Winning Games By Building Rapport

Mike Steinman

11/20/2015 11:00:00 AM
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A lot of the same topics always come up when people talk about getting better at Yu-Gi-Oh: mastering your deck, knowing your rulings, using mind games to your advantage, staying off tilt when something unfortunate happens… Those same points are raised time and time again. But one of the most important topics is barely ever discussed; in ten years of playing this game competitively, the first time I ever heard of it was in early 2014. I've topped four out of the four premier events I've played in since then, and though deck building innovations like Pure Geargia and Kuribandit Artifact Traptrix made the tournaments easier on their own - decks I built with friends – I owe a lot of my success with Nekroz to this technique. Today I want to talk about the secret no one wants to give out. The concept in question is called rapport.

Rapport is defined as a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other's feelings or ideas and communicate well. Simply put, it's having a relatable connection with another person. The more a person can identify with you, the more open they become. You can relate to each other and conversation just flows naturally. Rapport is huge in sales, making products seem more appealing to customers. If you make a sincere connection to your potential buyer and they believe that you truly care about their best interests - and they trust you - then they'll trust the product you're trying to sell to them.

In business, building rapport's as easy as finding something that your customer cares about, then making them feel like you care about it just as much as they do; a sports team for example. Rapport techniques work because after a while your customer starts to subconsciously think, "This guy is just like me." When they relate to you, their brain starts getting confused as to whether the next thought in their mind is put there by themselves, or by you. It can't differentiate between the two possibilities. You're creating a fake friendship, and people trust their friends, right?

Okay, that last part might sound a Little Dark, but you already know that the sales business - and all businesses for that matter - are quite tenacious. What's less obvious is how this all relates to Yu-Gi-Oh. The first thing you have to realize is that to the serious competitive player, this isn't just a fun, simple card game. The moment you sit down across the table from your opponent you're engaging in a two-person war.

That doesn't mean you should be rude or disrespectful, nor should you ever do anything that would break the rules of the game or its tournament policy, but it means you're willing to do whatever it takes to check the box marking you as the winner at the end of the match. You're not going to feel bad if you draw a really good hand, and you're not going to take it easy on your opponent. You aren't going to give them any chances.

While you're playing your match, you aren't there to make friends. You're there to win, and only to win.

So How Does Rapport Tie Into Yu-Gi-Oh?
When you use rapport in a match of Yu-Gi-Oh, you're using it to exploit the human tendency to trust. You're going to make your opponent feel like he can trust you, and then you're going to lead them into a pitfall. If you've ever heard of anyone "Jedi Mind Tricking" their opponents into ridiculously stupid plays and thus escaping impossible situations, and you've wondered how in the heck their opponents could ever be talked into playing so badly, rapport is usually the answer.

Mastering rapport will open up a whole new world of mind games and tricks, and the best part of it is that your opponent won't know what hit them until it's too late, if they even ever realize that you were controlling their thought processes at all. Learning how to build rapport isn't easy at first - if it were we would all be YCS Champions or even better, millionaires, since we'd all be wildly successful in sales and business.

But as with so many things, it takes a little practice.

How To Build Rapport
From the moment you sit down across from your opponent, you have to act genuine. Engage them in conversation; ask them how they're doing; where they traveled from; how many events they've played in, and so on. When they return your questions, give them both genuine and relatable answers. If they say they're having a great day, then you're also having a great day. If they aren't in a very good mood, act like something is bothering you too and tell them about it. If they traveled a long ways to compete, so did you. If they haven't been playing recently, then you're just coming back from a hiatus as well. Relate.

The end goal of building rapport with your opponent is to mess them up somewhere during the match. You do that by making them feel so relatable to you that when you suggest a wrong move after suggesting correct moves for so long, it will be hard for them to tell if that suggestion is coming from you or from their own self. You make it confusing for them by making every suggestion something they're already thinking in their head.

 Mind Control
$1.44
$1.18
$0.93
Mind Control32110
Set Gold Series 2009
Number GLD2-EN037
Type Spell
Attribute SPELL 
Rarity Ultra Rare
Card Text

Take control of 1 monster on your opponent's side of the field until the End Phase. This monster cannot declare an attack or be Tributed.


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A huge part of this process of leading suggestions is making them say the word “Yes.” Think about it. When you're trying to shut a person out.. someone knocking at your door with a proposal for instance, you 're just trying to say no as many times as you can to get that person to leave. The more times you can get your opponent to say yes, the more open they're becoming. Eventually they're just saying yes to Mind Control.

These suggestions can be simple things. If it looks like they're about to pass their turn, ask them if they're finished. If they enter the Battle Phase, ask them if they're attacking with whatever they have on the field. Those are easy ways to get the answer yes. If they've just tributed away their field with Nekroz of Valkyrus, say something along the lines of "Man, now you get Ritual Spells too.. that's crazy!" You don't want your suggestions to make them feel stupid, and you also don't want them to make you sound upset at the situation. A line along the lines of "Great play! You get Ritual Spells now too… man…" can sound standoffish, even if you aren't meaning it to be.

That's why being genuine is such an important part of the equation. Be real. Act like you really want the better player to win, and don't care if that person is your opponent. Mimic their motions, how they shuffle their hand, and how they conduct themselves, but do it subtly. If you make it too obvious they're going to feel like something is up or even worse they're just going to think you're being obnoxious, and it's going to break the connection you've been building. If you're subtle about it their subconscious will pick up on it, and you'll make an even deeper connection.

The more you and your opponent are in synch, the more open they'll be. They'll let their emotions show and you'll be able to read them more accurately. By the same Token, they'll believe your bluffs more since you established that level of trust with them. There are two personal examples I want to share of how I took advantage of that type of situation, the first with a bluff and the second with a suggestion.

Examples of Rapport: Bluffing
Round 2 of the latest North American WCQ saw me in a Nekroz Mirror match. I won Game 1 and sided in cards like Torrential Tribute and Shared Ride in hopes of either opening Torrential and blowing my opponent out, or opening with the Djinn Lock backed by Shared Ride or Solemn Scolding.

By this time my opponent and I were conversing about a ton of random things and we had a pretty deep level of rapport. One thing we discussed that would prove to be crucial in the next game is the fact that drawing Shared Ride without a combo to load the graveyard for Nekroz of Valkyrus won't stop you from getting OTK'd. Bringing that concern up led us to talk about a powerful emotion – fear – and we connected over it. Game 2 started and I opened with an okay hand, but it consisted of the lone Torrential I had sided in. I set it and passed. My opponent drew and looked at his hand really hard, and I jokingly said "Don't OTK me, please!" He smiled, set a card, and passed.

On my next turn I drew into a combo and started by discarding Nekroz of Clausolas to fetch Nekroz Kaleidoscope. My opponent responded with Shared Ride. He said the same thing I had said Last Turn about hoping to not get OTK'd. This proved to me that we were in rapport more than ever, so I took my chance. I made a very dissatisfied look at his Shared Ride, thought a moment, and discarded Nekroz of Brionac to fetch Valkyrus from my deck. It was an unnecessary play that gave my opponent an extra draw, and I felt safe making that play with Torrential set. That move bluffed that I was desperate to find a way to protect myself from a potential OTK next turn. I said something like "I know you would do this, too, so I don't feel so bad about it. Yeah, it's definitely the right play," and he nodded when I ended the turn.

He confidently drew his third fresh card since his Last Turn, and started running numbers immediately, not trying to hide the fact that he was trying to find a way to win since I'd appeared to have been honest with him about my "concern" Last Turn. He had it. He summoned five monsters including a Nekroz of Gungnir to kill me through Valkyrus, and my Torrential won the game right then and there.

Examples Of Rapport: Suggestion
I have two examples that can demonstrate the use of rapport leveraged through the power of suggestion, both from YCS Chicago this year. The first came in Round 5, again in a Nekroz Mirror match. My opponent and I had built rapport, and he notably said he was pretty new to playing the deck. I told him the same – which was ironically actually true –so I was able to build a special level of trust. By being genuine I could make him feel like we were learning the deck together, and by the middle of Game 1 we were already connected. It was very easy to suggest obvious plays while not making him feel like I was insulting his level of intelligence, because we were both new to the strategy.

Fast forward to Game 3. He'd stopped me mid-combo and I had to leave my field up, and I was about to get hit by a fatal Nekroz of Trishula that would leave me topdecking. My graveyard consisted of Djinn Releaser of Rituals, Nekroz of Brionac, Nekroz of Clausolas, two Ritual Spells, and some other irrelevant cards. My only way of coming back was to summon my own Trishula back, and if he banished my Nekroz of Brionac, I would've had to draw another Brionac to Summon that Trishula I needed. That left me needing to topdeck a Manju, Senju, or Brionac to mount a comeback. If he banished anything else in my graveyard, I could also straight topdeck Trishula and Summon it.

He activated his Nekroz of Trishula's effect and fanned through my graveyard before mentioning he was considering Brionac. I put a puzzled look on my face and say, "Really? I don't think that's right… is it? I thought you were going to pick a Ritual Spell so I couldn't thin my deck out." Realistically this made no sense because his attack from Trishula on that turn and the subsequent turn was enough to finish me off, but – probably since we'd build that level of rapport – something in his head told him to agree with me.

 Mind Crush
$10.99
$2.33
$1.49
Mind Crush67095
Set Legendary Collection 3: Yugi's World
Number LCYW-EN295
Type Trap Card
Attribute TRAP 
Rarity Ultra Rare
Card Text

Declare 1 card name; if that card is in your opponent's hand, they must discard all copies of it from their hand to the Graveyard, otherwise you discard 1 random card.


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He probably assumed that any topdeck would get me a Brionac to the grave for Nekroz Mirorr anyway, but like I said before, him not hitting Brionac gave me an extra out in the form of hard drawing Trishula. Trying to see things like that while you're in the middle of an effect resolution is hard, and that was probably another factor in my favor.

So my opponent ended up banishing a Ritual Spell and passing. Can you guess what I drew for my turn? Nekroz of Trishula. I banished my remaining Ritual Spell to search for Nekroz Mirror, activated it by banishing Brionac and Djinn, and won the game several turns later after he failed at trying to stall and find an out.

My next example comes from the very next round in Chicago, in another Nekroz Mirror match. I was paired off with someone I'd played before in a previous tournament, and we respected each other. That made it easy to build rapport. Remember, you're on a battlefield. I considered this person a friend before our match and I still do now, but when you're in a tournament you do what you have to do to win so long as it's not breaking the rules. Using every advantage you can find isn't wrong.

It was Game 2. I'd messed up by thinking I had a second copy of Lavalval Chain in my Extra Deck, and had gone for a Djinn Lock. When I realized I'd taken the second Lavalval Chain out of my deck right before the tournament, I just made Daigusto Emeral and passed. He drew and discarded Nekroz of Clausolas to search Nekroz Cycle and then used it to discard Shurit, Strategist of the Nekroz, reviving Clausolas and searching for his combo piece. He banished Djinn for Trishula and Valkyrus came down next, letting him attack for 6600 damage.

As we were calculating Life Points I said, "Tribute your guys right? If you draw Shared Ride to go with that Clausolas I'm so done for." I was acting as if trading two monsters for two draws was the obvious play to make, and it just so happened that tributing your field off with Valkyrus was quite the common play after declaring attacks, so that could've triggered something as well.

And so he did it. He got rid of his own Djinn Lock himself. He tributed off his Djinn-enhanced Trishula and his Valkyrus to draw two cards and pass with just a Clausolas on his field. Next turn I slammed down Nekroz Kaleidoscope and when he pointed at his Clausolas, I reminded him he'd used Djinn for Trishula, not Clausolas. I still lost that game due to my foolish Mistake forgetting about the Lavalval Chain, but it just goes to show how powerful suggestion can be when you've built rapport with your opponent.

This is probably the most important article I'll ever write. It will no doubt affect my results at future tournaments, but it's something I wanted to give back to the community that has given me so much. Rapport is the ultimate technique that no one wants to talk about, and I'm interested in seeing if this article changes anything in the competitive community at all. Hopefully I've opened some eyes to a topic that doesn't see much discussion.

Keep studying and practicing rapport and you'll have a huge edge over your opponents. Until next time!

-Mike Steinman


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