This past weekend I attended the Garden City Regional Qualifier in Michigan, the first tournament of the January 1st 2014 format. While I was there I gathered a ton of insight on what to expect for the next few weeks before Legacy of the Valiant hits shelves. I've had a couple days to collect my thoughts on the tournament as a whole, and after discussing many of the finer points with Loukas Peterson – who got 16th with Spellbooks, as you read on Monday – I'm finally ready to share them with you.

A Crushing Defeat
So, like, Mind Crush is really cool. Jason wrote about how good Mind Crush is for your Side Deck over on CoreTCG a week ago, and I couldn't agree more. After not only using it myself, but watching it demolish other players throughout the day I can confidently attest to its strengths. While obviously not so great against pre-established fields, Mind Crush excels at shutting down your opponent's attempts to press an advantage through searchable combo plays, or make a comeback when they're behind.

As for actual matchup applications, it makes perfect sense to run Mind Crush. Atlantean Mermails, which made up around 20% of the total field in Garden City, get wrecked by the pinpoint precision that Mind Crush offers. Chaining it to a revealed Mermail Abyssmegalo is a classic move that puts the game in your favor, discarding Abyssmegalo before it's Special Summoned and depriving your opponent of their search, but it has so many other applications. Mermail Abysspike's one of the deck's main searchers, usually played in threes, and it too gets shut down by Mind Crush. Not only that, but you can make fairly accurate guesses at what Atlanteans and Mermails are in your opponent's hand once you reach the late game. When both you and your opponent are low on resources, Mind Crush's simple 1-for-1 gives you total knowledge of your opponent's hand, giving you a tremendous advantage without costing you a minus of card economy.

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Atlantean Mermail was by far the most played deck this past weekend, but it wasn't the only thing on the floor. Geargia, Inzektors, Bujin, Constellar, Fire Fist, and a bunch of others made up the rest of the field. One deck taking up roughly 20% of the field might not seem like a large number, but the closest thing to it was Fire Fists, which barely managed to occupy 10% of the metagame. There was a wide variety of decks that I personally haven't seen in years. The last format looked very similar to this when the September F&L List was first revealed, but it quickly turned out to be dominated by Dragon Rulers. Heck, almost half of the Top 32 from YCS Toronto was the same deck, giving us a glimpse of what was to come.

But you know what all those decks I just listed have in common? A weakness to Mind Crush. Taking advantage of an abundance of strategies that rely on Fire Formation – Tenki to search out key cards is too sweet to pass up. A big change between Yu-Gi-Oh! nowadays and Yu-Gi-Oh! of years past is the amount of search power every deck has. Almost every archetype has something that grabs on-theme cards with little cost, and Mind Crush punishes that trend. A few players, myself included, are seriously considering running this powerful trap in the Main Deck, though only time will tell if that's a good idea.

Deck Choice – More Important Than Skill?
Throughout the day I saw several very good players lose to less experienced duelists despite making correct plays over the course of their match. You'd watch guys playing Atlantean Mermails, shakily shuffling their hands as they pulled off an OTK they barely knew were possible. Without pointing any fingers I'd like to throw out the observation that at this particular Regional, deck choice was more important than actual dueling ability. It's a profound statement, yes, but if you were there you probably noticed the same thing.

The worst part? It's not even about picking a previously successful or a largely subpar strategy, it was about picking the right one. Questionable builds were overcoming powerful decks simply because the matchup was in their favor. Yu-Gi-Oh! has never been a game of rock, paper, scissors. Bad matchups are usually winnable given the right number of tools at your disposal. Extensive knowledge of both players' decks, tech choices, and player skill all help you win duels that aren't in your favor. In this Regional though, it seemed like this just wasn't the case.

If you go to a Regional in the upcoming weeks, just watch out for instances where you lose to stuff you felt wouldn't be a problem heading into the event. I suffered a Round 1 loss to a player that went -5 to bring out Obelisk the Tormentor, depleting his entire hand to do so. I was up in actual card advantage and up until that point, had control over the duel. Watching my opponent misconstrue rulings that I'd consider common knowledge, only to get my face punched in by Obelisk the Tormentor really sucked, but it seemed common across the day. A lot of matches were just coming down to sheer matchups and little else.

Side Deck Versatility
One of the biggest takeaways from last Saturday was just how important your Side Deck choices are this format. Entering any Regional in the coming weeks is going to put you in a position of facing the same deck no more than twice. This is true not only for the people with X-1 or X-2 records, but also the players at the top tables. After talking with some of the contenders I found that the only deck anyone played more than twice was Atlantean Mermail, and even then it was an extremely rare case. Be prepared to go toe-to-toe with a variety of strategies throughout the day. Outside of actual playtesting, your Side Deck comes in handy when dealing with so many different opponents.

I've praised Mind Crush enough, but just know that if you're not siding it you should be. Moving on, both Light-Imprisoning Mirror and Shadow-Imprisoning Mirror have incredible reach. Light-Imprisoning Mirror hits the obvious suspects like Bujin, Constellar, and Hieratics, but that's not all. Counteracting rogue strategies like Lightsworn, Worms, and Noble Knights is really valuable when you may face any of those decks at random points during your nine rounds. Light-Imprisoning Mirror even has niche uses like negating Thunder King Rai-Oh's activated effect or preventing World of Prophecy from winning the duel. It's a powerful card, and its counterpart Shadow-Imprisoning Mirror works against nearly as many options. Inzektors, Infernity, Dark Worlds, and Archfiends all fall to it.

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Overworked was definitely one of my favorite traps this past weekend, and I know I'm not the only one favoring it. Wiping a field full of Fire Fists to net easy +1's or +2's is great, but Overworked does so much more than just that. Essentially, anything that plays Fire Formation – Tenki's weak to Overworked. Getting rid of a Constellar Kaus right before your opponent attempts an Xyz play is a tempo swing that has to be seen to be believed. I saw a couple Gladiator Beast competing, and Overworked can pop Gladiator Beast Laquari and Gladiator Beast Darius before any tag-out shenanigans take place.

The most obscure use for Overworked that I didn't see many people taking advantage of is its utility against Inzektors. Every time one Inzektor's equipped to another Inzektor there's an ATK increase, so Overworked can take out entire fields for no cost whatsoever. I used this trick earlier in the last format, but Inzektors weren't big enough for it to warrant mention in an article. Now though, with Inzektors taking two of the Top 8 spots in Garden City, it seems like they're back and swinging. Don't let Overworked pass you by if you're afraid of Inzektors or anything running Fire Formation – Tenki.

Monster types have become increasingly relevant over the past year. Many of the Noble Arms can't equip to non-Warriors, all of the Bujingi monsters except Turtle require Beast-Warriors, and a bunch of high octane Xyz require specific types for their Xyz Materials. DNA Surgery's more useful than ever because of those factors. Previously it was flipped against Spellbooks to turn off Spellbook of Fate, Spellbook of the Master, Spellbook of Power, and Spellbook of Wisdom, and that's still a valid use. The newest way to use Surgery, however, is against Bujins. While it won't negate Bujin Yamato's effect it will prevent Bujingi Crane from boosting it up, effectively eradicating Bujin's win condition. The best part? Bujins can't even pop DNA Surgery with Bujingi Centipede because it too requires a Beast-Warrior Bujin monster. As Bujin's popularity increases so will the usefulness of DNA Surgery, and I feel it'll be a real sleeper pick going into next month.

Fairy Wind, a trap that I've been boasting about literally since my first article, fills the roll of mass backrow removal that many players desperately need. It can't touch face-downs, but for a lot of decks right now face-downs aren't the real issue. Erasing a back row full of Continuous Spells and Continuous Traps in a format were everyone's playing them is too good to pass up. If you're using something that loses to Soul Drain, Light-Imprisoning Mirror, Shadow-Imprisoning Mirror, Imperial Iron Wall, DNA Surgery, or Mind Crush then you best be playing Fairy Wind. At the very, very least you can chain Fairy Wind to Fire Formation – Tenki, preventing your opponent from searching a free card.

A Look Ahead
Individual card choices are important for tipping matchups in your favor, but what matters most is how the next month will play out. Until Legacy of the Valiant's released I'm a firm believer that there won't be a single "best deck," nor even a couple best decks. The field's so wide open that I can't imagine there being a defined metagame that lasts more than one tournament. At the Garden City Regional a very strange Inzektor build using Verdant Sanctuary, Howling Insect, and Grandsoil the Elemental Lord went undefeated and took the whole event. Why did that happen?

Because, shocker, nobody was siding for Inzektors.

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It shouldn't be a huge surprise that Inzektors were good this format. A few weeks ago there was a 1K tournament in Chicago and an Inzektor duelist went undefeated there, too. It wasn't a sanctioned tournament and it didn't get a lot of coverage, but any player that saw that win would've prepared for that specific matchup. Now though, everyone's aware of the strength of those annoying Insects, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot more Side Deck hate against them in the coming weeks. If you're an Inzektor player yourself you're going to have to adapt to the changing environment, and for that reason alone I don't think someone netdecking the first-place Verdant Sanctuary build from Garden City's going to top another Regional.

On that note I'd like to point out just how ineffective copying a deck card for card really is right now. With such a variety of strategies being played you'll only hinder yourself by being closed minded and just taking another duelist's creation without contributing anything to it. That's very, very different from most of 2013. Players innovating builds have always been on top, that's not a secret, but a majority of the topping duelists last year were just using the most popular deck from the previous event. There isn't a most popular deck anymore, and as such you're going to be punished if you're not coming up with your own ideas.

Hopefully my insight on this tournament gave you some ideas for how you can prepare your own strategies going forward. I tried to give the most general outlook possible to appeal to the widest audience, but I understand that I can't please everyone. If you went to the Garden City Regional and have anything to add, please do so in the comments below! The next few weeks are going to be full of innovation and I wouldn't be surprised to see a ton of different decks top. This is looking like a major improvement from the September format, and that one was a major improvement from the previous March format. I like the direction Yu-Gi-Oh's going and can only hope it'll keep getting better and better!

-Doug Zeeff

Article Aftermath #23