Thursday, November 28, 2013

Overcoming Functional Fixedness in Yugioh

Suppose someone hands you a box of kitchen matches, thumb tacks, and a candle with the instructions to mount the candle on a wall.  How would you solve this puzzle?  

The solution is to light the candle, melt some wax into the bottom part of the box, and let the candle set in the hot wax.  Then you can attach the box and candle to the wall with the thumb tacks.

If you didn’t get the answer, don’t feel bad.  A substantial number of people won’t get it because they see only one function for each of these items.  The candle was meant to be lit and the box was meant to hold the matches. In psychological terms, this phenomenon is called “functional fixedness” and it can be an impediment to creative thinking even in Yugioh.

Consider the following situations:
You’re winning your Harpie mirror match 5600 to 2900. You have one card and a set Hysteric Party. You activate party and bring out four Harpies.  As you go for game, your opponent activates his party.  Soon there are chicks and feathers all over the place.  Is it possible to go for the win?  The answer is to make a Chidori and return your opponent’s Hysteric Party.  This clears his field and allows you to attack FTW.

If you didn’t see this solution right away, it’s probably because you think of Chidori’s function as fixed on monster cards. However, Chidori can return any card your opponent control. 

Suppose you have a Stardust Dragon, Colossal Fighter, MST and a Dragon’s Ravine on the field.  You attack with Stardust only to have your opponent drop Swift Scarecrow.  Can you still go for the kill? The answer is to destroy your Ravine with your MST and then negate it with Stardust.  Since your Stardust is no longer attacking, Scarecrow’s effect fizzles. 

If you didn’t see this solution, it’s probably because you think MST’s function applies only to your opponent’s cards.  Negating the destructive effect of one of your cards is ….well… out of the box thinking.

Great players have found ways of overcoming the limitations of functional fixedness. Fortunately there are strategies that can help the rest of us.  The tips below are derived from the psychological literature and applied to Yugioh.  Most of this research comes from Tony McCaffrey at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Slow Down
Functional fixedness results from “Fast Thinking”.   In psychological terms, this reasoning is automatic.  Though it can be an impediment to creativity, it serves a useful purpose.  Fast thinking is efficient and requires little energy.  For a Yamato-less Bujin player, picking Yamato with Pot of Duality is pretty automatic.  Take it and move on.  However, this type of thinking tends to hurt more than help in a Yugioh duel.  Watch the great players; they often take more time than those with less experience.

Read Your Cards
McCaffrey found that people did a much better job with the match box problem when they were asked to describe the parts of each item (e.g. matchbox top, matchbox bottom, matches, wax, wick, tacks).  This forces one to think of these objects outside of their normal setting.  I suggest doing the same with your cards.  Read each one carefully.  Does the card’s effect apply to monsters, spells/traps, or any card?  Is it applied to all cards or only my opponents?  This is a great little exercise that can be done between rounds at a large tournament.

Learn from the Best
I suspect that most people who know the Swift Scarecrow play did not think of it themselves.  I read it on line.  There’s no dishonor in that.  However, it does point out the value of being exposed to good players. If you’re winning nearly all the time, you are either Patrick Hoban or you’re not improving.   We all hate to lose, but we don’t always use those moments to get better. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Rule of Nine

How many times have you heard this?

Dude, look. If I have ROTA, Spell Striker, Junk Synchron,
 Quickdraw Synchron, and Quillbolt Hedgehog in my hand, I can OTK!

Uh huh … and if I draw into the 5 pieces of Exodia, I win.  

Outrageous combos in Yugioh are really cool. But, they are something akin to drawing a royal straight flush in Poker.  It’s great when it happens, but it’s not the way to top an event.

The best cards in Yugioh are the stand alone cards.  They’re live every time you draw them.  Dark Hole is a good example.  You may not want to play it the moment it’s drawn, but you generally don’t need another card to make it useful.  

So here’s the question of the day campers.  If a card needs another card to be playable, how many of those other cards should I put in the deck?  

By way of example, consider Malefic Cyber End Dragon.  This card is dead in your hand without a field spell.  Fortunately you can meet that requirement by having any of the following cards:

·         A field spell (e.g. Necrovalley)
·         Terraforming
·         Gravekeeper’s Commandant
·         Demise of the Land
·         Skill Drain

If you use three of each card, you will be adding a total of 15 cards to your deck.  That seems a bit much.  At some point, you will be drawing into all field spell cards and that’s equally problematic.  Fortunately, Commandant and Skill Drain add value to the deck beyond summoning Cyber End.  But, you get the idea.  There should be some optimum number between 1 and 15. 

Of course, there is no perfect number.   This decision will always pit the risk of drawing a dead Cyber End with drawing redundant field spells.  However, I think the optimum number is around 9.  Hence, Yugiold’s Rule of Nine.

The graph below shows the percentage of having a playable Cyber End Dragon for each “Field Spell” you add to the deck.  Increasing the number of field spells from 7 to 8, increases the chance of having a live malefic from 70.5% to 75.2% (or 5.5%). This “marginal advantage” drops with additional field spells. Once you get past 11, you are increasing your odds by 3% of less. 

Of course, your tolerance for live and dead will vary.  Furthermore, this example is pretty extreme.  The Malefics are completely dead without a field spell; most combo oriented cards are only weakened when they are played alone.  Nevertheless, the example is a reasonable one and it should give you a way to analyze your deck.

Monday, November 18, 2013

In a world without dragons ...

Now reread the title with a dark and slightly sinister tone … like a movie trailer.  

In a world without dragons, there arose powerful beings from the past … THE MALEFICS

The Malefic monsters were quickly pushed aside by the Elemental Dragons.  Our current dragon lords are big, fast, and laugh in the face of Skill Drain.  But that landscape may not persist come January.  Though this deck will never be a mainstream tier deck*, it does give people trouble.  How would like staring at the monster that defines beat stick.  2,000, 2,400, 3,000 attack points?  Puhleeze, how ‘bout 4,000 attack points.  Now that’s a beat stick.  
The Mother of All Beatsticks
  Here are a few reasons that make me think that the Malefics may show up at a local near you:

1. My field spell or yours?  Malefic monsters don’t really care who has the field spell.  Go ahead and play yours – it will save me time searching for mine.  The next format may have a number of archetypes vying for the field spell square: Madolche, Ghostrix, Vampires, Spellbooks, Gravekeepers, and Harpies. 

2. How important are those monster effects? Malefics saw a degree of prominence during the Wind-Up era because that deck was devastated by Skill Drain.  I admit that the brain trust at Konami may want to limit Skill Drain as they did for Soul Drain.  If they do, I would put the Malefics right back into the binder.  But, if this card escapes the F&L axe, several decks will have problems including: Madolche, Harpies, Geargias, FireFists, Evilswarms, Battlin Boxers, Ghostrix, and Gadgets. 

3. Come play in my house.  Certain decks can be quite disrupted by field spells.  Ever try to equip a Noble Knight card to a Zombie?  The living dead also don’t respond to spellbooks.  Necrovalley poops on the Hysteric Party and Bujins have a hard time saving private Yamato.  

4. Say good night Evil Swarms.   Without Skill Drain, Ophion can single handedly shut down a Malefic deck.  That said, the Evil Swarms may have much less presence in the era of the new F&L list.  This archetype has thrived principally because of its dragon match-up. However, their match-up against rank 4 decks is not so hot.  Evil Swarm players may have their hands full with big monsters that do not require special summoning a level 5 or higher. Less ESwarms, more Malefics

I realize that there are outs to all of these cards.  The deck is quirky and a little bit rogue.  However, don’t be surprised if you hear your opponent say, “Banish Cyber End Dragon to summon …”

Ohh … and one more thing! Do you think Konami has introduced Ghostrix like a drug dealer passes out free heroin samples?  Look the deck is cheap and fun … you couldn’t possible get hooked!  Then the next set comes out … please dude – I need my Dullahan fix. Sure, I have a secret rare version right here.    

*Hopefully it never will be – have you ever played a Malefic mirror match.  It’s beyond degenerate.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Worst Yugioh Regional Ever!!

Well … maybe not the worst regional ever.  The Charlotte event this weekend started on time, moved along quickly, and gave us a 30 minute dinner break.  There were plenty of judges and no delays between rounds.

Still, my performance was dismal. 

My first-round loss to Constellars should have been avoided. However, I misread an Honest and left Pleiades on the field with no materials.  He simply overlayed with Ptolemy M7 and took the game.

The second round went something like:

·         Game 1: Garunix loop
·         Game 2: Insightful, creative, unexpected Geargia play for the win.
·         Game 3: Garunix loop

My third loss was the same as the second round only substitute Grapha for Garunix.

Since there were only 8 rounds, I decided not to fight futility and drop from the event.  I was, in fact, conflicted about playing Geargias.  Most of the play testing in the past several weeks focused on Harpie Rulers.  Perhaps, my poor Geargia vibe was a punishment for abandoning the Harpies.  But, not to worry, there were several Win-A-Mat flights to be played.  Perhaps I could redeem my day with Harpie Rulers?

For those of you not in relationships – here’s a tip: Don’t date two women at the same time. 

It may be good Yugioh advice too.  My Harpie Rulers treated me with the same disdain as my Geargias.   I felt like I was watching two ex-girlfriends laugh at me from behind their lockers.  

I spent $36 and several hours buying mats for other people.  I lost to Madolches, Dragunity Dragons, and Fire Fists.  I had the good fortune to play nearly every meta deck … and then lose to all of them. 

I considered not posting this result.  Who wants to admit the grand scale of their own futility?  Now, thanks to Google+, I can broadcast this ineptitude to a wider audience. 

Still, I would like to think that there are some who will read this and benefit.  At the very least, it is certainly possible for any of us to have a bad day. I have seen some great players scrub out by round four.  It happens … move on to the better days to come. 

So what did I learn?

  1. Be careful not to adjust your deck too much for dragons.  The biggest flaw in my Geargia deck was probably too much dragon hate.  I played six cards to help me in the dragon matchup (Swift Scarecrow x 2, Maxx C x 2, and Imperial Iron Wall x 2).  These cards did little to help me in my non-dragon matchups.  Let the deck do what the deck needs to do.
  2. Dragons are even better now.  The improvement in this deck comes from increased reliance on Dragunities and Dragon’s Ravine.  The Mythics help but they are certainly not needed.  The fact is this deck can easily play around Imperial Iron Wall, a card that used to devastate the deck.
  3. Be prepared for more diversity.  There are a lot of decks jockeying for position.  Players seem to be using these tournaments to test new decks.  Everyone is waiting for the heralded death of the dragons.  The result is a very diverse field. 
  4. Harpie Rulers were not enough of either. Though this deck has the potential to do very well, I often found myself without either enough Harpies or enough Dragons.  I tried both my decklist from my previous post and one that uses Tidal instead of Redox.  Neither did particularly well.  Though better players will have much better results, I do think there are solid statistical reasons why this deck doesn’t work. I will share those answers in a future post.  

 The good news is that I gave rides to someone who finished in the top 32 and another who finished in the top 8.  At the very least, my driving was productive … too bad my Accelerators weren’t.