside of Elemental Hero Neos Alius. And of course, I did that for a reason because our selection of cards will drastically change our outlook on the game.

Say the two cards in our backrow happened to be Gemini Spark and Super Polymerization, while our hand consisted of Miracle Fusion, Dark Hole and Heavy Storm. This hand is unique because it would seem as a rather strong hand in the midst of a normal game of Yu-Gi-Oh, seeing as how we have both Heavy Storm and Dark Hole. However, I would consider it to be less than optimal in the circumstances of time. In the normal context of the game, we would be in position to try and attack our Elemental Hero Neos Alius into a potential defensive backrow, only to chain Gemini Spark and net card advantage. But that type of interaction is entirely against our game plan, and as a matter of fact, would only play into the hands of our opponent. If our Elemental Hero Neos Alius would leave the field we would suddenly become wide open to an array of other potential plays that could deal us 1901 points of damage. That Rank 4 which was unable to push through enough damage before is suddenly able to into a clear board. While we may have generated a “plus one,” it was a plus one that was counterproductive to our new game plan. The second reason why this hand is less than optimal is that it only contains two defensive spell or trap cards, and truly will only allow us to use one of them. Gemini Spark and Super Polymerization may be two of the most powerful cards we have when Elemental Hero Neos Alius is on the board, but now they represent our only line of defense against an explosive play.

So to carry on with our scenario from before (since our opponent has just passed back to us), we draw for our turn another copy of Gemini Spark, perhaps the worst draw in the deck. Often times I will witness players carry on with the way they would play normally by proceeding to battle phase and trying to deal 1900 more points of damage. Now while our Elemental Hero Neos Alius successfully dealt 1900 points of damage the previous turn, do you think there is a chance our opponent was reluctant to play into Gemini Spark before? Often times I play against players who wait on both Bottomless Trap Hole and Dimensional Prison for the Elemental Hero Fusion monsters (which generally is the correct line of play), however the Time situation is not only going to change the way you play, it is going to change the way the opponent plays. So if we risk our Elemental Hero Neos Alius in the line of battle to a trap card such as Dimensional Prison or Mirror Force we may be generating card advantage through Gemini Spark, but we are endangering our chances of winning. We could instead simply pass back to the opponent. The pressure is now on them to do something, seeing as how we are leading in life points. Also, by doing so we maintain our ability to use both Gemini Spark and Super Polymerization to stop an opposing offensive maneuver, something which is a lot more attractive than simply netting a plus one the previous turn.

But this situation went out on a limb and assumed we had a rather poor selection of cards, or more specifically lacked another monster to put on the field. Perhaps I maintained the entire scenario from before, but switched the Gemini Spark we drew for a copy of Thunder King Rai-Oh. Can you imagine how this changes what we want to do? The question about attacking with Elemental Hero Neos Alius is entirely different since we would be able to replicate a 1900 body on the field. However, risking our Elemental Hero Neos Alius to Dimensional Prison or Mirror Force would still leave us defenseless in terms of spell and trap cards. Do you honestly know what I would do? More than likely I would set the Thunder King Rai-Oh and pass back. Think about it for a moment. What is your opponent going to need in order to win the game at this point? Now that we have two monsters clogging up their ability to deal 1901 points of damage, the chances of them needing a Dark Hole are now tremendous. If they do not have Dark Hole they are going to need a way to deal with an Elemental Hero Neos Alius/Gemini Spark play, and push through our set monster – to which they will likely believe is Snowman Eater and certainly not Thunder King Rai-Oh. And even if they are able to accomplish such a play, we are holding Miracle Fusion, Dark Hole and Heavy Storm to return the favor and push through what would more than likely put us back in the lead.

Now why would I set Thunder King Rai-Oh as opposed to summoning it? Think about how the game is going to play out if we lost our field to Torrential Tribute or our Thunder King to Bottomless Trap Hole? The Bottomless would certainly be more alarming, but even the Torrential Tribute can be devastating. First let me talk about the risk of summoning Thunder King into Torrential Tribute. If our opponent were to Torrential Tribute we would still be able to use Gemini Spark, and in turn have a graveyard with two targets for Miracle Fusion. But we would be in a position to essentially speed up our clock by an entire turn, and thus give our opponent more chances with offensive battle phases. By that I mean, if we were to use Heavy Storm/Miracle Fusion (which may be risky seeing as how this deck does play Starlight Road) we may be able to increase our lead from 1900 to 5800, but what would we be left with? A lousy Gemini Spark (though I know Elemental Hero Neos Alius would return to our hand). How vulnerable would you feel passing back to the opponent with no defensive spell and trap cards? I know I would feel terrified.

Now let’s talk about the worst case scenario here. The opponent uses Bottomless Trap Hole on our Thunder King Rai-Oh. Now we are left with only one monster between our graveyard and field. So the moment that Elemental Hero Neos Alius hits the bin, we are at the mercy of the top of our deck. We may need a miracle to draw another monster, and I am not talking about Miracle Fusion.

The silliest things can result in you losing a match you had no business of when Time is called. Leaving yourself vulnerable for just one turn, even with immense card advantage, can just bury you alive. The moment time is called you need to begin thinking outside of the box, at not how you are going to reduce the opponent to 0 life points, that game is over. The new game is walking away with a 1 life point lead, and you must be ready to adapt your playstyle accordingly.

Joe Giorlando

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