Do you know what makes a control deck great? Zoodiacs ran the game for a long time when they were released. Eldlich seems to splash into every deck these days. Ever wonder why some work and others don't? For years success has only come to those who don't think linearly. For a personal example, read the first letter of each sentence.
My editor tells me I'm only allowed 3500 words so I'll keep this brief. I may use some terms that are less commonly understood, and I recommend you read a couple other articles by myself, or Johnny Li if you're not caught up with some of the terminology. I'll do my best to explain them as they come up.
There are a few different ways to play the game. You can be aggressive and try to close out games early with glass cannon swings, you can build a deck based around maximizing the consistency of a combo that wins you the duel when it works, or you can control the flow of play with cards designed to trade card economy. These are commonly called beatdown, combo, and control respectively.
One of the great tragedies of competitive Yu-Gi-Oh is the unfortunate overlap of those terms with other categories. Past articles on this site have gone over 'who's the beatdown' as a concept. Put extremely simply, the beatdown is the person losing, who must act or lose, 'beating down' the opponents ceiling; while the control is the person winning, who doesn't have to act because they control what's going on, and therefore has no need to play foolishly into traps or Nibiru, the Primal Being or anything of the sort. If you're following along, you'll notice that in Yu-Gi-Oh, beatdown decks are actually the control, and control decks are the beatdown, in a vacuum.
For the purpose of this article, when I say "control," I mean the Yu-Gi-Oh deck style rather than the competitive role. The goal of a control deck is to simplify the game as much as possible, reducing both players to only a few cards or effects they can use, so you can chip away at your opponent by denying them the cards that would let them achieve success. When they only have two possible effects they can use, it's much easier to negate the right one.
Inherently, that kind of strategy beats combo decks because they lose their combo pieces faster than they can manage, but the playstyle also loses to the aggressive beatdown decks, because those decks don't need a lot of cards, or turns, to kill you.
All things being equal, the thing that often causes you to lose a game of Yu-Gi-Oh is misassigning your role in a matchup. And in a control deck, that role switches over the course of the game every single time. You're always playing the beatdown role until you've successfully done it enough to jump into the driver's seat. That's why players who copy/paste combos or just swing at you with big dudes see more consistent success. The decks generally have higher expected value (EVs) and because they succeed through rote actions, the players piloting them are likely to make fewer critical mistakes.
So if control decks are harder to succeed with, and generally weaker, why play them?
The simplest answer is that when they're properly positioned in a given format, and piloted by somebody who plays them really well, control decks are the most consistent, and highest performing decks you can find. Look how long Sky Striker dominated the game and how many events it's won. The best deck will always be a high ceiling combo strategy that locks the opponent out of the game on Turn 1, but the best performing deck will always be a meta-ready control deck leveraging the most powerful individual cards. That's why Zoodiac and Eldlich have seen so much success, and using them together has been so strong.
Enter Altergeist. A combo-control deck. I know, I can't believe it either. This is a deck that's built around the principles of a combo deck, but it uses control cards interchangeably as pieces of that combo. It's doing two jobs 75% as well as other decks do either job alone. That means if you give up too much of one trying to compensate for the other, you're going to lose to decks that are inherently better than you at your own game.
Ask five Altergeist players what the best Altergeist card is, and they'll probably give you five different answers, as they'll all play the deck a little differently. It's common practice to tunnel vision into Altergeist Multifaker and play it more combo, less control. Do that and you'll probably lose to every combo and control deck in the process.
Others try a more control oriented approach with heavy trap lineups, only to lose to aggressive decks with cards like Red Reboot that just plow right through them. The key to success is to wield both halves of the deck harmoniously. It's a strategy of high impact combos with individual control-based pieces used generically. The most common example of that is the powerful Altergeist Manifestation being used to summon, but then combo'd with Altergeist Silquitous to remove it from the field and interrupt a play. Two powerful control moves, used as a combo.
With all that in mind I've spent the last couple years maximizing and optimizing the range of combos that are possible in Altergeists. Every Altergeist does two things, so I've tried to really max out the value of both effects of every card. The ultimate goal is to have one more card than your opponent, and then start trading cards off so that you have at least one card left and they don't. From there you can leverage that advantage into a win.
When I'm thinking about this sort of strategy I like to break the game down into phases: the build phase, the trade phase, the diminish phase, and the kill phase.
When you're starting off, you're always going first and therefore down a card, or going second, and therefore behind in tempo. You can never start off ahead, and this is a deck about controlling which resources each player does and doesn't acquire.
Your first priority is what I call the build phase, building resources and tempo. When you're using an effect like Altergeist Marionetter, your priority is to build resources, so it's more important to revive something like Altergeist Multifaker for a summon than bringing back Altergeist Meluseek to take something away from your opponent. You're effectively in a build phase whenever your opponent's resource pool outnumbers yours, by a greater number than your trade options can compensate for.
It's important to understand: card economy alone isn't enough. You can't simply look at your opponent's four cards and your five cards and think you're there. They still have a Normal Summon, a draw for their turn, any live once-per-turn effects they've already established, anything reasonably summoned from the Extra Deck, and any effects in their graveyard. Adding all of these up is time consuming, so you'll need to learn mental shortcuts to keep your play timely, including the ability to consider the end results of those options.
Consider an example that was common when Jet Synchron was legal: if your opponent had Jet Synchron in their graveyard it was one more card they could put into play, but it woulld also take a card out of their hand, and if they were playing it for Crystron Halqifibrax it would take a second card off their field for the summon. So in reality, Jet Synchron wouldn't be a gain of a card; its net impact is actually a subtraction of a card.
When you're in the build phase, it's often correct to try and stop effects that build your opponent's position. But if their line of play is about to neg them more cards, then it's actually correct to wait. You'd use Altergeist Protocol on Crystron Halqifibrax, not save it for Linkross when they still controlled their Deskbot. You also can adjust the math on this if you would summon Altergeist Multifaker en route, netting you the extra summon, and what that summon could potentially do for you.
Once you can no longer build, or you find yourself ahead of your opponent in total resources, it's time to move into the trade phase. This is a system of simplifying the game by removing one or more of your cards, in exchange for one or more of your opponent's cards. In this phase it's correct to make moves like using Altergeist Protocol on something like Linkross, costing your opponent as much value as possible in the trade (they'd lose Crystron Halqifibrax, the Linkross, and the tokens).
Instead of reviving a building card with Altergeist Marionetter, you can use it to get a trade card like Altergeist Silquitous. The Altergeist Silquitous can trade something like Altergeist Multifaker for one of your opponent's Link Monsters, as opposed to the build phase where you'd want to bounce Altergeist Marionetter instead to gain another resource by summoning it.
It's very easy to end up back in the build phase after you resolve a few effects and can gain more builders; which is why it's important to recognize if, after some trades, your opponent had floating effects, unexpected interruptions, or responses, and somehow ended up ahead of you in resources.
When you're ahead, you can start to grab things like extra copies of Altergeist Meluseek, or Link into Altergeist Hexstia, or search for Altergeist Kunquery, because you don't have to build anymore. Once you've traded all of your Solemns, Cosmic Cyclone, and whatever else, and simplified the game down as much as you can, you are now either ahead, or behind. You're either the beatdown or you aren't, and from here the game is decided.
Nine times out of ten, if the Altergeist player gets to play, and they can make it to the trade phase, they should win the game. One in ten times you stopped the wrong card with a Solemn, or your luck was just absurdly bad, and you end up back in the build phase.
After making so many trades it can be very difficult to build again, so it's sometimes best to prioritize holding some extra build cards as backup instead of grabbing kill cards. That's largely why two extra copies of Altergeist Multifaker change the deck, as you almost always have more build cards after a trade phase.
So you've finished building up. You've traded everything down. You and your opponent are both on just three or four resources each, but you're either tied, or you're ahead. This is where it becomes time to seal the deal.
Altergeist Silquitous starts bouncing trap cards, Altergeist Meluseek starts sniping directly and never Linking off the board, and your Link Summon start to look less like Altergeist Hexstia and more like Knightmare Phoenix. This is where you want to just take out whatever your opponent has left, because once they're the beatdown, they have no choice but to play into everything, and cards like Solemns and Altergeist Hexstia just rip them apart.
Nobody can top deck against Altergeists, it just can't happen. Diminish your opponent's remaining resources and you'll win on sheer inevitability. You don't have to worry about making Altergeist Hexstia instead of Knightmare Phoenix for the higher ATK value, even though Altergeist Hexstia can negate backrow instead of [Phoenix](Knightmare Phoenix] popping it. It's more about making sure your opponent doesn't get to use the card at all and just leaving them with so few plays that it becomes impossible to negate the wrong one; the card you negated was their only one.
Handle this right and you'll have so much control over the game that your opponent should just scoop anyway, but even a poke from Altergeist Meluseek each turn, backed by Altergeist Protocol or Altergeist Hexstia to negate a card if they use it, or Altergeist Meluseek sending it if they don't, is enough to clinch your win over time. Sooner or later, you'll get to Accesscode Talker or whatever and seal the game anyway. You can think of that as the next and final phase.
Once you've basically eliminated every resource your opponent has, you just look for a way to make Accesscode Talker, or two Altergeist Hexstia, or whatever will just finish off your opponent's Life Points. You only need to protect a single interrupt when they're that limited on resources, and Altergeist Silquitous starts to suck because the resource goes back to your opponent's hand; it's better to just send it to the graveyard to retrieve traps like Altergeist Protocol.
People frequently have strong opinions, about 'X Card is the best Altergeist card in the deck.' But I find players who are so attached to one card often find themselves trapped in one of the phases I outlined longer than the others. They either never get out of build phase, or they constantly mess up the trade phase and end up back there - especially common if they deeply believe Altergeist Multifaker the best card. Alternatively they might spend all day in the trade phase and find they don't win unless they get good trades; those players often overvalue Altergeist Silquitous or Solemn Strike as the best card. Or they only ever win games when they get a very easy third phase, often favoring Altergeist Meluseek as the best card in the deck.
In reality? Altergeist Protocol is the best card in the deck.
This has been an awful lot of discussion without actually saying what any of the cards do, or giving specific combos. At this point I'm going to give you a decklist.
Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG Deck - Dan's Altergeist Deck by Dan Parker
'Dan's Altergeist Deck' - constructed deck list and prices for the Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game from TCGplayer Infinite!
Created By: Dan Parker
Market Price: $962.50
Market Price: $7.07
2 non-Link Monsters
During your opponent's Main Phase, you can (Quick Effect): Immediately after this effect resolves, Link Summon 1 Link Monster using materials you control, including this card. You can only use this effect of "I:P Masquerena" once per turn. A Link Monster that used this card as material cannot be destroyed by your opponent's card effects.
Market Price: $5.17
When a monster(s) would be Special Summoned, OR a monster effect is activated: Pay 1500 LP; negate the Summon or activation, and if you do, destroy that card.
Mekk-Knight Crusadia Avramax
Market Price: $6.90
2+ monsters Special Summoned from the Extra Deck
While this Link Summoned card is on the field, your opponent cannot target this card with card effects, also their monsters cannot target monsters for attacks, except this one. Once per battle, during damage calculation, if this card battles a Special Summoned monster (Quick Effect): You can make this card gain ATK equal to that opponent's monster's ATK during that damage calculation only. If this Link Summoned card you control is sent to your GY by an opponent's card: You can shuffle 1 card on the field into the Deck.
Market Price: $0.21
Activate this card by paying 1000 LP. Effects of monsters in the hand cannot be activated.
Market Price: $1.17
Draw 1 card, then your opponent gains 1000 LP.
Eria the Water Charmer, Gentle
Market Price: $0.27
2 monsters, including a WATER monster
(This card is always treated as a "Familiar-Possessed" card.)
You can target 1 WATER monster in your opponent's GY; Special Summon it to your zone this card points to. If this Link Summoned card is destroyed by battle, or is destroyed by an opponent's card effect while in its owner's Monster Zone: You can add 1 WATER monster with 1500 or less DEF from your Deck to your hand. You can only use each effect of "Eria the Water Charmer, Gentle" once per turn.
Market Price: $0.23
A Psychic soldier that rides into battle against the Security Forces on currents of lightning, using an autonomic amplifier called "PSY-Frame".
Market Price: $1.58
2 monsters with the same Type or Attribute
Cannot be used as Link Material the turn it is Link Summoned. You can target 1 face-up monster you control; equip 1 monster to it from your hand or Deck with its same original Type or Attribute. The equipped monster gains 1000 ATK. If you equipped it from the Deck, you cannot Special Summon monsters with that Equip Card's name for the rest of this turn. You can only use this effect of "Union Carrier" once per turn.
Artemis, the Magistus Moon Maiden
Market Price: $16.02
1 Level 4 or lower Spellcaster monster
If another "Magistus" monster(s) is Normal or Special Summoned while you control this monster (except during the Damage Step): You can target 1 of those monsters; equip this card you control to it. While this card is equipped to a monster: You can add 1 "Magistus" monster from your Deck to your hand. You can only use each effect of "Artemis, the Magistus Moon Maiden" once per turn. You can only Special Summon "Artemis, the Magistus Moon Maiden" once per turn.
Market Price: $0.08
When an opponent's monster declares an attack, if you control an "Altergeist" card: You can Special Summon this card from your hand, and if you do, negate that attack. If this card is Special Summoned: You can target 1 face-up card your opponent controls; negate the effects of that card while it and this monster are face-up on the field.
Market Price: $1.77
1 Level 1 monster, except a Token
You can target 1 face-up monster this card points to; equip that face-up monster to this card (max. 1). You can only use this effect of "Relinquished Anima" once per turn. This card gains ATK equal to that equipped monster's.
Market Price: $0.76
The activation and effects of "Altergeist" cards activated on your field cannot be negated. When your opponent activates a monster effect: You can send 1 other face-up "Altergeist" card you control to the GY; Negate the activation, and if you do, destroy it. You can only use this effect of "Altergeist Protocol" once per turn.
Pot of Desires
Market Price: $1.57
Banish 10 cards from the top of your Deck, face-down; draw 2 cards. You can only activate 1 "Pot of Desires" per turn.
Market Price: $0.21
(Quick Effect): You can return 1 other "Altergeist" card you control to the hand, then target 1 card your opponent controls; return it to the hand. If this card is sent from the field to the GY: You can target 1 "Altergeist" Trap in your GY; add that card to your hand. You can only use each effect of "Altergeist Silquitous" once per turn.
Gameciel, the Sea Turtle Kaiju
Market Price: $2.43
You can Special Summon this card (from your hand) to your opponent's field in Attack Position, by Tributing 1 monster they control. If your opponent controls a "Kaiju" monster, you can Special Summon this card (from your hand) in Attack Position. You can only control 1 "Kaiju" monster. When your opponent activates a card or effect, except "Gameciel, the Sea Turtle Kaiju" (Quick Effect): You can remove 2 Kaiju Counters from anywhere on the field; negate the activation, and if you do, banish that card.
Droll & Lock Bird
Market Price: $14.09
If your opponent adds a card(s) from their Deck to their hand, except during the Draw Phase, you can send this card from your hand to the Graveyard. For the rest of this turn, neither player can add card(s) from their Deck to their hand. (Drawing cards is also considered as "adding a card to the hand".)
Ningirsu the World Chalice Warrior
Market Price: $2.77
2+ Link Monsters
If this card is Link Summoned: Draw cards equal to the number of "World Chalice" monsters this card points to. You can only use this effect of "Ningirsu the World Chalice Warrior" once per turn. Once per turn: You can send 1 card from each player's field to the GYs. If this card is sent from the field to the GY: You can Special Summon 1 "World Chalice" monster from your hand.
Spiritual Water Art - Aoi
Market Price: $0.14
Tribute 1 WATER monster; look at your opponent's hand, then send 1 card from their hand to the GY.
Market Price: $9.99
Target 1 face-up monster your opponent controls; negate its effects (until the end of this turn), then, if this card was Set before activation and is on the field at resolution, for the rest of this turn all other Spell/Trap effects in this column are negated. If you control no cards, you can activate this card from your hand.
Market Price: $2.19
Once per turn: You can shuffle 1 other "Altergeist" card from your hand or face-up from your field into the Main Deck; add 1 "Altergeist" monster from your Deck to your hand.
Market Price: $0.22
When this card is Normal Summoned: You can Set 1 "Altergeist" Trap directly from your Deck to your Spell & Trap Zone. You can target 1 "Altergeist" card you control and 1 "Altergeist" monster in your GY; send that card on the field to the GY, and if you do, Special Summon that other monster from your GY. You can only use this effect of "Altergeist Marionetter" once per turn.
Selene, Queen of the Master Magicians
Market Price: $19.34
2+ monsters, including a Spellcaster monster
If this card is Link Summoned: Place Spell Counters on this card, equal to the number of Spells on the field and in the GYs. While an "Endymion" card(s) is on the field, your opponent's monsters cannot target this card for attacks. Once per turn, during the Main Phase (Quick Effect): You can remove 3 Spell Counters from your field; Special Summon 1 Spellcaster monster from your hand or GY in Defense Position, to your zone this card points to.
Market Price: $95.53
Send any number of other cards from your hand and/or field to the GY; choose that many Effect Monsters your opponent controls, and until the end of this turn, their ATK is halved, also their effects are negated. In response to this card's activation, your opponent cannot activate cards, or the effects of cards, with the same original type (Monster/Spell/Trap) as the cards sent to the GY to activate this card. You can only activate 1 "Forbidden Droplet" per turn.
Gizmek Orochi, the Serpentron Sky Slasher
Market Price: $0.24
If this card is in your hand or GY (Quick Effect): You can banish 8 cards from the top of your Deck face-down; Special Summon this card. You can banish 3 cards from your Extra Deck face-down, then target 1 face-up monster on the field; destroy it. You can only use 1 "Gizmek Orochi, the Serpentron Sky Slasher" effect per turn, and only once that turn.
Market Price: $2.85
1 Level 1 Monster
When an opponent's monster declares an attack: You can Tribute this card; change that opponent's monster's ATK to 0, until the end of this turn. If this card is in your GY (Quick Effect): You can Tribute 1 Level 1 monster; Special Summon this card. You can only use this effect of "Linkuriboh" once per turn.
Market Price: $1.95
Pay 1000 LP, then target 1 Spell/Trap on the field; banish it.
Market Price: $0.23
If you activate a Trap Card (except during the Damage Step): You can Special Summon this card from your hand. If this card is Special Summoned: You can Special Summon 1 "Altergeist" monster from your Deck in Defense Position, except "Altergeist Multifaker". You cannot Special Summon monsters the turn you activate this effect, except "Altergeist" monsters. You can only use each effect of "Altergeist Multifaker" once per turn.
Market Price: $4.23
Cannot be Normal Summoned/Set. Must be Special Summoned by a card effect. When your opponent activates a monster effect while you control no monsters (Quick Effect): You can Special Summon both this card from your hand and 1 "PSY-Frame Driver" from your hand, Deck, or GY, and if you do, negate that activation, and if you do that, destroy that monster. During the End Phase, banish the face-up monsters Special Summoned by this effect.
Pot of Prosperity
Market Price: $139.10
Banish 3 or 6 cards of your choice from your Extra Deck, face-down; for the rest of this turn after this card resolves, any damage your opponent takes is halved, also excavate cards from the top of your Deck equal to the number of cards banished, add 1 excavated card to your hand, place the rest on the bottom of your Deck in any order. You can only activate 1 "Pot of Prosperity" per turn. You cannot draw cards by card effects the turn you activate this card.
Market Price: $0.43
2+ monsters with different names
If this card is Link Summoned: You can discard 1 card, then target 1 Spell/Trap your opponent controls; destroy it, then, if this card was co-linked when this effect was activated, you can draw 1 card. You can only use this effect of "Knightmare Phoenix" once per turn. Co-linked monsters you control cannot be destroyed by battle.
Market Price: $0.37
2+ Effect Monsters
You cannot Summon/Set monsters to any Extra Monster Zone this card points to. Gains 200 ATK for each banished card. If another monster is Special Summoned to a zone a Link Monster points to, while this monster is on the field: Banish all cards on the field. Once per turn, during the Standby Phase of your next turn after this card was banished by its own effect: Special Summon this banished card.
Awakening of the Possessed - Gagigobyte
Market Price: $0.08
You can Special Summon this card (from your hand or Deck) by sending 1 face-up Spellcaster monster and 1 face-up Level 4 or lower WATER monster you control to the GY. You can only use each of the following effects of "Awakening of the Possessed - Gagigobyte" once per turn.
• When this card is Special Summoned by its effect: You can send 1 random card from your opponent's hand to the GY, then each player draws 1 card.
• If this card is sent from the field to the GY: You can add 1 "Spiritual Water Art" card or 1 "Possessed" Spell/Trap from your Deck to your hand.
Market Price: $62.67
2+ Effect Monsters
Your opponent cannot activate cards or effects in response to this card's effect activations. If this card is Link Summoned: You can target 1 Link Monster that was used as material for its Link Summon; this card gains ATK equal to that monster's Link Rating x 1000. You can banish 1 Link Monster from your field or GY; destroy 1 card your opponent controls, also for the rest of this turn, you cannot banish monsters with that same Attribute to activate this effect of "Accesscode Talker".
Harpie's Feather Duster
Market Price: $3.98
Destroy all of your opponent''s Spell and Trap Cards on the field.
Market Price: $0.23
This card can attack directly. When this card inflicts battle damage to your opponent: You can target 1 card your opponent controls; send it to the GY. If this card is sent from the field to the GY: You can add 1 "Altergeist" monster from your Deck to your hand, except "Altergeist Meluseek". You can only use this effect of "Altergeist Meluseek" once per turn.
Market Price: $0.86
You can Set this card from your hand to your Spell & Trap Card Zone as a Spell Card. During your opponent's turn, if this Set card in the Spell & Trap Card Zone is destroyed and sent to your Graveyard: Special Summon it. During your opponent's turn: You can Tribute this card from your hand or face-up from your side of the field; neither player can banish cards for the rest of this turn. (this is a Quick Effect).
One for One
Market Price: $1.71
Send 1 monster from your hand to the Graveyard; Special Summon 1 Level 1 monster from your hand or Deck.
Market Price: $0.29
Target 1 "Altergeist" monster in your GY; Special Summon it in Attack Position and equip it with this card. When this card leaves the field, destroy that monster. You can banish this card from your GY, then target 1 "Altergeist" Trap in your GY; add it to your hand. You can only use this effect of "Altergeist Manifestation" once per turn.
Market Price: $0.39
2 "Altergeist" monsters
Gains ATK equal to the original ATK of each "Altergeist" monsters it points to. When a Spell/Trap Card is activated (Quick Effect): You can Tribute 1 "Altergeist" monster this card points to; negate the activation, and if you do, destroy that card. If this card is sent from the field to the GY: You can add 1 "Altegeist" card from your Deck to your hand. You can only use this effect of "Altergeist Hexstia" once per turn.
Two notes: you can replace the PSY-Framegear Gamma and Droll & Lock Bird with any hand trap that's relevant for your metagame. And you should only play Infinite Impermanence in formats where it's already useful.
I'm sure you have a lot of questions! I can't answer them all, my editor won't let me. If you don't understand why something is included in this list, try to see how it works with other cards. Try to build and play the deck a bit and read everything, looking for interactions between them. A lot of this is things most people aren't using cards for.
Union Carrier without something like Dragon Buster Destruction Sword? That's because it also gives 1000 ATK to Altergeist Meluseek, and anything you equip to Altergeist Silquitous can be returned to hand with its effects cost, turning Union Carrier into a once-per-turn search. I'm happy to answer questions about it one on one with people over discord if you want more in-depth help with card choices and matchups, or you can talk to my students (or even join my classroom on Discord).
In the meantime, take what I said to heart, try the list out, and try to think a bit differently! Control decks don't play Yu-Gi-Oh the way people are used to. It's very rewarding and tempting, to play a combo deck with the lack of resource bottlenecking, or to play an aggressive OTK deck when you can swarm the field with bodies so easily, so it's hard to learn the skills required for just holding back and waiting.
A lot of my students have asked the same questions as you probably are, and the way they get the answers is by simply playing, and trying things out. Read your cards often and play in a relaxed friendly environment with friends who are willing to let you learn. Even if this doesn't become the new deck you play, it will make you better at the game as a whole if you give it a chance for a while.