Worlds 2013: Remembering a Legacy Format (Part 1)
Hello, my furry friends. Johnny Bear is back with entry #16. This format, I have covered the most commonly played decks, such as Evilswarm, Spellbook, and Constellar, as well as a number of odd decks like Gravekeepers, Heroes, and anti-meta. Suspicously, I have not written on the deck in center-stage of it all, Dragon Ruler, as I have saved the best for last. In part 1, I will introduce you to what I call “legacy formats” and scratch the surface on the legacy that Dragon Rulers leave behind. I hope that this article is revisited for many ages to come, for I write it as a reference source for whenever the diversity argument is raised in the future, as well as for any historians in the years to come who want to look back and learn about Dragon Rulers. In Part 2, I will hone in on the deck in more detail and examine what took place at Worlds.
Diverse Formats and Best-Deck Formats
There are numerous factors that correlate with how competitive players are. That is, the more competitive one is, the more a related variable increases. Some of these factors are: how much the player is willing to spend on the game, how often he travels the premier event circuit, how much he practices for the premier event circuit, and how much value he sees in best-deck formats versus diverse formats. It’s the latter which I’ll talk about today. This correlation is not one-to-one, but does fit in a general way. I am not claiming that any one side is correct (as these are your individual values, not objective truths), but I will explain the difference between the two so that there is less confusion and senseless fighting over the whole diversity argument. The main point I will develop is that whether diversity is good depends on what you value more in the game, with the competitive side of the spectrum favoring non-diversity and the more casual side favoring diversity.
For some good background: http://articles.alterealitygames.com/the-diversity-argument/
There are a couple of unofficial terms I’m going to use, and I’ll introduce them now. The first is “best-deck format.” Although there is always one deck that takes the most top places or sees the biggest turnout at a premier event, in some formats the race is too close to call it a best-deck format. I would label these “diverse formats.” I will give some examples. Pre-ABYR was an example of a diverse format, as Gear variants rendered the dominance of Wind-Ups questionable, and then the struggle was further complicated when revitalized Inzektor and Agent decks entered into the equation, with Chaos Dragon and Hieratics tangibly affecting the meta. Another example of a diverse format was 2012 nats season because an infinite cycle was repeating between Wind-Ups being good, hand traps being mained, Wind-Ups being bad, hand traps not being mained, then Wind-Ups being good again. This was when Dino Rabbit was on top by a slight margin, but Chaos Dragon, Wind-Up, Inzektor, and even Hieratics were keeping up neck-and-neck.
In contrast with these diverse formats, there are best-deck formats, where there is usually one combo-oriented deck that is the most commonly played, and then a few anti-meta decks that revolve around floodgate strategies which specifically stop said combo-oriented deck. Sometimes we call these “one-deck formats” or “two-deck formats,” depending, of course, on how many decks share majority dominance. Some examples of best-deck formats include Goat Control, Tele-DAD, and Plants ’11 - or more recently, CBLZ Mermails and LTGY Dragon Ruler. There has been both good and bad in both diverse and narrow formats. Sometimes there are diverse formats that most people seem pleased with, such as some of the formats when GBs were good. Sometimes people are not so pleased with diversity, such as the degenerate trainwreck that followed Order of Chaos, or perhaps the dumbest diverse format of all time: nats season 2009. Sometimes one-deck formats are so interesting that people play them for years to come, such as the obvious Goat Control. Other times, it’s abundantly clear that everyone is ready to move on from a one-deck format (competitive players included), such as with CBLZ Mermails.
Different Values - Dispelling Argument
Unless you don’t use the internet (in which case I wonder how you got to this article), you’re probably aware of how polarized the community is on the current best-deck format. We have the combo-oriented deck, Dragon Ruler, and some anti-meta decks whose strategies are to floodgate Dragon Rulers: Spellbooks have Jowgen/Kycoo, Evilswarm has Ophion, and almost everything supports Vanity’s Emptiness. The community is incredibly divided on whether this season has been a “good” one. Well, the problem with a subjective term like “good” is that each person has his own definition of what “good” is. A lot of people fight over whether the Dragon Ruler format is “good” because their values are not in agreement. What you call two feet, I may call a yard, if our measuring sticks are different. I hope that by identifying some objective characteristics, I can dispel argument, while still encouraging debate. I differentiate argument from debate: where argument is more emotional, subjective, and unproductive, and debate is objective, civil, and fruitful.
Some players chose to sit out of the game this format because Dragon Ruler was expensive to construct. I saw many others participate and run Dragon Ruler, but switch decks because of the learning curve involved. Some players like to face many different decks at tournaments, and like seeing results in the top cut that reflect this diversity. To them, a varied experience is what makes them happy. In contrast, some players aren’t so much concerned with the variety of their competition as much as how interactive their games are. For instance, they may be happy after a long day of playing grind games rather than getting looped turn one or lose to unavoidable mechanics. There is yet another variable that most players do not perceive, but which I think is absolutely central in what sparks so much argument about good formats. This is what some would call “skillfulness,” but I think it’s more accurate to talk about it in terms of time investment: that is, the return you get for how much time you put into practicing.
For instance, Mermails dominated a one-deck format where you could peak in your ability to pilot the deck at a lower hour-count. For example: if you, having practiced 30 hours, played the mirror against someone who practiced 300 hours, the outcome was still more or less a coin toss. As you can imagine, this makes for a very frustrating game because a competitive hobby by definition should be something you can tangibly improve in by investing effort, not reach a ceiling with just a few weeks’ practice.
In contrast, the Dragon Ruler mirror, the Dragon Ruler-Swarm matchup, and even the Dragon Ruler-Spellbook matchup gave you many returns for your time investment. Thus, if you practiced for 300 hours, you actually had a very distinct advantage over the player who practiced 30. Forseeing what rebuttals a statement like this may have, I think now is a good time to clarify that I’m talking about quality practice - the lab where skill is honed, card choices are improved, data is recorded, and obscure tactics are uncovered - and not simply 300 hours of just playing Yugioh.
The reason I say most players do not perceive this attribute of good formats (or as the competitive community might say, skillful formats) is because most players choose not to practice a whole lot. Granted, they put a lot of hours into PLAYING Yugioh, but playing is not practicing. Playing is more fun and more hype, while practicing often feels like a chore. For this reason, I can fully understand how some players prefer the formats where wins are more of a toss-up and a whole slew of decks “stand a chance.” Every regionals I go to, I can’t take a step without overhearing players describe how they lost because their opponent had “that card” or they “drew terrible,” and so on. The game is more fun for the vast majority when wins are common for everyone and not just players who practice hard with the best deck, and to an extent, this only takes place when you have diversity, a low learning curve for most decks, and turbulent power cards like Monster Reborn, Pot of Avarice, and Envoy of the Beginning. As I walk about, whether at a local, regional, or YCS, all I hear is this kind of banter about getting sacked or drawing badly, and never do I hear someone introspectively challenging his own decisions, plays, and card choices.
Maybe Jimmy likes Yugioh best when he can afford a deck that can beat the top players at his locals because he’s still in high school and doesn’t rake in any sort of capital to fund an expensive hobby. Maybe Arnold likes Yugioh best when the top decks can be played well with fewer hours of practice because he’s double majoring in college and doesn’t have the time to invest in work-intensive formats. Maybe Susie likes Yugioh best when there is one top deck that requires a large time investment because she’s only working part time and she’s particular interested in traveling the premier event circuit and doing well this year. We all stand to gain by avoiding needless argument in fighting over what is “good” or what “should” happen to the game, because “good” and “should” are slaves to our own subjective desires. While it may seem obvious to competitive players that a format where intricate decisions should determine the outcome of a match, for other players it is just as obvious that it’s better for more decks to share a top spot regardless of how it diminishes the role of skill, and for yet other players it is just as obvious that it’s better if the best decks are all affordable. When everyone thinks their value system is obvious and the correct one, that’s how fighting ensues.
I have been “Jimmy,” “Arnold,” and “Susie” at various times in my Yugioh life. I hope that by distinguishing different values people place in the game, I have shown that much of our argument over what makes the game “good” is based on our own personal experiences. A very labor-intensive, steep-curve deck like Dragon Ruler may be a dream come true for a player like myself who spent the past year traveling to events with the intention to top, but realistically, I can’t demand that everyone else takes the same outlook, considering the vast majority of players are NOT training for any sort of premier event. Most players don’t play in premier events, and perhaps only half or less of the playerbase attends regionals. Since it is the majority that puts their money into the system and keeps Yugioh afloat as an enterprise, there will always be disgreement over what is good for the game, and the majority opinion, however alien it may seem to the competitive mentality, ultimately has huge weight.
I hope that the above description helps you to understand both sides in a more objective way. I do not denounce one value system opposed to any other. However, ARG is a competitive strategy site, so for the remainder of the article, I’m going to address readers a bit more on the competitive side.
Dragon Ruler - A Legacy Format
What makes a past format so good that competitive players revere it and continue playing it for ages to come? Let’s explore.
I’ve thoroughly gone over why it’s unfair to say “good” vs. “bad” format. So what do we call those formats that people love to go back to time and again? We could call them “skillful” formats, but this may not be entirely true. 2012 Inzektors had a lot of intricacies that most players never bothered learning, so it was technically a skill-demanding deck. However, is any sane duelist ever willing to play fun duels with triple Dragonfly triple Hornet again? Not likely. Skill is just one piece of the puzzle. We could also say “grind” formats, since one of the most widely played past formats is Goats 2005. However, there are other formats people fondly remember and play that did not usually involve grind games. For instance, Pat and I played many 2008 Tele-DAD mirrors during our down time in Chicago. We also can’t say “one-deck” formats. While it’s true that almost every nostalgic format is a one-deck format, not every one-deck format becomes nostalgic. In other words, the fact being true does not imply the converse is true (p then q =/= q then p). (Virtually) all good formats were best-deck formats, but not all best-deck formats were good formats.
The term I would offer is “legacy format.” These nostalgic formats vary in their characteristics, yet there are a few attributes that they, in large, share. (I recognize that M:tG has a literal legacy format. I did not learn about this until I had already started using the term “legacy format” on my own, so it’s purely coincidental. Please don’t sue me, Wizards.)
There are some attributes of the Worlds 2013 format that I loved and that I think make it a shoo-in as a competitive player’s legacy format. First, time input is heavily rewarded. When I began traveling to major events I was pretty disappointed at my performance at the first three. Both I was to blame, as well as the game. The game was volatile, but I also did not practice well. However, I started doing better and better the more I practiced, and the one event I practiced for the most, the WCQ, I did the best in. Practice alone is not what made it possible; the game had to be a certain way as well. The nature of the Dragon Ruler deck had sufficient intricacies that practicing was worthwhile and could actually enhance your results.
One of my favorite ways to illustrate this point is by using extremes. Take tic-tac-toe, a game entirely based on luck. If you practice it for 100 hours, you are no better than a player who spent 15 minutes memorizing the best strategies. Then take chess, a game that arguably has no luck involved, and thus over 99% of your results depend on the decisions you make. These two games illustrate the far opposing ends of the luck-skill spectrum. Yugioh falls somewhere in between. One of the strange things about Yugioh is that it changes position on the spectrum with the seasons. There are times where the proverbial “100 hours vs. 15 minutes” makes little difference, and the game feels more like tic-tac-toe. There are times where time investment makes a whole LOT of difference, and those are where we tend to draw legacy formats from.
The second strength of this format was that side decking placed more emphasis on intelligent decision making rather than hopeful guessing. Whether you love or hate one-deck formats, there is clear evidence that the one-deck ones encourage the most innovative side decking. Particularly, this is because 15 cards is very restrictive. The card base continues to grow and grow in Yugioh, but the number of slots you can dedicate to address every last matchup has remained the same. When there are two or three decks to worry about, with only one of them being your “bad” matchup, then you have more freedom to innovate, and then innovate AGAIN in response to the rest of the field counter-innovating your innovations. However, when there are seven decks to worry about, with two or more being a “bad” matchup, you are then left to do guesswork. “Do I think I will play Dark World at this event?” You can try and scout the field during pre-registration, but there is honestly no way to surely tell in such a varied format, so you can either throw in two Gemini Imps for coverage but effectively have a 13 card side deck, or choose not to and potentially get punished by an unlucky pairing. Many of ARG’s own have written articles expressing frustration at this conundrum, and you may have experienced it yourself if you have played at a premier event during a diverse format.
In contrast, the current format saw more layers of innovation and counter-innovation in side strategies than we’ve seen in the entire past year. This summer, I kept a deck box full of cards I considered as tech choices for Dragon Ruler. Tsukuyomi, Psi-Blocker, Ryko, Grand Mole, Exploder Dragon, Kycoo, Puppet Plant, Droll & Lock Bird, Obelisk, Horus 6+8, Fusilier, Tribe-Shocking Virus, Electric Virus, Book of Eclipse, Anti-Spell Fragrance, Royal Decree, MST, Skill Drain, Vanity’s Fiend, Vanit’s Ruler, Angel O7, and EEV were just some of the cards that populated this collection. Imagine how much testing it takes to get through a list larger than this, and to evaluate these choices and their synergy in various combinations. This almost never comes up in diverse formats.
Lastly, there are of course all the strategies! Card choices influenced plays, and plays influenced card choices in a continous cycle. The original builds of DR began with LADD-Wyvern, and then the advent of Breakthrough Skill followed by the discovery of Chalice as superior to BTS (due to its deck-out function and same-turn usage) rendered LADD-Wyvern a liability, as LADD could be stolen and turned to full power with Big Eye + Chalice. Meanwhile, teching game 1 switched from Spellbook focus to mirror focus and players learned to summon Dracossack in defense if they held Maxx “C.” By the time Worlds took place this past weekend, every Dragon player was maindecking Emptiness, and before Worlds, almost everyone had dropped Chalice altogether or only ran one since Dracos kept coming out in defense position. Since Emptiness is a pro-active draw reather than re-active, and Chalice had all but disappeared, guess what conditions that made things perfect for this past week? The return of LADD! Huang was keen to pick up on this trend and race ahead of the Hive mentality. LADD was certainly a factor in his journey to taking first place at Worlds.
The list of intricate dynamics with the deck goes on. Those who frequent DGz are probably aware of how much some players liked to practice solving mini-puzzles we call “Rejuvenation scenarios” or “Opening hands.” In these exercises, we took various hands and debated what the correct opening was. Since the deck has both searcher cards, like Tempest, Sarcophagus, Tidal, and functionally the babies, as well as draw cards in the form of Card Destruction and Sacred Sword, a strict knowledge of probability is key to beginning these puzzles. One is often faced with whether it is better to thin out the deck first (baby), or to draw first to discern remaining options (Sword). Additional variables further confounded these puzzles, such as whether to attempt to bait Maxx “C” (baby before Sword), and what monster to end with on board (tribute set for 8 draws instead of 6 and cover mirror/Evilswarm, or Draco to cover Spellbook/Evilswarm but take one less draw, etc). Draw-search probability has always been a relevant skill to learn in Yugioh for pilots of turbo decks and alternate-win condition strategies (such as Tundo OTK), but DR was an exceptional deck that brought probability to the forefront of theorycrafting.
Little nuances in play also developed, such as identifying the “scoop point” in game 1 vs. Books, or in game 2 vs. Dragons (for the game 3s that you know you will steal in time). There was also the initial slight popularity in Enemy Controller, which tapered off since Emptiness turned out to be better in most ways and Controller couldn’t dodge Veiler if your opponent knew to Veiler on the summon instead of the effect. Following this decline, it became popular again in time for the NAWCQ, since it seemed it was still a powerhouse of a card, being able to stop Blader like a pseudo Book of Moon, steal Dragons to OTK like an Electric Virus, and still dodge Veiler when your opponent had no choice but to wait for Big Eye’s effect (to avoid taking 2600 direct). End phase Chalice on Blaster to stick a beater on the field vs. Ophion, following the Fate in my opponent’s hand with my eyes as he shuffled and set 2 for me to end phase MST, as well as the 101 ways to make Star Hall and Tower miss timing were some concepts I applied outside of the mirror as well. I’ve only scratched the surface of concepts I developed in my game in the month that I rigorously practiced for the WCQ, but I hope that these few examples give you an idea of the exceptional depth this format took on.
While I have a lot to praise about the deck, my words should not be misconstrued to mean that the format was without fault. Good is never perfect in Yugioh. The Dragon Ruler deck has degenerate plays and combos, just as the worst of all formats have skillful plays and reads. Bad formats are not devoid of skill any more than good formats are devoid of luck. Even when Cat Synchro decks ran Dark Strike Fighter, there were still critical decisions to be made. And even in Goat Control, there was still a sack factor with BLS, Ring, and Trinity. With that said, legacy formats fall significantly further on the spectrum away from the side where coin tosses are at their peak, and toward the side where vast decision trees, intimate knowledge of cards and mechanics, and esoteric nuances are what most often influence the outcome of games and matches.
What you do from here is up to you. As I’ve said, I’m not going to bash one value system over another, so if you’re happy to say goodbye to Dragon Rulers forever, then I won’t argue. Personally, this is a format I will revisit in the future. I often play nostalgia formats, sometimes even terrible ones (like 2009 DSF and 2003 hand lock), because they all have lessons to offer. I would contend that this format, in particular, has many lessons to teach players who are eager to improve more than most other formats - should one desire to put the work into it. Stay tuned for part 2, where I analyze Dragon Rulers from this summer's format further.
Until next time,
Play Hard or Go Home.
P.S. I saw how much hate Patrick, Joe, Tyree, etc. got for their ban list wishlists, and I felt left out. So here is what I wish the forbidden/limited list were for September 2013. May the scorn rain down upon me! lol.
Advanced Ritual Art
Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning
Elemental Hero Stratos
Gateway of the Six
Number 16: Shock Master
Pot of Avarice
Red-Eyes Darkness Metal Dragon
Return from the Different Dimension
Super Dreadnought Rail Cannon Gustav Max
Number 61: Volcasaurus
Asceticism of the Six Samurai
Blade Armor Ninja
Burner, Dragon Ruler of Sparks
Dragged Down Into the Grave
E - Emergency Call
Elemental Hero Electrum
Eradicator Epidemic Virus
Evigishki Mind Angus
Fire Formation - Tenki
Gaia Dragon, the Thunder Charger
Gear Gigant X
Genex Ally Birdman
Hieratic Dragon King of Atum
Hieratic Seal of Convocation
Hope for Escape
Leviair the Sea Dragon
Light and Darkness Dragon
Lightning, Dragon Ruler of Drafts
Lumina, Lightsworn Summoner
Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossack
Number 11: Big Eye
Preparation of Rites
Reactan, Dragon Ruler of Pebbles
Royal Magical Library
Sacred Sword of Seven Stars
Shien's Smoke Signal
Snoww, Unlight of Dark World
Spellbook of Fate
Spellbook of Judgment
Spellbook of Secrets
Stream, Dragon Ruler of Droplets
The Agent of Mystery - Earth
Tour Guide from the Underworld
Wind-Up Carrier Zenmaity
Blaster, Dragon Ruler of Infernos
Book of Moon
Deep Sea Diva
Grapha, Dragon Lord of Darkworld
Ninja Grandmaster Hanzo
Redox, Dragon Ruler of Boulders
Ryko, Lightsworn Hunter
Six Samurai United
Spellbook Magician of Prophecy
Super Nimble Mega Hamster
T.G. Rush Rhino
Tempest, Dragon Ruler of Storms
The Gates of Darkworld
Tidal, Dragon Ruler of Waterfalls
Wall of Revealing Light
Magical Stone Excavation
The Transmigration Prophecy
Total Changes: 126
Reasoning: The forbidden cards are there because they either favor luck over decision making or just discourage player interaction altogether. The limited and semi-limited changes are there to either loosen restrictions on future card design, encourage player interaction, make “stolen” games less likely, encourage earned card advantage vs. “free” or ubiquitous card advantage, discourage degenerate strategies, or because I just hate the card art or something. The unlimited cards are there because I didn’t want to leave that section empty and I guess those cards at 3 won’t make a difference. Some cards were hit not because they affect the meta in any way currently, but would have significant influence in grind formats; in other words, the list is best evaluated holistically.