Going Second: Prevent a Board or Break It
- Ryan Atlus
Most trading card games have special rules in place for the first turn. In Yu-Gi-Oh!, the starting player is unable to draw during their Draw Phase or conduct their Battle Phase. Nevertheless, choosing to go first has always been the norm for the majority of players. But one should at least consider the alternative.
"After you, I insist!"
"Going second" strategies certainly exist, with the players opting to do so having several tricks up their sleeve that give them an edge. As going first is the commonly prefered option for many players, building your deck with the "going second" mindset eliminates a portion of luck. After all, the opponent will most likely take the initiative when they win the die roll.
Some decks feel perfectly at home while they're on the offensive side of the table, but might fare poorly on the first turn of the game. During this turn, a player will usually build some form of a board that will encourage interaction for the rest of the game. Most combo decks will do so by establishing boards with multiple negations and interruptions. This means that a player aiming to go second will need to be prepared to navigate a seemingly uneven playing field.
This can be achieved in two different ways. First of all, you can try to make sure your opponent does not have access to their desired turn one board by interacting before your first turn. The other option is to just take it easy, let the opponent run rampant and start undoing their hard work as soon as they pass the turn back to you.
Preventing the Board
When Effect Veiler was released, the card was a revolution, as back in the day it was quite uncommon to be able to play during the opponent's first turn. This type of card, commonly referred to as a "hand trap," would become a staple of modern Yu-Gi-Oh!, with many similar designs following. D.D. Crow gained massive popularity over time, Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit, Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring, and Infinite Impermanence have all seen major competitive play, and Ghost Sister & Spooky Dogwood is the newest addition to the hand trap lineup.
The main advantage of hard traps is the ability to interrupt the opponent at key moments, which does make them difficult to play. Since it is still the opponent's turn, they can sometimes keep playing as if nothing ever happened. Due to the contents of their hand being unknown, choosing to interrupt the opponent at a time when it should usually be correct can lead to your demise if they have the right cards to keep playing. For example, when playing against the Gouki deck it could often seem very tempting to hit Isolde, Two Tales of the Noble Knights with a piece of interruption like Infinite Impermanence. If you did that, they could sometimes persist and proceed to play. Keep the Impermance for the Firewall Dragon and you could suddenly be faced with Knightmare Goblin, rendering your Impermanence useless as well!
Relying on hand traps is often a bit of a blind bag. A general concensus is that hand traps don't completely end the opponent's first turn like they used to, but have them end up with a board that is more manageable for the rest of your cards to deal with.
Breaking the Board
On the other end of the spectrum there is a far more aggressive approach. Rather than trying to keep the opponent from ending on "an amazing 5 negate board," why not break it?
In earlier days, players would often side in Dark Hole or Raigeki, which were great cards. They've taken a backseat since mass destruction is no longer the incredibly strong game mechanic it once was. One of the oldest cards that let a player take care of monsters without being able to be negated was Lava Golem, and in 2016 an entire archetype was based on this premise, namely Kaijus. The most potent monster of this type of cards is The Winged Dragon of Ra - Sphere Mode, being able to take out 3 monsters at once! While Lava Golem and Ra deal with multiple monsters, they also take away your Normal Summon, so the player needs to consider carefully if that is a price worth paying.
Nibiru, the Primal Being hovers between this type of cards and the hand traps. Like the hand traps, it is tricky to use since the opponent might just shrug and keep on playing after you give them the token. In the case of Adamancipator and Tenyi they might even be able to exploit that token! Since Nibiru is such a relevant card, many combo players will adjust their plays so that they establish some form of monster negation as their fifth Summon, or sooner.
Cards like Evenly Matched and Lightning Storm are commonly found in players' Side Decks to make going second a bit easier. Evenly Matched does have the massive downside that it eats up your Battle Phase, and both of them share the disadvantage that they can be negated. In the latter case, that's one less negation you'll need to play against; but if they do resolve, they're big blowout cards that can turn the game in your favor.
Some of the scariest cards for combo players have to be Super Polymerization and Dark Ruler No More. These cards cannot be responded to, and take care of multiple monsters at once. Super Polymerization seems to have fallen out of favor in the current metagame due to there not being a lot of great Fusion targets versus Eldlich or Adamancipator, but Dark Ruler No More is bigger than ever. The main "downside" to it is that you'll still have to get rid of the opponent's board, because all effects get turned on again at the end of the turn.
Going Second in the Current Format
While there are currently no real-life tournaments, decklists from online events give us a good idea of what the metagame is shaping up to look like. Opting to go second does not seem to be a massively popular strategy. But hand traps are incredibly popular in everything outside of Adamancipators, with some spending over a quarter of their deck slots on them.
A possible reason for hand traps being more prominent could be that only a few board breaking cards are amazing against a large number of decks — the notable exception being Dark Ruler No More, which can be found in almost every Side Deck. The chance of drawing into one of your three or six board breaking cards is smaller than drawing into one of your dozen hand traps. So if you would have to pick on relying on only one of these two, even while factoring in the sixth card you get for going second, there's a clear mathematical advantage.
Ultimately, a lot depends on exactly what kind of strategy you want to incorporate "going second" cards in, and exactly which decks you are expecting to go up against. Online events are global and usually attract highly skilled players. Once your locals start opening up again you might find that board breakers are a better option than hand traps.
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