How to Become a Better Player

The most frequently asked question in Yu-Gi-Oh would have to be, “How do I become better at this game?” If you ask any good, well-known player, he will tell you that this question pops up in his social media inbox several times throughout the course of the year. Coincidentally, that happens to be the hardest question to answer, too. The best players didn’t get there using the same exact methods. Some players are better deck builders than they are at actually executing plays, and some are better at executing plays than they are at building decks. 99% of the Yu-Gi-Oh population fits into one of those two categories, while the remaining 1% are those exceptional individuals who can both build and execute on the highest levels (Patrick Hoban, Jeff Jones, Sean McCabe, Peter Gross, etc). You can/will have success regardless of where you fit in as long as you put the time in. And by “success,” I do not mean topping one or two events; I mean long-term success where you can perform well in each format. In this article, I am going to give you my methods to becoming a better Yu-Gi-Oh player.

Understand That You Won’t Become the Best Overnight

The first thing that you have to understand is that we all started from somewhere. The world’s finest did not wake up winning championships. If you ask any great player, he will tell you of a time when he was a scrub. If you’ve ever read my Origins series, you will know that I was once one of those scrubs. There are really no exceptions to this truth. In fact, before Patrick Hoban won his first championship in 2013, he had spent the entire 2012 without topping a single event. Can you imagine how frustrating it must have been to attend every event for an entire year without any success? You have to be willing to accept that it takes time before you can perform well on a consistent basis. He paid his dues and now he has 7 wins.

Another thing to note, you should try not to let stubbornness and hubris stymie your growth as a player. It is my belief that arrogance negatively impacts your ability to learn. On the other hand, I think humility goes a long way because it allows you to step back and see things from other people’s perspective—and that applies to everything in life, really.

Read, Read, Read!

I cannot stress the importance of reading enough. There’s so much knowledge out there just waiting to be absorbed by your brain. When I was coming up, I read articles and feature matches from, forum posts from DGZ (and Pojo when I was feeling bold), and I consistently read up on rulings, too. You’d be surprised at how much you can learn this way. My logic has always been that even if I only learn one new thing after reading ten articles, eventually I will have learned a plethora of new ways to think out my moves and execute them effectively. Just think for a second, what would happen if you knew ten more ways to approach the game than all of your opponents? What would happen if you knew fifty more ways? In this way, knowledge is literally power.

The best part about the Yu-Gi-Oh community is that all of the content is free! You don’t have to pay anything to learn. Imagine if your college textbooks were free—that would be insane! There are plenty of sources for information nowadays. All you have to do is look around. Try going back and reading some of the articles from Joe Giorlando and Alistar Albans. Actually, even Hoban was writing consistently long before winning anything, and those articles are all still here as well. I promise you that there are still things you can learn from reading them that will help to improve your game today.

Playtest Days in Advance (if possible)

Whenever you know that you’re going to an event, you should find the deck you’re going to play well before the week of the actual event, and use it—a lot. We often make the mistake of playtesting only on the night before an event, and then wonder why we didn’t do so well. Have you ever gone to a tournament and made a really simple misplay in the early rounds? This is usually caused by not playing the game enough to shake the rust off. If I don’t play for 2 or 3 weeks, I will undoubtedly make an obvious misplay. The other bad thing about not playing enough is that it will take you too long to think, which can cause you to either go into time or receive a slow-play warning.

Learn How to Adjust to All Matchups

It goes without saying that you should know how your deck performs against the rest of the field. You should know how to play the mirror match, the worst matchup, and even the best matchup. You should know if it’s better to go first or second—something that people still haven’t learned yet. You should know which side deck cards are good going first and second, and which ones are horrible in the same circumstances. You should also know specific rulings and card interactions between all matchups, especially since you can’t make the most optimal plays without knowing if they’re actually possible.

Bottomless Trap HoleWatch and Analyze Video Feature Matches

One of the more recent mediums of content is video, thanks to ARG and the Circuit Series. You can literally see how the good players play and then analyze their match. One of the best video feature matches for seeing what you should and should not do would be the finals of ARG Charlotte, where Hoban plays against Bodan. It’s a classic Mermail vs. Fire Fist game, but there are so many little things that Pat does to make the most optimal plays. For example, he knows his opponent has Bottomless Trap Hole, so he chains his Abyss-Sphere to his opponent’s Upstart Goblin. Since the chain resolves backwards, the Abyss-Sphere will summon Abysslinde as chain link 2, and his opponent will be unable to respond with Bottomless because Upstart Goblin still has to resolve. That play guaranteed that he would get his end phase Abysslinde search and progress the game in his favor.

In the same match, you also see Bodan fail to use Bottomless until it is far too late. He refused to use it on Tidal, which was the entire backbone of the Mermail deck at that time. Hoban would have had a hard time winning if he had lost his Tidal AND was under Reckless Greed. What makes it even more interesting is the fact that Bodan opened with an amazing hand, so while watching it,  you can plot out several different courses of action that would have lead to victory.

I strongly recommend watching every single match available, especially the ones with known players. However, be sure to watch even the matches that seem less interesting, too. Try to pinpoint the turning point of each game. See if there was anything that could have been done differently to win. You should always be asking, “Why did he do that?”


The last thing that you need to become a better player is to actually care about the game. You’ll always see those people who show up to nearly every event, or every local, but always claim that the game means nothing to them. If that were the case, then why waste so much time on it? Life is too short for that. So, let’s be honest, we all love the game. If you’re reading this article, you obviously love it. When you win, you should care. When you lose, you should care more. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do well.

Until next time, duelists! Remember, Play Hard or Go Home!

-Frazier Smith

-The Dark Magician

Frazier Smith

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