An Interview with Two-Time YCS Champion Raphael Neven
- Marijn van Duivenboden
Everyone has to start somewhere. Your journey may begin at your first locals or just playing casual games with your friends. We all learn and improve over time. Today, we are joined by Raphael Neven, a famous Dutch player who can look back on a particularly impressive journey. Time for an interview!
Raphael Neven won YCS Prague with SPYRAL and YCS Chicago with Lunalight. He also was one of the Worlds contenders of 2018. I was able to ask him a lot of questions, about his start into the game, about his improvement over the years, and about his biggest triumphs. Finally, we also have a small fun lightning round. Enjoy!
So, Raphael, when did you start playing Yu-Gi-Oh!?
I started playing in 2012 at the end of the Chaos Dragon format. I was young and couldn't play the best decks so I ended up with a TG Agent deck.
When did you attend your first premier event?
My first YCS was Leipzig 2012. I only played a couple of rounds. I was a real casual so even though I had fun it wasn't anything serious. My granddad drove me to the venue and they went into the city. I went 0-2 and then played one of the best Dutch players, Floris van Asch, who amazingly was 0-2 as well. He was the most recent Dutch Champion, but I beat him by sacking him really hard. It was a lot of fun to beat him since he was someone I looked up to. I wasn't close to Day 2, however. I got a deck check and actually got a gameloss. My Gorz the Emissary of Darkness was stuck in my deckbox so I had an "illegal deck." That was semi-traumatizing for a first YCS.
In Europe nationals are a big part of the scene. When did you first make the top cut at nationals?
My first national top was 2013, when I won the event with Mermail.
And when was your first premier event top?
My first premier top was YCS London 2014 with Artifact Shaddoll. I got into the Top 32 and also had my first feature match. That got me really nervous and I lost game two almost instantly to my nerves.
So in two years you won nationals and topped a YCS? That's pretty impressive!
I have to thank my luck and my deck. I played the best deck, Mermail, which really helped. At that time the level of play in the Netherlands wasn't that high overall. I often went to locals, but that was really it. I had no real testing sessions. On my first nationals in the top cut I played against opponents I already faced twice in the tournament so that really helped. I knew the matchup, and as long as it wasn't a Mermail mirror match I was fine. I dodged the best Dutch players in the playoffs and in the finals I won versus Dino Rabbit featuring Macro Cosmos. We had a lot of great Dutch players, but I didn't really face them at that tournament.
If you look at the scene when you started and how everything turned out in the meantime, are the Dutch players better nowadays or did they become worse over time?
The level of players has decreased a bit. Back then there were quite a lot of really good players. Stephan Sluis, Floris van Asch, Wytze Kluitenberg just to name a few. There were many players that were really good. At this point you only really have Joshua Oosters and me who are on another level than the rest. The gap has grown and we lost a number of good players.
At what point did you think of yourself as a good player?
When I topped the 2016 European Championship I noticed I was improving rapidly. I learned a lot in a small time frame. After that event I got into Team Complexity Card Gaming and then it all went faster and faster. I topped Rimini and Bochum back to back so at that point I really noticed things were taking off. When I won YCS Prague in November 2017, I had really formed as a great player.
You also won YCS Chicago, famously with Lunalight. What was that experience like?
That was bizarre. There was a snowstorm, but my flight magically flew there. I had no idea what to do or play, and on the Thursday before the event my friend Vlad said we should all play Lunalight. We were all pretty blind in the format so we all agreed and tested out combos quickly. I wasn't sure about the deck and all its workings so I went in with zero expectations. We were looking for cards for our decks on Friday, and on Saturday between rounds I was still testing the deck. I was the only one in the top cut with the deck. I only lost once to Prank-Kids because I lost in time. After playing versus other great players, even winning my Top 4 match in four minutes, in the finals I played versus Thunder Dragon Combo and won. It was unreal when we won. I called my mom, I couldn't believe it. I won a YCS again. With a deck I had no clue even existed three days prior.
So between YCS Prague and YCS Chicago, which one of these two victories means more to you?
I did not expect to win both events. People often think I'm arrogant, but I genuinely don't have the idea I go to an event to win it. Both events I didn't expect to even reach Day 2, but I still took the win. Maybe that's a good mentality. I believe Prague impacted me more because it was my first win. The second one was also special because it was on a different continent.
What would you say are some of the differences between European and North American players?
You have to split "Are the players better?" and "Are the events more difficult?" Both continents have insane players. Even Australia and South America have insanely good players. If you look at the players I would not say there are many differences. I would say, however, that European events are more difficult to top. One, European events are way bigger than American events. This makes it really difficult to enter the top cut with ties. American YCS events don't really have that issue. Two, language barriers are also a bigger issue. It's nicer not to have issues with card languages or difficulties against people that aren't as fluent in English. But mainly, the fact that ties are such a big part of getting into the Top 32 is really bad. This is an issue that needs to change. If you lose Round 2 or 3, you almost have no chance of getting into the top cut with these numbers. Either lower the amount of players to get to Top 64 and make the experience better or try something new.
Paleozoic with 60 cards was really fun.
TOSS format (Thunder Dragon/Orcust/Salamangreat/Sky Striker).
A 70-dollar booster box to pull the one missing Lunalight Serenade Dance at YCS Chicago.
Five cases Dragons of Legends: The Complete Series.
It used to be Heavy Storm, but I don't really have a favorite card.
Berlin, the Estrel hotel.
YCS Quito, Ecuador.
Rituals before dueling?
Try to sleep, try to prepare my deck as well as possible. In London I had two decklists while still in the entry lane for example which happens a lot. Whenever I play Day 2 I wear my Yu-Gi-Oh! Millennium Puzzle socks. Also every deck has to play 41 cards.
Most useful teammate?
Too many to pick one, Vladis, Themis, Joshua, Noa, Marcello just to name a few.
What in the future of Yu-Gi-Oh! do you look forward to?
I want to see all the friends I made over the years. I haven't seen my American friends in such a long time. I also want to compete again. But seeing the people is why I play.
If you were able to alter one thing about the TCG, what would it be?
Tournament structure, like I mentioned before, with the top cuts et cetera. Cash prizies would be really nice too, or at least more prizes to reward consistent performers. Only a playmat and a booster box for Top 32 isn't really the best. And try to make it more like an esport. With recognizable names, features, seriousness, to improve the face of the game overall and to make it more modern.
What card would you like off the Forbidden & Limited List?
Lunalight Tiger, she did nothing wrong.
What card would you like banned?
Called by the Grave. Should be either at zero or at three.
Want to give anyone a shoutout?
Shoutout to my team, Team Jobber, also be sure to buy cards from my Cardmarket account since I love the game and want to make a future out of it, so I'm trying to make it my job. Last shoutout is to Duelist Academy where you can be trained by the pros.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.