Though Doug "Cherry Tomatoes" Zeeff and I share a similar if not carbon copy sense of humor, we differ drastically on both play-style and tenure of decks. Doug finds a strategy he likes and spends weeks fine-tuning it until it's perfect, whereas I'll constantly flip between whatever crazy new cards and archetypes fancy me on any given week. The exception is, of course, Spellbooks, but I rarely played that deck outside of Regional Qualifiers and other premier events. When I play for fun, I'm all about the Ice Barrier OTK's.

I still remember mid-January when I looked at Doug like he'd fallen and hit his head after telling me Spirits were good. I was always an avid Spirit lover – Hino-Kage Tsuchi is my homeboy. You can read my last tournament report and deck list here; I didn't make many changes this time around. The important thing was taking out the Effect Veilers and Ghostrick Jackfrost. With the April Forbidden and Limited List now in place, I knew Fire Fists weren't going to be a problem and thus certain cards were dropped in favor of more traps.

DECKID=100021I felt really comfortable playing the deck because this strategy suits my playstyle better than anything else I've ever played. Ghostrick Jiangshi and Aratama constantly amass card advantage, and I like to 1-for-1 my opponent as much as possible to make the most of that advantage when the dust settles.

Grante,d that doesn't always work out for me because having more cards in hands doesn't necessarily equate to winning. Against my Round 8 opponent, he beat me in Game 2 when I had six more cards on the field and in hand combined, only proving my point.

A Weekend Of Fun!
With my busy work, school and collegiate tennis schedule, finding time for Yu-Gi-Oh! often takes a backseat. I don't think I'd played a handful of games, much less competed in a tournament since a Battle City event a month prior. Most of my changes had been purely theorized without any testing to back up my ideas on paper, but my Thursday night class was changed to Wednesday night and tennis practice was cancelled; I could finally go to the one local tournament near my college!

I was going to throw together my Gusto deck for fun, but I decided to actually practice for the Regional on Saturday and test out a few of my new ideas instead. The addition of cards like Torrential Tribute and Seven Tools of the Bandit really helped me after playing a bunch of Geargia matches at my locals, and I ended up scraping by to go undefeated for a ton of store credit.

The next night, Jeff Jones and I went to an anime convention in Lansing where I got pictures with some impressive cosplayers. Lo and behold, there was actually a Yu-Gi-Oh! tournament at the convention, and I couldn't resist playing in that as well. I wasn't sure how to gauge players I'd never seen before, but I won swift victories against Hieratic Rulers, Frog Monarchs and some other strategies. I'm not normally confident about my deck the night before a tournament, but I actually finalized my Main, Side and Extra Deck choices a full ten hours in advance of the Regional this time.

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We spent the night at a friend's house 45 minutes from Garden City and actually showed up at the right event this time, unlike one of the other five or six 1858 Middlebelt Road locations in East Michigan. Doug had already eaten his supply of string cheese and cherry tomatoes before we arrived at the venue, so we stopped at a McDonalds for more food. I don't know why I was so hungry, but I inhaled breakfast in a matter of seconds and moved on to Doug's Cinnamelt before too long.

We arrived at Pandaemonium, talked with my friends I hadn't seen in a month, and… ate more food. Jeff tried to take the unhealthy goodies away from me, but I outran him as I ate more Cinnamelts. The registration line was short, so I snagged some amazing trades within minutes; I was ready for the event to start, eager as a beaver.

Round 1: Pure Lightsworn
What is this, 2009? Until the Lightsworn support is released in the summer, I don't understand why people play this deck. I've never liked decks with randomized milling as the central theme, even if Judgment Dragon is one of the best boss monsters ever printed. But if the Dragon didn't exist, I don't think Lightsworn would have won anything ever.

Game 1: I managed to lose the first of many die rolls, but I knew my opponent was playing Lightsworn so I wasn't terribly concerned. Lightsworn isn't a deck that can typically churn out an OTK really quickly, unlike Geargia. My opponent passed Turn 1 without playing a Solar Recharge or setting a Ryko, Lightsworn Hunter. I responded by setting Solemn Warning, Mystical Space Typhoon and Ghostrick Jiangshi. My hope was to quickly end the duel… somehow.

My opponent's only play the following turn was a Breaker the Magical Warrior, which I destroyed with Solemn Warning. On my second turn I Normal Summoned Aratama, and searched Nikatama alongside a Ghostrick Mary and put him down to 6800 Life Points. I set a Fiendish Chain which negated the effect of Lumina, Lightsworn Summoner after he used a Solar Recharge. On my next turn, I used Nikatama, Aratama and Kagetokage to add Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning to my hand via Lavaval Chain and won in a blaze of glory.

Game 2: This game reminded me why I dislike Lightsworn for more than just random milling. My opponent dropped two Judgment Dragons, BLS, Leviair the Sea Dragon and Thunder King Rai-Oh on my face in one turn. While Ghostrick Mary allowed me to survive, my only followup play of Evilswarm Exciton Knight was negated via Thunder King Rai-Oh on the following turn.

Game 3: Ugh, seriously, Lightsworn makes me want to straight up vom. Typically, a Lightsworn player will complain like no other when they mill Judgment Dragons but smugly cock their head back and tell you how good they are when they mill Wulf, Lightsworn Beast and Necro Gardna. I don't want to personally attack anyone, but when your deck's based around chance, you have no right to incessantly complain when ir deck bricks over the course of a multi-round tournament.

Game 3 was quite easy as I slowly amassed enough Spirit and Ghostrick cards while eliminating his boss monsters (Chaos Sorcerer, Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning and Judgement Dragon) until I won.

Record: 1-0

Round 2: Harpies
I figured I would play against at least one Harpie deck since the F&L List crushed Mermails and Fire Fists, two decks standing in the way of the feathered sisters. However, I didn't plan accordingly and realized I have a terrible matchup to this deck with no good counters for Harpie's Channeler or Harpies' Hunting Ground. Outside of Fiendish Chain, I didn't have any real counter to Lightning Chidori: the real nightmare for my Ghostricks!

Game 1: My opponent started things off (oh gee look I lost another die roll) with Blackwing - Zephyros the Elite, which initially made me think Blackwings. My biggest fear was Icarus Attack, but I decided to take a huge Gamble and start things off with an Evilswarm Exciton Knight. Game 1 proved very easy when I destroyed four of his cards on the first turn; it was downright crippling for him, and he couldn't recover.

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Game 2: I think my opponent was new to the Harpie deck because he made some plays that seemed unconventional to me. With a Harpie Lady #1, he ran into my Ghostrick Jiangshi and proceeded to waste both the Lady, a Harpie Dancer, and thus a Diamond Dire Wolf to kill the Jiangshi. He did resolve two copies of Hysteric Party early in the game thanks to his reckless Summons, but Exciton Knight was my homeboy and helped me take an easy win in Game 2.

Ice Beast Zerofyne helped him survive in this game at first, though. To quote Kelly Locke, Zerofyne is "Neat."

Record: 2-0

Round 3: Harpies
Surprise (just kidding, it's not) I lost another die roll. I took this as a sign I was going to win the match because this pattern of "lose the die roll, win the match" held true for the first two rounds. Still, my opponent seemed so relaxed. By Doug's standards, that meant my opponent is good. I try not to read too much into body language early in a tournament because it's really hard to glean any information when little is at stake.

Game 1: My first thought was "I hope I'm not playing Harpies again," and I thought my wish had been granted when he set four and passed. I responded with a Jiangshi, Seven Tools of the Bandit and a Mystical Space Typhoon. He Summoned a Winged-Beast and attacked into my Jiangshi, letting me search a Ghostrick Mary. I don't exactly remember what happened during my following turn, but I remember I used my Seven Tools of the Bandit to stop an Icarus Attack.

On his following turn, I immediately chained Mystical Space Typhoon to another one of his backrows once he played Harpies' Hunting Ground; he was forced to destroy all his spells and traps just to make plays, and my nine cards to his one Lightning Chidori was overwhelming.

Game 2: I don't remember this game well, but my opponent resolved a Hysteric Party for five Harpies and controlled the game for a while. I said "Isn't this just a party?" and all I got back was a confused expression. I think I'm funny.

As I said, I don't remember much of this game because Number 101: Silent Honor ARK gobbled up his monsters like my friend John gobbles up frozen cheeseburgers, two of which he left in my car to bake.

Record: 3-0

Round 4: Pure Geargia
My opponent was waiting for me at the table with his hands clasped together, and I half expected him to whip out a lap cat, stroke it and say "I've been expecting you." I guessed he was playing some Geargia variant, and I was right. My premonitions are occasionally accurate.

Game 1: I could tell right from the start that my opponent was quite skilled with Geargia. Some decks have blowout plays, and Geargias have Geargiagear. It's always a scary matchup with or without the Karakuri Tuners and Synchros.

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Game 1 was very back and forth, and I managed to survive with 600 Life Points, though I had infinitely more cards than he. Apparently Geargia decks don't use Gagaga Cowboy anymore, so I was fine with him running rampant with Excition Knight and Honor ARK because he simply couldn't doll out the last 600 damage to me.

Game 2: He didn't open Geargiarmor or Geargiagear, and I was able to staunch his plays thanks to my nifty tech choices I sided in. I amassed too much card advantage with Aratama early on, and he couldn't keep up with my plays in the absence of Geargiarmor. I wished him well in the rest of the tournament because he hadn't yet qualified for the World Championship Qualifier in Detroit this year.

Record: 4-0

Round 5: Frogs (Tony Salazar)
I played against a friend from my locals, and I think he's seen as a Frog Lancer authority by Frog players both in our area and beyond. This guy has been playing Frogs since Swap Frog was released in Stardust Overdrive and has matured into quite the skilled player. Frogs are easily my worst matchup, and I was sure I had little to no chance of victory.

Game 1: I almost scooped the first game after looking at my hand of double Seven Tools of the Bandit, double Mystical Space Typhoon, and two more useless cards. Tony destroyed me in a matter of minutes.

Game 2: While I opened with my Side Decked Kycoo the Ghost Destroyer, Tony had Ghostrick Jackfrost for my Spellcaster and won easily again. A single Jackfrost took out 4800 of my Life Points because I didn't have anything to get rid of it. I wasn't upset at the loss because I knew I had virtually no chance of victory going into the match. I hoped he would continue to top the Regional, but he lost his next two rounds and dropped from the tournament.

Record: 4-1

Round 6: Karakuri Geargia
For no good reason, I decided my opponent was playing either Fire Fists or Geargia as soon as I sat down. There was no logic behind that evaluation, but it seemed appropriate at the time. After the die roll I fell to 1-5 in going first, but the only thing I'm ever scared of right now is the deadly combo of Geargiarmor and Geargiagear even if I go second.

Game 1: He didn't open with the lethal pair of gears, and while I didn't realize it at the time, he actually opened pure garbage. If you've ever played Karakuri Geargia yourself then you'll know what I mean when I say "those hands," which consist of Geargiano, Geargiano Mk-II and Karakuri Watchdog MDL 313 "Saizan." I almost felt bad, but then I remembered Geargiagear is a card.

It's like feeling bad for someone who's chasing you with an axe, but trips and falls over in the pursuit.

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Game 2: My opponent opened poorly again, but my first six cards weren't impressive either. A few turns of stalling went by before a Geargiagear was finally resolved, and we traded cards until Evilswarm Exciton Knight squeezed out a victory. It felt good to get back on my feet after the embarrassing Round 5 disaster.

Record: 5-1

Round 7: Mirror Match (Jeff Jones)
Doug likes to play the game "Hey Loukas! Guess what? We're playing! Just kidding!" between every round, so when Jeff said it to me, I asked him who he was really playing.My heart sank when he wasn't joking because he was the last person at the tournament I wanted to play. I did the math, and no one with a 6-2 record would make Top 8 with eight rounds. Simply because he's Jeff Jones, I figured he would have a better chance of winning Round 8 and representing Ghostrick Spirits in the Top 8, so I gave him the win.

Jeff and I are close, and it really sucked we had to play in Round 7 because I thought it meant we both couldn't get Top 8. I later found out we were actually playing 9 rounds of Swiss, and my piddly X-2 record still had a chance of making the top cut! I decided to keep playing for this infinitely small chance of making it.

Record: 5-2

Round 8: Fire Fists
I knew my Round 8 opponent from previous tournaments, though I don't think I'd ever actually played him in the sixteen months I've been visiting that local tournament. If I had any chance to get to the Top 8, I had to win my final two rounds.

Game 1: With Coach Soldier Wolfbark Limited to one, 4-Axis Fire Fist / +1 Fire Fists is no longer a deck. Thank heavens. My opponent opted to go first and started strong with the Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Leopard, Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Spirit, Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Horse Prince and Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Rooster combo. This game's hazy for me at best, but I know he exhausted his resources too early. I had answers to each of his Bears and won after eliminating all three.

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Game 2: I'm still in shock of how I lost this game. After paying 1000 Life Points with Seven Tools of the Bandit and taking 2300 damage from a Horse Prince boosted by Fire Formation - Tenki, I thought I could endure another hit from Horse Prince next turn. However, he flipped enough copies of Horn of the Phantom Beast on his next attack to eat my remaining 4700 Life Points in one swoop.

Yep.

Game 3: It's rare I'll begin a duel knowing I'm doing to win, but I had an Aratama, Ghostrick Mary and four traps to back everything up. We simplified the game with his resources completely exhausted after I picked apart his cards one by one.

Record: 6-2

Round 9: Fire Kings
I guessed this opponent was a Gadget player, but that was the furthest thing from the truth. Side note, he had no playmat, tacky sleeves, and looked like he just wanted to go home. I did as well by this point, but more just so I could eat. My dozens of Cinnamelts didn't last me the day, and food was my ultimate goal.

Game 1: My opponent opened with Onslaught of the Fire Kings and my hand wasn't amazing. I had some neat plays, but Fire King High Avatar Garunix proved too much for my piddly Ghostricks, and I fell quickly.

Game 2: Fire Kings, with one Rekindling and one Wolfbark, are quite linear and not very explosive. Number 101: Silent Honor ARK is a fabulous counter to Garunix and eliminated it as a threat.

Game 3: I wish I had more to say about this match, but literally nothing interesting happened. I don't say that very often about my games, but it was the truth in this case. Games 2 and 3 were nothing more than Garunix Vs. Everything Else; nothing else mattered except eliminating the singular threat Fire Kings pose to anyone. Outside of Warning, I don't think I lost a single Life Point in the last game of the tournament.

Final Record: 7-2

I wasn't expecting to actually get Top 8, but when Jeff rounded the corner, grabbed me by the shoulders, violently shook me and shouted "You got 8th place!" I was shocked. Shocked because I got 8th, but also shocked his tumultuous shaking didn't snap my neck since he caught me so off guard. After nearly a dozen 9th/10th place finishes in my life time, I finally squeezed into the Top 8 with two match losses. Back to back Regional Top 8 finishes wasn't something I expected, but I wasn't complaining. I'm happy with all the changes I made to the deck, but my Side Deck was prepared for the one strategy I was scared of: Bujins. I had DNA Surgery, Mind Crush and Light-Imprisoning Mirror to shut them down.

Don't get me wrong - I'm glad I didn't have to play Bujins, even if I did feel prepared to face them. I was satisfied with the majority of my rounds, even if Frogs did absolutely slaughter me. It doesn't look like I have any major events or even locals for the next few weeks, but once those roll around, I'll bust out a new version of this strategy. I can't wait!

Moving forward, I probably won't play Ghostrick Spirits again. Yes, I love the deck and appreciate the two Regional Top 8 finishes, but I'm looking to Primal Origin for my new favorite deck I plan to obsess about: Gustos, of course. Hopefully I can figure out a kickass Gusto strategy for the World Championship Qualifier in July.

Just remember, beat your opponents before they beat you.

-Loukas Peterson