You'll very rarely find me claiming to be amazing at Yu-Gi-Oh. I'd argue that I'm better than average, but so would literally every Yu-Gi-Oh player ever in the history of forever, so that's kind of pointless. That's why in general I like to strike to be constantly improving, and to surround myself with duelists doing the same.

Beyond my actual dueling ability one thing I've worked diligently to improve is my understanding of mind games. That is: the part of Yu-Gi-Oh where you gain knowledge about your opponent by observing their body language, the things they say, and the ways in which they communicate, deriving information you can then use to your advantage. There are ways to accomplish that both in and out of the game, and today I'm going to be discussing several tips that can help you grow this particular skill set.

I've shared many of these tips and techniques with my Youtube subscribers, so if you watch my stuff over on my channel, be aware that you might find a little overlap.

Before The Duel Even Starts
If you've followed me for a long time you might've noticed me mention how I always ask my opponent a series of pre-game questions. There's no set order, but there are several queries I use time and time again that can give you a ridiculous amount of insight into the player sitting across from you. Remember: everything you ask should seem like casual questions, not an interrogation. Nobody's obligated to respond to you, so if you're too probing they'll often just stop answering.

"Where are you from?" or "How far did you travel?"

This is the easiest one of the bunch, and also the least intrusive. The question's simple, innocent, and the people around you will probably be asking their opponents the same thing. On the surface it would seem like you can't get any solid, useful information out of this question, but you've probably figured it out that if I decided to put it in this article there must be something to it.

What you get out of this question is a general sense of how much your opponent cares about this event. Are you going to try harder at something that took 20 minutes to get to, or an event four hours away? The obvious answer is that the further away you are from the event the more you're going to try and win, because the more you've invested in the competition.

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That's not to say that everyone close to an event will fail to give it their all; it's just a generalization that's true a large portion of the time. I'm not going to wake up at four in the morning to drive six hours only to play Crystal Beasts and go 3-3 drop. That's just not a thing that happens.

"Do you have your invite yet?"

This one's effectiveness varies depending on how close you are to the next World Championship Qualifier. When I got my invite at the first Regional Qualifier after the 2014 WCQ I definitely wasn't asking this question, but as each weekend passes it becomes more and more relevant. Inexperienced players often won't have their invite. It's that simple. Sure, there are exceptions, such as those that couldn't make it to events or people that were judging instead of competing, but for the most part this is true. If you've gone to five Regional Qualifiers and haven't earned your invite yet then the chances are pretty strong that you're not very competitive.

…And that's totally okay. To be honest, I was that person two years ago. But it's useful information nonetheless because inexperience players make decisions that differ greatly from the decisions of more experienced competitors. They're not going to try and bluff you, and they tend to play way too aggressively which in turn makes your bluffs far less useful. It's helpful to know that beforehand; it's probably not worth your time to try and bluff a less experience, overly-aggressive player.

Additionally, they're not going to be thinking through their plays nearly as much as you would. A great example of this would be a recent play session when Loukas and I both played a Cloudian deck online and recorded our different perspectives, me as an experienced Cloudian player and Loukas being relatively new to the strategy. From my end you can see me analyzing each and every one of Loukas' plays, but if you watch it from his side you find he has no idea what any of his cards do and is just making random moves.

"How have your matches been going today?"

This one is arguably the least important of the three, namely because the answers are so different from person to person. It's really hard to make accurate generalizations like you can with the first two questions, but regardless, it's still important. Sometimes inexperienced players will literally just tell you what they're playing, but be wary of people trying to trick you. Personally I always just make up some story where I act like I'm playing a different deck than I am, but most people actually answer truthfully when you ask this question.

And hey, that's good news for you because you just got free information! This works best if your opponent lost the previous round, because competitors on tilt are often what the Yu-Gi-Oh! community refers to as "salty." That is, incredibly angry at their previous game, and ready to tell anyone who does or doesn't ask how they got "sacked." For you this works in your favor because they might tell you something along the lines of "he drew two Shadow-Imprisoning Mirrors Games 1 and 2!" or something similar. You'd be surprised what flustered individuals will tell you if you just ask for the information.

During The Duel
If you haven't realized yet, this entire article is based off of me facing hundreds of opponents in many different tournaments and then picking out the consistent patterns. I'm already fairly confident someone's going to comment with a rebuttal like "but Doug, I drove five hours and did play Crystal Beasts so your article is totally wrong," but that just comes with the territory. This section is - at least I imagine - going to draw the bulk of those statements, but it'd be unfair to not include it. Let's talk about some of the physical things you see during a match that could give you an edge.

Your Opponent's Playmat:
There are too many playmats out there to count them, but for whatever reason there are some patterns amongst the more popular ones. For example, I have never in the history of my career played against a conventionally "good" duelist that was using a mat with a busty anime girl on it. Like, never ever. If you're using one of those mats I promise you that I mean you no offense, but if you sit across the table from somebody with that type of thing then congratulations you've been given a free win.

Any sort of Regional Top 8 mat can go one of three ways. If it's more than a year old I'd just ignore it. Formats change so fast that someone that was good a year ago might not be good anymore. If it's a recent Regional mat, then it's worth asking if they won it themselves. If they did win it than they're obviously going to be better than average. If they bought it? Well… to be as nice as possible they're probably below average as competitors. I don't think I've ever finished a duel against someone that bought a Top 8 mat where I thought to myself "wow, that guy totally blew away my expectations."

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The last two relevant categories are duelists using custom mats, or the ever-popular Spellground mats. This is going to come up in the next passage of this discussion too, but basically anyone willing to throw extra money into this game is probably going to be halfway decent at the very least. Sure, there are plenty of average people that put too much cash into their stuff, but if they're most likely not spending two hundred dollars on a mat just to go x-4 drop.

Your Opponent's Cards:
I look at high rarity cards the same way I look at squares and rectangles. All rectangles are square but not all squares are rectangles. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that most people with max rarity cards are experienced, but not all players with low rarity cards are inexperienced. This goes along with everything we've already talked about: if you're not great at Yu-Gi-Oh! you're probably not going to throw extra money into picking up shinier versions of cards you already have.

…And yes, I'm all too aware that this is one of the most highly debated topics of Yu-Gi-Oh. Paying for shinier pieces of cardboard if you can get them for a quarter of the price in a less shiny form seems like a no-brainer to me. Alas, there are lots of reasons for investing in high rarity cards. It's a confidence booster, it can be intimidating to your opponents, and - this is the most important one, by the way - it is your money you're spending. If someone chooses to put extra cash into their favorite hobby then who's to say they're wrong for it? Similarly, I'm not going to bash anyone that's not putting extra cash into their favorite hobby either.

You don't - I repeat - you don't know anyone else's financial situation. Someone might be playing with Super Rare Compulsory Evacuation Device but be drowning in college loans. At the end of the day what I'm going to take away from high rarity cards is that if they care enough to get them then they're probably decent at the game.

But Doug…
…I know, I know, you're the exception to every single one of these. You play on an anime mat with low rarity cards and top every event you've ever entered. Good for you. But for the other 95 percent of the playing field I'm going to go ahead and make these assumptions because they're usually true. Profiling people before you get to know them is kind of frowned upon in real life, but in Yu-Gi-Oh it's invaluable.

So what do you think of all this? Is there anything I'm horribly wrong on that you want to correct? Please, let me know in the Comments and I'll be sure to get back to you!

-Doug Zeeff