Side Deck Theory: Minimal Side Decks

Kelly Locke

6/7/2016 11:00:00 AM

Lately I've spent a lot of time talking about individual Side Deck cards and strategies against popular match-ups. This week I'm tackling Side Deck construction, and addressing a point I've never seen brought up:

What's up with those five-card Side Decks?

Let's define what a five-card Side Deck' is: three copies each of five cards, totaling fifteen. I've been referring to them as minimal Side Decks'. Yes, I more or less just came up with that term. It's an eye-catching pattern you might have noticed in deck lists over in our deck archive. In essence it's the lowest number of different cards you can play in a full Side Deck. There's something visually appealing about Side Deck line-ups consisting of just five distinct cards, but does it make a difference in how Games 2 and 3 play out?

I've had this question come up quite a bit from my friends. We've talked about whether these builds are better than more scattered Side Decks that run six, seven, eight, or more differently-named cards. Let me start by saying that minimal Side Decks are by no means optimal all the time. But that said, there are some cases where building your Side Deck with just five cards is far more effective than playing close to a dozen.

Like most deck building strategies this ratio has its advantages and disadvantages, and this week I want to discuss both how to build one, and when you should and shouldn't consider doing so.

Looking At Examples
YCS Providence wrapped up last week with Tahmid Zaman and his Burning Phantom Knights taking 1st Place. His Side Deck is a great example of what I'm talking about when I describe minimal Side Decks. He played three copies each of Anti-Spell Fragrance, Drowning Mirror Force, Full House, Magic Deflector, and Vanity's Fiend. With just five different cards, his Side Deck raises an important question: did Zaman sacrifice match-up coverage and adaptability to double down on his most common match-ups?

One of the requirements of minimal Side Decks is ensuring that every card has enough match-up utility to make up for the low diversity. All of Zaman's choices were relevant in more than one match-up. A couple of them are even solid Main Deck options. Magic Deflector's incredible against Monarchs and Kozmos; Anti-Spell Fragrance is great against nearly everything outside of Burning Abyss; Drowning Mirror Force is awesome in basically every match-up; and Vanity's Fiend is only ever a poor choice when you're up against Qliphorts.

 Drowning Mirror Force
Drowning Mirror Force117960
Set Shining Victories
Number SHVI-EN075
Type Trap Card
Attribute TRAP 
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

When an opponent's monster declares a direct attack: Shuffle all Attack Position monsters your opponent controls into the Deck.

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Zaman could have gotten away with playing most of those cards in his Main Deck, and effectively did so with two hand traps. Maxx C and Effect Veiler could have easily been sided, but Zaman decided to Main Deck them. He played three copies each a convenient number for Side Deck purposes. He could trade a playset of hand traps for another playset of a sided card. You'll see that quite often in builds with five card Side Decks. There are almost always easily identifiable Main Deck playsets that end up being swapped for Side Deck playsets.

It's not always a playset of one particular card being moved out of the Main Deck, but that tends to be the case, and part of the brilliance of Zaman's build is that Maxx C and Effect Veiler are interchangeable with his Side Deck in a way that doesn't impact his Main Deck strategy. It makes his entire strategy modular, and you can also see that modular building strategy in Roland Fang's 3rd Place Brilliant Monarchs. Maxx C appears in Fang's Main Deck for the same reason it shows up in Zaman's build, but Fang doesn't have another easily-sided playset in his Main Deck. Instead, Fang could side out his Super Quantums, Emergency Teleports, and Upstart Goblin to bring in six sided cards.

For example, Fang could trade out his Maxx Cs to side in just one playset in his Side Deck, or switch his Super Quantum engine for two playsets. In an extreme case he could side both his Super Quantum engine and his Maxx Cs to bring in nine cards from his Side Deck. Unlikely as it may be, this scenario really showcases how modular these builds are. By bringing in Cyber Dragon and necessary outs to Mask of Restrict, Fang could remain extremely competitive despite weakening his Main Deck synergy.

Again, one of the keys to minimal Side Decks is match-up utility. Fang sided Chaos Trap Hole against Kozmos and Monarchs, Ghost Reaper & Snow Rabbit against Burning Abyss and other rogue match-ups, Mask of Restrict against the mirror match, and Twin Twisters answered his opponent's Mask of Restrict. Cyber Dragon has the least match-up utility among his Side Deck cards, but it has enough utility as a means of Summoning Chimeratech Fortress Dragon and as tribute fodder that it was too good to pass up.

Main Deck Confidence And Side Deck Effectiveness
If you're going to minimize your Side Deck you need to be confident that your Main Deck can tackle rogue match-ups. For the most part the best competitive strategies are more than capable of taking down slightly weaker themes without touching their Side Deck, or at least without siding specific cards for the match-up. That's especially true when seasoned players are at the helm. Not only are they confident in their deck, they're also confident in their dueling abilities.

A solid mix of Main Deck tech choices and a high-utility theme can cover a lot of ground in a match. You don't need to be as concerned about loading your Side Deck with a variety of options if your Game 1 strategy's sufficiently flexible. Going back to Zaman's build it's his hand traps that took the weight off his Extra Deck. Any time you include a card in your Main Deck, that's one less card you'll need to side. Maxx C and Effect Veiler, Mystical Space Typhoon and Twin Twisters, and even Kaiju free up Side Deck space when you main them.

Simply put: the more copies of a card you side in, the more likely you are to see it. If you're running highly effective cards in your Side Deck that can completely change the outcome of a match, why wouldn't you play as many as possible? Conventional wisdom tells us to play as many busted, overpowered cards as you can so long as they don't detract from your central strategy. Drawing cards in multiples can suck, but that's not really the case with sided cards. Drawing two Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries in your opening hand is less than ideal, yet siding in three copies will increase your odds of opening with at least one by a meaningful amount.

Seeing multiples of a game-winning card is far better than seeing multiples of a mediocre one. When Ghost Reaper's winning you the game by itself it's hard to feel bad about drawing a second, or even third copy. Maxing out your sided cards will help you see them earlier in the duel, which can absolutely make the difference between winning and losing.

 Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries
Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries117933
Set Shining Victories
Number SHVI-EN040
Level 3
Type Tuner/Effect Monster
Monster Zombie
Attribute DARK 
A / D 0 / 1800
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

During either player's turn, if your opponent controls more monsters than you do: You can discard this card; reveal 1 card in your Extra Deck, then look at your opponent's Extra Deck, also banish all cards in their Extra Deck with the same name as that revealed card. You can only use this effect of "Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries" once per turn.

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Lastly, if you're only going to side five cards you better make sure they're the best options available. When you do find those optimal tech choices, why not play three? Sure, there are valid reasons to not max out a Side Deck card, but quite often you'll find that running a playset is more effective than mixing a couple of options together at lower ratios. Minimal Side Decks are simply the result of players who have found five excellent Side Deck cards and want to play as many copies of them as possible.

Minimal Side Decks aren't for everyone or everything. If you're siding a Limited or Semi-Limited card you can usually toss this build strategy right out the window. The same goes for cards you'll only ever side one of, such as Extra Deck monsters for Ghost Reaper or Chimeratech Fortress Dragon. The biggest downside to a minimal Extra Deck is an inherent weakness to rogue strategies that might be totally unaffected by Main and Side Deck tech. A less narrow Side Deck has more options in general, and doesn't have to give up nearly as many Main Deck slots for off-theme cards.

I don't think building a minimal Side Decks should be anyone's goal, but the concept is interesting to consider. Try narrowing your Side Deck down to five cards with different names, see what pops out of the side, and try to cover for it in the Main Deck. If nothing else you'll quickly learn which cards are your weak links, and I think that's the real goal here: learning if you're correctly maximizing the utility and efficiency of your Side Deck.

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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