Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Is Innovation in Yugioh Deck Building Possible?

Deck building has always been my favorite part of Yugioh.  If given the choice between finishing 32nd with a novel deck and winning with a standard deck, I’d take 32nd place any day.  I suspect I’m not the only one with this perspective.  Few epithets are more vindictive than “net-decker”.  If novel decks are innovative, then standard decks must be insipid and derivative.  

However, winning with a novel deck is very,     very,       very      hard. 

It’s not impossible.  Jeff Jones topped a YCS with a Psychic Grandsoil deck and Christian Obermiller came in 2nd at an OTS Championship with Crash Bugs.  But Jones and Obermiller are the exceptions that prove the rule.  Most of us will lose in ignominy rather than win with distinction. 

I was reminded of this fact after seeing a “Deck Doctor”.  SSJason graciously decided to test and modify my most recent Harpie deck list.  The result of this make-over is as follows: 

Most players looking at this list will say Jason took a more original deck and turned it into a standard Harpie deck.  Some may even assume it took no more than a few minutes to make such recommendations.  However, I’ve watched several hundred hours of Jason’s channel.  The man’s on line play is staggering.  When he says he “tested the hell out of the deck”, I believe all traces of perdition are gone.  Furthermore, mine is not the only deck to become “standardized” by an expert.  Look at Tyler Nolan’s articles for ARG.  His insight is excellent and his advice is solid.  However, the results are usually pretty vanilla.  Their conclusions are not the result of simple bandwagoning; their conclusions are based on what works.  

To see how homogeneous decks have become, I looked at eight Geargia decklists taken from regional and YCS tops as listed on TCGPlayer.  From these lists I constructed a “heat map”.  The names of the cards listed on the Y axis and the individual decks are on the X axis.  This map shows graphically what many of us have suspected.  The variation in winning decks is quite small.  On average, there’s a 5% difference between one deck and the others. That’s 2 cards!  

I can think of two reasons for this phenomenon:
1. Card choices are being forced by card design.  Part of the blame belongs to Konami. For example, Geargiarmor says add a Geargia monster to your hand.  Why would you fill up you deck with anything else?  The next format will bring out the same bias in Buijins and Noble Knights.  It’s inevitable.

2. The information age brings tremendous efficiency.  Access to a large number of decklists means that testing and refining are taking place on a huge scale.  The standard Geargia deck is really the product of collective wisdom.  See, test, refine, and play – that’s the Yugioh cycle that will be repeated ad nauseam until the best lists emerge. 

Of course, a new format and new product will shake up the status quo.  Players with better deck-building skills tend to be rewarded early in the format.  YCS Atlanta should be a lot of fun precisely because it is the first big tournament of the format and it falls a week after the new set is introduced. However, most of the time spent agonizing over card choices is probably not worthwhile.  Play the standard deck with 2 to 5 cards of tech tweaks.  

On the other hand, if you want real Yugioh glory, take the challenge and fight the corporate and collective mind.  There are over a googol* 40 card combinations in Yugioh.  There must be one deck in a googol  that no one else has played. 

* A googol is 1 x10e100

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