Determining the Greatest Duelists

Samuel PedigoWhat should define a player’s place in history?

That’s the question of the article and it’s not as simple as you’d think. There are many different ways to etch one’s place into the history of the game. Jason Meyer will have left his mark on the game through a variety of mediums: feature match writer, article writer, editor. No doubt, everybody knows Cordero for his videos and event coverage. The game might change forever on September 21st when ARG holds the first Circuit Series event in Ft. Worth, Texas.

circuitfortwortheventpagephotoThis article’s purpose, though, is to examine what should define a player’s place among the greatest duelists in the game’s history... but even that’s not a simple question and neither is the answer. Through this commentary I hope I will give you more to think about when evaluating a player and by the end of it, you should see that where a duelist falls on the all-time ladder is compromised of a multitude of factors. 


Challenging the Status Quo

To this point, the community has always considered the number of premier event tops that a player has the most important measurement of their success. (That’s not necessarily incorrect, either… although you’ll see that it’s not the end-all, be-all.) DuelistGroundz even has a thread tracking player credentials. That can be found here, if you’re interested brushing up on your Yu-Gi-Oh history. Adam Corn has the most at 23, followed by the Bellido brothers, who each have 18. Nothing like monstrous numbers like those to keep us ARG members motivated (Frazier, Joe, Billy and Jeff all have at least ten and are still counting). But who’s to say that the sheer number of tops somebody has defines where they stand in history?

Even the most avid Adam Corn fans won’t deny he cheated. Yet, he’s still regarded as one of the most skilled players in the game’s history though. How much should that penalize him? Should all 23 of his tops be stricken from the unofficial record books on DGz? Perhaps you think he still deserves to have his name at the top of the list. That’s a topic that goes further than our card game. For example, Barry Bonds is the record holder in Major League Baseball for both home runs in a single season and home runs for an entire career. Like Bonds, Corn might still be a Hall-of-Famer type talent (when are we going to get one of those?) without cheating, but would either be regarded as the best ever? Extremely doubtful. Luck is an extremely prominent factor in determining the outcome of a duel in Yu-Gi-Oh and being able to minimize that is an enormous advantage. (Therefore it's my personal opinion that he should not be considered the greatest of all-time, or even in the top 5-10.)

Even without the cheating, though, there are five others who have more championships. Fili Luna and Lazaro each have four wins and Jerry Wang, Emon Ghaneian and Angel Flores have three. Should one of them then be considered the greatest of all time based on number of Championships alone? Keep in mind that Angel Flores has three wins while Chris Bowling and Billy Brake each only have two. Matt Peddle (13) and Joe Giorlando (10) have no Championships; does that make people with 1 YCS top and 1 win better than them? Of course not. Championships aren't everything but they do matter.

Yet another way of looking at it is percentage of tops. Take Bo Tang, a fellow North American Worlds participant from 2011, for example. He has gone to six YCS events, topped five of them and fell short by only one round in the sixth. (For full disclosure, his percentage is a bit less impressive when you consider that he's only gone one for three at the WCQs that he has attended.) That’s an extremely impressive percentage. Should he then be considered among the greatest of all time? On the other hand, Billy Brake hardly ever misses an event. If he had Bo’s YCS top percentage then he might have twice as many tops as Adam. Does that make Bo a better player than Billy?

Keep in mind that Billy made it to the Top 4 of at least one YCS in five straight formats. Billy’s always working on something new and different. He’s trying to get an edge so that when he does top, he has a great chance of taking a trophy home. I’d venture to guess if he committed himself to playing more mainstream decks/builds then he would have more tops, although perhaps not quite as many Top 4 finishes. The sheer power of the “best deck” might have gotten him into the playoffs but he likely would have had more early exists from skilled players with various techs prepared for all of his more predictable cards/plays. It’s an impressive thought for somebody who has 14 Tops, as is. Billy’s personal emphasis on trying to win rather than run up his number of tops is also worth noting in this conversation.

Another prime example, jumping back to why percentage of tops is sometimes overrated, is Jeff Jones, who has more-or-less intentionally diluted his Top percentage because of his desire to play something different. When he played the best deck on Day 2 of YCS San Diego, he topped. But Nordics at YCS Charlotte and Harpies in Toronto this year? Both were close calls but he wasn’t able to get the job done. It’s this kind of approach and innovation which many people praise Jeff for, though, and is what got him a Championship in Edison with Quickdraw. Innovation and creativity in deck building have helped make Jeff more popular but that still leaves the question: should these abilities have any bearing on where he ranks among the best duelists of all time beyond the measurable results they have helped him achieve? Does he leap above somebody who has one top more than him? How about five?

Also remember that players who attend every YCS have less time to prepare themselves for that particular event. I didn’t attend YCS New Jersey this past year so I was able to get a head start on playtesting for the WCQ (and the cards coming out in Tachyon) and therefore had a slight advantage over those going YCS NJ. Furthermore, people who go to every event often work around personal conflicts—it might even be their reprieve from personal life. Those that have a higher percentage of topping are much more selective about the events they go to, are adequately prepared and are likely fresher going into the event. I know I’m always even more eager to compete than usual after a break (either due to the winter break or a YCS I wasn’t able to attend). Buuut…


Results Still Matter

There are no excuses.

Did you know Bo Tang had six tops before you read this article? Many don’t. He doesn’t really put himself in the spotlight. That’s one of the reason we as a community track tops. It’s an easy and objective way to define success.

We all know that attending events takes time and money and not everybody has the ability to dedicate themselves to the game like those at the top of the list do. Bo’s focused on his education and career. I can’t speak on his finances but I know travel is out of the question for many people because they don’t have the money. Personally speaking, money isn’t as much of a factor because I dedicated myself in school to have that luxury but time is something I don’t have as much of because I have a full-time job, a wife and a couple of dogs. Rather than let it keep me from being competitive, though, I have chosen to focus most of the extra time that I do have on playing Yu-Gi-Oh instead of having a wide assortment of hobbies. 

There aren’t many who have time and money in excess with the drive to use it to become the best. Making sacrifices (such as your other hobbies to make more time, money, or your time to make money) is part of being dedicated to greatness and if you aren’t committed, then you can’t call yourself great. We all have things going against us that we have to overcome if we’re to be able to achieve anything but it’s not an excuse.

If the Bellido brothers had never taken stopped playing for periods of time, it’s possible that one or both of them would have the record. But shouldn’t dedication (or lack of) matter? Everybody’s capable of achieving greatness, although in what capacity and to what extent are variable—it’s just a matter of how much one applies themselves. Another sports analogy: Jerry Rice vs. Randy Moss. Both are all-time great NFL wide receivers but almost everybody you ask will tell you that (a) Randy Moss was more talented but (b) Jerry Rice is the greatest to ever play the position. Because he worked harder, Jerry Rice earned his place in the game as the best ever. The advantages given to Moss didn’t prevent Rice from achieving all that he could.

Longevity is a result of dedication and commitment. It’s extremely difficult to keep the desire to keep learning, to be great over formats, years, eras of your life. That’s why the number of tops matter so much. The game is so much different now than it was a year ago, and the year before that and so on. For somebody to continue to top through all of it means that they have the skills/ability to learn a new way of playing and the humility/drive to do so, and a top is a reflection of that. That speaks to them as a player. It's why at the end of the day, results do matter. 

In summary, number of tops and amount of Championships are the most important factors for determining where a player should go down in the history books but they don't tell the entire story. (Based on that, I would have Lazaro Bellido and Jerry Wang at the top of the list.)

 For your amusement, here are some of my points given another way:

  • “If Marik would’ve played as long as Yugi, he would’ve had more tops” isn’t fair to The Pharaoh; dedication matters
  • “Marik has a better ratio of Tops to events attended than Yugi…” is like saying if Marik played longer he would have more tops. That’s not necessarily true. Duelists should be evaluated on a player-by-player basis.
  • “Yugi has more wins than Kaiba” is a semi-valid argument but isn’t the end-all, be-all. There have been a lot of one-hit wonders in Yu-Gi-Oh and I wouldn’t say they’re better than Joe Giorlando.
  • “Bakura didn’t run mainstream decks” is a testament to the success that he has had running non-meta decks but it only enhance his results. Creativity can’t replace a substantial difference in results.
  • “Joey just doesn’t have the money to travel to events like Kaiba does” is a reality that everybody faces. The duelists who have money in real life have other constraints, such as time. You might not be able to duel your way to cash prizes like Joey did in the show (that’s kind of ironic, eh?) but if your heart is set on traveling and becoming a great duelist then, as they say, where there is a will there is a way. Time to find a job to support your hobby. Money/time/etc. can be used as an excuse and people will understand... but they still won't consider you the greatest ever.
  • “Pegasus is evil; I don’t like him, therefore Joey is better” is obviously false if Pegasus has the credentials and Joey doesn’t.


Even More to Consider

Europe, Latin and South America don't have as many premier events as North America does so they have to be judged differently.

An argument could even be made between dominance versus consistency. For example, Joe Giorlando had seven straight tops in a row. Despite not topping it off with a crowning achievement, he still dominated that era. On the other hand, Frazier has about the same number of tops but hasn’t been able to string together such a streak. Rather, his tops have come at a more consistent rate over the past few years. I wouldn’t say that one is better than the other in either case but it’s an interesting thought.

Skillfulness of the format said person topped in is also something we could think about. Dino Rabbit format wasn't considered very skillful yet Joe had an astounding amount of success during that period. What's interesting about this point is that it an argument could be made for both sides: it could make his performance more or less impressive.

Finally, it’s also worth mentioning that the upcoming ARG Circuit Series could further complicate how player legacies are defined. What’s at stake will be higher than ever and competition will be fierce. Will a Circuit Series tournament be considered a premier event?  If attendance is similar to official events, would an ACS top count towards a player’s tally? Those of us at ARG certainly think so and hope everybody else will agree but only time will tell. I can’t wait to find out. 

Thanks for reading and remember that the first ARG Circuit Series event will be on September 21st at the Ft. Worth Convention Center. I'll be there trying to improve my own legacy and hope you all will be making an effort to do the same!

Samuel Pedigo
I began playing competitively at YCS Dallas in 2011 and currently have seven premier event tops, including a 2nd place finish at the 2011 NA WCQ. I pride myself on playing complex decks that often challenge the player with in-game puzzles to determine the optimal play. My friends make fun of me for creating spreadsheets detailing most (or all) of the combos in the deck that I'm playing. In addition to the mental stimulation, I feel as though these kinds of decks offer the most flexibility and gives the player a much higher influence on the outcome of the game. I'm also the host of the Yu-GI-Cast! It's a podcast dedicated to Yu-Gi-Oh. Although Billy, Scott and I aren't able to make podcasts very often, I try to update the page regularly with articles and news about the three of us. Here's the URL: PLAY HARD, PLAY SMART, OR GO HOME!
Samuel Pedigo

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