What Deck Should You Play?
- Thomas Rose
Have you ever been unable to decide which deck you should play? If you have, then you may be interested to know that the solution is always the same. That's not to say you should always play the same deck, but rather that you can always use the same set of tools to find which deck is best for you.
This article will teach you a deck choice algorithm that can be applied to any format, in any card game, and maybe even other types of competitive pursuits too.
What Is Your Goal?
The first step toward knowing what deck you should play is deciding what your goals are. Do you want to win or are you just playing for fun? If you only play for fun, then you really don't need any guidance. Play what you enjoy the most. For most people there is some mixture of wanting to win and wanting to enjoy the experience, which makes things complex. If you're in this group then you need to weigh up this guidance against your own preferences. Even many of the most successful players don't always make every decision purely aiming to maximize their chance of winning.
While it's important that you enjoy your time spent on hobbies, I can't write a guide about which decks you will find the most fun because that's pretty subjective — and those of you with good taste already know that's Burning Abyss. What I can write about, however, is how to maximize your chance of winning, because there's nothing subjective about results on a match slip. From here on in, all of my advice is for Spike and anyone who wants to be more like him.
What Are Your Strengths?
One of the first things you need to assess when choosing a deck is what your strengths and weaknesses are. Not every player is created equal, and not everyone will have the same level of success with each deck. You'll need to undertake some honest introspection. It can be difficult to admit, but if you know that you aren't the strongest player then you may be hurting your chances of winning by playing a more difficult deck.
You can even show the effect of this graphically. If we plot the win rate of each deck against the skill of the player using it, you can see that different decks have different skill curves. The easier a deck is to play, the flatter the gradient; these are decks where the skill of the user has less impact on the overall success rate. More difficult decks have steeper slopes. Different decks can intersect on this graph. Player A will win more games by playing the "easy deck," whereas the more experienced player B will win more games playing the "hard deck." Generally speaking harder decks tend to be those with more actions per turn or more options per action.
It's not always as straightforward as a deck being easy or hard, there are different aspects to each deck that will have varying levels of importance. Correspondingly, there are several skills that can make a player good. You should choose a deck that plays into your strengths. Similarly, if you know that you have a certain weakness in your play, then avoid relying on that skill. Can't cope well with highly complex situations? Avoid non-linear combo decks. Not the best at adapting to interaction? Look for a deck that is difficult to interrupt, or one that's an all-or-bust strategy. Don't know when to hold or conserve resources? Play a deck that aims to win every game as quickly as possible. No good at "reads"? Play a deck that just commits to the play regardless. Choosing a deck that relies on a skill that you're lacking is not setting yourself up for success.
Do You Build Good Decks?
Just as not everyone is a top-tier player, even fewer people are top-tier deck builders. There are plenty of resources available to try and improve your deck building, but you don't need to waste time on that. You don't have to build a good deck to win events. You don't have to build a deck at all.
There's plenty of stigma in every card gaming community around the subject of "netdecking," the act of copying, sometimes exactly, the decklist of another player. It is helpful to remember that there is minimal overlap between those who criticize netdecking and those who win events. In Yu-Gi-Oh! there are no prizes awarded for originality. If your goal is to win, then you should play the best deck you know, regardless of who made it.
There can be advantages to building your own deck: it could have great matchups against the most popular decks, or be unaffected by popular side deck cards. These benefits need to be significant though, as your original list is unlikely to be fully optimized. Entire communities of players test and iterate the most popular and successful decks. Thousands of games will be played to find the most effective build of the top meta decks, but any one individual will typically be limited to less than 100 games with their own build.
A healthy balance is generally found by taking most or all of an established strategy and making minor adjustments to ratios, tech cards, and side decks in order to fit the expected meta. This is likely to give the best results unless you or your testing group know that they can create something much better than average.
Do You Have Time to Practice?
Some people play every single day. Others only make time for events, with little or no practice in between. If you're able to dedicate lots of time to testing every week, then you can use that time to try out new ideas and be sure you've found the best strategy.
For others like me, making time can be a struggle. If you're in my position it can be worth sticking with a deck that you know well, even if you know it's not the best. Don't force yourself to keep playing something that has proven itself to be ineffective though. Sometimes people try to justify playing tier three strategies because they have mastered them.
If you are familiar with deck A, then you'll be higher up the player skill curve for that deck. So you might win more games than if you switched to the unfamiliar deck B, even though it has a better win rate overall. If you're able to practice regularly, then you won't have to stick with deck A, because you can quickly become familiar with deck B. If you're in this fortunate situation, then I actively recommend that you play some games using each of the top decks every few weeks. Even if you don't decide to change your deck you'll still learn a lot about other strategies' weaknesses by playing them yourself.
Do You Have Good Access to Cards?
Sometimes a limited card pool or budgeting considerations can have a significant impact on the correct choice of deck to play. If this isn't an issue for you, then you can skip this section entirely. If you are operating within a finite budget, then there are ways to make the most of what you have available.The first one is obvious, build the cheapest top-tier deck. If there is a competitive structure deck release, then it's almost certainly the best place to start.
Sometimes there is no cheap option though; in these cases you will need to spend a bit more and it's important that you get the best value for your money. It may not always be correct to buy the strongest deck you can afford because an untimely forbidden and limited list update could depower your deck and undermine your investment. You should try to find a deck that you think might be a competitor for multiple formats. If possible, look for a competitive deck that is not widely played. Less popular strategies can often avoid banlist restrictions, even when they are nearly as powerful as the most represented decks.
What Does This All Mean For You?
Whenever you need to choose a deck to play for your next big tournament, just take yourself through each of the questions as honestly as possible. Look at each of the competitive decks available and try to categorize them. Work out which one best fits with what you need. Once there are only a couple of options that line up well with your needs it becomes much quicker to test them thoroughly and to find out which one you do best with. At that point you could even just pick the one that you find more fun — but don't tell Spike!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.