YGO Series Championship Interview: Desmond Johnson Part 2

Jason Grabher-Meyer

11/10/2014 11:00:00 AM

We covered a lot of ground in Part 1 of our interview with Desmond Johnson. The interview took place last week, and in Part 1 we talked about Johnson's history as a duelist, his explosive big event debut last year at YCS Miami, and the events that took him to TCGplayer's YGO Series Championship. We also talked about some of the surrounding issues at that event, including the scope of the tournament and the new trend of earned byes in both TCGplayer and KDE events.

With those questions answered I steered the conversation back to Johnson's actual tournament experience, round by round on his way to a Finals finish with Shaddolls. Today you'll see him address his losses, his deck choice, his thoughts on a variety of tech issues, and the story of how he nearly singlehandedly kept the tournament going – repeatedly refusing to split in the playoff rounds. Let's pick up where we left off!

JDG: So what was your Day 1 record, Desmond?

DJ: “I finished Day 1 X-3.”

JDG: And your Day 2 record, were you still X-3?

DJ: “Yeah, I finished X-3.”

JDG: So for Day 1, do you have any particularly memorable match-ups?

DJ: “All my losses were unreal losses!”

JDG: I laughed and grinned: Okay, I definitely want to hear about them then!

DJ: Johnson chuckled. “My first loss was to Dominique Roberts. Really good player! I like him. One of my few social people, who I talk to when I go to events; I try to keep it small.”

PH: “Dom is someone I would travel with,” noted Hoban. “That's like the ultimate compliment.”

DJ: Johnson laughed some more. “Yeah, so umm… we're playing and he's got massive card advantage, but I can probably take it back if he Summons a monster so I can Super Polymerization it. And he has two sets: he has a Vanity's Emptiness set which he flips up, and he has Artifact Sanctum set. So I have Super Poly set and Mystical Space Typhoon set: he flips Vanity's and Normal Summons a Shaddoll Dragon so he can play around Super Poly.

“So I'm like, ‘he's got Beast, Moralltach, and Dragon on the field. I can win; but should I Mystical Space Typhoon his face-down, or should I just go ahead and Super Poly right away?' So I try to take the +1 and MST his face-down, and the Sanctum pops my Super Poly…”

JDG: Awwww! I couldn't help but groan.

DJ: “…Before I can use it, because Vanity's hasn't gone away yet. And Game 1 was just… blown out. I was so sad.”

PH: “I'm not gonna lie. That sounds like a misplay.”

We both laughed.

DJ: Johnson looked over to Hoban, grinning at his Mistake but feigning indignation: “Well first off, he shouldn't have done that! He gave me the chance to win! But… I am just, god… I am so awful!” Johnson laughed again. “We're both awful!” More laughter ensued. “I don't know, I guess he thought I wasn't playing MST.

“My second loss was to Zach Leverett.”

ZL: “YEAUH!” An enthusiastic whoop came from off camera, assumedly from Zach.

DJ: “Thaaaat wasn't really a loss, I was blowing him out! The game was over!”

I chuckled.

DJ: “I was like +5, we were in time.”

ZL: “He lost to himself,” clarified Leverett, factually.

DJ: “I lost to myself, yeah. But I lost Game 3, I got a game loss for not writing down Puppet Plant in my Side Deck.”

 Puppet Plant
Puppet Plant77759
Set Starter Deck: Kaiba Reloaded
Number YSKR-EN022
Level 3
Type Effect Monster
Monster Plant
Attribute EARTH 
A / D 1000 / 1000
Rarity Common
Card Text

You can discard this card to the Graveyard to select 1 face-up Warrior or Spellcaster-Type monster your opponent controls, and take control of it until the End Phase of this turn.

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JDG: That was familiar to me: when I was archiving all the deck lists for the YGO Series Top 16 I'd had to go and ask Jonson what the missing card was.

DJ: “Yeah, so I got a Game Loss there.

“Game 1 I was playing against Parker Roberson, and he opened up Fusion, plus like, Eclipse Wyvern, and he OTK'd me.”

JDG: How did you feel about playing Parker Roberson, a player who is suspended from sanctioned play right now?

DJ: “Oh, me and Parker, he's another one of my social people. People I will hang with when I'm at an event.”

PH: “I stayed at Parker's house for this event,” noted Hoban.

DJ: “But umm, yeah! Parker… I'm one person who will never condemn anyone. I will not condemn anyone for anything unless they do it to me, or I can prove it myself. Him being suspended for whatever reason, is not good enough for me to accuse him of anything. I take my loss and…”

PH: “The other thing too is that it's not practical to say that someone who is suspended, in sanctioned play, can't play in an event like this, because the Suspended Player's List is a first name and a last initial. And then their number. If you're not Konami you don't have a way to know who's who. If they're a known player, sure you might know they're [suspended], but you can't really… for every known player on that list there are ten unknown players. And there's no way to prevent them from playing. So it just seems unfair to say like, ‘we know you're banned! You can't play'.”

DJ: “Yeah, and I wouldn't even treat my match with a different attitude for such. It would just ruin the game for me.”

JDG: So how'd you decide to run Shaddolls for this tournament? Specifically this version. I can't remember, have you run anything but Shaddolls in a big event, this format?

DJ: Yeah, I topped the ARGCS Iowa? Des Moines, with a Burning Abyss variant with Shaddolls Main Decked. It was a build Pat came up with, of Burning Abyss, where instead of playing Shaddolls and Burning Abyss mixed, you just played the main Shaddolls: Dragon, with Shaddoll Fusion, and you can at least always make the Fusion. The Fusion is what you care about. I liked that idea, but I don't like Dragon. My view on Shaddolls, is I want to play the monsters that replace themselves and get you stuff back.”

PH: “That's kind of my view on everything, actually,” noted Hoban. “Like I would rather get an extra card, than take a card away from my opponent.”

DJ: “Yeah, and Dragon takes away from my opponent. And I'm like, ‘That's cool,' but I'd rather play one Shaddoll Beast and Shaddoll Fusion from the deck, since most of the time opponents don't see it coming if I'm playing Burning Abyss. Then I can send Beast, and Beast lets me draw a card at least.”

JDG: Yeah, you know it's always going to be useful, whereas simplification has limited utility, even if it's a broad card. Your opponent's never guaranteed to have [a card to destroy].

DJ: “Yeah, and worse, in this format just about everything is chainable. Phoenix Wing Wind Blast, Karma Cut, everything just gets chained. So Dragon's particularly bad. In all my Shaddoll builds you'll never see me run more than one Dragon, really.”

JDG: What do you think about Night Beam in this format, on that note? Because that's been topping Regionals in Side Deck play, and I think a little bit in the last ARGCS?

DJ: “Night Beam? Tha- What?” Johnson laughed a moment. “I've seen it at my locals before, but it's probably just… I wouldn't do it. I don't know, maybe if I draw it Turn 1, and I've got six cards to their five and they set two cards, I can go Night Beam and unless they have two Sinister Shadow Games I'm not going to go -1 or anything. They're not gonna go Wind Blast, chain…” Johnson thought a moment. “Actyally there's really no situation where they're going to have two things that would be chainable, unless it's double Sinister Shadow Games.”

PH: “I don't like Night Beam for a different reason,” interjected Hoban.

JDG: I would like to hear your reason, Patrick Hoban. I grinned.

PH: Hoban laughed and continued: “I don't like Night Beam just for the same thing we just talked about. I don't want to use a card from my hand to take away a card from my opponent. I'd rather just have a different card that could put me further ahead.”

JDG: Does that same mentality apply to MST for you this format as well?

DJ: “MST might be a little necessary though,” chimed in Johnson, chewing around a mouthful of ice. He'd run out of water about half an hour back in the interview.

PH: “MST… I think the only place MST has in the game is floodgates. Like I don't think MST would be a Main Deck or Side Deck card if floodgates didn't exist.”

DJ: “…Without Vanity's,”

PH: “But since floodgates are so heavily played, and Main Decked in this format, you might have to main MST as a concession to them? But without those, I'd definitely say [the mentality] applies to those as well.”

DJ:“For this past event, the deck that I played, me and Ben on the way up to the tournament, Ben came up with an idea: that with Shaddolls, what you really want to see most of the time is a starter card; something to get you in the game. And cards like Kuribandit and Sinister Shadow Games, and Mathematician, are all amazing for that.”

JDG: You mained two Kuribandit in your YGO Series Championship build, right?

DJ: “Yeah. So we decided that with Pot of Duality, you really don't need to Special Summon on your first turn anyways…”

Hoban leaned over and started shaking his head, goodnatured, but obviously in complete disagreement.

DJ: “Pat don't like Pot of Duality! But you really don't have to Special Summon Turn 1, so Kuribandit and Mathematician are both things you want to have; Pot of Duality lets you see them more.”

 Pot of Duality
Pot of Duality69234
Set Battle Pack 2: War of the Giants
Number BP02-EN160
Type Normal Spell Card
Monster spell
Attribute SPELL 
Rarity Rare
Card Text

Reveal the top 3 cards of your Deck, add 1 of them to your hand, then shuffle the rest back into your Deck. You can only activate 1 "Pot of Duality" per turn. You cannot Special Summon during the turn you activate this card.

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JDG: While your opponent in the Finals, Mackenzie Franklin, was playing the Artifact suite, you were playing triple Upstart Goblin, double Pot of Duality, Allure of Darkness… that was actually going to be my next question.

DJ: “Yeah, in that match-up Pot of Duality definitely turned things around, for him…”

Hoban laughed.

DJ: “He kept putting up [field] presence, and Pot of Duality just wasn't good for presence.”

PH: “It was so funny, I told Desmond: ‘Desmond, I don't think you should play Duality. Like, you're going to draw it and you're going to be forced to Special Summon, and it's just going to be a dead card.”

DJ: “Shut uuuup,” groaned Johnson, laughing.

PH: “And the one game of Desmond's I watch the entire weekend!” Hoban grinned as Johnson chuckled, a bit bashful. “In the Finals! Sure enough, it ends up costing him the game with double dead Duality.”

DJ: “Yyyyeah, that double dead Duality.”

PH: “I was like, there's no way this was the only time all weekend!”

I laughed.

DJ: “It definitely was!” countered Johnson, laughing. “Every time… Shaddoll Artifacts is the only deck where you have to Special Summon. Other decks just have minor pressure, I can like, activate Pot of Duality, play Mathematician [since it replaces itself with a draw], and then set traps. But that deck, there's just not enough traps in the game with all the monsters they put on the field.”

JDG: Do you feel overall that you still made the right call? Or do you feel you should have skipped the Dualities? In retrospect would you have considered playing an Artifact build?

DJ: “Naww, I'd probably, definitely, never ever play Artifacts in a tournament. I can't imagine opening a five card hand with one of the Artifact monsters dead. That's just awful. At that point I've gotta rely on my deck working with every other card. If I open [an Artifact card], I'm sitting there praying that the next two cards I draw are a Shaddoll Fusion and a Shaddoll. Otherwise I'm gonna lose. Those cards are awful to open.

“And a lot of my testing with Shaddoll Artifacts, Artifact Sanctum was awful. They're some of your only defensive cards, and I don't want to draw two of them ever – that's particularly bad.”

JDG: Getting into minutiae, how did you feel about the Thought Ruler Archfiend, and how long have you been running it?

DJ: “Thought Ruler's amazing! It's really good, it's amazing against Burning Abyss; they don't have many outs to monsters above 2500 ATK.”

PH: “Acid Golem!” shouted Hoban.

DJ: “I mean, if I can force them into making [Number 30: Acid Golem of Destruction], I can win the game from there. I can burn them out, or something. There's a lot of ways to win off Acid Golem.”

PH: “I lost the last round of YCS Dallas, thinking I was all cool,” laughed Hoban. “I was like, Thought Ruler, we were about to go into time, I was like ‘he has to Summon an Acid Golem to out it,' and then he does. And I'm like ‘alright, we're in time' and then sure enough he goes ‘Tribute for Vanity's Fiend'!”

DJ: Johnson burst out laughing. “Yeah, that's the problem with that! But yeah, Thought Ruler's really good. We played Thought Ruler because we couldn't really get [the Extra Deck] to fifteen? Ben and I made our deck identical, and in the Extra Deck we didn't really want to play Abyss Dweller, but we played it anyways. We never really went into Rank 4's.”

JDG: Yeah, it looked like your Extra Deck had a lot of space. Because you've got the Artifact Durendal in there, but not really many ways to make it.

DJ: “I actually love that card!”

JDG: Oh don't get me wrong, it's great when it happens, but how often did you actually Summon it?

DJ: “Durendal? All the time!”

JDG: Really?!

DJ: “Like, my playstyle, I put myself in a position where I can always have multiple Beasts on the field, and I take advantage of that. And whenever I have two Beasts I'll always make Durendal; he can make sure that other things resolve, and it lets me recycle my hand… it's really good! I don't like that everybody else is playing it now.”

Johnson's Finals opponent, Mackenzie Franklin was a huge advocate of Artifact Durendal and played it prominently in his Feature Matches. “All the builds I've been seeing up until now, they weren't running it.”

 Artifact Durendal
Artifact Durendal82724
Set Primal Origin
Number PRIO-EN049
Level 5
Type Xyz/Effect Monster
Monster Fairy
Attribute LIGHT 
A / D 2400 / 2100
Rarity Ultra Rare
Card Text

2 Level 5 monsters
Once per turn, during either player's turn, you can activate 1 of these effects.
When a monster effect is activated on the field, OR when a Normal Spell/Trap Card is activated: You can detach 1 Xyz Material from this card; the activated effect becomes "Destroy 1 Spell/Trap Card your opponent controls".
You can detach 1 Xyz Material from this card; each player with a hand shuffles their entire hand into the Deck, then each player draws the same number of cards they shuffled into the Deck.

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JDG: Yeah, it was a very big card at the YGO Series Championship.

DJ: “Yeah, I actually wound up losing to it in the Finals, because if he wouldn't have made Durendal I would have had a shot, but it kept me off Fusion; he knew what I had in my hand.”

JDG: It seems like such a good card for sort of a solved format. I'm not saying we're in a solved format right now, since the Regional Top 8 results last two weeks were insane, but when stuff gets more predictable and you have players that really know what each deck is capable of, it seems like a very good card.

So one more question about your deck: you ran the Majesty's Fiend and double The Monarchs Stormforth suite. How did that work? Was it good?

PH: “We need a little clarification,” noted Hoban. “We're not 100% you can Tribute set with Stormforth. Someone that I would think isn't wrong, told me you can't, but up until that point we thought you could. So Stormforth was in there thinking we could Tribute set.”

DJ: “In all our testing, all our events before the Championship… Des Moines and the one before that… we played three Puppet Plant. It was seemingly better, but you know… it's probably better now because of this ruling, but Puppet Plant wasn't better than Stormforth at the time since Stormforth can take more monsters. And it doesn't target. [Since Puppet Plant does target] it can be outed. I don't like really specific cards like that.”

PH: “I think Stormforth is a lot better with the new set,” commented Hoban. “Like, either one you want against Shaddolls: you're either Tributing for Majesty's Fiend or Vanity's Fiend. And with El Shaddoll Fusion, since it's a Quick-Play, they can chain it to Puppet Plant. Since The Monarchs Stormforth doesn't target I think that card gets a lot better actually.”

DJ: “Another thing with Stormforth, was that I was keeping in Pot of Duality a lot in Games 2 and 3? Which is like, a big no-no. But Games 2 and 3 I was siding out Kuribandit, I don't want to keep that card in. But I kept my Pot of Dualities in because it was really good with Stormforth and the Majesty's Fiends. In one of my matches I wound up topdecking Stormforth when I was 100% going to lose if I couldn't see one, but I had Pot of Duality [plus my normal draws], so I could feel confident that I was going to get one.”

As a sidenote, it now appears that Stormforth does allow you to Tribute Set. Making it even better than we'd understood at the time of this interview.

JDG: So the reason I wanted to interview you… there were many reasons! But the first thing I wanted to ask about, was that to my understanding, you got to the Top 16. It was announced. Somebody asked about or proposed, either a player or somebody from the organization's side, a Top 16 split.

DJ: “Yeah.”

JDG: I laughed, remembering. And you had no interest in a split…

DJ: “None whatsoever!”

JDG: The quote that was relayed to me was hilarious, and one of the highlights of my weekend… they tell me that you told them, “I didn't drive here six hours to split with y'all ****ers!' Did that actually happen?!”

DJ: Hoban and Johnson both burst out laughing. “That is exactly what I said!”

JDG: That is hilarious. I think it was you and one other person in the Top 16 who didn't want to split?

DJ: “Jordan Winters, yeah.”

PH: “If I didn't oversleep I wouldda been right there with him!” remarked Hoban, grinning.

DJ: “We were out there taking our Top 16 pictures, and Jordan was loudly verbalizing his dislike of the splitting, and everyone was like, ‘Man, Jordan's the reason we're not gonna split!' So I guess nobody heard me the first time? So Jordan came to me like, ‘Desmond, I'm not the only one, right?' And I'm like, ‘Naw, I'm not splitting'. And Jordan said, ‘They're all hating me, but you're not gonna do it too!' Whatever.

“So we all sat down, and when they gave us the sheet that asked if we wanted to split, I just said real loud, “Heeeeell no I'm not splittin' with y'all'! But yeah, I guess it became known that I wasn't splitting. There's no way I could ever do that. I don't even care about the money – I like playing for a sense of… I playing, to make people better. It doesn't have to be money, just the prize support at any event. None of them should have been splitting; if they want to improve as player there needs to be incentive. And there's no reason to improve if you're splitting.”

PH: “You ever lost a match for a thousand dollars?” asked Hoban. Johnson laughed again. “Because I'll admit, I don't want that to happen!” More laughing.

DJ: “But you'll grow! You'll grow as a player,” replied Johnson. “You'll look at your match, and how you misplayed, and you'll definitely not want that to happen any more.”

 El Shaddoll Shekhinaga
El Shaddoll Shekhinaga94566
Set The New Challengers
Number NECH-EN049
Level 10
Type Fusion/Effect Monster
Monster Machine
Attribute EARTH 
A / D 2600 / 3000
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

1 "Shaddoll" monster + 1 EARTH monster Must first be Fusion Summoned. During either player's turn, when a Special Summoned monster activates its effect while you have a "Shaddoll" card in your hand: You can negate the activation, and if you do, destroy that monster, then send 1 "Shaddoll" card from your hand to the Graveyard. You can only use this effect of "El Shaddoll Shekhinaga" once per turn. If this card is sent to the Graveyard: You can target 1 "Shaddoll" Spell/Trap Card in your Graveyard; add it to your hand.

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JDG: That's another question I wanted to ask, too. Obviously it worked out, because if you took a Top 8 split… I think there you were the only person not taking the split, right? Jordan was out by then?

DJ: “Yyyyeah!” Johnson clearly felt good about that.

JDG: You were the only person keeping the tournament going at that point. And of course it paid off, because you made the Finals and you made 1600 bucks instead of 1250 [for a Top 8 split], but would you have been sad… if that had gone differently? If you'd said no to a split in the Top 16 and then just got whacked! right there. Or would you have been like, “I made the right choice, I stuck by my morals.” I laughed. Johnson did too, just envisioning that nightmare scenario.

DJ: “Ohhhh, it's so funny you asked that, because I was 100%, going to lose Top 16 if I did not draw that Stormforth I was mentioning earlier. He misplayed, but it was minor stuff – he still had my back against the rope. I needed that Stormforth to win the game. And at that moment all the other name players had lost! Jeff Jones had lost; Alex Vansant was gone; Parker Roberson had lost; Jordan Winters had lost, they'd all lost! And I was like, ‘I'm the last person! I'm the last pro!' And then I drew the card and Game 3 I dominated him, we went to Game 3 in time.

“But before that happened I'd brought it up, because I had started thinking, ‘Darn! I shouldda split!' In a joking way. But I was telling them, I would've made the same decision over and over again. Every good player knows, if you lose once, that's fine, because you know that if you played 100 times you'd win 70 percent of them. You'd never make a decision based off of the results of the last thing.”

PH: Hoban agreed: “You can't be results oriented.”

Desmond Johnson, refusing the split not once but twice in one of the highest stakes tournaments in the game's history. Out of greed? Nope. Ambition? Nope. Solely for his passion for competition, and the belief that pressure makes you a better player. Smart outlook.

Join us tomorrow as we finish things out in Part 3, where Hoban, Johnson, and Leverett gave me their thoughts on the impact of choice cards and strategies from The New Challengers!

-Jason Grabher-Meyer

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