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Baneful's Column
How to Get Stronger Opening Hands
(and Fire Kings)
November 21, 2013

How do you get a stronger opening hand?  Getting a bad hand is a common and inevitable frustration that every player faces, some having to suffer upsetting tournament losses because of it.  We talk a lot about basic deckbuilding principles such as "Use 40 cards; no more" and "Don't use too many high-level monsters", but we don't talk about how to make a deck stable or how to help ensure a good opening hand.  I would like to discuss this and start with a very short allegory.

Do you spend an $10 on a mindblowingly delicious lunch at a deli or do you brown-bag your own and keep the $7 you saved in your bank or retirement account? Sometimes, you'll go with the "now" option and sometimes you'll go with the "later" option, but most of us will agree it's best for our sanity to balance the two rather do entirely one or the other.  This same logic applies to building decks in card games.  The card game Magic: The Gathering, for example, has a mana system, where cards cost a certain amount of energy (provided by other cards called Lands).  MTG players basically balance the interests of "now" with the interests of "later".  They're going to want cards which cost only 1 or 2 mana that they can play early on, but they're also going to want cards which cost 5 or 6 mana that may not be immediately accessible but can win games.  And then there are cards with a cost of 3 (maybe 4) mana which are a happy medium between the two factors (cost and power).  

Yu-Gi-Oh! doesn't have a mana system, so it easy for many players to be under the impression that the game requires no such curve or delicate balance of it's own.  But it does.  That's why it's deceptive.  YGO might not have a mana curve, but it has an "Accessibility Curve" which is in many ways like a mana curve.  There are cards which are accessible from turn one, there are cards which are often accessible after a few turns and there are cards which aren't accessible until the later part of the game.  The super- powerful cards are often game-changers like "Limiter Removal" or "Dark Armed Dragon" and the super-accessible cards are often cards like "Mystic Tomato" or "D.D. Warrior Lady".

Back when YGO started, powerful monsters like Summoned Skull or Blue-Eyes White Dragon had to usually be brought out by sacrificing weaker monsters.  Today, we simply Special Summon big monsters.  Level stars used to be a little bit like mana, but now the stars on the cards are little more than an adornment.  We had other costs like paying life points (which was often not a big deal) and discarding a card (which was way too big of a cost in such an attrition based game).  But there is a cost that fuels this hyper-aggressive power-crept game today and that is accessibility.  Yes, you can have a giant monster that's quickly summoned and can destroy cards with ease, but you'll have to deal with risks.  How accessible a card is isn't as black-and-white as counting it's level stars anymore.
 
The kind of opening hand you're ideally going to want is going to consist of 3 cards you can use now if you want to and 3 cards you won't use until later.  This means you have a strong opening play but also have a greater plan of how you're going to win the game and you aren't just getting by aimlessly turn-by-turn.  In a perfect world, we would get 6 cards you can use right away and then draw into the powerful cards later, but we don't live in a perfect world.  You want an overall stable deck that's capable of cranking out powerful combos once you are settled into the duel.  Once you're off to a poor start, you may even spend the rest of the game playing catch-up while your opponent is gaining advantage.
 
There are lots of articles and deck lists from major tournaments, but they don't accurately represent this balance.  It is often that some people will simply copy the deck list thinking that they will get the same result as the pro players.  But due to lack of context, they don't.  Big tournaments are dominated by teams which often use risky decks, and the fact they're working as a team insures the risks.  The top decks are often outliers in a controlled risk system rather than examples to follow.  Surely some of the Master Hyperion decks must have chronically opened with 2 Shine Balls, leading to losses.
Thee rules you can follow:
 
1. The accessibility ratio
- Use 3 of a card that you want to get in every opening hand
- Use 2 of a card that you want to get mid-game
- Use 1 of a card that you would want later in the game
 
There are plenty of exceptions.  For example, using 2 Pot of Duality in a deck that Special Summons regularly.  Yes, it's a card you would normally want 3 of if it weren't for that exception.  Some late-game cards (such as Judgment Dragon to Lightsworn) are so instrumental to the deck, you would want to take the risk of using 3.  Some early-game cards may lose their potency later on (such as searchers which are running out of targets).  But this is a rule to think about often rather than blindly apply.  The majority of the time, however, you will find that this holds up.

2. Litmus testing
Many people organize their deck into a list of three components (monster, spell and trap) to see if the deck is balanced.  Often, that balance is half monsters and half spells/traps.  But there is another way to organize the deck: a litmus test of how accessible the cards are.
 
Grab your deck and place each individual card in one of two piles.  Ask yourself in each case "Do I want this card in my opening hand?  Can I play it during my first turn?"  If yes, put it in the affirmative pile and if no, put it in the negative pile.  For example, Monster Reborn (recently banned), as great of a card it is, would fail this test.  It's best used later in the game as a life-saver or game-winner but it usually won't help you early on.  No matter how much you like a card and no matter how instrumental it is to winning, you have to put it in the negative pile if you usually can't play it early on.  Count the amount of cards on each side.

If more than half of your cards are on the negative pile, you fail the test (plain and simple).  You're opening hand is going to reflect this, most likely.  You don't necessarily want nearly all of your cards to be affirmative because there are some cards out there that are simply worth their high cost.  And you need a win condition.  You can't win if your deck has all safe cards and doesn't take a risk at least every now and then.
 
Fire King Deck (September 2013, Advanced Format)

Monsters [16]
3 Fire King High Avatar Garunix --- (The deck's boss monster; Revives after being destroyed; destroys monsters)
1 Sacred Phoenix of Nephthys --- (Revives after being destroyed; destroys spells/traps)
3 Fire King Avatar Barong --- (Basic beater; +1 when it's destroyed)
3 Fire King Avatar Yaksha --- (Basic beater; fuels deck by destroying Barong and Garunix)
1 Earthbound Immortal Ccarayhua - (Combo with Yaksha nukes the field)
2 Coach Soldier Wolf Bark --- (Opens up XYZ possibilities)
1 Brotherhood of the Fire Fist Bear --- (Searches Tenki and uses it to destroy cards)
1 Blackwing - Zephyros the Elite --- (For XYZ's and return-to-hand effect refreshes some cards)
1 Neo-Spacian Grand Mole --- (Good for aggro or controlling XYZ monsters)

(Commentary: Garunix is the big-gun of the deck.  It's constant ability to revive itself upon destruction, as well as being very easy to summon relative to other 8-star monsters makes it tough to pin down.  Sacred Phoenix being weaker, detrimental to your own spells/traps and unable to Special Summon itself during your opponent's turn makes it less useful than Garunix, but it covers the ground that Garunix doesn't.  I applied the principles I discussed in the article to the deck.  Wolfberk is good mid-to-late game (not so much early), so I used 2.  Only 1 Ccarayhua is used because it's dependent on Yaksha, but you might want it later game where you're have a higher likeliness to set off the combo.  In the same sense, Bear is dependent on Tenki so only 1 is used).
 
Spells [14]
3 Onslaught of the Fire Kings --- (Instantly summons the big-gun Garunix if opponent has one monster)
2 Circle of the Fire Kings --- (Destroys your Fire monster and revives a new one; quick-play)
1 Rekindling --- (Revives Yaksha's and Barong's.  Good for XYZ summons or swarm)
2 Pot of Duality --- (Adds 1 of 3 cards from your deck to your hand; but restricts summoning)
2 Fire Formation Tenki --- (Searches Yaksha, Barong, Wolfbark, Bear; minor ATK boost)
1 Dark Hole --- (Destroys all cards on field.  Triggers Fire King effects)
2 Mystical Space Typhoon --- (Destroys a spell or trap card; quick-play)
1 Ancient Forest --- (Destroys all attacking monsters; Good for you; bothersome for opponent)

(Commentary: Circle of the Fire King is incredibly useful for protecting, aggression and triggering effects but it's reliance on graveyard (which is empty at the start) bumps it down to two.  Onslaught of the Fire Kings has a much easier requirement to meet, which is why it's at three.  Not because it is better but because it is more accessible.  Rekindling is arguably the powerful spell in the deck, yet I only use 1.  The prospect of using 3 Rekindlings, one turn after the other late in the middle of the game to back the opponent into a corner or using it to swarm for the win is rewarding.  But it requires a full graveyard and getting stuck with 2 of them in your hand when you don't have much graveyard power is crippling.  And Tenki, easily the most accessible card in the deck but since it is semi-limited, I could only use two of them.)

Trap [10]
3 Fiendish Chain --- (Negates effects and prevents attacks; continous)
1 Torrential Tribute --- (Destroys all monsters on field in response to a summon)
2 Mirror Force --- (Destroys all of opponent's attacking monsters)
1 Sixth Sense --- (By coin flip, mills your deck or gives you immense draw power)
1 Bottomless Trap Hole --- (Banishes your opponent's big monsters on summon)
1 Solemn Warning --- (Negates any summon at a cost of 2000 life points)
1 Dimensional Prison --- (Banishes an opponent's attacking monster)

(Commentary: These are mostly removal trap cards which get rid of monsters which can be problematic for the deck.  They're very accessible.  You can, and would want to, set ANY of these cards during the first turn as they don't have any big requirements.)
 
Extra Deck [15]
3 Number 39: Utopia --- (Default choice.  2500 ATK for offense; attack negation for defense)
2 Diamond Dire Wolf --- (Destroys opponent's cards which can be problematic for the deck)
2 Steelswarm Roach --- (Prevents special summons of cards like BLS or Judgment Dragon)
2 Number 50: Blackship of Corn --- (Gets rid of smaller monsters.  Good for defense walls like Zenmaines)
1 Gagaga Cowboy --- (Some quick burn, a good defense, or can take on <3000-ATK monsters)
1 Photon Papilloperative --- (An aggressive response to defensive decks)
1 Daigusto Emeral --- (Can balance the deck and give some draw power late in the duel)
1 Abyss Dweller --- (Negates opponent's monster effects in grave.  Very useful at times)
 
So, if I were to put my Fire King deck in to two piles, as I suggested:
Affirmative: Barongs, Yakshas, Onslaughts, Tenki, Dark Hole, Duality, MST's, Ancient Forest, Zephyros, Grand Mole, all of the trap cards
Negative: Rekindling, Circles, Phoenix, Garunixes, Ccarayhua, Wolfbarks, Bear

It passes the test, and with flying colors too.
 
Now, here is the part where I lump together a perfunctory and cheesy conclusion based on all that I've written above.  Something like "Now that you know about strengthening your opening hands by applying mana curves to Yu-Gi-Oh, like applied to the Fire King deck provided, be sure not to lose any more duels due to bad opening hands".  Yeah, that should suffice.  Anyway, thank you for reading and supporting my column by doing so.  There's definitely a lot more coming so be sure to put my Pojo page in your browser's bookmarks since it's probably more important than whatever else is in there.  Haha, I'm kidding, sort of.  Contact me (banefulscolumn@gmail.com) if you have any questions or comments, and again, thanks.  Have a great day.

 


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