YGO Series Championship Interview: Desmond Johnson Part 3

Jason Grabher-Meyer

11/11/2014 11:00:00 AM

This is it! Last week I sat down with Desmond Johnson, our runner-up in the TCGplayer YGO Series Championship, to talk about anything and everything coming off his huge finish. I dropped in on a playtesting session with Patrick Hoban and the Leverett brothers, who soon joined in on the dialogue. In Part 1 we discussed the tournament structure and unique elements of the Championship, as well as Johnson's experience getting there, plus the emerging trend of earned byes in competitive Yu-Gi-Oh. In Part 2 we got down to the nitty-gritty of Johnson's tournament record at the Championship, the deck he played, and his refusal to give up and accept a split in the Top 16 (and then the Top 8!).

Our discussion eventually turned to the future of the game, and since this conversation happened last week, that meant the then-upcoming impact of New Challengers. This interview took place before Hoban won ARGCS Raleigh with Burning Abyss, so keep an eye out for his comments about that deck for insight into his processes. There's a ton of interesting stuff here, especially now that we know how it all played out.

JDG: Okay, so going back to what you were saying about New Challengers before we formally started the interview, what are you testing with right now? What are your priorities to test?

DJ: “First off, one of the big things for us is to figure out what deck to play against. What form of Qliphorts in particular: we don't know which one to go by. We don't know which build will give us maximum efficient testing.” Johnson paused. “Because no one's as good as us.”

Hoban busted out laughing.

DJ: “Seriously, in this house we have the best players for testing. We test the right way, we do it the right way… I could do a whole spiel on the proper way to playtest. We don't trust other people, so we're getting online trying to find proper builds that we think are worth testing against, for Qliphorts, and we can't find anything we like.

“Zach had already been looking into this beforehand, and I don't even [understand how he can top], he's been topping a lot of events lately, and still knows all this Qliphorts stuff, and Pendulums, and I'm just like ‘I don't have time for this!' It's awful.” Johnson laughed. “He was very aware of all the Qliphort stuff, and he had a bunch of [knowledge about specific builds], so we started playtesting and we just figured out what would probably be the best thing from there. And now we're testing it.”

“Pat came to me last night and he said he had a Burning Abyss deck that he thought would do really well. We're testing that now. I'm not seeing it, honestly. I haven't seen it yet, maybe more testing is required.”

PH: “I was doing really well with it,” Hoban responded.

DJ: “Maybe I'm messing up.”

PH: “Yeah, you were messing up.” Laughter.

DJ: “Yeah, I was probably messing up.”

PH: “We're gonna work at it, we're gonna do it in shifts or something.”

DJ: “I'm definitely gonna test Shaddolls. That's gonnna get some of my most hardcore testing. With this new spell card… I think the new Fusions coming out are crap? I mean first off, I can't find good Earth monsters, but beside the Earth one… I'd probably tech one. But the Fire one is garbage. The Fire Fusion is awful.”

PH: “Not gonna lie, we haven't gotten Shaddolls into our testing and I have no idea what they do,” commented Hoban.

 Virgil, Rock Star of the Burning Abyss
Virgil, Rock Star of the Burning Abyss94607
Set The New Challengers
Number NECH-EN085
Level 6
Type Synchro/Effect Monster
Monster Spellcaster
Attribute LIGHT 
A / D 2500 / 1000
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

1 Tuner + 1 or more non-Tuner monsters You can only control 1 "Virgil, Rock Star of the Burning Abyss". Once per turn: You can discard 1 "Burning Abyss" card, then target 1 card your opponent controls or in their Graveyard; shuffle it into the Deck. If this card on the field is destroyed by battle or card effect and sent to the Graveyard: You can draw 1 card. You can only use this effect of "Virgil, Rock Star of the Burning Abyss" once per turn.

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JDG: What do you think of the new Burning Abyss stuff?

PH: “I like it,” replied Hoban.

DJ: “The Tuner… I don't like cards that don't replace themselves. That's one of my biggest pet peeves in Yu-Gi-Oh: any card that goes like, activate, look at the top five cards of your deck, put it t back – I just lost a card for that. And that's what that Tuner is. Sure, I synch with it, and it makes a bigger monster, but it doesn't add a card to my hand when it's sent to the grave. It doesn't destroy something, it doesn't let me draw a card.”

PH: “I really want to give my opinion on this,” noted Hoban, still courteously avoiding from barging into Johnson's interview despite the casual tone that had developed.

JDG: Go ahead! Go ahead.

PH: “I feel like card advantage used to be really really important, and tempo was less important; just having multiple monsters on the field or whatever. But newer Yu-Gi-Oh! I guess…”

DJ: “Nowadays!”

PH: “Yeah, ‘nowadays' I guess… Tempo is just way more important than card advantage.”

DJ: “How does the Tuner give you tempo?”

PH: “Well that's the thing, it lets you break up your opponent. Because before, Burning Abyss couldn't break up a field. You go Summon Tour Guide, if they stop it, you're like ‘Ah man, I'll end.' And like, even if it went through, you'd make a Dante and if Dante couldn't deal with whatever the threat was you'd just stop it, really, you need a trap card.”

JDG: I mean the deck didn't really have boss monsters.

PH: “Yeah. You know, it needed a win condition, and I feel like Virgil definitely gave it that win condition.”

DJ: “I'm definitely gonna play the Tuner,” explained Johnson. “Probably a one-of. And I'm definitely gonna play [Genex Ally Birdman], I don't know why Pat doesn't agree with Birdman. Birdman and Tour Guide is a 1-for-1 in the end, but like he said card advantage doesn't matter. And it gives me Virgil.”

JDG: Wait, wait wait, you would play Birdman over Rubic, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss?

DJ: Hoban shook his head in disagreement. Johnson continued: “I would play Birdman over a second or third Tuner, yeah. I don't want him, ever.” More head-shaking from Hoban. “I would rather have Tour Guide plus Birdman, which is Virgil and a Burning Abyss in hand, guaranteed.”

JDG: And that's strictly driven by the fact that it doesn't have a self-replacing effect?

DJ: “No no no, I mean that, and… he just sucks! If I draw Rubic on its own, he just sucks!”

PH: “Yeah, but if Tour Guide gets stopped, Birdman sucks. Birdman can't be good without Tour Guide resolving, and if Tour Guide's resolving the best effect in your deck is already resolving.”

JDG: You're never gonna get the replacement effect off whatever you Special Summon to make your Synchro anyways, right?

A Leverett chimed in from the sidelines: “Don't they do the same thing? One of them's searchable… like, one of them's just better?”

DJ: “Yeah, yeah, that's fine!” Johnson explained more: “I just don't want to play more than one!”

PH: “I want to play three” stated Hoban, making direct eye contact with me and then laughing.

DJ: “I can always get it back from the graveyard, I can always search it from the deck.”

BL: “I want to draw it,” replied Leverett quickly. “I want to draw it.”

PH: “I do want to draw it!” added Hoban.

DJ: “I don't want to draw it!” Johnson was still in disagreement as everyone was getting a bit flustered. “And then I can add Tour Guide back from my hand if I have Birdman. They go Veiler, I bounce it back to my hand with Birdman, I ca-…”

BL “And this is the usual day at the Leverett House!” laughed Leverett. Everybody chuckled, dropping the issue.

PH: “Yeah, we argue a lot,” explained Hoban. “But you've got to! I dunno. You're not gonna be right all the time.”

“Oh, another thing I've started to realize lately,” continued Hoban, “is that traps just suck. And…”

BL: “Wait, wh-…“ a confused Leverett voiced a moment's dissent.

PH: “I feel like I knew it for a long time, but couldn't really explain why I knew it? I would rather not try and throw my monster into their traps, or have them throw their monsters into my tarps and whoever runs out first, they just kind of lose. It seems like you're just kinda flipping coins: do I run out of traps, or do they run out of stuff to throw into my traps? I don't really want to do that, I'd rather just put up monsters, and if they stop it with a Phoenix Wing Wind Blast or something, that's fine, I'll do something else. I'll Summon Chaos Sorcerer.

“That's why I like Shaddolls, you can play a Fusion and if that gets stopped you can drop Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning, you can drop Sorcerer, you can Soul Charge, you can Synchro; you can still do a lot of things. And traps just kind of take away from that as a whole. Because every additional trap card I have in my hand is one less card I have that could just do something else.

JDG: Like winning you the game, yeah.

 El Shaddoll Fusion
El Shaddoll Fusion94586
Set The New Challengers
Number NECH-EN064
Type Spell Card
Attribute SPELL 
Rarity Super Rare
Card Text

Fusion Summon 1 "Shaddoll" Fusion Monster from your Extra Deck, using monsters from your hand or your side of the field as Fusion Material Monsters. You can only activate 1 "El Shaddoll Fusion" per turn.

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DJ: “I have an opinion on Burning Abyss with the traps. I think like, with Burning Abyss and traps, first of all they're one of the only decks that can play the best traps in the game, like Raigeki Break and Wind Blast. Wind Blast being the best trap ever.”

PH: “Super Poly” muttered Hoban.

DJ: “Super Poly, whatever! Where was I going with this…” Johnson seemed to've lost his train of thought.

PH: “I'm not gonna lie,” admitted Hoban. “I've done that like twice since we've been talking!”

DJ: “Oh yeah, so there's like a fine line between combo decks and not combo decks. Like toolbox decks. Pat refers to Burning Abyss as a toolbox deck.”

PH: “It's like Geargia.”

DJ: “So Burning Abyss is not a combo deck. They don't ever really need more that one piece ever. All you need is one Graff, or Scarm to get you going, kinda. Or one Tour Guide. So there not really a combo deck. You can play traps freely. But I think they suck because they're not a combo deck, and they don't have big monsters. Virgil might be the answer to the deck, but I still think it sucks. They all suck. And Virgil definitely comes up a lot, in a lot of the testing we're doing, and Virgil just doesn't help Burning Abyss.”

PH: “That's because you play one Tuner, Desmond!” Hoban laughed. I did too.

DJ: “I don't want nine Burning Abyss! Or… twelve Burning Abyss! I mean I want nine, but I don't want twelve, thirteen, or fourteen.”

Hoban grinned as the conversation had clearly doubled back to the Rubic disagreement again:

PH: “I have like three of the Tuner, and two of the one that bounces backrow…”

DJ: “That card's awful too!”

PH: “It's pretty bad! But it lets you Summon more Dantes, it lets you Summon Virgil more…”

DJ: Johnson just shook his head… “Birdman…”

JDG: Still firmly on the side of Birdman, huh?

PH: “I'm not even really convinced that it's a combo deck. I think there are three different main types [of decks]. You can have a Little Deck, like Fire Fists for instance, that Summons, sets backrow, do whatever. Then you can have a big deck that Special Summons a lot, that's what I'm talking about. You can like, throw stuff into backrow. And I think there are two different kinds of big decks?”

DJ: “Karakuri and everything else,” snuck in Johnson, throwing Hoban off the pace of his reply, making him laugh.

PH: “You can have a non-combo big deck, and that'd be like Dragon Rulers for instance. And that would be Dragon Rulers, for instance: I wouldn't really say Dragon Rulers were a combo deck, because if you stop one play they can just do something else.”

DJ: “I'd always say… like the Baby Dragons? They all needed other cards,” replied Johnson.

PH: “It's not the same thing, that's like, Wolfbark Special Summons from the graveyard. Is that a combo, because…”

BL: “No that's not the same thing, actually. You need three cards to make Dragons good.”

JDG: Right, but the deck is a series of independent plays though, right? You're not looking to create a sequence of specific plays with that deck.

PH: “With a combo deck, you're trying to accomplish one thing. Sylvans for instance are a combo deck: if I Soul Charge and then do a lot of Sylvan things, at that point you're going to win the game. If I'm playing Dragunities and I do combos with Mystletainn, once you accomplish those things you're going to win the game. I think the non-combo big decks are the better versions, because they often have similar outright wins, but they umm… they aren't as limited. Most of the combo decks, they're like ‘I'll play my Soul Charge, you stop that, well I can't do as much anymore.' I'll Summon Dux in Dragunities…”

BL: “Solemn Warning!” shouted Leverett.

PH: “Right, they Solemn Warning, I pass my turn.”

JDG: Right, those decks aren't as resilient, they have more brick opening hands.

PH: Hoban nodded. “If you were playing a non-combo big deck like Dragon Rulers, then they can just keep going. You can stop one thing and they go and do something else; they're not dependent on only one thing. And they're not trying to accomplish only one thing.”

JDG: They don't fall apart as easily.

PH: “Right. So I think the non-combo big decks are the best decks in the game, but I think both types of big decks beat the Little Decks. Like I'd say combo decks beat trap decks every time.”

JDG: I mean we've definitely seen that play out over the past year or so. Fire Fists came back, it was like, “Here's your Wolfbarks!” and they still don't do anything.

PH: “Yeah, Water was better than Fire in that format, and like… whatever the bigger deck is, bigger usually means better in Yu-Gi-Oh.”

 Qliphort Scout
Qliphort Scout94537
Set The New Challengers
Number NECH-EN021
Level 5
Type Pendulum/Effect Monster
Monster Machine
Attribute EARTH 
A / D 1000 / 2800
Rarity Ultra Rare
Card Text

Pendulum Effect You cannot Special Summon monsters, except "Qli" monsters. This effect cannot be negated. Once per turn: You can pay 800 LP; add 1 "Qli" card from your Deck to your hand, except "Qliphort Scout".
Monster Effect Booting in Replica Mode… An error has occurred when executing C:\sophia\zefra.exe Unknown publisher. Allow C:\tierra\qliphort.exe ? …[Y] Booting in Autonomy Mode…

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JDG: So Desmond, what are you doing next. Are you going to the next ARGCS? Are you going to YCS Anaheim?

DJ: “Oh yeah, I'm goin' to both of those. I'm scared though, I don't think we've figured it out yet, and everything's going to suck this list. I really kind of just want to pass on ARGCS Raleigh. Maybe we can just pass it, and get a feel for what's going to be good. Maybe someone there will have the right idea, and we'll find out what is the right thing to do.”

BL: “I don't think coverage will give us enough of a clue as to what to do,” remarked Leverett.

DJ: “Yeah, we find out the Top 16, we find out who it was and what got made, and…”

BL: “It's not even just the Top 16,” emphasized Leverett. “It's what a lot of people were playing. Like, the meta doesn't just get defined by a bunch of slightly name players topping with similar deck lists. Sure, we'll learn all that and that might be good, but…”

DJ: “Well I'm not worried about what's gonna be played in bulk,” stated Johnson. “I'm worried about what's going to be good.”

BL: “I'm not gonna let someone else tell me what's good,” replied Leverett.

DJ: “We should just pass one event and then go to Anaheim.”

BL: “Just shut up,” quipped Leverett, Johnson starting to smile.

JDG: Okay, you're actually seriously considering not going to an event…

PH: “He's not,” barged in Hoban, comically resolute.

DJ: “I-… I'm not,” said Johnson, apparently changing his mind, a guilty and somewhat embarrassed smile still spreading across his face.

JDG: That's a terrible idea! I was laughing. That's no way to run your business, man… You're gonna find more information by going there and playing, win or lose.

DJ: “It's so far!” groaned Johnson. “It sucks!”

BL: “It's not that far,” replied Leverett. “It's seven hours.”

A pause from all of us. “Well… okay.” Johnson laughed. You can't really argue with someone nearly half your age saying seven hours to travel to an event isn't “that far.”

JDG: I chuckled. Alright, I don't really have any more questions. This was great! Thanks so much for joining me, all three of you guys!

“No problem, man!” “See you Jason!” “Bye!”

I sat down to interview Desmond Johnson about the YGO Series Championship, and wound up talking to an entire group of some of the best players in the game today, about practically everything. It was a blast! Now that the Raleigh weekend's come and gone, we know that Hoban did wind up playing triple Rubic, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss and double Calcab, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss as he'd argued. That meant that not only were his early impressions of the best Burning Abyss build correct, but he wound up picking the “little deck” after all.

What really stood out to me about that, and about the entire exchange with Johnson, Hoban, and the Leveretts, was how focused they were on process and sharing perspectives. These four teammates are clearly all benefiting from the disagreements they apparently have on a regular basis, just like the ones illustrated here in this interview. Mastery in this game isn't about going it alone: it's about trading experiences and ideas, and keeping an open mind. It's about being willing to admit you're wrong, to figure out what's actually right.

That's a powerful lesson, both on and off the table.

Big thanks to Desmond Johnson for the interview, as well as Pat, Ben, and Zach for their contributions! Like the interview? Hated it? Let me know down below – if you guys want more of this kind of content we can probably make that happen. Who'd you like to see interviewed?

-Jason Grabher-Meyer

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