The Art Of Side Decking

Mike Steinman

4/7/2016 11:00:00 AM

Side decking's arguably one of the most important aspects of Yu-Gi-Oh. People invest so much time in trying to optimize their Main Decks, but they often fail to realize that you play more games sided in Games 2 and 3 than you play Game 1's. If you truly want the best deck you need to make sure your Side Deck choices and your plans for how to rotate them into your Main Deck are on point.

Side Decking's really just a chance to rebuild your strategy once you know what you're up against. Which, when you think about it, is pretty huge. It's insane to me that people just throw cards into their sides, or don't carefully plan out how they're going to Side Deck when it comes time to make adjustments.

Before we really dive in, I want to expel some common theories that should be obviously wrong to the competitive player, but which I still hear all the time. I was at locals and recently overheard someone saying they were having trouble with Monarchs while they were constructing their Side Deck. I watched him throw in a ton of Monarch hate – stuff like Mask of Restrict, Magic Deflector, Mystical Space Typhoon, Raigeki, Dark Hole, and Chaos Trap Hole.

The end result was a pile of twelve cards there for the sole fact that they demolish the Monarch match-up. I interjected and asked what he was siding out for those cards, and he didn't have a straight answer. I continued, asking how he'd side differently when going first or second. Again, I was met with a convoluted answer - "I'm not completely sure, but don't I side all the cards in regardless of who's starting? These cards are all good against Monarchs so I don't think it matters.”

 Maxx "C"
Set Premium Gold: Infinite Gold
Number PGL3-EN042
Level 2
Type Effect Monster
Monster Insect
Attribute EARTH 
A / D 500 / 200
Rarity Gold Rare
Card Text

During either player's turn: You can send this card from your hand to the Graveyard; this turn, each time your opponent Special Summons a monster(s), immediately draw 1 card. You can only use 1 "Maxx "C"" per turn.

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The truth is that it totally matters. That's a huge Mistake I see being made at even the top tables of YCS's. Cards like Maxx "C" and Effect Veiler are great when you're going second, but most of the time there are just better options when you're going first and the same can be said for the reverse. Floodgate cards like Anti-Spell Fragrance can be total blowouts if you can activate them before your opponent gets to play cards, but are often quite subpar when you're staring down an established board.

A small difference regarding which type of card you're actually siding in is usually the difference between winning or losing the game or match. I've seen people go first and draw a Maxx "C" in their opening hand, and essentially starting with four cards. If you're going to side in cards to counter your opponent's strategy – which takes away from how much you can advance your own game position – they better make the biggest impact on the game possible.

Maxx "C" - The Perfect Example
Unless you're pressed for space in your Side Deck, you should have better cards going first than hand traps, which are generally best going second when you don't have significantly better options that can break your opponent's board once it's your own turn.

Generally speaking, hand traps should be your Last Resort. If you're using Maxx "C" to prevent your opponent from building their field, it's generally better to just side in Raigeki or Dark Hole to directly counter what you'd otherwise be using Maxx "C" to try and dissuade from happening. While there are advantages of using hand traps over straight destruction cards, there are going to be times where you draw a hand trap as your sixth card and you'll just lose the game because of it. The ability to leverage Maxx "C" as a trap when you're already winning and have superior board position is nice, sure - but it's just an added bonus to the card, not the main purpose for using it.

There are of course exceptions. If field wipes solve your going-second problem, you're going to get to a point where running too many of them is redundant. Imagine if Raigeki and Dark Hole were both unlimited. After you run three or four copies of them, you greatly increase your chance of drawing two field wipes in your opening hand. At that point you'd rather have Maxx "C" to help you draw into your multitude of field wipes in the first place, and serve a different purpose if you already opened with a field wipe. Having too many cards that do the same thing addressing specific situations will lose you the game, and Maxx "C " is good in that type of situation by effectively being other cards when you already have a field wipe, or drawing you into one, which is highly probable since you're running so many of them.

Siding against Draco Pals is another one of those exceptions. With the release of Number 38: Hope Harbinger Dragon Titanic Galaxy, Performapal fields have a whole new level of added resiliency. Harbinger can negate powerful destruction effects like Raigeki and Twin Twisters, making it hard to break their boards even if you draw your side deck cards. That's an example where maybe it's better to take the risk and side Maxx "C" before any other cards.

 Number 38: Hope Harbinger Dragon Titanic Galaxy
Number 38: Hope Harbinger Dragon Titanic Galaxy115792
Set Premium Gold: Infinite Gold
Number PGL3-EN008
Level 8
Type Xyz/Effect Monster
Monster Dragon
Attribute LIGHT 
A / D 3000 / 2500
Rarity Gold Secret Rare
Card Text

2 Level 8 monsters
Once per turn, during either player's turn, when a Spell Card or effect is activated on the field: You can negate that effect, and if you do, attach that card to this card as Xyz Material. When an opponent's monster declares an attack: You can detach 1 Xyz Material from this card; change the attack target to this card and perform damage calculation. If a face-up Xyz Monster(s) you control is destroyed by battle or card effect: You can target 1 face-up Xyz Monster you control; it gains ATK equal to 1 of those destroyed monster's original ATK.

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Against decks that make tough-to-break set-ups, you want to try your best to preempt them entirely. The same thing could be said about the Infernity deck in the past. Needle Ceiling was pretty effective against that deck, but Maxx "C" could stop them from going off in the first place. Full power hand-loop Wind-Ups were another example.

You get the point. If you can't use any other cards to deal with whatever your opponent can do when it comes around to your turn, play Maxx "C". If there are other cards that can reliably help you in those situations, play those instead. Never side those cards in going first, because you're going to bring in different cards that will stop your opponent from getting to that point to begin with. The same goes for the reverse situations. Chances are you won't break a powerful field if one of your in-hand cards is an Anti-Spell Fragrance.

Conversion Side Decking
So we briefly just went over “standard” Side Decking, where you're siding to counter your opponent's strategy, but there's another approach that's a little more mischievous.

Conversion siding is the act of using your Side Deck to change your strategy completely, nullifying the effectiveness of whatever your opponent sided against you and throwing them off balance. You hide the fact that you're doing that by shuffling your entire fifteen card Side Deck into your Main Deck and then plucking out fifteen cards. That keeps the number of cards you sided in unknown information to your opponent, if you sided any at all.

If you won Game 1, the surprise factor of a conversion side deck is usually enough to steal Game 2. If not your opponent's going to be going into Game 3 blind, not knowing the correct way to side against you. That technique hasn't been popular in recent times, since the core engines of the biggest strategies are so huge – think of how many Nekroz cards were needed in that deck… It was way more than fifteen. That said, it's still important to recognize conversion siding's place in the game.

I think the most recent example of a successful conversion Side Deck at the YCS level was a Bujin deck that sided into Fire Fists at YCS Vegas 2014, piloted by Hooman Farahbakhsh. He was concerned about the number of cards people were siding for Bujins, like Debunk and Light-Imprisoning Mirror. Farahbakhsh realized that Bujins and Fire Fists played a lot of similar cards like Pot of Duality, Forbidden Lance, and a very similar trap line-up. So he created this strategy that could transform into a Fire Fist deck, and he tore through opponents who were stuck drawing dead Bujin cards they'd sided in and then had no use for.

I have a couple of personal examples where conversion siding was great for me. The first one was saw me playing Fire Fists to win the Overdose #4 tournament a couple months before getting 2nd Place at YCS San Diego. It was the first tournament of the new format following the slaughter of Wind-Ups. People had a ton of free space in their Side Decks where they'd previously played cards like Rivalry of Warlords, Gozen Match, Needle Ceiling, etc and Fire Fists were the new hot deck to beat.

I expected cards like Overworked and Mind Crush to be huge, which would make my life hard in Games 2 and 3 if I was going to run Fire Fists. I decided to fix that by taking out all the cards weak to the most common Side Deck answers; namely three Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Bear, one Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Gorilla, three Fire Formation - Tenki, and the one Fire Formation - Tensu.

 Thunder King Rai-Oh
Thunder King Rai-Oh66773
Set Turbo Pack: Booster Eight
Number TU08-EN000
Level 4
Type Effect
Monster Thunder
Attribute LIGHT 
A / D 1900 / 800
Rarity Ultimate Rare
Card Text

Neither player can add cards from their Deck to their hand except by drawing them. During either player's turn, when your opponent would Special Summon a monster: You can send this face-up card to the Graveyard; negate the Special Summon, and if you do, destroy it.

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I replaced them with common stun monsters like Cyber Dragons, Thunder King Rai-Oh, and Banisher of the Radiance. Beatdown seemed like the best strategy since I expected my opponents to be drawing dead copies of Overworked and Mind Crush and I didn't want to give them time to draw out of their dead hand. The strategy worked flawlessly.

Another really oldschool example was plucked from the winter of 2010. Gravekeeper's had just won YCS Atlanta and thought to be fringe, since Nobleman of Crossout completely knocked the backbone out of the deck. There was a really successful strategy that took California Regionals by storm where someone played Gravekeepers and sided into Blackwings! That made opposing copies of Goldd, Wu-Lord of Dark Worlds and Nobleman of Crossouts dead while bringing on the beatdown with Blackwing monsters. That let the innovative player go undefeated. If you can pull off a successful conversion side it's really easy to run through your opponents based on surprise factor alone.

Now that we've gone over siding for first and second and a couple different Side Deck philosophies are, we can go further in depth next week with actually figuring out how to Side Deck, and how to build your side based on your strategy and the decks you expect to play against. It's a pretty extensive subject, so look forward to a pretty big discussion next week. Until then!

-Mike Steinman

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