I was ready. I had assembled my dueling posse for the regional and found us a car ride.
I had my netdecked Goat Control deck secured in my dueling bag.
A bag full of candy and junk food that I would consume about halfway through the tournament.
And about as much courage as the lion from the Wizard of Oz.
We play tested a lot that week in hopes of tightening up our skills before the first ever real tournament. I woke up on the morning of with my nerves running wild, thoughts of defeat racing through my mind, palms sweating, and fear in my heart. I was legitimately afraid. The drive there was even worse because of my anxiety; it seems that on the morning of any real tournament, I get a sick feeling in my stomach. I can’t eat or anything for most of the day. The fact that it was an extremely long ride to get there didn’t help either. It might not have been that long in hindsight, but at the time, with all the nerves and everything, it seemed like a Flaming Eternity. So I did what I always did in those situations—I fired up some music and started biting my nails. All was quiet in our car; perhaps the feeling of fear was mutual between my duelmates, or maybe they were just tired.
Upon our arrival to Infinite Quest, which was the location of the regional, we immediately noticed tons of players standing outside of the store laughing and talking about Yu-Gi-Oh. Some of them were wearing shirts that said “Team HungerForce.” It was the first time I’d ever seen a group of people with actual team shirts on, so that seemed really cool to me at the time…and intimidating. I’d heard about HungerForce before attending the regional, too. They were supposed to be really good and were known for topping several regionals at the time, which was a big deal considering that day and age. A lot of them also had the same regional playmat as Dontaye—the one that resembled the paper playmat that came with the Yugi and Kaiba starter decks, and the one that you could only get from topping-- but they had them rolled up and sitting on their shoulders under the straps of their bags. It seemed so organized. I envied the fact that a whole group of people could have so much success and be so close to home. But for now, I would have to focus on the task at hand, and that was getting to the Top8 of this tournament and getting an invite to nationals. Only the Top4 got them, so even after doing well in swiss, you would still have to win one more match to go home with the gold. My work was cut out for me.
We parked, stepped out the car, stretched, and made our way to the entrance. To say the place was overcrowded with duelists would be an understatement. One of my friends made a beeline to the door, so naturally we all followed directly behind him. It got awkwardly quiet as we approached, which created palpable tension in the air; they could smell newcomers. And the elitism was so thick; you could cut it with a knife. But with so many competitive players in one place—it was bound to happen, right?
Once we made it into the store, I started scanning the room just to see how things looked and I could hear our driver, Edgar, talking to the lady at the front who was handling registration. Something didn’t seem right; it was way too packed to hold everyone. I directed my attention to his conversation with the registrar, only to hear a confirmation of what I’d been thinking.
“We’re sorry, we can’t take any more people. We opened preregistration yesterday, so if you didn’t preregister, then it’s first-come, first-served.” “What? We didn’t hear anything about no preregistration. That’s a bunch of bullcrap,” he replied angrily. I knew this could get bad so I walked over to them. “Wait so where did you have to go to preregister then?” I asked in a calm and collected manner. “It’s on our website, or you could’ve come to the store during the week.” She was speaking so nonchalantly that I became instantly irritated. That meant that Edgar was already fuming. “Nobody told us anything about preregistering. We drove really far to get here, too.” “Well I don’t know what to tell ya. There isn’t enough room, sir.” “Yeah, whatever.” Well there’s that I guess.
At this point, we were all back outside, standing around the car, and deciding what the next course of action should be. It was far too early in the morning for a regular local tournament, and none of us really knew where we were at to begin with. “Man this sucks. We came up here for nothing.” “Yeah, I never even heard of preregistering for a tournament before. They basically made the regional only for their own local players. And look at how many people are standing out here with nowhere to go and nothing to do.” “They’re definitely losing a lot of money.” “Yeah I know, it’s crazy. Alright well where does everyone need to be dropped o—“HEY DO YOU GUYS STILL WANT TO PLAY IN A TOURNAMENT!?” the woman from the registrar screamed into the crowd. Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned to her. She was standing halfway between the entrance of the store and outside. “THERE’S A PLACE NOT TOO FAR FROM HERE THAT’LL HOLD ALL OF YOU. COME SEE ME FOR DIRECTIONS.” I looked at Edgar and the rest of the gang to see what they were thinking. The expressions on their faces told me that this was clearly happening.
She mentioned a local called Alternate Universes which Dontaye and Kevin already knew about. Coincidentally, it was only a short drive up the street from JMC Collectibles. “What are the odds,” I thought out loud. “Well if all these people come, it’s going to be a big tournament. Do you know how to get there from here, Edgar?” “Yeah, it’s like thirty minutes away. Lemme just make sure everyone else is coming first.” We walked over to the people standing around and told them that they could also follow us if they wanted to.
After everyone took down the directions, we were ready to depart. There were no less than sixty people all headed to one local. I was worried that the same thing might happen again—not enough room to seat everyone. Much to my surprise, everyone fit. This would be the biggest tournament that I had ever played in, and so many of the people were unfamiliar faces, so I couldn’t accurately predict what I would be up against. If they were anything like the JMC crowd, they would be most likely using Goat Control, just like me. But if they were anything like Galaxy, they could be using anything.
The store owner, Mike Coyle, told us that we’d be playing 6 rounds of swiss with a cut to Top8. The prize for first place was $180 in store credit. There were other prizes for the rest of the Top8 but the only one that I wanted was obviously first. I was pumped and nervous at the same time. I really wanted to win this one. I felt that it would say a lot if I could pull out a win here, and all I really needed to do was dodge a few threats and get a little lucky. Maybe the good players will get paired together and eliminate each other, but then again, that’s probably just wishful thinking on my part.
Throughout the day, I ended up playing against a myriad of decks, including Warrior Toolbox, Burn, Beastdown, Zombies, and of course the infamous Goat Control. I took one loss during the swiss rounds to Zombies because of Creature Swap and Pyramid Turtle on my Black Luster Soldier- Envoy of the Beginning. That combo was so ruinous back then—actually I’m pretty sure it’d be ruinous now, too, except that you’d see an Abysslinde instead of a Pyramid Turtle being swapped. In any event, Kevin, Dontaye, and Edgar all made the Top8 as well. To me, there was no way I could win now. I’d done such a good job of avoiding them all day by the grace of the swiss pairings, but now I’d surely have to play one of them, so winning was virtually impossible.
Luckily for me, I ended up getting paired against the same Zombie guy that I lost to in swiss. How nice, a rematch. I wasn’t sure if that would be a good or a bad thing considering that he already beat me, but at the very least, he wasn’t one of the few people I feared to play, and he wasn’t using a deck that I was particularly afraid of either. At least this time, I would know what his deck was capable of, and maybe I could play around it.
Unfortunately for me, he ended up winning game one by scoring too many direct attacks with Spirit Reaper. That card was so obnoxious; I couldn’t stand it. I didn’t have much to side for his deck, and he played a lot of removal to get little pokes in with Reaper and the rest of the undead. Somehow, I managed to completely blow him out in game two with an early onslaught from Metamorphosis, and Tsukuyomi. I guess that was one way of dealing with his recruiter nonsense. I’d aim for the same thing in game three.
We spent a lot of time side decking for the finale of our Top8 match. I don’t think there was as much actual side decking going on as there was mental preparation. There was a lot on the line considering that if you only made Top8, you went home with just your entry fee back. He was going first which meant he’d have a chance to set up before me. It ended up being a long and drawn out match, too. It came down to me having to restrain myself from dropping BLS because I could feel that he was holding a Creature Swap just to take it. I wasn’t about to fall for the same trick twice—the same trick he used to beat me in swiss. This time, things were gonna go down differently. “You have the swap don’t you,” I said as I stared at my hand. “Maybe,” he replied coyly. “Do you have the BLS?” “Maybe,” I shot back mockingly. I needed to wait until I drew a copy of Scapegoats to bait his Swap. I hid behind a couple of D.D. monsters until then. Eventually, I drew a copy and summoned my Soldier with confidence. Perhaps too much confidence if he were as good as Kevin or Dontaye. They would have read through my obvious trick, but I don’t think he saw it coming. By this time, the field was clear of my warriors from a different dimension, so the situation looked ripe to steal my monster. I made sure to set the Goats with another backrow in case he had spell/trap destruction or something. My heart started pounding when I went to end my turn, only to have him flip up a Typhoon and pick up a die. He started rolling it around in his closed palm like we were at the casino. There was no way he was about to leave this whole game up to chance like this. “I’m gonna leave it up to chance,” he said right after I thought about it. Why me? If he hits the correct card, the game is over—right then and there. Now I wish I would’ve waited a turn to set the Goats and see if he had a response to it. That way, if he did have something to destroy it, I could either chain it or not summon BLS to begin with. I misplayed, and now I’d given my opponent a 50-50 chance to steal the game from me. He pointed at the fake backrow and said, “even,” then he pointed at the real one and said, “odd.” I couldn’t deal with the anxiety. I avoided picking them up as to not give anything away. I’d already messed up enough. “Ready,” he asked with a smile on his face. “Ready,” I answered apprehensively. How long was he going to drag this out? Hasn’t he seen Beyblade? Just let it rip.
He threw the die on the table and watched it spin. My eyes widened as it slowed to the number…
To be continued…