Thursday, July 31, 2014

Aaaarrrggg Championship

A patient asked me if I take vacations. Why yes, I do … provided your definition of a vacation includes a weekend with 16 hours of driving, a hotel room worthy of a disease-riddled hooker, and a convention hall filled with 500 18 to 25 year old guys. 

Welcome to ARG Circuit Series Championship! 

The ARG CSC is the culmination of the ARG Circuit Series, a collection of regional style Yugioh tournaments that runs outside the pervue of Konami. The rules, format, and most of the judges are identical to the Konami sponsored events. Beyond that, the differences are more striking. Prizes at the Konami events include trophies and cards while the ARG tournament boasts a prize pool of $25,000. Nationals featured a make believe duel between voice actors of cartoon characters. ARG, on the other hand, had an induction service for the first three members of its Yugioh Hall of Fame. Konami is marketing a kid’s game; ARG wants to be the World Series of Poker. 

Entrance into the tournament requires 20 ARG points, which can be earned at ARG sponsored events. For example, an ARG Win-a-Mat victory will get you a mat featuring facsimiles of Yugioh monsters and a card worth 20 ARG points. Those who were not fortunate enough to earn their points could purchase them on site… for $2 a point. That’s right – for $40 you could buy your way into this event. One hundred points could get you a first round bye; 200 points got you a second round bye. I was thinking about offering the registrar $2,240 for the right to go undefeated in the Swiss portion, but what’s the fun of buying your way to the top?

The number of competitors at the NAWCQ dwarfs the ARG tournament by 5:1. However, the tournament makes up for this deficit with the quality of their players. You won’t find Reversal Quiz, Chain Burn, or even Dark World players.  The decks are all rather predictable, which is about the only source of comfort. Every doolist I met was competent and challenging.

I finished in 123rd with an X-4 record. Losses in rounds 2, 3 and 5 pretty much kept me far from qualifying for day two. That said, I was very happy with my deck and felt that it gave me a good shot at beating just about anybody. With the exception of round three (against Mermails), my losses were the result of misplays and not poor draws. Thus, I accomplished my goal to create a good Gearless Gear deck even if it came with an evanescent display of Pollyannaism.

 The Deck
Geargia: Armor x 3, Arsenal x 3, Accelerator x 3, Geargiano
Tuners: Saizan x 2, Nishipachi, Birdman, Psychic Commander x 2
Other Monsters: Train Signal x 2, Redox
Spells: Dark Hole, Mind Control, Foolish Burial, Limiter Removal, Iron Call x 2, Lance X 3, E Tele x 3, Soul Charge x 2
Traps: COTH x 2, Fiendish Chain x 3, BTH x 1, WireTap x 1

So why do I lose? Perhaps the following vignette will offer some insight: I was paired up with a nationally known Sylvan player, a fact that I was unaware of at the time.  I took game one fairly easily with the GK OTK (Burei, Bureido, plus friend). Game 2 gave me a chance at another early OTK but he dropped Maxx C. Almost by reflex, I held up. Two turns later I’m staring at the trees of the Birnam Wood. While the lumber was piling on, I realized that Sylvans don’t run cards that routinely stop OTKs. Trag? Battle Fader? Not really. 

As it turned out, the final game gave me a chance to replay the second game. I drew into an OTK hand and he dropped Maxx C. This time I took the challenge. My opponent, to his credit, had remarkable aplomb. One of his friends teased him about his imminent demise. He just casually shrugged and said “You should see what I drew”. That seed of doubt plus my adrenaline induced fog led me to pop his card with Scrap Dragon. Out came another plant and the win was out of my grasp. Playing Crimson Blader or putting his set card into attack with Burei would have won the match. Instead, I was given a lesson on Yugioh mind games.  Bravo. 

While fun, the experience was sobering. I suspect I do not have the time, talent, or energy to make it to a day 2 of a big event. ARG deserves credit for recognizing the talented players that do.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Five Card Draw

My professional life is filled with so much change that you would think I would pick a hobby that is staid and stable.  Golf is attractive.  When was the last time we saw a major overhaul to that game? As far as I know, people have been chasing the same little ball since Thomas Kincaid.  

Yugioh, on the other hand, seems to go through make-overs like second-rate celebrities.  At best, all we can do is click through the internet and ask why?  It’s out of our control.  Either adapt or play poker.  

Most of the buzz about the game is focused on the bringer of the Apoqlypse.  This card is de-Judgment-a-vu all over again.  However, the harbinging of doom may cause some to overlook the substantial change induced by the new turn rule.  It’s not simply a procedural issue, even though drawing six cards on the opening turn is now an infraction. The rule also substantially changes the odds of drawing into your key cards.  

To get an understanding of the impact of this rule, I calculated the odds of drawing a “card equivalent”. As I have described before, a card equivalent includes copies of the card and any card that allows you to search for it.  The current jargon is to refer to such a searcher as a “Stratos”, which is a rather fitting tribute for the fallen hero.  

The odds of getting your card with a six card draw are in the second column; the odds with a five card draw are in the third column.  The last column of the table gives the difference.  
This difference is rather striking.  To put it into perspective, playing three Upstart Goblins yields only about half of this advantage.  In other words, if you think Upstart is worth playing, you must think that going second offers a big advantage.  

So who wants to go first?  Decks with a lot of search power can still benefit from the first turn field advantage.  However, these decks are still dropping the chances of getting their combination pieces by 4 to 6%.  The decks that will flourish are those with substantial draw power.  I saw a Drooler deck go plus three on the opening turn this weekend.  That degree of draw power will have even a greater impact with this new rule.  

My current rule of thumb is to go second against decks with greater draw or plus power and to go first against those with less.

Of course, I still have to win that stupid dice roll.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

One Last Fling: Preparing for the ARG Finals

In the past, discussion of the NAWCQ results was little more than a nostalgic epilogue.  F&L list changes and new cards quickly made this championship of little interest to anyone except for the half a dozen doolists set to go to worlds. But now the season has one more fling before the new meta begins.  

The ARG finale has become the Pro Bowl to Konami’s Super Bowl … except for the fact that just about anyone can enter. Sure you need an invite, but if yours truly is going, the club is not that exclusive.  So I took more than a casual interest in the results as I prepared to meet my Ohioan doom. 

Main Deck Changes
I still find the explosiveness of the GeargiaKuri build effective and intimidating. Though it doesn’t recover from disruption as fast as the Droolers can, it does have access to the three strongest synchro monsters in the game: Stardust Dragon, Colossal Fighter, and Scrap Dragon.  Stardust’s ability to negate destruction interrupts Moralltach, F/I Hands, and even many of the trap holes.  Big Trees are no problem for Colossal and Scrap’s targeted removal makes Dire Wolf look … well, dire.  

Play testing the deck led me to abandon Effect Veilers and Cyber Dragons as troublesome – 1 monsters.  I have also retired Tin Goldfish with the same logic. The little fish shines in the Mermail match-up, but the additional point boost is not worth the loss in card advantage.  

I have instead turned to the Psychic Engine (Teleport x 3 and Commander x 2) to add a little game one speed.  While it can lead to some cloggy hands, it does make siding a bit more efficient.  The five card engine can be dropped without disrupting the essential elements of the deck.  

The Little Engine That Could
It's Coming!
The surprise card of the deck is Construction Train Signal Red.  The little caboose can be special summoned to deflect an attack away from another monster on the field.  Though it can only do so once, it is still quite effective in protecting Armor or Gear Gigant so that you can get another search.  The card will also maintain field presence and allow you to set up a counter attack.  As a machine, it is searchable with Gear Gigant and it makes Iron Call viable.  

However, the real strength of the card is the access it grants to two other great synchro monsters: Naturia Barkion and the (formerly late, but still great) Goyo.  Goyo’s 2800 attack remains intimidating and taking the monsters of others is always a good thing.  Barkion can come to the rescue against several of the trap heavy decks circulating in the meta.  
… now for something on the side
There were about fourteen different deck types among the top 64 finishers of the NAWCQ.  Even if you combine all the Artifacts and Drooler decks, you are still left with ten distinct archetypes.  To these ten, I would also consider Samurai, Evilswarm, and Dark World as viable choices, which leads to a rather intimidating list (see the table below).  

One can simplify the approach to this list by classifying these decks by their primary mechanics.  For example, Madolches, Eivilswarms, and Artifacts tend to by heavy trap based decks; Lightsworns and Droolers rely on their graveyards.  There are cards that disrupt each of these mechanics.  The table below shows my current “Side-In” choices for each of the archetypes.  This list includes the tribute summon monsters Jinzo and Vanity’s Fiend.  Thanks to the little red train card, these are options over Wire Tap or Vanity’s Emptiness. 

With one more week of testing left, my current deck list is as follows:
Geargia: Armor x 3, Arsenal x 3, Accelerator x 3, Geargiano
Tuners: Saizan x 2, Nishipachi, Birdman, Psychic Commander x 2
Other Monsters: Train Signal x 3, Gearframe, Fortress x 2, Redox
Spells: Dark Hole, Mind Control, My Body as a Shield, Iron Call x 2, Lance X 3, E Tele x 3
Traps: COTH x 3, Fiendish Chain x 3
Synchros: Goyo, Barkion, Burei x 2, Bureido, Scrap Dragon, Colossal, Crimson Blader, Stardust, Black Rose
XYZ: Gear Gigant x 2, Abyss Dweller, Nuke Roach, Silent Honor ARK
Side Deck: Jinzo x 2, Vanity’s Fiend x 2, MST x 2, Soul Release x 3, Rivalry x 3, Debunk x 3

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Archetype Predictions for the Summer of 2014

I tend to think of the time between Nationals and Labor Day as Yugioh’s off-season.  Mid-August brings the opening of training camps where a large number of rookies will get incorporated into the doolists’ teams.  Then we’ll have a new F & L list and the season opener, which usually takes the form of a Canadian YCS. Given this low period, I had intended to save my archetype prediction list until the fall.  

While those dynamics remain essentially unchanged, this year’s crop of Duelist Alliance rookies will bring a cosmic do-over to the game of Yugioh.  The chaos sorcery is further enhanced by a new summoning mechanism.  While the impact of pendulum summoning will not be fully felt until the New Challengers set, it will benefit certain archetypes. Given these changes, I felt compelled to update my list.  Besides, someone asked me to do so.  

The table below gives my order of meta defining archetypes from strongest to weakest.  The larger number to the left is their predicted rank; the smaller number to the right is their former rank.  I’ve done my best to represent all the archetypes even though that very designation is somewhat artificial.  Is H.A.T. an archetype? 

Here are some of the assumptions used to revise this list: 

Newer archetypes take precedence over older ones.  Fire Fists are likely stronger than their ranking would suggest.  However, most FF players have probably moved on.  Similar logic can be applied to Geargia.  That said, the OCG makes a strong case for the primacy of Shaddolls.  Stellarknights are not as strong as a pure archetype; however, these cards will likely get integrated into a number of decks. 

Only the fastest will survive.  Midrash is a difficult monster to overcome. Though a number of decks can make a run at the Spamalot title, only a few will be able to beat this Hebrew, wind, puppet thing.  The most viable contender is Infernities, which have neat ways of incorporating many of the newer cards.  

Double ROTA will have an impact. This may be the breakout format for Noble Knights. The deck does not relay on a lot of summoning and it can make pretty beefy combatants. Evilswarms also move up the list, as they do whenever the meta moves away from XYZ summoning. ROTA will give a substantial boost to Six Samurais, which are one of the few decks to also benefit from the return of Goyo.  

Many light themed decks will suffer collateral damage.  Side-deck hate that is aimed at Stellarknights and Sacksworns will have an impact on several lesser played archetypes like Constellars, Hunders, Worms, and Batterymen.  Sorry guys.  

Pendulum summoning will have a modest impact. I have not completely overlooked this mechanic.  Gadgets and Monarchs have both moved up the list.  I have also given some love to Ninjas, one of my favorite archetypes.  Hanzo and Mist Valley monsters can bring out Dark Simorgh with relative ease.  At least as the rules are currently interpreted, the Persian god can keep monsters out of the pendulum zone.  

Enjoy your summer.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Addicted to Yugioh: Thoughts on Pendulum Summoning

The Pendulums are coming! Like Poe’s inexorable executioner, the first cuts will be minor.  However, within months, the vivisection will be complete and the lifeless remains of our favorite game will be unceremoniously cast aside. 

Psychological aspects of pendulum summoning
Perhaps that’s a bit much, but the Qliphoths are bringing new meaning to the term “power creep”.  The game has long been moving towards an aggressive, uber-summoning style. However, the impetuousness of these monsters makes Sacksworns and Sylvans look downright deliberate. While brokenness is not new to the game, I do have apprehensions about the recklessness the archetype promotes.   

Before I give my concerns about the latest power creep, let me explain why these broken mechanics are so tempting for card designers.  

Konami, like all corporations, wants you to buy more cards. In psychological terms, they want to reinforce your spending behavior.  Any stimulus that leads to an increase in spending is a reinforcement.  Winning is often a positive reinforcement while losing is a negative reinforcement as long as they lead to more card buying.  However, the real dopaminergic-inducing, viscerally-pleasing, and psyche-restoring reinforcement comes with over-whelming your opponent with a fistful of monsters. Come on, admit it – the five monster kill feels good.  

A reinforcement is considered effective if it quickly induces a behavior and then maintains that behavior.  In psychological terms, behaviors that are maintained are said to be “resistant to extinction” even if the stimulus is withdrawn.  I would argue that card designers are trying to imbue the summon-spam-thank-you-ma’am attack with the characteristics of an excellent reinforcement.  If done right, the OTK experience will get a large number of people buying cards long into the future. 

Here are the characteristics of the five-finger kill that make it such a good reinforcement of card buying behavior:

It’s possible by everyone.  The sooner players get a taste of this awesome power, the better. If you want to spend 20 years slaving away at task without much reward, play violin. 

Your opponent shouldn’t matter.  Why would you let a skilled opponent get in the way of this wonderful experience?  We want people to buy cards regardless of who they play.

Its occurrence should be variable.  Ever wonder why people are addicted to golf?  All it takes is one good shot in nine holes to convince someone they have a talent for it.  Yugioh is similar. All you need is one good OTK in a local tournament to get you hooked. This pattern is built into the game.  It’s variable and random, which is the most effective reinforcement schedule.  The game seems inconsistent because inconsistency is built into its design. 

Why it’s a problem
Chutes and Ladders is a beautiful example of a purely random and inconsistent game.  There is no skill, just a dice roll.  Little kids love it because it gives them a chance to defeat the adults in the room.  However, there is no National Chutes & Ladders champion.   

Good players understand that you are going to get sacked every now and then.  It's an inevitable fact of card games.  However, there comes a point where the inconsistencies make the experience too frustrating for senior players.  They'll quit and move on to a game that rewards skill.  When the do, you'll know the game is done.  

Nationals is just around the corner.  While I expect to see a few random names at the top of the list, I will be more comforted if I see the names of some old pros. That's right - I will know the game is in pretty good health if Patrick Hoban gets an invitation to worlds.