I feel like if anything was going to propel the popularity of Spirits forward, this event was it. A month ago, Loukas Peterson and I scored Top 8 finishes using Spirits, and the strategy gained a little more recognition than it previously had. Last weekend though, Jeff Jones, Loukas Peterson, and I nabbed 1st, 8th, and 11th place finishes respectively with decks hinging on Aratama and Nikitama. It's hard to ignore the facts: Spirits are way better than people think.

On Friday night I drove up to meet Loukas and Jeff in Lansing, and from there we drove to one of Jeff's friend's houses to spend the night. Discussing theory is really hard because my build of Spirits is so different from Loukas and Jeff's, but we did our best. I had conflicting thoughts that I posed to Jeff. Basically, was it more important to play a card for a bad matchup that you'll face less often, or a card for a good matchup that you'll face more of? Jeff said the latter, but I'm too stubborn to listen to him and chose the first option.

This turned out to be a Mistake, of course.

Anyway, Jeff did convince me to play Mind Crush in the Main Deck, and it actually really helped throughout the day. My newest build's really close to the one I took to YCS Chicago, but here it is for a refresher:

DECKID=100055 Round 1: Harpies
I've mentioned this in previous tournament reports, but I'll say it again: I have no idea how to play against Harpies. For whatever reason, nobody at any of the locals I go to plays this deck. My only experience playing them ever was at the Livonia, Michigan Regional, and in that particular match I sided in the wrong half of my Side Deck and swiftly lost. It goes without saying that I don't exactly have the greatest track record with Harpies.

Game 1: I opened up weak this game, and I believe my opponent had three back rows, a Hunting Ground, and Harpie Dancer. I ended up scooping up a few turns in because I couldn't seem to draw a usable monster.

Game 2: Going first was way easier than going second against Harpies. I started out with an Aratama and three back rows, and quickly out-resourced my opponent. I've discussed with Loukas many times why I never found Harpies appealing: they basically only have three good cards, and everything else is just sort of "meh." Not resolving a Harpie Channeler, Hysteric Sign, or Hysteric Party all but ensures defeat.

Game 3: My opponent once again failed to open with any of his three good cards, and I quickly built up card advantage over him. Eventually Harpie Channeler hit the field, but I had the clutch Fiendish Chain to stop it and win me the match.

Record: 1 – 0

Round 2: Exodia
My opponent sat down across from me and I did my routine of asking specific questions before every match. He told me this was his first Regional ever, and that he was happy with his first win. In my head I read him as either playing the weirdest deck ever that wouldn't actually be good, or possibly Fire Fists. He played with his hand tilted forward – a common Mistake new players make – and after seeing a fist full of trap cards I was worried about a possible Chain Burn matchup.

Game 1: Luckily for me that fear was eradicated after my opponent played his first card: Upstart Goblin. This game went back and forth and eventually I thought I could put enough damage on board. I accidently put Number 50: Blackship of Corn on the field and immediately after I set it down I realized I meant to send out Photon Papilloperative instead. Still, I passed back to him knowing I had the game in the bag next turn.

He drew a card, shuffled his hand, and played Upstart Goblin. I said "Wait, you're under Reckless Greed" and he attempted to put a completely random card in his hand on top of his deck – a card that I had no way of knowing if it was his accidental draw or not. I started to raise my hand to call a judge and he conceded instantly, not wanting to get caught in a game state error.

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Game 2: I opened double Mind Crush, and he passed to me – but not before slightly tipping his hand and revealing that he had at least one Effect Monster. On his turn I flipped Mind Crush, blindly calling Exodia the Forbidden One. He did, in fact, have one in his hand, and I promptly asked "Do you even have a win condition anymore?" He said "of course," but at this point I kind of figured he was going to stall and try and go into time.

Anyway, several turns down the line he activated a long chain of cards, ending with Localized Tornado. He shuffled everything back in his deck and then as his Hope for Escape resolved I knew that he had to draw all five Exodia pieces right then and there because I was going to win this turn otherwise. He didn't, and I took the match.

Record 2 – 0

Round 3: Cyber Dragons
This match was nice – my opponent was super chill. We had a really fun game and I kept up with his record throughout the day. Actually, he sat next to me the previous round, but I totally forgot what deck he was playing. I knew I saw it, but I just couldn't remember what it was.

Game 1: I barely remember this game but I do recall that I pretty much rode a Tragoedia to victory.

Game 2: My opponent kicked things off with four back row. I calmly poked with an Aratama a few times before he Normal Summoned Cyber Dragon Core and did some Cyber Dragon Nova plays. I stole his first Nova with Number 101: Silent Honor ARK and hit his second one with Bottomless. I was totally in control this game but ended up losing to a timely Trap Stun.

Game 3:
We were extremely close to time in the Round and I was on edge: my opponent could OTK me at a moment's notice. The game got to a point where I had King of the Feral Imps and Forbidden Lance on my board. He Normal Summoned Core and used Power Bond to Fusion Summon a 5600 ATK Cyber Twin Dragon. He attacked, and I activated Forbidden Lance. I wasn't sure whether or not it would bring Twin down to 2000 or 4800, but figured there wasn't a good way to ask before activation. A judged ruled that it goes to 4800 ATK, and after taking 1500 damage I dropped a defense position Tragoedia. He ended his turn, took 2800 damage to his Life Points, and on my next turn I brought out Gagaga Cowboy to take out his last 400 Life Points.

Record: 3 – 0

Round 4: Constellars
I sat down against my opponent who actually plays at my locals. This round was funny because Loukas was behind me playing someone from our locals, too, and two more people from my area were adjacent to me. Four of us were currently undefeated – Justin Roby, who took a 3rd Place finish at the first Regional last format; Chase Cunningham, who took 1st at the Livonia Regional and made Top 32 at YCS Chicago; Loukas Peterson, who you already know; and myself. We were happy for our records but dreading facing off in later rounds should our successes continue.

Game 1: Luckily I went first, and I started off with Aratama and three back row. My opponent Normal Summoned Thunder King Rai-Oh and dropped me to 6100 Life Points. I was able to Book of Moon it face-down, and Yaksha helped me run it over in battle. I managed to get way ahead by drawing a ton of cards off of Fairy Cheer Girl and we moved to Game 2.

Game 2: Going second against Constellars with a deck relying largely on Normal Summons is really hard. I got rid of my opponent's Constellar Pleiades, but it got to a point where I was staring down a Constellar Omega with Dark Hole and Book of Moon as my only cards. The good news was that I'd be going first in Game 3.

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Game 3: I don't think there was much my opponent could do this last game. I had the Nikitama, Aratama, and Kagetokage combo first turn along with Solemn Warning and Mystical Space Typhoon for his Fire Formation – Tenki. He did his best to mount a comeback but there wasn't really anything he could do.

Everyone from my locals won this round except Loukas, who apparently drew double Mystical Space Typhoon, double Ghostrick Specter, and double Seven Tools of the Bandit against Frogs.

Record: 4 – 0

Round 5: Fire Fist
This match was refreshingly laid back. My opponent already had his invite so we were both just kind of playing for fun.

Game 1: This game was really funny. My opponent started with a Brotherhood of the Fire Fist – Leopard, and I had Effect Veiler. I had no real monsters besides Tragoedia, and I dropped it next turn when he attacked with Brotherhood of the Fire Fist – Dragon. From there I began the Tragoedia beat down, and I won by using Creature Swap to take his monster and attacking over what was by then a 600 ATK Tragoedia.

Game 2: Once again my opponent started off slow, and so did I. I barely remember this game to be completely honest.

Game 3: I opened the last game with Nikitama, Aratama, and Kagetokage. There isn't anything my opponent could've done to win.

Record: 5 – 0

Round 6: Karakuri Geargia
I sat down and my opponent greeted me with a smile. He said he read my previous tournament report and didn't want to have to face me today. Overall, though, this was one of my favorite matches of the day and I'm glad I got to meet him.

Game 1: I made what was going to be a really good Exciton play backed by Seven Tools of the Bandit and Forbidden Lance, but I miscounted the cards on the field and in the hands. He used Solemn Warning but I had Seven Tools. He used Bottomless and I chained Forbidden Lance. At this point I was forced to minus myself and make Number 101: Silent Honor ARK. I Exciton'd and neither of us had any cards left in hand. He drew Geargiano Mk-II, revived Geargiano, and Tributed it to Special Summon Karakuri Watchdog. Black Rose Dragon blew up the field, and a series of subpar draws coupled with his really good topdecks gave the game to my opponent .

Game 2: This game got to a point where I was locked down under my opponent's Rivalry of Warlords. I made a cool play where I had his Burei and he had Gear Gigant X with a Rivalry face-down (I'd bounced it with Yaksha the previous turn). I drew for turn, and he chose to not activate Rivalry right away, a decision that would've been good in every situation besides this particular one. I used Mind Control to take Gear Gigant, detached to search a Cardcar D, and then Normal Summoned Thunder King Rai-Oh. He was forced to flip Rivalry of Warlords to get rid of his Gear Gigant X and Burei while I still had Thunder King. I took the game shortly afterwards.

Game 3: I opened with Nikitama, Aratama, and Kagetokage but no traps. Even after finishing the combo I still had no defense, and that stayed consistent through the next turn, too; I ended with King of the Feral Imps, Lavalval Chain, and Number 101: Silent Honor ARK with a stacked Black Luster Soldier – Envoy of the Beginning on top of my deck. He made a field of two Karakuri Burei and Crimson Blader. The Blader made sure I couldn't Special Summon Black Luster Soldier next turn.

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I drew BLS, and made a Number 101: Silent Honor ARK to steal Crimson Blader. He attacked ARK to take it out, and play was back to me. I Special Summoned BLS to his one face-down and two Burei's. At this point I had to make a calculated decision, but I ended up misplaying and I'm willing to admit that. What I should've done is banish one of his Bureis and passed. That play would've lost to Fiendish Chain. What I did instead, was try to get the Double Attack in, losing to Dimensional Prison instead. I Normal Summoned Thunder King Rai-Oh but couldn't do anything else, so my opponent won.

Looking back on the misplay, if I'd banished one Burei and summoned Thunder King my opponent would've switched BLS to defense mode and attacked over it. Next turn I would've still had the Thunder King, and I could've made a Rank 4 to steal his Burei. It was a good match and I wasn't that salty, but it was frustrating to lose to a Mistake like that. My opponent ended up in 2nd Place at the end of the day, though, and I was super excited for him!

In other news, Chase Cunningham and Justin Roby had to play each other right next to me, and Chase lost in like, ten minutes. Jeff also lost this round, so overall I think everyone from my locals would like to just pretend Round 6 never happened.

Record: 5 – 1

Round 7: Fire Fists
This Round pitted me against one of my opponents from a few Regionals ago who's also one of Jeff's friends. He usually plays Six Samurai and I was excited because that matchup is fairly easy for Spirits.

Game 1: My opponent set two face-downs and Normal Summoned Brotherhood of the Fire Fist – Leopard, searching Fire Formation – Tenki to get Brotherhood of the Fire Fist – Spirit (irony at its best). Fire Formation – Tensu was all I needed to see to scoop up my cards and head to my Side Deck.

Game 2: I started off with Aratama, Nikitama, and Kagetokage as well as Solemn Warning, Fiendish Chain, and Mystical Space Typhoon. After I ended my second turn with King of the Feral Imps, Lavalval Chain, Black Luster Soldier, and Kagetokage my opponent conceded.

Game 3: Our first game two minutes. Our second game lasted about four minutes. This game, however, lasted a full 25. It was insane. He was able to take out two Number 101: Silent Honor ARKs with Brotherhood of the Fire Fist – Cardinal. After that, the game dwindled down to my opponent's Brotherhood of the Fire Fist – Cardinal, Brotherhood of the Fire Fist – Rooster, and one face-down to my zero cards in hand or field. I found myself literally praying to God that my next two draws were perfect and his back row was terrible.

I drew Black Luster Soldier Envoy of the Beginning! I Special Summoned it and he let it go through. I banished Rooster and he let that go, too. At this point I was freaking out, but I realized I needed to topdeck an Aratama to pull out a win. He set another back row and passed to me. Luck was apparently on my side, however, and I drew Aratama! I banished his Cardinal and steamrolled with Aratama to win the match. Those were my two best top decks in my entire history of playing Yu-Gi-Oh.

Record: 6 – 1

Round 8: Harpies

My opponent this round was very friendly. I guess this was his first Regional ever, and to be 6 – 1 meant he must be at least pretty decent. He didn't quite have the foresight of a seasoned duelist, though, and made a few misplays along with straight up telling me he was playing Harpies before the match. Not only that, but I also found out he was playing Summoner Monk and teching Skill Prisoner. I wrote about this a while ago, but to quickly reiterate: never give your opponent any true information about your deck, your card choices, or your combos.

I mentioned earlier in this report that I have a list of questions I always ask, and the less-experienced players are always the ones that answer the most of them. I suppose the argument could be made that I should have taken into account that he could be lying, but there's two problems with that. First of all, he was really sincere in his actions, something that's very easy to read. Second of all, he totally wasn't lying, and his first turn in Game 1 led me to believe that everything he'd stated was true.

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Game 1: My opponent started with Summoner Monk discarding Hysteric Sign to Special Summon Harpie Channeler, to Special Summon Harpie's Pet Dragon, to overlay into Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossack and get two Mecha Phantom Beast Tokens. Luckily for me he forgot about Hysteric Sign and didn't remember until halfway through my turn – a misplay that pretty much cost him the game. I had no good plays and passed with a set card. He used Dracossack to tribute a Token and pop my back row, but didn't do anything else – including not Special Summoning any more Tokens.

Next turn I brought out Nikitama and Yaksha and attacked over Summoner Monk and a Token. Main Phase 2 I used Creature Swap to take Dracossack, but I couldn't use its effect because I'd used Pot of Duality earlier in the turn. At this point I was way ahead in card advantage and even though my opponent got over the Dracossack I still won the game.

Game 2: My opponent didn't have any of his good cards – like I mentioned in my Round 2 match – and that forced him to make some awkward plays with multiple Harpie Lady 1's. I easily took this game in a matter of minutes.

Record: 7 – 1

Round 9: Pure Geargia
I walked over to the pairing sheet and saw I was paired against my friend Chase Cunningham. I looked to my left and there he was, and he just shrugged. We exchanged some frustrations but for professional reasons we'll just say that I wasn't exactly thrilled with the situation. This totally sucked, to be honest. We're always joking about how we end up playing each other at the worst times but this one definitely takes the cake. The winner would be a shoe-in for Top 8, the loser not so much.

If you haven't experienced playing against a friend in the last round of a tournament for a Top 8 or Top 32, just know that I envy you.

Game 1: I should probably mention that Chase's deck is indirectly designed to beat mine. He was using Mind Crush and Black Horn of Heaven in the Main Deck, two cards that hardcore screw me over. This game lasted a decent chunk of time and we traded hits, but at the end a clutch Mind Crush on my Kagetokage sealed my fate.

Game 2: I attempted to make Number 101: Silent Honor ARK but Chase had Solemn Warning. Next turn I tried to make Exciton Knight with an even amount of cards on both sides but once again he used Black Horn Heaven. "What a waste, you realize we have the same amount of cards, right?" He replied "Yeah, but I figured you wouldn't make that without a reason and I lose to Exciton Knight." He was right: the plan was Normal Summoning Izanami, discarding a card for her effect, and then chaining Exciton Knight. I without a doubt would've won had it resolved, but Chase is too smart to walk into that.

At this point I couldn't really do anything and extended the handshake. Chase went on to get 5thPlace, and I was happy for him.

Record: 7 – 2

So was I disappointed that I didn't Top 8? Kind of, but then again not really. Justin Roby got 3rdplace, my Geargia opponent from Round 6 got 2nd, Jeff got 1st, and Loukas got 8th. I guess the last thing I want to mention is this: Spirits are not easy to play. With four Regional tops in less than two months – one of which was from Jeff Jones – there's probably going to be an increase in Spirit players. Am I worried? Not really. The Spirit deck punishes you for misplaying so hard that it'll probably turn off a lot of first-time players. The deck's obviously really good in its two variants, but it requires an insane amount of knowledge of the game and the combos it can do. You really have to plan five turns ahead.

If you do decide to pick it up, though, I wish you the best of luck! Hopefully you enjoyed this tournament report and if I played you but missed something in our match please let me know in the Comment section below. It's not the easiest thing recollecting every game from nine rounds. Thanks for reading!

-Doug Zeeff