9 Out Of 10 SJC Duelists Are Playing Honest Wrong

Jason Grabher-Meyer


There were quite a few rulings misunderstandings and illegal plays being made at SHONEN JUMP Championship Orlando. I started writing this article with the intent of discussing them all, creating a resource that would help competitors planning to attend SJC Austin prepare for that tournament. Unfortunately, one issue on the list ended up being far more complicated than any other. It's also likely to be the most useful to you as a tournament player.

Set Light of Destruction
Number LODT-EN001
Type Fairy / Effect
Attribute Light 
A / D 1100 / 1900
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

During your Main Phase, you can return this card from the field to it's owner's hand. During either player's Damage Step, when a face-up LIGHT monster you control battles, you can send this card from your hand to the Graveyard to have that monster gain ATK equal to the ATK of the opponent's monster it is battling, until the End Phase.

Store Condition Qty Avail Price  
BestDealsForCards Unlimited - Damaged 1 $5.99
BestDealsForCards 1st Edition - Damaged 1 $7.00
Tazs Games 1st Edition - Damaged 2 $7.00
BestDealsForCards Unlimited - Moderately Played 1 $7.40
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PhantasmGaming 1st Edition - Damaged 1 $9.97
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CoreTCG Unlimited - Lightly Played 5 $10.49

The issue is Honest, and the fact that very few tournament level players understand how the Damage Step works. Past misunderstandings of how the Damage Step breaks down, as well as hidden quirks of one of its substeps, has created a situation where a handful of informed Duelists are getting way more mileage out of their Honests (and to a lesser extent, their Blackwing – Kaluts) than others.

Today we're going to put an end to that. My goal with this article is to teach you a bit about how the Damage Step and its substeps really work, and show you just when and how you should be activating Honest to ensure that you can't be trumped on a technicality. With that said, let's look at the myths surrounding this issue.

The Big Misunderstanding
For many months after Honest was released in Light of Destruction, almost everybody believed that only one chain could exist in the Damage Step. It was thought that if a player attacked with a LIGHT monster and declared that he was activating Honest's effect “in the Damage Step”, that successive copies of Honest had to be chained to the first if they were to be played at all. If the defending player did so, the chained Honest was wasted. Because chains resolve backwards, the defending player's Honest would resolve, its ATK bonus would be applied, and the turn player's Honest would resolve next, effectively giving the attacking monster the ATK of the defender, PLUS the defender's boost from Honest.

This was widely considered to be true for many months, because the general player base had come under the impression that only one chain could take place in the Damage Step. You would attack, declare priority, drop your Honest, and short of a card like Divine Wrath there was no stopping you, because only one chain was possible.

But as time passed, it's turned out that this isn't exactly the case. The Damage Step consists of at least seven individual substeps, and while it's still possible to play that “trump Honest” that can't be beaten, the timing and specifics of its activation are in fact very different than most players believe. To explain what really happens, we need to take a bit of a closer look at the Damage Step.

Discussing Substeps
There's a tremendous amount of things that can happen in the Damage Step: there are a number of game mechanics that are checked in any battle (such as the flipping of a face-down defending monster, the application of battle damage, and monster destruction), while there are also dozens, perhaps hundreds of unique effects that might or might not be present in a given battle (think Reflect Bounder, Nanobreaker, or Injection Fairy Lily).

In order to puzzle out this mass of confusing core mechanics and possible effects, the Damage Step is divided into seven substeps. To detail them all would be pointless for our purposes and would take multiple articles – that's not why I'm writing this. But a basic understanding of the seven substeps is necessary to play Honest effectively, so let's briefly look at the substeps.

Substeps 1 through 3 deal with issues before damage is actually calculated - the triggering of certain effects at the start of the Damage Step, the flipping of face-down defenders, and the activation of effects "before damage calculation" respectively (you'll find that precise wording on cards like Ehren, Lightsworn Monk).

Substeps 5 through 7 deal with the fallout of the battle – the activation of effects that trigger due to battle damage, resolving flip, trigger, and continuous effects, and sending destroyed monsters to the graveyard.

Between those two groups of substeps is Substep 4, the period considered to be "during damage calculation". This substep is where ATK and DEF are finally compared, and battle damage is actually dealt.

This substep is unique, because only effects from the following categories can be activated:

-Effects that are stated in card text as activating during damage calculation (sometimes written as “during the Damage Step”, such as in the case of Injection Fairy Lily)
-Effects specifically ruled to be allowed during damage calculation
-Effects that negate either of the above.

Honest and Blackwing - Kalut the Moon Shadow happen to fall into the second category - each has specific rulings stating that they can be activated during damage calculation.

Note that this list is different from the rest of the Damage Step, where the following are all legal for activation: #

-All Spell Speed 2 effects that change the ATK and/or DEF of monsters
-Counter traps
-Quick effects that can negate other cards and effects
-Effects that are stated in card text as activating in the Damage Step
-Effects specifically ruled to be allowed in the Damage Step

The second quirk of Substep 4 states that while other Substeps can contain multiple chains, only one chain can be started and resolved "during damage calculation." Once that chain resolves, battle damage will be applied and Substep 4 will finish.

So to recap – the Damage Step consists of seven substeps. During the first three substeps you can activate a range of effects and start multiple chains – you can even start more than one chain in a single substep. During Substep 4, recognized as “during damage calculation”, far fewer effects can be activated, and only one chain can be started. It's during this substep that ATK and DEF are compared, and battle damage is actually applied.

Got all that? Give it a re-read if you need to. It's not as tough as it may seem at first, but it's really important that you understand the groundwork before we move on.

Taking Advantage Of Technicalities
The difference between the first three substeps and the fourth creates a situation that a knowledgeable player can take advantage of. If your opponent activates the effect of Honest (or Kalut, for that matter) during Substeps 1, 2, or 3, the resulting chain (and that monster's effect) will resolve in that substep.

You can then wait until later in that substep, wait for the next substep, or wait for Substep 4 to activate your Honest. If you wait until Substep 4 and activate Honest's effect to start the one chain permitted, further copies of Honest or Kalut will have to be chained to yours, and will be useless to your opponent. Your Honest will end up mimicking the boosted ATK of the opposing monster. Alternatively, if your opponent activates Honest in an earlier substep, thinking no further chains will be permitted, allowing that Honest to resolve and then activating a Kalut or two will often be enough to win the battle.

The average tournament-level player doesn't understand this, and will think that by declaring his Honest as having been activated "in the Damage Step" as soon as play proceeds to it, he'll be impervious to further copies of Honest or Kalut. But in 95% of cases, an informed judge will rule that an effect declared "in the Damage Step" as soon as the Damage Step is entered, is being activated in Substep 1 – often referred to as the “Start of the Damage Step”. This is easily reinforced by asking your opponent "are you activating that at the start of the Damage Step?" when the activation is declared. Most Duelists will say "yes", while very few will know to reply "no, I'm activating it during damage calculation." If your opponent meant to declare activation during damage calculation, he would probably just say that instead of using the term “Damage Step” so loosely.

The proper way to make sure you don't fall into this trap is to avoid declaring "Honest in the Damage Step", and instead ask a series of Questions during battle.

-"Does the attack proceed to the Damage Step?" If play proceeds to the Damage Step, threats like Mirror Force, Book of Moon, and Dimensional Prison can no longer be played. They don't fit into the range of Damage Step-legal effects described earlier (ctrl+f for # to refer back to that list)

-"Do you have any effects at the start of the Damage Step?" Give your opponent a chance to play their own effects in Substep 1. If they play an Honest here and you have one yourself, congratulations.

-"Can we proceed to Damage Calculation?" When play proceeds to Damage Calculation, activate the effect of your own Honest as Chain Link 1. Note that you can do this easily if you're the turn player - you'll have priority to start the Substep 4 chain. If you aren't the turn player, you should first ask your opponent if he or she wishes to activate an effect with priority. If he passes priority, you can start the chain with your Honest.

As long as your Honest is the first one to be activated during damage calculation (Substep 4), successive copies of Honest will be useless, because they'll have to be chained to yours.

Rewards For All That Reading
Sticking to this process has big rewards. First, if your opponent doesn't know how the Damage Step and its substeps work, you can trump his Honest with your own Honest, or sometimes even with a Kalut or two.

Second, if your opponent does know how all this really plays out but hadn't planned on activating Honest, and you go through the Questions I outlined above, your opponent is going to have to think long and hard about activating Honest with priority in damage calculation – even if their attacker is already bigger than your defender. If your opponent attacked with a bigger monster than yours, and suddenly you seem to be angling to start the one chain in Substep 4, you might bluff your opponent into wasting an Honest he didn't actually need to play.

The two top decks in this format right now are Lightsworn and Blackwings, and both decks have unique damage calculation tricks in the form of Honest and Kalut. If you really want to compete, and you want to win a Regional or top a SHONEN JUMP Championship, you need to know this stuff inside out. A lot of the players who understand these mechanics probably don't want you to understand them, because that understanding can give a distinct advantage. Learn these details, use them, and level the playing field.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer

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