The concept of making reads on behavior is older than sliced bread. From poker, to Magic, to Yu-Gi-Oh and beyond, "making a read" is a buzzword phrase that's commonly used and unfortunately not very well understood by many players.
When we refer to a "read" in our discussion today, we're not talking about some next-level Jedi mind trick that leads you to just magically know that your opponent's face-down is a Called by the Grave. That's unrealistic to expect. Instead, we're going to focus on asking "why?" to come up with a list of information you can use based on whatever situation you're in.
Like last week's article, the goal here is to help you build a long-term skill set that you'll work to refine over the course of your dueling career. There won't often be an "AHA!" moment where suddenly all the unknown cards become clear and you know exactly what to play, but you'll find that more and more often, the impact of those unknown cards is blunted. That's the whole point.
"Why Would They Do That?"
Let's say your opponent's playing Invoked Shaddoll, and they activate Magical Meltdown on Turn 1 with no other plays. You have Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring in hand, and you slam it down on the table to stop them from even starting their turn with a key Aleister the Invoker.
On the surface, it seems straightforward. There haven't been any cards activated except the Meltdown, and Ash Blossom will shut that down. But that's a perfect time to take five seconds and ask yourself, "Why?" If instead of activating Ash Blossom on the meltdown, you'd chosen to wait for the Aleistar summon, you could then avoid the possibility of a PSY-Framegear Gamma. At this time of writing Gamma's surged in popularity for a lot of different reasons so it's important to factor that in when you ask, "why is now the correct time to activate Ash?"
There are other things to consider too, such as the opportunity cost of using Ash Blossom at that moment (opportunity cost is the value of the next best choice you're giving up whenever you make a decision). Let's say you don't get hit with Gamma, but your opponent summons the Aleister anyway. Now they still get the Invocation they wanted, while you've lost a huge point of interaction and given them a valuable resource to use with it. If you waited for the Normal Summon instead and negated the search there, your opponent would lose their Normal Summon, a search, and you'd have gained information on the composition of their hand allowing you to then ask "why?" on other cards later, giving you more momentum to win the game.
That was a basic example of the concept of asking "why?" in-game, but it illustrates the idea really well. The most common time I ask myself "why?" during a game is when I begin to lay out the plan for how I want my turn to play out. If you ask yourself, "why would I lose to [whatever commonly played card you might be anticipating]," you can gain insight into how your turn should be mapped.
Jumping back to the example above, if you were the turn player with Magical Meltdown and say, any other card that could search your deck, you should look at your hand and establish which card is more important to resolve. Perhaps the real priority isn't Magical Meltdown, but Pot of Desires? With two cards that could both fall prey to Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring, you can either activate Pot of Desires first, potentially baiting the Ash Blossom, or lead with Meltdown. If your opponent negates the Desires with their Ash Blossom you lose 10 cards from the top of your deck, potentially copies of Aleister the Invoker; if you use Meltdown first and they then respond with the Ash, you lose nothing extra.
In this instance, if you ask "why would I lose to Ash," the answer is because you activated cards in the wrong order. As a result, you know to map out your plays in a way that mitigates the potential impact Ash Blossom could have on your plays.
Expecting The Unexpected
Asking the right questions can also help you glean insight into possibilities of face-downs; often what comes to mind when players discuss making reads.
Luckily for you, an observant competitor can gather many small bits of information over the course of a turn, or a series of turns, that can help you build a list of potential cards that you could be facing. Obviously if you're playing against Salamangreat you don't have to worry about a card like Sky Striker Mecha – Widow Anchor, but it's important to keep an open mind when you're trying to play around unknowns.
When you're trying to make reads, knowledge of your metagame and the surrounding competitive environment is hugely important. Taking a little time to study the format will help immensely when you're trying to establish baselines for what to expect. Check out our deck archive when events pop back up and keep a close tab on the progression of each format you play in. That'll give you a general idea of the standard build of any deck at any time.
By taking just a few seconds to look at the state of the game and ask "why?" in response to your gut instinct, you might catch something you overlooked. It could be as simple as asking, "why would my opponent hesitate after I make my Normal Summon," when you've placed Aleister the Invoker on the field against three face-downs. That's a big red flag for you that something is up, and that your opponent could have a negation card you'll need to respect moving forward.
Let's add another layer: say you have Magical Meltdown on the field, your opponent let you successfully summon Aleister, and THEN they hesitate. In that case you can start striking cards off the list of possible unknowns: whatever face-down they're considering can't be a Solemn Judgment. If it were, your opponent wouldn't consider responding to the effect of Aleister, because Judgment can't do that.
So with that bit of information in mind, you could ask yourself, "why?" Well, if that face-down card can't be a Solemn Judgement what could it be? Solemn Strike could respond to Aleister's effect, which is a valid option. Infinite Impermanence, Effect Veiler, and Ash Blossom are all noteworthy cards that could respond to the Aleister's effect, but your opponent checked their face-down cards so you can cross off Ash Blossom and Veiler.
That leaves Infinite Impermanence and Solemn Strike as generic negation cards that your opponent might be waffling on. From there, you should ask yourself "why would I lose to either of those cards?" If you activate Invocation in a zone with a face-down in the same column, you risk losing it to a possible Infinite Impermanence. So, by taking that extra couple of seconds you know to activate your key spell in another column.
Once you've started to commit to a line of play you should always try to remain flexible. If the card you've been playing around is no longer a threat, take a moment and ask yourself what else could be a threat. Perhaps you'll have some mind-blowing epiphany that will allow you to better assess the situation going forward, and repair some of the damage that could be done by not being as careful as you should have.
It's important to take note of when you've been correct (and why), and more importantly when you've been incorrect (and why). Personally, I carry a small notepad with me and write down anything that comes to mind whenever I look back on my games. Whether it's replays, features, or even just reviewing from from memory, sometimes you'll catch tells in your own behavior, or your opponent's.
Hindsight's 20/20 so it's also very important to try and remain objective. Don't kid yourself into thinking that there was no reason you were incorrect making a failed read, and don't let yourself believe that you secretly knew something would happen but you just didn't play around it. This entire process is all about growing as a competitor, and you can't do that if you're not honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses game to game.
Wrapping It Up
If this discussion's seemed a little amorphous or a bit vague, rest assured; that's kind of the point. Making reads on any situation is a matter of interpretation; what one player might conclude could be completely different from the conclusions another player arrives at. But with practice and conscious effort, you can pick up on a lot of tells from the average opponent, and that'll lead you to correct answers more often.
You're going to take a lot of losses as you continue to make incorrect assumptions for a while, but in the long term you'll gain a lot of strength as a competitor if you keep working at it. If you struggle with this process, that's completely okay. It takes a lot of work, but it's worth every bit of it to see your win rate skyrocket, and to see the look of fury on your opponent's face when they watch you lay out the perfect plan to work around their defenses.
Until next week! Have fun and stay safe duelists.