Side Deck Theory: Analyzing YCS Results

Kelly Locke

3/21/2016 11:04:00 AM

Performage Performapals made their last stand at YCS Atlanta, claiming a Championship win just before the Adjusted List delivered a devastating blow to the strategy. Then, in the very next U.S. Championship event, Performapals dominated the field at YCS Las Vegas and ultimately claimed 1st and 2nd Place. I don't think anyone was particularly surprised by that. Draco Performapals have been topping Regional events everywhere, and they similarly dominated at YCS Prague.

The format has settled into its usual three-way battle for supremacy, this time featuring Kozmos, Monarchs, and Draco Performapals. Among them, Performapals are easily the best of the bunch. They took 15 of the Top 32 spots at Las Vegas and easily overshadowed Kozmos and Monarchs. We could take that as an indicator that the Adjusted List didn't do enough to balance the deck against other competitive strategies, but we don't know how popular the deck was at Las Vegas besides anecdotal evidence. Were Performapals over-represented? Were they played in greater numbers among the most experienced players?

Perception goes a long way towards establishing a ‘best deck', but the only observers capable of making objective conclusions about the format are those with complete data about the entrants. Even Konami's data is limited since it can't account for geographic differences, local metagames, or just personal preference. Players who have outstanding competitive decks might decide to play a rogue strategy. Highly skilled duelists could run under-supported themes to challenge themselves, and less experienced duelists may perform poorly while piloting the best deck in the game.

 Performapal Pendulum Sorcerer
Performapal Pendulum Sorcerer111189
Set Breakers of Shadow
Number BOSH-EN090
Level 4
Type Pendulum/Effect Monster
Monster Spellcaster
Attribute EARTH 
A / D 1500 / 800
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

Pendulum Effect: If a "Performapal" monster(s) is Pendulum Summoned to your side of the field: All "Performapal" monsters you currently control gain 1000 ATK until the end of this turn (even if this card leaves the field).
Monster Effect: If this card is Special Summoned: You can target up to 2 cards you control; destroy them, and if you do, add "Performapal" monsters with different names from your Deck to your hand, except "Performapal Pendulum Sorcerer", equal to the number of monsters destroyed. You can only use this effect of "Performapal Pendulum Sorcerer" once per turn.

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Drawing conclusions about local metagames, predicting trends at competitive events, and using player perception to your advantage are crucial components of Side Deck theory. Knowing what other duelists are thinking helps you build your strategy, choose the right tech cards, and make tactical decisions during the duel. The more you know about the environment you're playing in, the better you can prepare for it.

There are two parts to achieving that level of understanding: first, you need to gather data about the environment you're heading into. Second, you'll have to interpret that data and convert it to useful information.

Dealing With Data
Actual data on YCS events usually comes straight from the coverage website, but for everything else we're totally reliant on third-party sources. This is a huge problem for metagame analysis, since it forces us to consider only the most common type of data: Top 32 results. Don't get me wrong – Top 32 breakdowns are awesome. They're a great source of information and leads the way in crafting informed analysis of events. The problem isn't that we have Top 32's, but that they're the only data we have to go on.

We sometimes have access to additional information at European and Oceanic YCS events. Entrance numbers broken down by deck type are extremely valuable, and they're noticeably missing from North and South American coverage. It's the second piece of the jigsaw puzzle: once we know the breakdown of the Top 32 we can compare that to the number of players who entered the tournament piloting a specific strategy.

Another important data point is repeat appearances by top-level players. Player skill is a rarely-discussed component of Top 32 results, and frequent attendees at premiere events can have a disproportionate effect on the perception of a metagame. It's the third point we can try to track, but it's a serious undertaking. It's one of the most overlooked aspects of competitive analysis, largely due to how qualitative it is.

Here on TCGplayer we have a great tool for gathering data: our deck archive. The archive is sorted by event, and clicking on a player's name will show you their previous entries. It's a handy tool for researching deck lists, as well as Top 32 and Top 8 breakdowns. There's a ton of data you can pull down from our sources, and it's a great place to start even if it's by no means comprehensive.

Turning Data Into Information
We can turn data into information by giving it meaning. A data point is just that: data. Until you infer something useful about it it's not really information yet. The problem facing you now has less to do with a lack of data, and more to do with an unlimited number of factors working against you.

There are infinite factors to consider when discussing why a strategy performed a certain way. We could talk endlessly about the personalities of players, including their values, desires, wants, preferences, and other psychographics. Generally we don't consider those factors when comparing decks, but they do have a less obvious impact on the results of an event. Who dedicates a week to testing for a tournament, investing dozens of hours in intense testing sessions? Who rolls out of bed the morning of the event, grabs an untested deck they borrowed from a friend and heads out to play with a hastily-constructed Side Deck? Both groups exist on the competitive scene, but in what numbers?

A dedicated, skilled player who's concentrated on winning won't handicap themselves for style points, and who makes a consistent effort to improve themselves, will almost always be at an advantage against less dedicated players. That skews our entrance data by adding an extra consideration to the win ratio of any given deck. Player win ratio is entirely unknowable outside of Konami's own ID system – assuming they even track records of non-topping players.

YCS events tend to filter out less invested players. Travel costs and other monetary barriers prevent many duelists from attending, even if they want to. Carpooling and reserving a hotel are fairly normal for those that regularly attend Championship-level events, but that's a lot to ask from most duelists. The Yu-Gi-Oh! demographic overlaps with anime, video game, and comic book fans, all of whom attend conventions and other big gatherings. Actually making the trip isn't a radical idea, but affording it might be. Attending multiple events each year can put a huge strain on your disposable income, and that's before you consider the cost of buying cards.

 Dante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss
Dante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss115862
Set Premium Gold: Infinite Gold
Number PGL3-EN077
Level 3
Type Xyz/Effect Monster
Monster Warrior
Attribute LIGHT 
A / D 1000 / 2500
Rarity Gold Rare
Card Text

2 Level 3 monsters
Once per turn: You can detach 1 Xyz Material from this card and choose a number from 1 to 3, then send that many cards from the top of your Deck to the Graveyard; until the end of this turn, this card gains 500 ATK for each card sent to the Graveyard this way. If this card attacks, it is changed to Defense Position at the end of the Battle Phase. If this card is sent to the Graveyard: You can target 1 "Burning Abyss" card in your Graveyard, except this card; add it to your hand.

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Local players don't have the same travel challenges. YCS events draw in players from hundreds of miles around, and a large proportion of the attendees live in or near the host city. If there's a YCS in town, you go. As a result, local metagames are disproportionately represented, which can lead to major changes in entrance numbers. Even just in the U.S. there are radically different player preferences just between states, let alone countries.

So YCS events, in summary, combine highly skilled players from extreme distances, local players at every level of skill, and having various reasons for playing certain decks. You can combine player win ratio with deck win ratio and still come up short because of regional differences, or because a budget strategy happens to be extremely popular despite not being regarded as the ‘best deck' by top-level players. Any analysis will inevitably be imperfect as a result, which means any opinions about the state of competitive play must be limited in time frame and geographic region to avoid false generalizations.

Grains Of Salt
You should be skeptical of all third-party conclusions about “the meta”. Even non-sanctioned events where more data can be tracked, collected, and released to the public are still limited by the huge number of factors impacting results. It's not enough to say “Monarchs took more spots in the Top 8; therefore it's the best deck in the game.” Local metagames, local player preferences, hype, perceptions about viable competitive strategies, and the choices of highly skilled players have an enormous effect on the outcome of a tournament.

That aside, just because there are other factors to consider doesn't mean you should discard Top Cut results as a metric for gauging the state of competitive play. At the beginning of this article I argued that Performapals are currently the best deck in the game. That's a conclusion I came to largely by looking at Regional results. What you have to ask yourself is: how likely is it that players have correctly identified the best deck, and are performing well with it primarily because it's the strongest strategy available. Most of the time that's the case, but it's not a guarantee.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking every set of YCS tops is a perfect representation of the game. Accept that these events have limited attendance, loads of repeat appearances, and an influx of local players at all levels of skill. Those factors don't make Top Cut analysis worthless, but they do make it more likely to be flawed. When ‘the best deck' changes each event with few cards debuting between them, it's a clear sign that the players are jumping the gun and drawing conclusions from limited information.

Until next time then


Kelly Locke is a West Michigan gamer, writer, and college student with too much free time on his hands. Besides playing Yugioh, Kelly posts Let's Play videos of Minecraft on his Youtube channel and plays a possibly unhealthy amount of Destiny. He is currently studying marketing at Western Michigan University, and hopes to graduate before Dragon Ravine is Unlimited.

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