Hello again, duelists! Today in a follow-up from last week I wanted to bring you an approach to deck building that many players may not really consider.
Whenever you consider a strategy for a given tournament, it's easy to look at a pile of cards and see the synergies… once you already know them. Nobody will argue that Jet Synchron's ineffective with host of graveyard effects; we know it is, because it's been well explored, well documented, and generally agreed upon. When you know how your deck functions it can be pretty easy to play to your deck's biggest strengths and win games.
What's less common is actively looking for, and focusing on, the weaknesses of your deck.
When you finalize your decklist for any event, assuming you want to win even just at a local, you want it to be the best deck you can make. If you don't know the problems your deck can experience before you finalize your build process, you can't construct your deck to mitigate those problems. Inevitably, you're going to lose games to them.
For a good example, take the Dragon Link deck I shared with you last week. Historically speaking, one of the key issues with any combo deck is consistency. Dragon Link is no different: you need to see a starter card plus an extender to really get to do much of anything. For that reason, you'll see those decks play lots of cards that bolster consistency, as opposed to cards that counter your opponent's plays. The deck can't win without seeing at least one of its key combos, so the build process is prioritized to suit that.
Building off that, you'll often see that many decks revolving around a small number of key combos demonstrate a certain level of redundancy; they run lots of cards that tend to do similar things. The Gouki decks from 2018 are a perfect example: you'd see players using cards like Photon Thrasher alongside Junk Forward or even Blue Moutain Butterspy, all Warriors with Special Summon effects that serve as warm bodies on the field.
The Gouki player just wanted a high number of Special Summons so you could easily hit the 2-card breakpoint to Link Summon Isolde, A Tale of Two Noble Knights. By having so many cards that would facilitate the same game plan, you could consistently achieve your key lines of play.
You might sit here going "Well great Zach, you've mentioned problem solving, but how do I even know what the problems are?" Luckily for you, it's a relatively simple process. Many players love to talk about how much they playtest, which is a fantastic tool. However, I'd argue that unless you're playtesting with a specific set of goals in mind for a given testing session, you're probably not gaining much from all that work.
Personally, I keep a notepad open on my phone and I'm constantly jotting down things I catch about the deck's performance during my games. When I was testing Dragon Link, I noticed the higher deck count of my 60-card build meant I could consistently play through more points of interaction and come out on top, but the downside was that I would lose out on seeing those key defensive cards as consistently as a smaller 40-card build. That problem was further highlighted by watching other combo decks with higher deck counts struggle against their denser, tighter counterparts.
Another thing you can do is constantly keep a finger on the pulse of the game. You don't want to show up to your local tournament thinking that Adamancipators are still the best deck when everyone's shifted over to Dogmatika Invoked. By consistently keeping up with the current trends in the game, you're better able to identify which problems may or may not truly matter for your deck, or even how you personally play. Example? If you're aware of how much more prevalent PSY-Framegear Gamma is now compared to a few months ago, you'll know to respect it more when you use your monster effects, and you can sculpt your plays accordingly.
The best way to figure out which problems you should target is to write down why you're losing. If you're seeing a pattern in your combos where you just don't have extenders when you need them, perhaps you need to re-evaluate your deck's structure. If your end field is too weak under the pressure of disruption and you find you can't grind out wins, maybe you need to look at the element of inevitability your deck produces and ask yourself how you can generate more momentum.
While it's a great plan to try and maximize the power of your deck by reducing or eliminating problems altogether, there's a fantastic model of play where you actively seek to cause problems for your opponent as well, by only allowing them certain plays, cards, or actions. Decks like Sky Strikers, Eldlich, and Subterrors are great for that, restricting your opponent's available options, and abusing the weaknesses certain strategies fall into through hyper-refined optimization.
That kind of anti-meta approach isn't usually a tournament-winning strategy, because when you dedicate cards and potential to lowering the ceiling of your opponent's deck you're indirectly spending resources you could spend elsewhere, inadvertently reducing your own potential. If you play nothing but negation cards your opponent won't be getting much done, but unfortunately neither will you. That's why Stun decks built around cards like Inspector Boarder can never truly be the best deck of a given format. Eventually you run out of defensive cards, and then your opponent's superior engine will win out.
That's why instead of focusing entirely on negating your opponent's plays, it's better to use your cards in a manner that allows you the most versatility in your lines of play. This is another instance where the Eldlich cards shine: the Golden Land trap cards Conquistador of the Golden Land and Huaquero of the Golden Land solve the inherent problem of defense cards not being engine cards, by directly contributing to the deck's win condition, as well as being removal, and extender cards, all rolled into one. The Burning Abyss Farfa, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss cards also showcase this kind of opportunity, acting roles as starters, extenders, and in some cases removal and defense.
Once you've found a set of problems that apply to your deck, the fun part comes next! Let's say you're playing an Invoked Dogmatika deck, and in your latest playtesting session, you noticed that you were struggling to keep up with Dinosaur and Dragon Link builds. Knowing that, you can establish that those matchups will be a problem you'll need to address. Later, when your friend group's discussing what they're all playing for your next Remote Duel tournament, you notice they're all playing Dinosaurs!
Instead of abandoning the strategy you've tested and switching to find an anti-Dino deck, you could just solve some of the problems the matchup creates for you; maybe play something like Artifact Lancea in your Main Deck, since you know most of your matchups will be Dinos. Along those lines though, you then go over the top and want to play Artifact Scythe and Artifact Sanctum, solving the issue of seeing Artifact Lancea consistently, and giving you flexibility with Artifact Sanctum as well. However...
It's important to keep a level head when you're knocking down the problems inherent to your deck. Often, I see players jump through hoops to solve a problem they found in playtesting, only to create a new problem in the process; often one they miss.
Using the example above, you've effectively ensured that you'll have access to Artifact Lancea. That's great. But now you've gone all-in on that. By committing three cards to Artifact Lancea, three to Artifact Sanctum, and one more to Artifact Scythe, you've placed yourself into a situation where you must win your die rolls every Game 1, because Artifact Sanctum horrible going second. That's why powerful cards like Artifact Sanctum are often kept to the Side Deck, where you can bypass the card's lackluster performance going second, and bring it in only when you know you'll choose to go first.
Sometimes committing on that level is the right call, but I often see players over-commit and lose out because of it. Running a giant glut of hand traps is a common example: I can't tell you the number of times I've heard players lament how they "bricked on nothing but hand traps," and then when you look at their build they're playing a combo deck with 40 cards total, and fifteen of them are hand traps. That level of over-compensation is something that every player will eventually fall victim to, and it's something you should keep in mind in any and all of its forms.
Last format, we saw lots of players running upwards of twelve hand traps to combat Adamancipators. While yes, that did stymie an Adamancipator duelist's plays, those competitors often struggled to succeed or failed outright. The big exception was Eldlich Synchro, where you could have a hyper dense engine that also allowed each card to serve multiple roles over the course of the game. For me, I find this little checklist helps me evaluate my deck during testing, and helps keep me on track with a rational, straightforward approach.
Personally, I live for checklists. I use them in deck building, looking over new cards and strategies, I use them at work, when I'm driving, even down to my morning prep for the day.
Checklists are an invaluable tool to help keep things organized and concise. I highly recommend using one when you're working on a deck, playtesting, or even preparing your Side Deck. There's a reason that doctors, pilots, and engineers rely on checklists so rigorously in their professional life, for even the most mundane tasks. You can never be too thorough in your preparation.
Generally, any problem you encounter, whether it's a rogue matchup, a weird card interaction, or an obscure line of play you hadn't thought of can be solved in time. However, there are some problems that just don't have solutions, often because of realities of the game's design.
Bricking is one of them: every deck bricks at some point. You can't have good draws in 100% of your games, but you can maximize the potential to have good draws, by being diligent in your deck building. Running into an unsolvable problem is rare, but they do exist. Often the problems that seem unsolvable aren't, but they create contradictions in the game for you as a player.
A personal favorite of mine crops up when the best deck in a given format is recognized as a combo deck, it doesn't utilize spell and trap cards for defense, and a secondary deck does use them. That situation forces you to pick between the combo deck and the permission style control deck. Back in the Summer of 2015, Nekroz was the deck-to-beat, and the other strategies chasing it – decks like Shaddolls, Burning Abyss, Qliphort, and even Satellar Knights – all played a high number of trap cards and reactive spells to try and slow the pace of the game that Nekroz was pushing.
As a Nekroz player, you then had to decide if you'd build your deck to win the mirror match, and then struggle against the trap heavy anti-nekroz decks; or if you'd play cards like Mystical Space Typhoon to give you an advantage against those rogue decks, but lose more mirror matches in the tradeoff. When this sort of format-based contradiction becomes common, a lot of players struggle to decide which problem is more important and which needs to be answered first.
Problem solving based deck building isn't easy, and it requires a willingness to look at things objectively, and take a lot of losses to get to truly tournament-winning solutions. It's also a skill that requires patience, practice, and most of all understanding that you will fail along your journey to improvement. That's okay, as long as you're learning it's worth the frustration. Until next time.