Joe Giorlando: The Mirror Match through Time

joe giolandoThink about how many sayings there are to describe two equally matched foes. We have all heard about the immovable object meeting the unstoppable force, or... I'll stop myself now before I get too far on a philosophical tangent. What I really wanted to talk about today transitions our previous topic regarding the new era in Yu-Gi-Oh and relates it to the general premise in the opening line. Now two duelists are obviously going to have advantages over one another, that is simply the way the world works. And we have seen over time how certain decks tend to feast on their preferred matchups over the course of a tournament, again, card games 101 right there. But what happens when two players wielding the questionable "best deck" sit down to fight it out? We have seen this all throughout Yu-Gi-Oh history. TeleDAD was once a tier 0 deck, but there were fundamental reasons why one player walked away the victory more often than not. As we talked about last week, we very well may have another deck approaching tier 0, and I thought this would be the perfect time to have a little chat about the history of mirror matches and try and pinpoint exactly how they have been historical won.

Rescue RabbitThe concept of a mirror match extends far back to the beginning of Yu-Gi-Oh history. There was once a day, before the release of Invasion of Chaos, where players sat down and traded [ccProd]Drop Off[/ccProd]s and other unique forms of what were considered control seizing cards. The card pool was not terribly tremendous, and the difficulty in destroying monsters with high attack points was glaring. 1900 normal monsters were not played for their synergy with [ccProd]Rescue Rabbit[/ccProd], but instead for how simply efficient they were at the grind game. Craftsmen of these days knew the grind game at heart, how to push through every incremental piece of card advantage, and indicator of play skill in the early days. Only very unique combinations of cards could suddenly deal 8000 points of damage, though the game had the unfortunate reality of being graced by [ccProd]Magical Scientist[/ccProd] and his launcher backed pal [ccProd]Catapult Turtle[/ccProd]. The idea of being forced out of the game due to the inability to activate cards also existed, as unless you held a copy of [ccProd]Mystical Space Typhoon[/ccProd] upon activation - [ccProd]Imperial Order[/ccProd] had the potential to ruin your day. But at the core of Yu-Gi-Oh was the ability of players to recognize how to play around the high volume of hand disruption, and try and potentially follow a unique sequence of plays once an opponent knew the contents of your hand. There was nothing like setting the trap and having an opponent walk right into it, thinking you would simply play the combination of cards they proudly knew you held in a unique manner, tossing them off your game and crowning you the victor. Games of Yu-Gi-Oh gave you that kind of time, and rewarded that kind of will power. It is difficult to replicate a time period like this again, but it certainly once exist - a long , long time ago. And mirror matches were mastered with patience and the will to deceive. A theme we may find throughout our journey back in time.

graceful charityYu-Gi-Oh had this unique stretch where theme deck strictly failed in comparison to the rest of the field. A far cry from what we see today, as Prophecy and Dragon Rulers collide for superiority. But honestly, Konami was popping out Silent Swordsman and Mystic Swordsman. Sure, we Mystic Swordsman Lv. 2 use to be a fairly playable card - but that is a far cry from the levels we see now, and the volume of each theme in a single deck. Formats gravitated towards the "cookie cutter" built of certain decks, similar to the [ccProd]Drop Off[/ccProd] centered decks I referred to in the previous paragraph. Even when Chaos Emperor Dragon - Envoy of the End was a legal card (can you believe that?), players looking to be the best - tended to play almost identical decks. Chaos Monsters? Check. A fleet of single spells? Check. The handful of power traps? Check. And so on. Chaos Emperor Dragon could obviously be a worrisome card, as ever format seems to have, but when the End was not finishing off a game - incremental card advantage was again at the forefront of victory. Some of the most powerful cards in Yu-Gi-Oh history were legal during this day, such as [ccProd]Graceful Charity[/ccProd], but one fundamental concept about mirror matches that tends to be well understood, and while obvious seems to be neglected, you both are playing the same cards. I know, why do I honestly have to write that. But it is so true. There is a reason you are being paired up this late into a tournament with someone who copied that same "cookie cutter" deck from a recent regional. It works. It may even work the best. You are playing all the same cards, just simply the most powerful. What needed to be understood about these times was that Yu-Gi-Oh games were not specifically decided because of unique combinations of cards. Certainly [ccProd]Graceful Charity[/ccProd] looked better with [ccProd]Sinister Serpent[/ccProd], and even more incredible with [ccProd]Magician of Faith[/ccProd] - but the card could still be activated in a vacuum on its own. Every card these days could, and the best players recognized how to pinpoint which ones would turn the tide of the game the fastest. Instead of sitting down and trying to stop a player from achieving a state in the game where their combination of theme cards becomes insurmountable, like what we have seen in recent time, the best player would recognize the handful of cards which would best swing the pendulum of momentum in their favor, and subsequently try and play around them. If [ccProd]Snatch Steal[/ccProd] truly was the singleton card to fear, was there a way to avoid also adding a monster on the field so my opponent cannot also enjoy the advantage of destroying my monster? Well doing plays me into the vulnerability of [ccProd]Premature Burial[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Monster Reborn[/ccProd]. If these are the only considerations (and I am just trying to simplify, but the situations are obviously more grand) than play around the one with the higher likelihood. Yu-Gi-Oh is a game of odds, and we just want them in our favor as often as possible.

solemn judgmentThe days of Chaos evolved into the days of Goat Control, which almost requires as entire series of text to give it what it deserves in terms of discussion. But if there is something about Konami you learn over the years, one way or another they seem to get what they want. Which is not necessarily bad too. Some of the greatest eras in Yu-Gi-Oh history were dominated by theme decks, such as Gladiator Beasts and TeleDAD. And those two decks shared a considerable amount of similarities in terms of how they functioned and won. The same would later be true when Tengu Plants was the undeniable best deck in the room, though only for a short while. Some of the more new age decks are won due to patience and precision. Sweeping one turn combinations of cards have become capable of defeating an opponent, and unlike formats where you primarily play around singleton cards, there are now combinations of card sequences you learn to fear. Not only do they have the potential to literally end the game in terms of life points, they have the ability to theoretically end the game in terms of the position they establish (such as Royal Oppression backed with [ccProd]Solemn Jugdment[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Gladiator Beast Herkinlos[/ccProd] behind several traps). So the concern of players became how to avoid playing into the vulnerable gamestate you were also trying to accomplish. The unique aspect of these formats was the ability to lure unsuspecting opponents into believing the cost was clear for a table turning [ccProd]Gladiator Beast Gyzarus[/ccProd] play, when in reality, you have the perfect counter. Patience.

maxx cAs I will say throughout Yu-Gi-Oh history, there is always the potential to have no legitimate means of victory. I have said it in countless articles, and it will always remain true. There is a reason you are playing a mirror match. Your opponent obviously believes whatever deck you have decided to play is also the best - so acknowledge the potential of the blowout game. But finding safe ways to build up incremental card advantage is just so key to winning mirror matches throughout history. The best players will continuously try and avoid playing into your deck's strength, and that is something you need to try and exploit. Holding off on [ccProd]Solemn Judgment[/ccProd] use to be the way to go back in the day. When that puppy could be played in threes, it seemed to always reward the player who could master winning the game by never activating their set copies. And in later days, the player who could bait out a poor Maxx "C" tended to be the one to resolve the actual explosive play to end the game. Did you hear those people who never played [ccProd]One for One[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Debris Dragon[/ccProd] because the opponent always had Maxx "C"? Well, there is sometimes you cannot do anything but hope they do not have it. But baiting them off a one for one [ccProd]Lonefire Blossom[/ccProd] the turn before? Well now we just have a master in the house. That was the way those mirror matches were won.

I am going to leave you today without putting into black and white what I think wins the mirror matches you find today. Dragon Ruler and Prophecy mirror matches are the battle of almost endless resources, but the mirror match can always be mastered. Have you found an outlet to victory you believe you can replicate again and again? Perhaps you can share in the comments. Or even why you seem to be dropping so many mirror matches.

Joe Giorlando

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