Did you know that throughout any given season of Yu-Gi-Oh, you likely never draw the same opening hand from your deck twice? In most card games, a deck has more possible combinations than a person will ever see in their lifetime. One analysis found that a Magic: The Gathering deck with 37 unique cards had over 11 million different opening hands! And that's without even considering the order of the rest of the cards in deck!

A reader recently asked: since there are infinite ways that a duel can play out, how do you decide how to play the cards you're dealt?

It's impossible to try to memorize a response to every scenario when there are millions of scenarios. You therefore need to use mental shortcuts. The shortcut I'll teach in this article is a framework called The Four Perspectives, a handy tool that slices apart a problem at different angles to help you reach a well-rounded solution. This is a shortcut first introduced to the TCG world in Patrick Chapin's book, Next Level Magic, and Patrick Hoban subsequently used it to analyze Wind-Ups. Beyond the world of gaming, the framework's staple to industries such as software development, architecture, and corporate management.

Top-Down Thinking
Top-down thinking is a way to analyze a problem by starting with your strategic vision. For instance, if I'm in the mood for food, I might declare the top-down decision, "I want to bake a cake!" This vision will guide all the subsequent decisions I make, like what ingredients I'll buy from the store and what utensils and containers I'll need.

In Yu-Gi-Oh, top-down thinking is deciding what approach will win you the game. Your approach can be as general as, "I'm the beatdown. I therefore want to end the game quickly," to as detailed as, "I need to make a board that interrupts a potential Dingirsu summon at the cost of losing to a topdecked Twin Twisters, because my opponent has more potential routes to Dingirsu than copies of Twin Twisters next turn."

It's best to flesh out a general top-down vision into more detailed strategies as you go along. For example, after I decide I want to bake a cake, I should decide whether I want a tiramisu cake or a tres leches cake. After that, I might think about which store to shop at to pick out ingredients. Similarly, if you decide that you should play the role of beatdown in a duel, you might next consider which card in your hand you can play to shorten the duel.

With top-down thinking, you start with top-level strategy and work your way down to detailed plans.

Bottom-Up Thinking
Bottom-up thinking analyzes a problem by starting with the smallest individual pieces. Instead of deciding I want to bake a cake, I could instead take an inventory of my kitchen to see what ingredients I have. Based on what's available, I'd then decide what to make. Whereas top-down thinking says, "I want a cake, so let's figure out how to make it happen," bottom-up thinking says, "I have flour, eggs, sugar, cream...I can make a cake with this."

In Yu-Gi-Oh, bottom-up thinking can save you time compared to top-down thinking by ruling out strategies you simply don't have access to. A top-down thought might be, "I want to end with Borreload Savage Dragon to protect my board," whereas bottom-up thinking might say, "My hand has no ways to get to a Tuner, so I won't think about making any synchro plays this turn. What's the best board this hand can make?"

Top-down and bottom-up thinking complement each other; you don't use just one or the other. Top-down asks what you want to do. Bottom-up asks what you can do. You'll often alternate back and forth between these two shortcuts. Top-down: I want to build a board with four interruptions. Bottom-up: I have the cards to end with three. Top-down: I want my three interruptions to protect me from Evenly Matched and Lightning Storm. Bottom-up: I'll make sure to save my negation for Evenly Matched and summon my monsters in defense for Lightning Storm.

Bottom-up thinking starts with the bottom-level pieces and works its way up to overarching strategy.


Back-Front Thinking
After you've used top-down and bottom-up thinking to decide on a strategy and what you'll need to execute it, you use the next two perspectives to determine the right chronological sequence. Back-front thinking considers how you want to finish and works backwards from there. For example, frosting is added to my cake last, after it's been baked. Based on that reasoning, I'll take my oven mitts out while I leave the frosting in the fridge.

In Yu-Gi-Oh, suppose your opening hand has enough resources to finish with a full board of Extra Deck monsters and a Silverrokket Dragon resolving in the End Phase to rip a card out of your opponent's Extra Deck. Back-front thinking would inform you to not use Silverrokket as Synchro Material because you need its effect in the End Phase, and to summon Silverrokket in Monster Zones 1 or 2 because 3, 4, and 5 will be occupied in the process of summoning your boss monsters.

Back-front thinking starts at the back end of a process and reverses to the front end.

Front-Back Thinking
While you consider all the obstacles you need to jump through to reach the end of your vision, you need to think sequentially about each step needed to get there. Front-back thinking is laid out simply when it comes to baking a cake: it's just the steps listed on the recipe.

In Yu-Gi-Oh, front-back thinking interacts with back-front thinking as you play out your strategy. Back-front: To end with Hieratic Seal of the Heavenly Spheres on my board, I need to be able to summon a Light monster. I therefore can't summon it after using Rokket Tracer's effect, which locks me into Dark monsters. Front-back: I'll use my first two monsters to summon Spheres. Then, I'll summon and activate Rokket Tracer's effect.

Front-back thinking starts at the front of a process and moves step by step toward the back end.

Applying The Four Perspectives
Here's a sample internal monologue that shows how the four perspectives work in action.

Top-down: I want to clear my opponent's board of two monsters.

Bottom-up: My hand can clear my opponent's board by running over monsters by battle, saving myself from having to spend resources on removal.

Top-down: I want to summon two Synchro Monsters to run over my opponent's two monsters.

Bottom-up: I have a way to summon a Tuner plus two other monsters from my hand, so I'll need to summon a Tuner from my grave.

Back-front: I have to attack the monster linked to Galatea, the Orcust Automaton before I attack Galatea, or else she won't be destroyed by battle.

Front-back: I'll summon this monster first, then that monster...

Back-front: I need to make sure my Synchros aren't summoned to Zone 3 or else Galatea will be protected by its effect.

Front-back: ...Then I'll Synchro Summon this monster to Zone 1, and that monster to Zone 2. Next, I'll attack the monster linked to Galatea, and then I'll attack Galatea.

Of course, in a tournament match, there's no time to think sequentially through every last logical argument for each of your plays. That's where experience comes in, which is only built through practice. A framework will help to group millions of combinations into a few dozen, and experience will enable you to intuitively narrow your options down to two and pick the play that works best.

To give one last example of the four perspectives at work, I once helped my friend Rachel plan her budget after she was hired to a new job. This is how I used the four perspectives to make my recommendation:

Top-down: I asked Rachel for her goals. She named key expenses she wanted to be able to put money toward on a recurring basis, such as household essentials, rent, charity, and investments.

Bottom-up: Rachel provided an itemized list of foreseeable expenses along with her total income, which I used to calculate her rate of money in and rate of money out to get an idea of what was possible. 

Back-front: I surveyed Rachel's long-term spending plans and spaced out major expenses such as upgrading her professional attire, replacing her phone, purchasing a camera, and paying for a future road trip on her calendar.

Front-back: I asked Rachel what she most immediately wanted, and I created a month-by-month budget to help her make purchases in the right order.

The four perspectives work seamlessly together. Without top-down thinking, bottom-up thinking will only work with what's available and ignore unseen possibilities. Without bottom-up thinking, top-down thinking will keep you daydreaming about the impossible. Without back-front thinking, front-back thinking will wander aimlessly toward an ambiguous target. Without front-back thinking, back-front thinking will have a target without a sequential plan to get there.

Taken together, these perspectives provide a valuable framework for solving puzzles in both gaming and work. You can apply them to something as low impact as baking a cake, all the way to something as important as planning your finances. The next time you're facing a complex decision and aren't sure where to start, try using the four perspectives!