Upstart Goblin's popularity is crazy-high right now. It's being played in Fire Fist, Mermail, Spellbooks, you name it. If it's a combo strategy that needs to thin the deck and dig for important cards, it's probably playing Upstart or at least Reckless Greed.

The fundamental concept behind Upstart's simple: playing a theoretically 37-card deck is more consistent than a 40-card deck. There are obvious exceptions to this, like Lightsworns and Sylvans which interact with cards in the deck in ways other than drawing and searching them. +1 Fire Fists are so focused on consistency that they run a set of Upstarts alongside triple Pot of Duality. Combined with Fire Formation - Tenki, Fire Fists are arguably the most reliable deck in the format.

While Upstart has certainly been used plenty of times before, its popularity is on an entirely different level this format. We're seeing it pop up in decks that wouldn't traditionally play it, such as Carlos Henrique's first place Harpies at YCS Sao Paulo last weekend. Henrique's spell line-up's very similar to that of Fire Fists: three copies each of Upstart and Duality. As far as the Side Deck goes, Upstart's a big help when it comes to figuring out which cards you want to side out. Its popularity is also worth paying attention to, because there are a number of ways you can exploit its widespread use.

Siding Aid
For many players the act of Side Decking isn't so much a question of which cards to side in, but which ones to side out. It can be tricky to drop cards for Side Deck tech without creating inconsistencies, especially for combo decks. Overworked, Light-Imprisoning Mirror, and Debunk can clog your hands and reduce the effectiveness of your core strategy. If you're short on space it's an even bigger issue, particularly if you can't afford to drop more than a couple of cards. How do you fit in off-theme, matchup-specific tech when synergy's so important? While it doesn't completely eliminate the problem, Upstart Goblin makes siding a bit easier for decks that would have a hard time making space otherwise.

What Upstart offers in Games 2 and 3 is a set of Main Deck slots that are interchangeable with Side Deck cards. The transition's pretty much seamless: you replace your copies of Upstart with your usual counters to a given matchup. You'll frequently see Mermail players side out their set for Mystical Space Typhoon to counter Macro Cosmos, Dimensional Fissure, Soul Drain, and Debunk. For other players the switch can be made for just about anything. You can essentially add cards to your deck without modifying your existing line-up much.

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Normally you do want to change some of your tech cards around when siding, and those are typically the first ones you'll side out. Black Horn of Heaven isn't very useful against Spellbooks, so switching it out for Dust Tornado during Game 2's an obvious move. Things become less obvious when your monster line-up's unchangeable, and your spells and traps are necessary to progress towards your win condition. Plenty of decks fill their spell line-up with Field Spells or themed support that leaves little room for tech cards, let alone Side Deck options. Planning to include Upstart in your Main Deck does help the decision-making process.

Maxx "C" is another card that's frequently exchanged. It's essentially a better version of Upstart Goblin against decks that Special Summon a lot. It provides you with a draw a turn later, but it has the potential to get you a +1 in card economy. Even if you play Maxx "C" as a 1-for-1 it has the added advantage of discouraging your opponent from Special Summoning for the turn. That's a serious improvement over Upstart's 1000 LP gift. In decks that need the extra draw power Upstart is a solid Main Deck choice, while Maxx "C" is great for Games 2 and 3 against Mermail, Hieratics, Geargia, and most rogue strategies.

Of course, siding out Upstart does have a negative impact on consistency. There's a clear tradeoff here: you're sacrificing the card you could have drawn next for a tech card that's more effective in your current matchup. Whether or not that's worthwhile comes down to the effectiveness of your sided cards. A devastating trap like Light-Imprisoning Mirror or Macro Cosmos cripples strategies and tend to swing games in your favor regardless of the match-up. I would rather draw into those than a Fire Formation - Tenki if it means locking my opponent out of the duel.

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Of course, you certainly don't have to side out your Upstarts. In fact, our next section is focused on ways to side against an opponent who keeps their Upstarts in after Game 1.

Going Over 9000
Upstart Goblin's biggest drawback is that it gives your opponent 1000 extra Life Points. If you were to resolve three Upstarts in one game you'd end up giving your opponent, well, 3000 Life Points. Now that I've proven I can do basic math we can look at the implications this has on card choices. Specifically: does that extra LP make certain Side Deck cards or strategies more viable? If you read my article last week on Memory of an Adversary you already know the answer to that. Hint: it's yes.

Life Point costs have typically been more appealing than discards or tributes in the past. As people say from time to time: you only need one Life Point to win. Games are won by making your opponent's Life Points zero, but that's only the result of other elements at play. The resource war's almost always a more pertinent factor in a game's final result. Burn strategies are an obvious exception here because they focus on effect damage and avoid interacting with the opponent, but in nearly all other situations duels are decided by whoever ends up with the superior position. They either have more resources than their opponent, or a set-up that's difficult to make plays against. Paying Life Points is well worth putting yourself ahead in terms of options. If the alternative is a loss in card economy you can be sure that players will choose to pay with their Life Points every time.

There are a lot of cards that require a 1000 Life Point activation cost. Skill Drain, 7 Tools of the Bandit, Instant Fusion, and Soul Drain are all similar in that regard. Upstart Goblin probably won't influence whether you play them or not, but it might change how you view them in combination with other cards and strategies. Siding into a full set of Skill Drain while you're already playing Solemn Warning puts you at 5000 Points of activation costs. That's a fairly large penalty, and it might prompt you to side only two copies of Skill Drain instead. But considering the gains you're likely to receive from Upstart that ratio could change. It probably won't alter your opinion on whether or not these low-cost cards are worth playing, but it might make you rethink how many you run, and when you choose to play them.

Memory of an Adversary is one example of how you can turn your opponent's Upstarts into card advantage. Adversary requires you to take damage equal to the ATK of an attacking monster, but in return you can banish it and Summon it to your side of the field. There are a lot of great reasons to play Adversary right right now, and its usual burn damage is somewhat mitigated thanks to the extra Life Points you'll get from Upstart Goblin. Unlike the cards I mentioned previously, Adversary's 'cost' is a much bigger concern; its playability is directly influenced by Upstart's popularity.

Upstart makes Chaos Trap Hole a bit more viable too. A Counter Trap, it negates the Summon of a Light or Dark monster and banishes it for the steep cost of 2000 Life Points. Siding two alongside a Main Decked Warning puts you at 6000 Points of activation costs...for just three cards. Even given Upstart's additional LP, is Chaos Trap Hole worth the price? Siding a single copy isn't too bad; although it's not searchable with Traptrix Myrmeleo it strongly counters a few noteworthy matchups: Evilswarm, Constellars, Hieratics, Blackwings, Infernity, and Lightsworn can easily lose their precious Normal Summon. The banishing aspect of Chaos Trap Hole's also worth noting – it'll keep a Lightsworn name out of the graveyard, remove targets for Evilswarm Kerykeion and Constellar Sombre, and put an Infernity monster out of reach of Infernity Launcher or Infernity Necromancer. It's a solid card that's worth looking into if you're searching for something other than Black Horn of Heaven.

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On the flip side of things, Hope for Escape's an interesting option when you're playing Upstart and your opponent isn't. Unless you've done damage previously, activating Upstart should let you draw at least one card thanks to Hope's effect. If you've taken 2000 or more points of damage already then that same combo gives you a pair of new cards without sacrificing your next two Draw Phases like Reckless Greed. There's definitely some potential there, especially since Hope's chainable to removal. In the past we've really only seen it played in degenerate strategies like Exodia, but I think it could see more mainstream use if Reckless Greed's ever Limited. It's especially handy in decks that take a lot of early damage before making big plays.

Whether you're running it yourself or going up against opponents using it against you, there are numerous ways you can take advantage of Upstart Goblin's newfound popularity. I'm looking at this format as an opportunity to explore some Life Point-heavy strategies that just weren't viable in the past, and I think it's well worth investigating further.

Until next time then.

-Kelly