If you've read any of my articles, or followed me on social media, or even just hung out with me in real life, you're probably more than aware of my insatiable desire to play silly, off-color Yu-Gi-Oh decks. That trend's emerged in several different forms over the years with, varied levels of success. But 99% of the time if I'm playing this game, I'm playing decks that I have fun with.
Obviously not every deck I've ever run has been my absolute favorite, but I can count on one hand the number of times I played something I didn't enjoy. If it came down to a choice between having fun or playing something purely to win, I'm choosing fun.
Granted, "fun" and "competitive" aren't always mutually exclusivs - I've had success at every level of this game, with the only accolade that's escaped my clutches being a Top Cut at the NAWCQ and subsequent invite to worlds. That, and I've never played any Remote Duels, but all that's to say you aren't required to play cookie cutter decks to score tops.
…And technically I think with three Regionals I hold the record for most premier event tops with Ghostricks, so I've dabbled in the competitive, casual, and casual-competitive environments.
Don't get me wrong, none of this is meant to be gloating or bragging. I just want to preface some things I'm going to say about my personal experiences and my preferences with a simple point: most of us play Yu-Gi-Oh to have fun.
I won't bury the lede on this one: straight to the point, the only reason I play this darned game is because I have fun with it. There were times in my career that I enjoyed competitive play more than casual, but even though I've taken a break from meta commpetition since COVID-19 hit, I still enjoy the root of the game, and I play for that reason.
Sometimes that means playing Karakuri for four hours straight starting at 11pm, but we all have our demons.
And perhaps, you may be thinking of what I just said: "If it came down to a choice between having fun or playing something purely to win, I'm choosing fun.." I gravitate towards silly decks and strategies you won't expect to see in tournaments because I like them, but if someone else - specifically you - has fun playing the top decks and vying to best your opponents with superior play, then who am I to say that's not what's best for you?
And it's not just the game that I enjoy. I mean, yes, it's the game, sure. But there are so many more aspects to Yu-Gi-Oh than the 40 minutes you spend sitting across from someone that may or may not have showered, watching them solitaire away with a pile of shiny cardboard.
Thinking about my fifteen years playing Yu-Gi-Oh, my favorite memories came from the experiences I've had with the people, moreso than the actual game system. From overnight trips to YCS events and waking up early for Regionals, to late night playtesting hangouts and spamming random deck ideas to people at 2am, to me and Doug topping the same event with Spirits … those memories all come from the friends I've made along the way.
Ultimately, for me it isn't about the card game because that alone isn't going to provide the good times and the memories. It may be tongue in cheek or a bit cliche, but the experience of playing the game and everything that goes along with it have truly made me enjoy Yu-Gi-Oh as a whole. You don't absolutely, 100% have to play in competitive events all the time, and it doesn't make you any less of a duelist if you don't.
That… may be an exaggeration, but give me enough time to put that number together and it's on. Even if you've never dipped into alternative formats or rule sets, consider simply playing mirror matches. Mirror matches are a very specific way to play Yu-Gi-Oh, and while that's more than likely reserved for testing before big events, some people really, really like mirror matches.
I mean, not FTK mirror matches, or anything similarly one-sided. But especially slower strategies playing against each other, those kinds of games can play out like intense versions of chess.
I'm sure you're familiar with a few of them, but let me break down some of the more popular ways you can play this game; stuff you won't find every day. There are official, sanctioned events to play in, sure, even now - whether it be locals, Remote Duels, or eventually Regional Qualifiers and YCS events. But there's alot more to the game than structured, rigid tournaments.
I think it helps to keep perspective: at its core, we're effectively talking about toys here. Heaven forbid you actually "play" with them.
The most popular way to play casually is arguably to play previous formats, and 9 out of 10 people will tell you to play Goats. And when people say "Goats", they typically mean Goat Control specifically - one of the many competitive decks during the "Goat Format" era defined by a single deck, at least for sake of nomenclature.
Not everything was Scapegoat and Metamorphosis back then, I promise.
Don't despair if you don't want to play Goats by virtue of interest or overuse - there are other strategies that are viable in that limited format. Transport yourself back in time to play with a specific card pool, guided by Kelly's feature on Goat Format decks . I'm sure many of you reading this have never seen half the cards discussed in those decks. Join me, and we can have nightmares of Horus the Black Flame Dragon LV8 together.
For a longer discussion on Goat Format, check out Kelly's deep dive into the 2005 madness that's captivated so many for so long. But don't worry if it's not your thing. That's a specific era in Yu-Gi-Oh, one that might be overshadowed by other fan favorites. Personally, I like Tele-DAD because I'm just that type of person, but there are other decks to explore.
Plants in 2011? Those are some intense mirror matches right there. How about Dragon Rulers in 2013 when the Baby Dragon Rulers were Forbidden? Talk about some insane skill. Nekroz mirrors in 2015? Ok, that last one isn't as fun. But the point is, you've got choice.
Don't want to play a past meta deck? Well, there've been plenty of unofficial formats at premier events throughout the years that you can mimic at home. I remember in 2010 at the NAWCQ, there were Win-A-Box events where your deck could only consist of one rarity of cards - all commons, all rares, and so on.
If you're feeling adventurous, just choose a random date in the last fifteen years and look up what the top decks were and play those. With so many cards reprinted and several online simulators making them accessible, you don't have to drop a ton of money to hop in your proverbial time machine for hours of fun.
Or, hey, go back to 2011 when Ignition Effects had priority. It's been literally a decade since that was a thing, but I have nightmares about certain cards to this day.
Right now, Speed Dueling is the most relevant of all these types of alternate competition . We just got a new release, the Speed Duel: Battle City Box, and if you're skeptical about whether or not Speed Duels are actually fun, take it from me: they are. In the same way that you can look to past formats for strategies that aren't playable now, Speed Duels lend themselves to some ridiculously awesome themes.
Take Hanko's XYZ-Dragon Cannon Turbo deck from a few days ago as a great example, and a great starting point. Union Scramble and XYZ-Dragon Cannon are two cards that I've tried to make work about a hundred times over the years. In 2021, neither card is playable in the competitive scene of the Advanced Format. But in Speed Duels? It's time to beat up your opponent's with Kaiba's Machines.
While they're a bit dated and often tough to track down, the Battle Pack sets are another sealed product that generally play to the same rules you're used to, but offer a very different experience by way of a different card pool. Playing in a purpose-built format, certain overlooked cards become total stars, and impossible strategies become reality. Even better, Battle Pack 3: Monster League had a caveat that every monster counted as being every monster type.
Really makes Silent Psychic Wizard the best card in the pack, no?
My personal favorite to revisit is Battle Pack: Epic Dawn, because I have all the cards to create an actual cube from the set. Now at any time, my friends and I can draft complete decks from this preordained card pool, playing a format with ever-changing decks all the time.
Maybe one day the TCG can get Rush Duel cards; it's different enough to feel like a whole new game. Funny how even the smallest tweaks can spice things up and take Yu-Gi-Oh to new heights.
This one might not be the most imaginative ever since it's been done before, but it's certainly something worth trying that will stretch your creative thoughts and will be a lot more fun than it sounds. Obviously there are a few strategies that outshine the others, but think about how many archetypes exist that you've barely heard of.
I'd drop some Rikka and Battlewasp jokes here, but they'd be wasted on everyone because I legit don't think 99% of you know what either of those things are.
Given that you can pick up the deck cores for most "bad" themes for pocket change, this idea's also cheaper than building virtually any meta deck. If you're struggling for random themes to work off of, check out a comprehensive list here.
It's surprisingly fun to play with cards you'd never use otherwise. It's nice seeing some older decks get more and more support for modern play, but some strategies are so underrepresented that it's woefully funny trying to figure out what to do with them.
If you can build an Iron Chain Deck and beat me and my Cloudians, please, do your worst. Some strategies won't be as fun to mess around with when new support comes out - like the new Ice Barrier cards in Structure Deck: Freezing Chains - but you'll get tons of enjoyment dipping into themes like Fortune Lady or Predaplant that just never got their time to shine.
I'm not the only one to do this, but my friend Chris and I developed a side project where we'd create formats that not only break with convention, but completely redefine the game. We created some rather conventional unofficial formats - like playing with only theme-stamped exclusive cards, or limiting the total ATK points a deck could have. But it also got into weirder rules like having Synchro monsters in the Main Deck.
Kelly actually took this to the next level and made a fully functioning app for implementing new rules. Here's a video he made explaining how the app works, but in short, it's literally making up random rules. My favorites are the ones that punish your opponent for playing meta cards, but the app has a lot of variety.
And while it's not something that's been very common, these types of random rules have been officially sanctioned by Konami at times in the past. At the 2015 NAWCQ, we had the voice actors who provided their talents for Pegasus and Marik in the original Yu-Gi-Oh dub, calling out random choices from this set of rules in one of the most stressful duel situations I've ever been in.
Or if none of that interests you, just make up new Forbidden & Limited Lists. Or new cards. What? There are no rules here in 2021, do what you want.
What shouldn't get lost in translation are your specific goals for playing the game. There's a time and a place for every type of playstyle, so it comes down to weighing your options and deciding which path you want to go down. If you need an invite to the NAWCQ or you're playing in a Win-A-Box tournament, and you'd be happier with wins than losses, then do whatever's most helpful in your situation.
The most frustrating part about playing "crazy" decks for me is shooting myself in the foot. At the end of the day, there have been times I've heavily regretted playing specific cards or even entire strategies. My weird obsession for Spellbooks has done me a disservice on more than one occasion.
For example, the 2016 NAWCQ wasn't the best time to play Spellbooks, but I opted for my favorite strategy despite the deck's abysmal matchups with Kozmos and Monarchs. Heck, Ice Barrier FTK would have probably seen more success. That's probably an exaggeration, but it was that event where I really learned my lesson.
After all, playing casual strategies usually still means you want to win. Just because I'm running a weird combination of cards in my deck doesn't mean I want to lose to Eldlich; I just want to beat them creatively.
Of course, there have been times I've chosen to play a "non-meta" deck, lost, and still been happy - it just depends on the situation. And while nebulously vague as that is, you can narrow it down with a punnett chart of sorts. How will you react if you win or lose with different strategies? Will you have any regrets?
I can't answer those specific questions for you, but I'll defend whatever answers you give with all that I have. And hopefully that applies to you, and how you view other players as well. If someone wants to play meta and won't be satisfied with anything less than 1st Place, they're just as valid as someone that enjoys playing Skull Servants week after week but never tops locals.
As life slowly returns to normal with in person locals and Remote Duels, getting your competitive, meta-relevant fix is becoming easier and easier, but I'm not ready to let go of clinging to silly, casual things. The majority of my time with this game right now involves everything but hyper-competitive tournaments. In the end, I just like hanging out with people and doing what we want.
And isn't that the purpose of all this? Again, I'm not knocking competitive play, but I'm always going to maximize my enjoyment, and more often than not recently… that's meant finding new ways to play the game. Thinking about strategy, envisioning new formats, or just laughing with my friends, that's what's bringing me the most joy right now.
So if you ever want to try some unofficial formats, just hit me up. I'm always down to play.
Just remember: beat your opponents before they beat you.