When Should You Run More Than 40 Cards?

Mike Steinman

9/19/2016 11:00:00 AM
 Comments

Yu-Gi-Oh! has been played for more than 15 years now, but one of the game's long-time question still exists – how many cards should you play in your deck?

Through the years there've been no clear cut answers, but people have made their own arguments for what they think is correct. Patrick Hoban is infamous for popularizing the Upstart Theory; a concept revolving around Upstart Goblin that wasn't too well known to most players outside of the Championship level competitive community. Other people like Long Dao have won YCS's using more than 40 cards – 53 in his case.

Over the years of learning the game myself, I remember times where I played 41 cards “just because.” But once I got more serious I started learning where you should use different numbers of cards. This knowledge is an extremely important thing to have as running even one extra card will negatively affect your tournament run.

Why Run Less Than Forty? Isn't More Better?
We'll start with the age-old question: why run less when you could run more?

The answer is simply because there are better cards in your deck than others and you want to see them more often. When you're playing Monarchs you always want to see Pantheism of the Monarchs early on. Same goes for Emergency Teleport in Kozmo, and Soul Charge in Blue-Eyes. One argument against this is that seeing your best cards aren't as important since you can access their effects in different ways, or you can still play without them, but that doesn't change the fact that you'd rather be playing with them.

The Upstart Theory took that idea and magnified it, stating that the best number of cards to run was 37 – achieved with the use of triple Upstart Goblin, which was legal at the time. That theory took hold once the idea of streamlining decks really became important to players. Wind-Ups were one of the first decks to get that treatment once Zenmaity was Limited, and even though the first YCS of the format was won by a 42-card Wind-Up deck, a lot of players ended up with 37-card builds by the end of it.

 Upstart Goblin
$8.80
$6.54
$4.28
Upstart Goblin67065
Set Legendary Collection 3: Yugi's World
Number LCYW-EN265
Type Spell Card
Attribute SPELL 
Rarity Ultra Rare
Card Text

Draw 1 card, then your opponent gains 1000 Life Points.


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The competitive community realized how important it was to see singleton cards like Heavy Storm, Monster Reborn, and Solemn Judgment just as it was important to see combo pieces like Wind-Up Magician, Wind-Up Shark, and Wind-Up Factory. Those cards defined matches and wanted to be seen immediately, so packing less fluff only made sense.

When Things Changed – Soul Charge
The Upstart theory went largely unopposed until Soul Charge was printed. Suddenly Life Points were starting to be seen as resource. People started questioning whether a slightly higher chance to see their most important cards was worth maybe giving their opponents more Special Summons off Soul Charge. There were two main categories of decks in that format – combo decks, and strategies that revolved around a mix of disruption and control.

Sylvans and Lightsworn are examples of combo decks in that framework, and they usually ran Upstart Goblin because they had the most powerful Soul Charge plays and wanted to get to them as soon as possible. Those decks didn't care about making opposing Soul Charges a little more powerful because in the end, they were always going to have the better Soul Charge play anyways. In addition, since they were combo decks they needed to run the lowest possible number of cards to see their important combo pieces. Combo decks are the true home for Upstart Goblin and Soul Charge didn't change that.

Decks like HAT (Hands, Artifacts, Traptrix) and Geargia were the biggest disruptive control decks of the format and there players were a little more split on whether Upstart Goblin was correct. Those decks won by using traps to disrupt an opposing combo deck's early plays like Kuribandit and Lumina Lightsworn Summoner, keeping them on dead cards and then pressing in with damage early to eliminate the possibility of a huge Soul Charge.

Those decks ran Soul Charge themselves, so as long as they could weaken the strength of the opposing deck they could level the playing field. And that's if they didn't just outright kill them before the combo deck got going. You can see why Upstart Goblin's counter-productive to the strategy – giving your opponent Life Points isn't attractive when you're trying to take them out as quickly as possible, circumventing a late game.

In the case of Geargia I think Upstart Goblin was 100% correct. For being an aggressive early game deck, it was still pretty slow since Geargiarmor was a flip effect. You really wanted to see it, or a way to at least make Gear Gigant X, in your opening hand. And three Geargiarmor, three Geargiarsenal, three Geargiagear plus combos like two Geargiaccelerator just weren't enough in a 40-card deck. You boosted your chances by just a couple percentage points, but that could mean the difference between opening up really well versus bricking in a significant portion of your games across a complete tournament, which is a huge deal.

 Soul Charge
$4.99
$3.47
$2.66
Soul Charge121504
Set Dragons of Legend: Unleashed
Number DRL3-EN051
Type Spell Card
Attribute SPELL 
Rarity Ultra Rare
Card Text

Target any number of monsters in your Graveyard; Special Summon them, and if you do, you lose 1000 LP for each monster Special Summoned by this effect. You cannot conduct your Battle Phase the turn you activate this card. You can only activate 1 "Soul Charge" per turn.


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I think Upstart Goblin in HAT variants that didn't run Artifact Beagalltach and Artifact Ignition . Korey McDuffie won the North American WCQ that year with such a deck. In the decks that did run those cards, I think Upstart was a bad choice. Playing those cards gave your deck both more aggressive power and more defense – double Ignition; Ignition plus Artifact Moralltach – so you weren't relying on opening up with Traptrix Myermeleo or Artifact Sanctum quite as much.

The bigger deal is that Beagalltach gave you easy access to Rank 5's, which meant if you were able to combo out with your artifacts and deal some damage in the early game, as soon as your opponent plays Soul Charge to try and take control of the game you could just flop your own to bring back two Artifacts and make Number 61: Volcasaurus to burn them out of the game.

That format showed us a lot about the importance of deck count versus the drawbacks of Upstart Goblin, but let's go even further back to the time where Upstart theory was fresh, and people saw success opposing it. Long Dao won YCS Lille in 2013 with a 53-card Mermail deck. The theory behind it was that he could get whatever cards he wanted through his 24 search effects while gaining flexibility and unpredictability by including a trap line-up, in a deck that normally didn't have space for one.

Even though Long Dao won a YCS, his decision to run 53 cards in Mermails was poor and probably wrong. In Yu-Gi-Oh! there's a saying, that monsters beat traps. That axiom holds true now, because monster effects are so powerful and net you free card advantage. But even in the past, you could combo through monsters to generate card advantage quite easily. Mermails were the best at that, so if Long Dao ever went second against a Mermail deck that had combo'd off and was looking at trap cards in his hand, he'd probably lose that game. You can see that the main reason he chose to play traps was to improve his Fire Fist matchup.

A lot of the slower opening plays from Mermails got blown out by standard Fire Fist plays. Fire Formation – Tenki countered a Diva Synchro play by confronting it with Brotherhood of the Fire Fist – Bear, and it would also counter a set Mermail Abysslinde through Brotherhood of the Fire Fist – Gorilla, cutting off access to Mermail Abysspike's effect off Abysslinde. Trap cards countered both of those plays and gave Mermails a huge edge over Fire Fist in Game 1, but therein lies the problem with running more than 40 cards.

Floodgates like Banisher of the Radiance and Dimensional Fissure were hard counters to the Mermail deck, and with 53 cards, Dao decreased his chance at seeing cards like Heavy Storm and Mystical Space Typhoon dramatically. All he did was increase his odds of winning Game 1 in a match against Fire Fists and Macro Rabbit, while lowering his chance to win the following games plus opening himself up to a weaker mirror match. Mermails were a damage-intensive strategy and its insanely high number of search cards gave it the perfect opportunity to forego Upstart Goblin and run 40 cards, but still be extremely consistent.

Increased Deck Size to Help Side Decking
The last logical reason why people play more than the minimum number of cards is to help with side decking. You usually don't want to side out your key cards and hurt yourself by diminishing the chance of accomplishing your key goals. In most cases, your streamlined deck should be under the 40 card mark anyways and you can side out any unnecessary cards you used as filler, but sometimes you need to side a lot of cards for a specific matchup and finding stuff to rotate out becomes difficult.

Ben Leverett's Monarch deck is the most recent example of that. In a recent deck profile he stated that he played two Maxx “C” as his 41st and 42nd cards to help with side decking since he was having a hard time taking enough cards out between games. He stated that he was struggling with Burning Abyss specifically, and needed more cards to side out for both Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries and Flying “C”. Usually though, it's rarely correct to take this course of action.

 Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit
$7.12
$5.75
$4.05
Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit122297
Set 2016 Mega-Tins
Number CT13-EN012
Level 3
Type Tuner/Effect Monster
Monster Psychic
Attribute LIGHT 
A / D 0 / 1800
Rarity Super Rare
Card Text

During either player's turn, when a monster on the field activates its effect, or when a Spell/Trap Card that is already face-up on the field activates its effect: You can send this card from your hand or field to the Graveyard; destroy that card on the field. You can only use this effect of "Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit" once per turn.


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In Ben's case he could've sided out his Brilliant Fusion engine. Brilliant Fusion's seen as a “starter card” – a card you want to see early, that helps you establish momentum. It was an extremely important part of his deck, but if he replaced those cards with the hand traps and prevented his opponent from playing in the first place, he could buy enough time to draw into his other starter cards like Pantheism of the Monarchs or Tenacity of the Monarchs. By running 42 cards he decreased his chances of opening with those hand traps and drawing them later in the game when they wouldn't be as impactful, and he decreased his chance to draw the ever-so-important Pantheism of the Monarchs.

Sometimes, it's just not worth the tradeoff.

At the end of the day, I'll always think it's correct to play as few cards as possible. But it might not always be correct to run Upstart Goblin, and you'll have to judge whether it fits your deck based on what you're trying to accomplish; whether Life Points are being used as a resource; and the shape of competition as a whole in your given metagame.

What do you guys think? Are there any other reasons to play more than the minimum deck count that I'm missing? Could other answers to this over-arching question somehow be correct. Let me know what you think, down in the comments.

-Mike Steinman


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