Confession: I haven't been playing a ton of Yu-Gi-Oh lately. I just haven't had the time due to the holidays, work, and moving. It's been one helluva long few weeks, but everything's finally starting to return to normalcy.

With that said, it's time for me to get ready for my first Regional of the format. I haven't been able to attend any so far, and the last event I went to was YCS Toronto back in early September, so I'm a tad rusty. Playing casually at locals and practicing online is so different. There's a lot of extra time and effort that go into getting ready for a big tournament and it can be a daunting task; especially when a groundbreaking set's about to be released.

So how am I going to do it?

It Starts With Reading
Loukas is probably cringing right now, because reading cards can be super hard. Let alone time-consuming. But someone has to do it! Whenever I can't go to larger events or a ton of locals, I always make up for it by ramping up my online play and looking ahead to what's coming. And that's what I've been doing for the past few months.

Aside from coming up with new and interesting takes on strategies we all love and play testing with them, I read a lot. I'm always up on the latest trends in the OCG, because they're going to impact the TCG in some way. World Premiere cards in both the TCG and OCG usually have at least some impact on competitive play, but a majority of the card choices are relatively similar between the two games.

The biggest advantage to knowing what's coming is that you can learn the strategies in their most basic forms and then quickly tweak them for World Premieres and player or tournament preference. For instance, if you understand how the Pendulum Performage deck works with Performapal Pendulum Sorcerer, then you would've had an easier time understanding how to play the strategy without it (which would have given you a major edge before Breakers of Shadow).

That's a pretty big advantage to have over a lot of players who decided to wait until the deck was released in the TCG before picking it up. You'll also have an easier time Side Decking, which will then teach you which cards in a deck are the most expendable. That's an important thing to know when you're heading into a Regional, because they're often filled with a ton of rogue strategies. Understanding which cards aren't as important can help you tweak your Main Deck to better fight odd strategies with key tech picks for your Main Deck.

Playing a ton of games with a proxied out deck or through online platforms is extremely important, because it's one thing to know what the cards do, and another to know how the entire strategy works.

Then, once you've mastered the basic concepts you can dive into the more interesting aspects of how to best build your chain links to ensure that your most important effects go off. It's in those key moments when you'll learn how to protect key effects through the order of your plays, and sometimes even find some potential loops.

The Art Of Building A Chain
Building a chain properly is one of the most important parts of Yu-Gi-Oh! and is sometimes the difference between a win and a loss. It's important to consider all options when you're playing Yu-Gi-Oh, because at the end of the day you never know exactly what your opponent has set or in their hand. Accidentally putting Graff, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss at Chain Link 2 when you could have put it at Chain Link 1, only to have your opponent use the upcoming Solemn Strike on Graff's effect can cost you games. Don't just order your chains willy-nilly. Have a reason for everything.

The next thing that's going to happen when you truly understand each deck and how to correctly build chains is realizing just how many things your opponent can't even do. Ritual Beasts offered a great example: when you use Ritual Beast Ulti-Cannahawk's effect to search for any Ritual Beast card and then chain its other effect to Special Summon two Ritual Beast monsters, your opponent can't respond to the Special Summon of those monsters with the likes of Bottomless Trap Hole or Torrential Tribute.

The reason they can't respond, is because the monsters are Special Summoned at Chain Link 2 as the chain's resolving. You can't interrupt a chain once it's begun resolving, so your monsters will always hit the field safely; cards like Bottomless Trap Hole and Torrential Tribute must be activated "when" the monsters are summoned, but the final piece of the chain is you searching for any Ritual Beast card, not the monsters being summoned.

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The same could be said for PSY-Frames. If you were to use PSY-Framegear Gamma to negate your opponent's King of the Feral Imps, your opponent can't stop your monsters from hitting the field with something like Mind Over Matter or Chain Disappearance. Why would they be using those two cards? I don't know, but they would be useless in this situation!

The reason they'd fall short is because PSY-Framegear Gamma and PSY-Frame Driver are Special Summoned as the chain resolves at Chain Link 2. Chain Link 1 is King of the Feral Imps' effect, so cards that must be activated "when" monsters are summoned will be useless against all of the PSY-Frames. If you'd never played PSY-Frames a lot, something like that may be tricky for you to pick up; especially if you're not used to building chain links and resolving them out loud. When you talk through your chain links, it makes things much easier to understand as you resolve them.

To give you an idea of what I'm up to right now, I'm playing with the new Monarchs. The Emperor of Darkness Structure Deck, which hits shelves at the end of the month, is going to make huge waves in the competitive scene much like Master of Pendulum did. The biggest difference between the latest Monarch support and the Magicians is just how tricky the Monarchs are. You've got a ton of effects that you can use on either player's turn and chain links are everything.

Some of the monsters you'll be using as Tribute for your Monarchs have effects that activate in the graveyard, while two of the new Monarch support cards have graveyard effects as well! Heck – even the new Dark Monarch – Erebus The Underworld Monarch – has a quick-effect that you activate in the graveyard! You've got a ton of options at every moment on both players' turns, so it's really tricky learning which effects you should prioritize. That's part of the reason I'm learning it now, because I want to be able to dominate on the first day when it drops in the TCG.

While I was playing a recent match, here's what I noticed I could do with the incredible new Monarch Trap, The Prime Monarch. Its effect is as follows:

Once per turn: You can target 2 "Monarch" Spell/Trap Cards in your Graveyard; shuffle them into the Deck, then draw 1 card. If this card is in your Graveyard: You can banish 1 other "Monarch" Spell/Trap Card from your Graveyard; Special Summon this card in Defense Position as a Normal Monster (Fairy-Type/LIGHT/Level 5/ATK 1000/DEF 2400). (This card is NOT treated as a Trap Card.) You can only use this effect of "The Prime Monarch" once per turn.

If that seems incredible to you – IT IS. But the card's literally Ritual Beast Ulti-Cannahawk! If you've got one copy of The Prime Monarch on the field and one in the graveyard, you can start a loop much like the one made famous by Ritual Beasts.

Basically, you'll activate The Prime Monarch on the field, targeting The Prime Monarch in your graveyard and another "Monarch" spell or trap. You can then chain The Prime Monarch in your graveyard to Special Summon itself by banishing a different Monarch spell or trap. The chain can then resolve with you Special Summoning The Prime Monarch and then shuffling the remaining "Monarch" card from your graveyard into the deck for a draw.

That incredible loop works thanks to the wording "shuffle them into the deck, then draw 1 card." Because it says "them" and not "those targets," you only have to shuffle in one "Monarch" spell or trap to actually draw the card.

Had I not been playing with the deck already, had a good understanding of chain links and knew a good amount of Problem Solving Card Text, I would have never figured that out. And if I heard about it later, it may have already cost me a game or two. Now I'm sharing it with you, because I want to show you how important it is to really read every card and to actually practice with every deck.

As I said before: it's one thing to know what cards do and another thing to know how an entire strategy works.Also, if you've never read the Problem-Solving Card Text articles: DO IT NOW.

And if you've somehow missed the "Fast Effect Timing" article, you should give that a look as well. Or you can let Judge Joe spell it out for you with these incredible explanations in two parts, here and here.

Seriously. Read and live by those four articles. Your game will improve ten-fold once you understand the little nuances you've been missing that are written right on your cards!

Moral Of The Story
I guess what I'm trying to say is that despite not playing much Yu-Gi-Oh! in a very intense and highly competitive environment lately, I'm always thinking and practicing, even if it's just for fun. Sometimes when the pressure's off, you come up with ridiculous three card combos and find great insights because you're having fun. Your mind works in mysterious ways when it's not stressed out by competition.

Sometimes we lose sight of that key part of the game. It's why we all play Yu-Gi-Oh! and that's why we continue to do so, even when you're old and crusty like me. Sure, maybe you're the best out of your friends or just a great player in general, but at the end of the day play it because it's a fun game. I've had some of my greatest ideas while I was joking around with friends or playing a very casual game. There are tons of ways to practice, but you've got to find out what works for you. And then when you're getting ready for a tournament, practice hard and often.

My unintended "break" from the game was really great and now I feel refreshed and ready for those excruciatingly long YCS and Regional days.

-Pasquale Crociata

Pasquale's from Long Island, New York, but has lived in New York City for nine years where he earned a BFA in Musical Theater from Pace University. Outside of the Yu-Gi- Oh! community he's a working Actor, Model and Singer. Those interested in keeping up with his Acting career can check out his website, 'Like' his Facebook Page or follow him onInstagram and Twitter.

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