Modern Yu-Gi-Oh: Power, Consistency, and Longevity

Doug Zeeff

5/30/2016 11:00:00 AM

Every week, more and more innovative deck lists are topping and winning tournaments, which is something that's to be expected in any WCQ season. We've seen crazy takes on standard competitive decks like Monarchs, Kozmos, and Burning Abyss. Every duelist is looking to get an edge on their opponent, and one of the easiest ways to do that is by playing better cards. If your strategy has a next level win condition that nobody else has figured out, then you'll trample your opponents. Or at least that's the idea.

But over the past year, deck building has changed a lot from the basic principles we've seen over the last decade, and now that we're so close to the end of the competitive season it's a great time to analyze modern trends to try and get a better understanding of where the game is headed. There's a lot to look at, but the main thing I want to focus on in this particular article is a newfound emphasis on power instead of consistency or longevity.

Ever since the game started speeding up there's been an ongoing debate over the importance of power versus consistency. Generally, more powerful cards are less consistent, and vice versa. Some of the best cards of their time have also been huge dead draws: Dark Armed Dragon, Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning, Judgment Dragon, Apoqliphort Towers, and so many more.

Of course, those cards still saw play because they're just too powerful to ignore, and most were on the Forbidden & Limited List at one time or another. Conversely, simple cards usually aren't individually powerful. Upstart Goblin isn't game breaking by itself, nor is something like Pot of Duality or Mystical Space Typhoon. Those cards are going to be useful at most stages in the game, but you're probably not going to win specifically because of them.

Does Longevity Matter Anymore?
I can remember a time when players wouldn't play three search cards without at least four cards to search. That meant that even if you drew one of the searchable cards you'd still get full use out of all three searchers. I've watched many decks using Fire Formation - Tenki play a fourth monster just for that reason. And that makes sense, because nobody wants to be stuck with a dead card in their hand indefinitely.

Similarly, when Rescue Rabbit went from unlimited to Semi-Limited duelists still stuck with three copies each of two Normal Monsters instead of cutting back. They wanted to resolve both Rescue Rabbits so they still played six Normal Monsters. When Tour Guide From the Underworld was Semi-Limited players replaced the third copy with Night Assailant no matter how many articles Jason Grabher-Meyer wrote about how it's mathematically better to just play two Tour Guide and one Sangan.

In formats where that wasn't the case, the discrepancy between searchers and searchables wasn't usually more than one copy. For example, while most Teleport Dark Armed Dragon decks ran three Emergency Teleport with three Psychics, several high profile deck builders noticed that they never needed to resolve the third Emergency Teleport to win. They then opted to cut the third Psychic while keeping the three Teleports. That left them with enough Psychics to win the game, but also lowered their chances of drawing them as poor draws.

 Emergency Teleport
Emergency Teleport106051
Set High-Speed Riders
Number HSRD-EN054
Type Spell Card
Attribute SPELL 
Rarity Ultra Rare
Card Text

Special Summon 1 Level 3 or lower Psychic-Type monster from your hand or Deck, but banish it during the End Phase of this turn.

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Still, we're talking about running just one less copy of Krebons to bring out with Emergency Teleport. Many times we've seen three Reinforcement of the Army with three Warriors, three Trade-In with three Level 8 monsters, or two Terraforming with two Field Spells. For the longest time, these numbers have been the standard for competitive dueling.

Until This Season, That Is…
This past year we've seen several important engines that are inherently designed knowing you won't be able to resolve the combo more than once, instantly putting two dead draws into your deck. I am, of course, referring to Brilliant Fusion and Gem-Knight Garnet; Instant Fusion and Elder Entity Norden; and Speedroid Terrortop with Speedroid Taketomborg.

Right off the bat I know what some of you are thinking: “Hey Doug, I play two Garnet / Norden / Taketomborg, so you're wrong!”

Okay, well, thank you wild commenter, but I'm going off of the majority of competitive deck lists from the past year, and the best players only played one of the filler card. Heck, even I was on board with playing two Gem-Knight Garnets for the longest time, but eventually I realized the same thing that those Teleport Dark Armed Dragon players saw so long ago: the added longevity isn't worth the added brick hands.

Played in the correct strategy, all of the three-of's that I just mentioned should win you the game the turn you activate them, or shortly after. If you're taking proper advantage of Brilliant Fusion then you should only need to resolve one to build up a strong enough field to kill your opponent. Sure, after you get rid of your one Garnet you've instantly got two completely dead cards in your deck, but if the game ends before you see them it doesn't matter.

Speedroid Terrortop and Speedroid Taketomborg are the odd ones out in this case because they're not completely unusable if you draw the wrong stuff. Taketomborg regularly hits the board after a Burning Abyss player Xyz Summons Leviair the Sea Dragon, and you can still Special Summon Terrortop if you don't control any monsters - you just won't get a free search. Those aren't ideal situations, but it's better than bricking Instant Fusion or Brilliant Fusion after you've used your Norden or Garnet, respectively.

The Difference Maker
I feel like whenever there's an overarching change in the way duelists play Yu-Gi-Oh! the go-to explanation is “it's just so much faster than it used to be,” but I'm not a fan of that argument. Decks like Return Dark Armed Dragon, Nekroz, Six Samurai, Dragon Rulers, and Shaddolls could all defeat opponents in a couple turns. Yu-Gi-Oh! has been fast for years now, and I don't see it slowing down much in the future.

The real difference I've noticed is that decks are just way, way more powerful nowadays, even without drawing these engines. Obviously power creep exists, but one of the reasons that these “three good card, one bad card” engines have been so successful is that the decks playing them can win without them. It's just faster when you draw the combo piece.

For example, can Burning Abyss win without opening with Speedroid Terrortop? Absolutely. There are a ton of ways to get Dante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss on the field, and from there you can easily make Beatrice, Lady of the Eternal. Brilliant Fusion's in a similar boat: Xyz Monarchs don't need to draw it to win, but resolving it is almost an auto-win.

 Speedroid Terrortop
Speedroid Terrortop105998
Set High-Speed Riders
Number HSRD-EN001
Level 3
Type Effect Monster
Monster Machine
Attribute WIND 
A / D 1200 / 600
Rarity Super Rare
Card Text

If you control no monsters, you can Special Summon this card (from your hand). When this card is Normal or Special Summoned: You can add 1 "Speedroid" monster from your Deck to your hand, except "Speedroid Beigomax". You can only use this effect of "Speedroid Beigomax" once per turn.

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That's what I feel is the most overlooked aspect of these engines in the eyes of more casual players. It's not their fault: when you see a deck list that literally cannot resolve two cards you might jump to the worst case scenarios. Obviously drawing two Brilliant Fusions at the same time is bad, and drawing Garnet and Brilliant Fusion together is almost an auto-loss.

But decks these days don't mind dead drawing occasionally because they'll win anyway. I can't count the number of games I've drawn Gem-Knight Lazuli in Xyz Monarchs, won, and then had to listen to my opponent complain about how my hand was unbeatable. That's also a helpful piece of deck building strategy for the themes that aren't as strong. If your deck can't afford to not resolve Brilliant Fusion then it's a good idea to play two Gem-Knight Garnets. But competitive duelists seek out the strategies that don't care about improbable brick hands happening once or twice a tournament. They look for the decks that can win the three times as many games when they draw the right pieces of the combo.

The takeaway from this is that Yu-Gi-Oh's becoming increasingly focused on big openings and early wins, more so than ever before. The game itself isn't much faster, but competitors no longer build decks to survive the grind. That presents and interesting opportunity for decks that actually can slow down play with floodgates, forcing the aggressive duelist to slow down. If you're not planning on playing past the third turn, what happens when your opponent forces you to try? That dynamic has been around forever but it's really at the forefront of competition right now, and I can't wait to see how things develop over the coming summer!

-Doug Zeeff

Doug Zeeff hails from Michigan and is currently an English major in college. When he's not found emailing Konami about why there's not a single walrus card in all of Yu-Gi-Oh! you can find him regularly posting unorthodox, unfiltered semi-Yu-Gi-Oh! related content on his Youtube channel, Dzeeff. In his spare time he enjoys eating cheese, walking around parks, and, of course, playing Yu-Gi-Oh. Click here to follow him and his adventures on Facebook!

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