Do Archetypes Produce Skillful Formats?

Hey everybody, I’m back with the final article on my mini-series that investigates whether or not “old school” Yu-Gi-Oh is more skillful than “new school” Yu-Gi-Oh. In the first article, we discovered that this was actually a question of whether or not archetypes produce skillful formats. In the second article, we defined what we meant when we talk about skill. We discovered that skill was not as straightforward as someone might originally think and that there were actually three different layers to it; technical play, deckbuilding, and the mental game. Each of these layers is characterized by two categories. The technical play aspect is composed of playing your cards in the optimal order and interacting with your opponent’s cards. The deckbuilding aspect is composed of making sure you’re your deck can do what it is supposed to do and stopping your opponent from doing what they want to do. The mental game is composed of deceiving your opponent and being able to tell when your opponent is trying to deceive you. Now that we have defined exactly what we are looking for, we are going to find out whether or not archetypes produce skillful formats by examining each of these six aspects of skill.


Before we begin, I’d like to give my sincerest congratulations to my protégé Ben Leverett for winning the largest ARG Circuit Series and his first ring this past weekend in Hartford, Connecticut! Ben and I test 30-40 hours a week and I couldn’t be happier that all his hard work finally paid off!


Let’s start off by taking a look at how the different decks play. What is the difference between Burning Abyss and Goat Control? The biggest difference seems to be the amount of times that the archetype deck can special summon in a single turn. This inherently problematic as being able to spam a bunch of monsters onto the field at one time can create OTKs. This seems to be a repeated theme with other archetypes such as Dragon Rulers and Mermails, which also consistently put a barrage of monsters on the field to potentially end the game in a single turn. A deck like Goat Control is much less likely to be able drop their hand onto the table and deal 8000 damage in one turn. This makes it seem like archetypes de-emphasize the importance of interacting with your opponent for the technical play aspect.


spirit reaperWhat about maximizing your available options, the other part of the technical play aspect? Well it makes sense that it’s more difficult to maximize the utility of your options if you have more options available to you. Do archetypes or non-archetypes have more options available? In a Goat Control deck, let’s say you have Exarion Universe, Breaker the Magical Warrior, and Spirit Reaper as a part of your six card hand, while your opponent has 1 backrow. The realistic options for what to do with your normal summon would be summon or set Exarion, summon Breaker, summon or set Reaper, or don’t summon or set. That’s six realistic options.


My main concern is that while you may have six options available to you for what to do with your normal summon, do you really have six cards in hand? What are cards other than a representation of options? They really don’t have any value unless you give them context. You may have Gather Your Mind in your six-card hand, but that isn’t really doing much for your Dragon Ruler strategy. If it’s not giving you any extra options, it’s almost like you have a five-card hand. This is kind of a problem when we look back at the Goat Control hand as once you decide which of the six options you want to do that turn, you can’t use any of the other monsters for the rest of your turn. In that case, it’s not so much that you have a six-card hand with three monsters, it’s almost as if you have a four card hand where one card provides you with six options. Once you select one of the six options, the other five stop being options.


This is the inherent flaw of normal summons and I think we’ll see that special summons do a much better job at emphasizing the amount of options available to you. If you have a hand of Tour Guide and some Burning Abyss monsters, your additional monsters don’t stop being options because you already summoned Tour Guide.


300px-BlackLusterSoldierEnvoyoftheBeginning-PGLD-EN-GUR-1ELet’s take a look at the value of your deck. In Goat Control, yes, once your Black Luster Soldier is gone, it’s gone and you don’t have access to it anymore, but this still relies on actually drawing Black Luster Soldier. This element exists in archetypes as well, but it’s significantly deemphasized. You don’t have to draw Graff to have access to it. You can special it off Tour Guide, search it off Scarm, or mill it off Dante. Additionally, you have an actual variety of options available to you in the extra deck. Despite the 100+ card extra decks of Goat Control, you almost exclusively used it to summon Thousand-Eyes. The other cards were used only in specific scenarios and were more exceptions than active options. This leads me to believe that non-archetypes placed an emphasis on playing with a six-card hand with respect to the resources left in deck and that archetypes place an emphasis on playing with your whole deck with respect to limitations of your hand. This means that archetypes emphasize the importance of maximizing the utility of your options as they have significantly more options available to them than non-archetype decks. The problem becomes when you have so many options available to you that you can easily end the game.


What does the reason archetypes have more options available to them than non-archetypes reveal about skill? I think that the nature of archetypes means that the cards inherently go with one another. Dragon Rulers search dragons. Burning Abyss search Burning Abyss. Mermails search Mermails. Goat Control doesn’t do this. A fair amount of the cards have absolutely no synergy with one another. Metamorphosis with Exarion Universe? We’re not really getting much done. If the deck you’re playing against has these same problems where a fair amount of their cards don’t work with one another, it can actually lead to very skillful interactions. This is because neither player can do much so there is a buildup of resources while both players wait to be able to play. I think these are the games we think of when we regard Goat Control as being skillful. Both players build up to 9-10 cards and have plenty of options available to them, a type of game that will reward whoever gets the most utility out of their cards. The problem is that this isn’t always the case and sometimes one player has cards like Pot of Greed and Magician of Faith while the other player had the Exarion and Metamorphosis. This turns into a blowout, not a skillful interaction. If they both had the Exarion and Metamorphosis type cards or both had the Pot of Greed Magician of Faith type cards, it’d result in skillful interactions.


It seems almost obvious that the mental game will be more important for games that focus more on the interactions with the opponent. Thus non-archetypes will place more emphasis on the mental game. It should be noted that while the mental game is one of the three aspects of skill, it’s by far the smallest aspect, some number like 10% of the skill breakdown. Deckbuilding and technical play are significantly more important and together make up the other 90% or so. These aren’t exact percentages, just to illustrate the gap in importance.


The mental game is important in deckbuilding. If deckbuilding gives a significant advantage, such as in archetype formats, then it’s possible to deckbuild with deception. For instance, when Raiden came out, I played and topped the next event with Lightsworn because I knew it was good enough to top and to make it standard, but I knew Sylvans were better. Then I played Sylvans at the next event and topped that as well. If I had topped with Sylvans and they became standard, I might not have topped the next event because technical play wasn’t emphasized and I would no longer have an advantage.


Another thing to note is the number of turns an average game lasts in each type of format. Since the cards don’t interact as well with one another and they can’t put tons of monsters on the board to end the game very quickly, non-archetype formats’ games tend to last longer than archetype formats where the decks are more cohesive and can threaten large amounts of game-ending damage. There is a tradeoff here because while non-archetypes generally have more turns, they have fewer options available on each turn. Archetypes generally have fewer overall turns in the game, but more options available on each turn.


mirror forceBoth types of formats apply deckbuilding skills to make sure their deck does what it is supposed to do and stop the opponent from doing what they are supposed to do. These two deckbuilding aspects aren’t an even spread, as making sure your deck does what it is supposed to do is always more important than being able to stop your opponent from doing what they’re trying to do. Mirror Force can’t attack for game. Stopping two monsters with Mirror Force doesn’t do anything if your deck is full of Sakuretsu Armors and Dimensional Prisons with no actual way to win the game. The reverse, however, isn’t true. Monsters can get rid of other monsters so if you play only cards that advance your game, it’s still possible to win the game. Though this happens from time-to-time such as Chaos Dragons, it’s still an extreme example as some amount of cards to stop your opponent’s strategy has proven to be better than playing no such cards. This is why 5-10 cards to stop the opponent has remained a norm, leaving the remainder of the spots to be used on cards that advance your game state.


That being the case, there should be increased emphasis placed on any type of format that emphasizes the need to build a consistent and cohesive deck. Archetypes are inherently better at doing that, but that doesn’t make them more skillful at doing that. This is especially true as it doesn’t take skill to put Nekroz cards with other Nekroz cards; Konami did that part for you. Since a large portion, usually at least 25 cards, are predetermined by the nature of it being an archetype, that means there is only an emphasis on deckbuilding skills for less than half the deck. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as all Nekroz decks are trying to do the same thing all other Nekroz decks are trying to do, the same that all Burning Abyss decks are trying to do all the same things other Burning Abyss decks are trying to do. That means there is a lot of emphasis on using the remaining spaces on figuring out the best way to do what the deck is supposed to do. Let’s take Burning Abyss for example. Once more than the original three Malebranche were released, they were still trying to put pressure on the opponent through Dante. Most assumed that Mathematician was still the correct way to go about that, but I realized that Alich and Calcab not having relevant effects didn’t stop them from accomplishing their desired game state better than the current builds with Mathematician did.


Being the first to realize something like this will consistently allow for success. This is my personal favorite aspect of the game, but it isn’t without its downsides. Once someone realizes the better way of doing things, you might be able to improve on it a little bit, but it’s marginal. You’re not going to be able make the huge improvements that are necessary to win consistently perform. At that point, the decks are going to become relatively the same because it’s the best possible way to do it given the format and card pool. The technical play interactions of the archetype formats aren’t emphasized and it is difficult to actually do well with any kind of consistency once it happens.


dimensional prisonThis is emphasized by the nature of how you stop your opponent from doing what they are trying to do in archetype formats. Since your archetypes are more powerful, one for one trades like Dimensional Prison aren’t going to be optimal. You can stop one thing, but they’ll just do something else. Floodgates are the best type of defensive card in these formats because they are powerful enough to stop everything the opponent’s strategy is trying to do, not just one part of it. This works out much the same as the making your deck to do what it is supposed to do aspect of deckbuilding worked out. Whoever thinks to use this type of strategy first has a major advantage over the competition, such as when I played Vanity’s Emptiness in the main deck of Dragon Rulers at Nationals 2013 or when Jae Kim played Royal Oppression in Tele-DAD when no one else was. These were huge advantages and it’s certainly going to pay off to be the first to realize it and play it at an event, but once again we run into the problem of those not necessarily promoting skillful interactions for the technical play aspect of the game. Sometimes these floodgates can be countered through alternative deckbuilding strategies, but sometimes they can’t without just making the deck worse overall than it would if you had just ignored it.


One note on Tele-DAD, or rather the Destiny engine, is that this is when we start to see a shift from non-archetypes dominating to archetypes taking over the game. The introduction of the Destiny engine was the first blend between cards that had lots of synergy together and cards that were good on their own. Cards that work together are more powerful and consistent (not something that speaks one way or the other to skill) than cards that stand alone, which is why we saw archetypes take over.


Non-archetypes don’t have this problem, or at least not to the same degree. Since they focus more on skillful interactions, every deck can become standard and the better player will still be able to win. They also aren’t particularly weak to a floodgate since floodgates hit a very narrow aspect like the graveyard or being able to special summon. Since your non-archetype deck doesn’t really work all that well together, it’s not likely that it’s going to focus on only one aspect, which makes floodgates pretty weak at stopping them.


I think that while this would seem to indicate that non-archetypes produce more skillful formats, it ignores that technical play also has a ceiling. Much the way that you cannot continue to make huge improvements in deckbuilding, you can’t play significantly better than your opponent either. At the end of the day, a large amount of plays are obvious. As we said when talking about maximizing the utility when trying to get your deck to do what it is supposed to do, non-archetype formats have fewer choices per turn. If you have six options available, often times one is going to be obviously better than the others. This is a huge limitation for a format with an already limited number of options.


It’s difficult to say that archetypes are strictly more skillful than non-archetypes or that non-archetypes are strictly more skillful than archetypes because skill has six different aspects to it and it’s unlikely that either archetypes or non-archetypes are more skillful in all six areas. It seems that archetypes emphasize certain aspects of skill and non-archetypes emphasize different aspects of skill. Now that we’ve fleshed out the logic behind the conclusions, let’s bring it all together and see what we concluded.


Components of Skill


  1. Technical Play

- Gives a significant advantage, but not as significant as deckbuilding.

  1. Maximizing the utility of your cards that advance your game state.
    1. Archetypes Emphasized
      1. Archetypes have more options available to them on any given turn, thus it’s more difficult to pick the right one than if you had to choose between fewer options, such as in non-archetype formats.
    2. Interacting with Your Opponent’s Cards
      1. Non-Archetypes Emphasized
        1. Archetypes can put game-ending damage on board on any given turn. There is no interaction if the game just ends.
        2. Non-archetypes don’t have cards that work as well together and thus it’s unlikely that they can use them all to make game-ending plays with any sort of regularity.
  • If you stop one play in an archetype, they can just make another. This makes floodgates powerful against them. Floodgates don’t allow for interaction.
  1. Floodgates hit a narrow aspect of the game like special summoning. Since non-archetypes are less cohesive, they are much broader and aren’t stopped by cards that limit gameplay like floodgates.
  2. Deckbuilding

- The largest potential advantage to exploit.

  1. Maximizing your deck’s ability to do what it is trying to do.
    1. Archetypes Emphasized
      1. Since all Nekroz decks try to do the same thing as all other Nekroz decks, there is an emphasis on making your deck be able to do it better than their Nerkoz deck can.
      2. Non-archetypes are limited by not being a cohesive unit. They aren’t able to get the consistency necessary to give a significant advantage over the other decks in the field.
  • Especially emphasized after new releases and ban lists. After a standard is set, neither archetypes nor non-archetypes can gain huge leaps in deckbuilding advantages.
  1. Stopping your opponent from doing what their deck is trying to do.
    1. Archetypes Emphasized
      1. Being the first to efficiently use floodgates and have consistent access to those floodgates gives you a significant advantage over the competition.
        1. This results in a decreased emphasis on technical play since floodgates don’t allow for interaction.
      2. Defense that isn’t a floodgate won’t give a significant enough advantage over the other competition.
        1. Floodgates aren’t good against non-archetypes, thus they can’t take this advantage.

III. Mental Game

- Has the smallest impact of the three aspects.

  1. Deceiving Your Opponent.
    1. Non-archetypes emphasized in technical play deception.
      1. There is more interaction with the opponent with non-archetypes so there are more opportunities to deceive your opponent.
    2. Archetypes emphasized in deckbuilding deception.
      1. If it is a archetype format, you may need to retain an advantage in order to keep topping. Thus you can top with an inferior deck that’s good enough and that you may later be able to improve on it and don’t reach the deckbuilding ceiling of the format.
    3. Being able to detect when your opponent is attempting to deceive you.
      1. Non-archetypes favored.
        1. You will benefit most from this skill in formats with the most in-game interactions; non-archetype formats.



What are the implications of all of this? In non-archetype formats, players can achieve a higher top ratio since they can still win without significant innovations that aren’t possible, but since technical play is limited as most plays are obvious, the best is only so much better than the average, which means they won’t be able to top every event.


In archetype formats, whoever is first to discover the deckbuilding advantage will have a huge edge over the competition. This means that they are much more likely to actually win the tournament if they do make top cut, but they will have difficulty making it back to top cut once it becomes standard since they have reached the format’s deckbuilding ceiling and technical play is de-emphasized due to floodgates being strong and an increased potential for OTKs. This likely results in a lower top ratio, but a higher win ratio when compared to non-archetype formats. This was certainly the case for myself.


It’s really all about tradeoffs and one isn’t strictly more skillful in all the aspects of skill. It really depends on which aspects of skill you prefer be emphasized. Is it possible to get a higher top cut ratio and a higher win ratio? That remains to be seen and no one has ever obtained both. It may be a limitation of the game to have to place emphasis on one or the other, but how to do it may also just be undiscovered. If it is possible, whoever is the first to figure out how to achieve both a high top cut and high win ratio will go down as the greatest of all time. Play hard or go home!

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

Latest posts by Patrick Hoban (see all)