Thursday, April 7, 2011

Designing a YuGiOh Forbidden/Limited List using logic

Its been almost a year since the last post and I apologize for my inactivity.

I felt that the March 2011 F/L list was a failure. Not because of their individual card choices, but because it was clear that Konami did not use logic behind their decision making. They made knee-jerk changes that they felt would be seen as popular without actually trying to improve the game.

So how does one make a "good" Forbidden/Limited list?
The goal of any banlist for any game, is to maximize player satisfaction.
Happy players = paying customers
Profit is the bottomline. Without it, the game dies.

The player base of ygo is defined by the yugioh brand. The brand is in turn defined by the cartoon, animes, mangas, etc.
In those medium, the characters use power cards. They use large "boss" monster cards and game breaking spell and trap cards.
The players want to emulate these characters when they play the game. People who don't like this concept, don't like YGO in general

However, one cannot make a game of ALL boss monsters and game breaking cards. In fact, it would make no sense because power level is relative to the card base. If everything is "incredibly powerful" then in the end, nothing is powerful, relative to the other cards.

The inclusion of power cards adds variance. This is generally perceived as a bad thing by competitive players. This means that weaker players can beat better players because they drew better cards and can nullify the skill gap.

[I'm going to define the term "variance" for those who are unfamiliar. It is an unpredictable chance-driven variability that occurs within a game. In a game like Trouble, the dice roll is the source of variance. In a TCG, the cards drawn (and the combinations within those) would be the source]

As a competitive player myself, I know how frustrating that can be. Nonetheless, it HAS to exist, in this game. If weak players knew they had zero chance of ever winning, they stop playing. That means less sales. The game of yugioh cannot survive on the sales of competitive players alone.

In an idealistic format where sales are not integral to the health of the game, variance is pointless and if anything, a detriment.
The classic example is chess, where there is essentially no variance.
In fact, there is only 1 point of variance in the ENTIRE game, and that is the randomness of which player starts the game (plays white). After that, skill will determine the outcome of the game.
Chess thrives because the "money in chess" comes from competitive play and events related to such (endorsements, etc). FIDE doesn't make their money selling chess boards or game clocks. They don't have to worry about that aspect of the game, they can focus on organized play.

The importance of variance is often under rated. The "spoils" and "VS" were games that tried to minimize variance. I havent played either but I've heard they are excellent games to play. Games whereby the better player usually won. And by usually, almost always (this what I heard, as I said, I've never played them)

Where are the games now? Dead. And imo, there is no "reason" other than the fact that the lack of variance killed organized play.
Look at VS. Its a game based on Marvel and DC superheros. How do you get a better marketing base than that? Who plays fantasy card games - comic book affiaciatos
You almost have to try and make the game fail to blow that. IMO, UDE did.

Back to my philosophy

-the game has to have some variance
-the game's best way to add variance is the inclusion of power cards
-power cards cannot be too common place, or else there is no relative power
-there are cards that are TOO powerful (re: broken). These cards degenerate the game to being all about them, which makes the game "stale", which makes people lose interest
-cards that are not too powerful should not be restricted. This means that if a theme is too powerful, changes should be made to the theme, not individual cards
-too much variance is not good either. You cannot develop an Organized Play program with too much variance (and essentially a game entirely decided by chance) and OP is important as a selling tool for the product

My philosophy on list placement is very simple and yet effective. I really wish Konami agreed with this instead of idiotic knee-jerk restrictions on cards that are currently "too popular"
Here's the doctornik philosophy:

Forbidden - The card is broken. This means that the card is so powerful that it warps the entire game around it.
For monsters, players end up building their decks to get their broken card out first and to stop their opponent from getting out their broken card
For spell/traps, players that open with the broken card generally have an insurmountable advantage to the player that does not open the card
Also included here would be consistent solitaire decks. YGO is designed to be PvP. Solitaire decks do not belong in the game. For the record, I consider game-winning "infinite loops" to be solitaire (ie. gearfreed-elma-spell absorption)

at 1: Power cards. Power cards are overpowered. At multiples, the game becomes a joke. At 1, there is some variance with an advantage to the player opening more power cards, but at the same time, variance is limited and many power cards require some set up as opposed to broken cards that generally require none, or minimal. "Short cuts" also get included here because short cuts essentially copy power cards, which should only be at 1 in the first place.

at 2: Cards with self interaction or specific card interaction (ie. card trooper-machine duplication). And that is pretty much it. Power cards should never be at 2, it makes no sense. In a game of 40 card decks, the difference in variance between opening with a "2 of" card vs a "3 of" card is actually fairly small. The difference of opening with a card being at 1 vs 3 is one-third. Putting the power card at 2 does not adequately deal with variance.
The cards at 2 should be a short list, in fact, the shortest by far. When I look at konami's F/L list, the semi-limited list is a testament of their failure to create a logical list (I'm looking at you Judgment Dragon).

at 3: Everything else.

Even within these confines, there is still a lot of subjectivity and debate. What makes a card broken vs powerful? When is it powerful enough to warrant restriction?
Individual card power will vary with the current playing environment(ie. the metagame) but there should be some sort of overlying quantification of card power that can define a cards placement on the list.

To use a simple example, lets look at card draw, specifically, cards that draw 2 for the cost of 1.

Pot of Greed - the grand-daddy, is too good. The player opening PoG is at a tremendous advantage to the player that does not and that has been deemed an unacceptable level of variance (by the players and konami)

Pot of Avarice - Draw 2 but only when you meet and can fulfill certain conditions. Returning 5 monsters to the deck seems generic enough. Almost every deck plays 5 or more monsters. But not almost every deck plays PoA. The reality is, it is not an easy condition to meet. The decks that run PoA specifically use cards that fill the graveyard quickly so that PoA is not a dead card. PoA has been at 1. It has been at 3. Does the power of the card warrant a restriction?
IMO, at this time, the answer is no. I like to use the analogy of, "if one player has the card in their opening hand, does it give then a large advantage over their opponent". Opening PoA does NOT give a huge advantage (at this time). One must open PoA AND effects that can send monsters to the graveyard in order to use the card. It is very difficult to use PoA on one's 1st turn. This is what makes PoA "fairer" than most draw cards.

Six Samurai United - Draw 2 with the condition that you have summoned 2 Six Samurais. Previously this was not an easy task. Outside of Grandmaster of the Six Samurai, players were not likely to be able to use SSU turn 1. A card that has to sit on the field for 2 turns to gain its full effect is very precarious. It really was not a consideration for restriction at all.
Then STOR happened. Now summoning 2 samurais turn 1 has become the norm. In fact, the samurai player will summon 2 samurais on turn 1 much more often than they do not. So now we have a draw 2 card that CAN be used consistently at the very start of the game (my recent estimations are about 75%). I'm not sure if players or konami are recognizing this but that is too powerful. The card will end up being restricted at some point, not sure if it will end up ban worthy. Yes its as powerful as PoG, but its "themed" and players don't like to see themed cards forbidden, until it completely destroys the metagame. But the card deserves and will receive restriction, though I suspect konami will drag their heels on this.

I've always been fascinated with card design and the F/L list designed to keep that card pool in check. Its unfortunate that my favorite game is run by people that design cards haphazardly, without considerations of power or metagame effect and the lists they make afterwards to clean up their mess is designed without logical consideration. After the last list, I couldn't hold back my frustration. Someone had to call konami out on their "dartboard" lists. Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Deck building and the Scientific Method of Experimentology

All you need to know about deck building can be taken from the Scientific Method of Experimentology

Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. A scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.

1. Define the question/purpose
2. Gather information and resources (observe)
3. Form hypothesis
4. Perform experiment and collect data
5. Analyze data
6. Interpret data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypothesis
7. Publish results
8. Retest (frequently done by other scientists)

Application of the Scientific Method

1. Define the question/purpose

This is pretty simple. The purpose is to create a tournament winning yugioh deck. The ubiquitous goal of every competitive player.

2. Gather information and resources (observe)
This is important and often over-looked. Before starting to deck build, one must define the expected metagame of the tournament they wish to play. A deck cannot be built in isolation (except maybe FTKs, but that is another can of worms). The deck builder must account for the expected match ups prior to making any hypothesis.

3. Form hypothesis
So-called "theory-oh". This is where the creative deck builders shine. The card pool is vast and there are so many ways to build a deck. This is the "skill" component for deck builders. One must have not only an understanding of all the cards in the card pool, but a working knowledge of interactions and rulings of the cards.

4. Perform experiment and collect data
Playtesting. Just like in any scientific experiment, the more results obtained, the more accurate the predictions made from those results. Playtesting should be organised and concise. It should include testing against all expected match ups. It should have enough data to make reasonable predictions. It is here that one begins to realise the decks strengths and weaknesses, but one should avoid making too many changes at this point. It will invalidate previously obtained data.

5. Analyze data
Look at the match up results. I suggest making a list of the outcomes of the deck versus all the expected match ups, and to include some data versus "less-likely" match ups as well.

6. Interpret data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypothesis
This is where decisions must be made. If the deck is struggling against the anticipated match ups, one must consider scrapping the deck. If the deck is performing relatively well, one must determine if there are anyways to improve key match ups without compromising the deck's other match ups.

7. Publish results
This is where the deck list is published publically. There are various Yugioh Deck Discussion forums that serve this purpose. One must acknowledge the skill and knowledge of the user base of the forums when posting.

8. Retest (frequently done by others)
People try your deck and leave feedback. Note that only feedback from people that actually played the deck should be considered seriously. Theory-oh feedback should be either ignored or considered only briefly, and only when given by a reliable knowledgeable player.
Sometimes, one may be able to pool results together. This leads to even greater accuracy of match up predictions.

Usage of this method will lead to greater accuracy at predicting results (and success) for deck builders. Having the best deck at a tournament invariable leads one to a great advantage. Of course, one must also possess the skill to ensure the deck is being played properly and to the best of its ability.

Good luck fellow deck builders and happy testing.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

You Gotta Pay to Play

Welcome. I wanted my first few articles to be about fundamental universal YuGiOh concepts. In other words, there are key principles that will always be true regardless of the format, the “metagame”, the players, the organizers, or the producers. And today I would like to discuss, YuGiOh and the costs of playing.

This topic was probably not the first thing you had come to mind after the phrase “fundamental universal concepts”. But it is one, and I’ll explain why.

I’ll tell you a bit about the history of the title of this article, as it has a personal meaning to me. Back in the day, when I was just learning about this game, I had only one friend that even knew what “YuGiOh” was. We had both bought a starter deck (Kaiba’s of course, Big Green Machine La Jinn ftw) and we would play in his basement. Then one day, we start a match and I’m swinging in with some monster and he flips Waboku. My reaction, WTF is that? He tells me he had a little surprise, he had bought a Yugi Starter deck and added some of the strong cards to his deck. (I didn’t even know you were allowed to do that at the time.) So he beats me. Over and over. I have no chance. I’m getting pretty pissed and he just looks at me and says, “Sorry man, but you gotta pay to play”. Little did I know how right he was.

We have to remember one very important concept. Konami is not in the card making business. They are in the money making business. This has been a fact since our old starter deck battles, and will be until the day the game dies.

Konami makes money by selling product. They need ways to get you to buy said product. And the way they do this is by intentionally creating an “arms race” environment, not unlike our old basement duels.

They will continue to release cards with better and better effects. They will continue to make them hard to get. They will make forbidden/restricted card list that favor these cards. And you WILL have to shell out some big bucks if you want to play at the top level of this game.

People are always looking for alternative solutions. But universal truths are universal. I’ll explain using some examples:

Sponsorship. People have a lot of misconceptions about what it is and what it means. It does not mean people are going to pay you to play. It does not mean people will give you free cards. It is essentially no more than an alternative form of payment. But you will still “pay to play”. Sponsored players are required to perform duties. Much like any other work contract. They must advertise, promote and help their sponsors in various ways (carrying boxes, working tills, etc). It is a job. Except you aren’t getting paid in cash, you are getting cards and tournament entry instead. When phrased in this way, it doesn’t sound quite as appealing, does it? Still there is an important role for it. Since everything is “off the books”, it saves the sponsor hassle with contracts, benefits, taxes, etc. And for the player, it gives them experience and connections.

Alternate Methods of Playing. This has been a great outlet for people without cards/cash to play at a premier level of competition. There are several various online programs that accommodate this. There is also Konami’s online program (pay to play). And, Konami is starting to be less tolerant of these alternative gameplay options. Free online YuGiOh costs Konami money. It means that less money goes to their pay-to-play program. All Konami has to do to justify action is determine that the money lost is greater than the legal fee to cease-and-desist. And now, they are starting to do this. I would not be surprised if these free online programs start disappearing one by one. Time will tell.

Non-Official Tournaments. This has not been seen very often in the YGO world, but if the online programs start disappearing, I predict it will emerge. Basically, it means having IRL tournaments, but with proxy cards permitted. Clearly, Konami would allow these tournaments to be sanctioned. However, there is potential in this. I’ve seen some huge MTG proxy tournaments. The other nice thing is that since its non-official, it means that organizers are not bound by Konami sanctions. They could have cash tournaments, for example.

Anyways, back to the topic in the title. If you want to play in premier level YGO tournaments, and get the “creds and respect” associated with this, you have to cough up the big bucks if you want to play with the big boys. Konami will continue making high demand over-powered cards in short supplies, and you have to learn how to be on terms with that. I have come to respect this a while ago. What I do not respect is Konami’s denial of this, and their insistence that “non-players and casual players make the base of our sales and therefore rarities and card supply is targeted towards them”. Bullshit.

It is true that the vast majority of card sales come from kids who “collect” the cards and casual players. But I’ll be darned if Konami isn’t trying to squeeze every last penny out of the competitive players. Take some examples. Judgment Dragon. Overpowered card. But it is an overpowered card that EVERYONE wants. The kids want it, the weirdos with the Kaiba coats want it and you, the competitive player, wants it. If Konami wants to make money, they better had made JD hard to get. And they did. That’s fine.
Now lets look at some cards coming out in this week’s Sneak Preview. Battle Fader. Do the little kids want it? No. Do the collectors want it? Maybe a bit. Do the competitive players want it? You bet. Konami’s response – Let’s upgrade it from common to Ultra Rare. XX-Saber Emmersblade. Kids don’t really want it. Collectors that specifically like the X-saber theme might want it, but I don’t expect too much of a collector demand. Do good players want it? Yes, and in multiple copies (not playable with just 1). Konami’s response – screw you guys, its secret rare, try getting THAT in multiples, suckers.

In summary, YGO has been and will always be an arms race, dictated by new product release and a forbidden list that will favor new product. And despite what Konami tells you, they want your money. They want to suck you dry. And you have to accept that because you gotta pay to play.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hitting the Wall and Breaking Through It - (Exploring The Three Spheres of YuGiOh)

Target Audience: competitive players, all skill levels

The following is the intellectual property of the writer, as created on Dec 2nd, 2009. Any unauthorized reproduction or distribution is prohibited.

I recently received an interesting personal message:
“Nov 30 2009, 12:58 PM

Hey there.

I'm a Yu-Gi-Oh! player from city X. I float around forum Y and read through topics. I find your posts have a greater amount of value than others.

The reason I'm writing this message to you is to seek further insight on how to play this game properly. As it stands, I've been playing this game since its introduction in North America (Yugi and Kaiba starters.) I have a good collection of cards, so I can build more or less anything. I have a fair knowledge in terms of rulings, and a good understanding on how to make certain moves and what not. However, this seems insufficient and I don't seem to consistently win or do good at locals. So, I find that a bit embarrassing considering how long I've been playing. It also seems I've hit a stop, and I can only progress so much since I don't really leave the city to play in bigger events. I've just reached a point where I get frustrated whenever I lose, and I don't think quitting or cheating are really attractive options. Given my situation, I was wondering if you had any ideas on what I could do to get better. I'd like to actually to develop on my skill. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.”

I want to assure this person that this experience is one shared by most, if not all, competitive YuGiOh players. I call it “hitting the wall”. It’s reaching a point where you find yourself at a stagnant level, one where you have no problem defeating the casual or less competitive players but can’t seem to win when playing against the best. The frustrating part is not knowing exactly what you are doing wrong and not being able to remedy that deficiency. The good news is that there are ways to break through this wall, and in fact, pretty much every top tier player had to do this at some point of their playing career.

In order to further discuss skill and areas of improvement, it is easier to break down skill into 3 domains and tackle them individually. I consider these the 3 spheres of Yugioh competence. Of course, these are not all encompassing, but I will refer to these in this article as a tool to break down this large task of “breaking through the wall”.

The game of Yugioh requires a skill set, and those most advanced in those would enjoy the most success. I consider the 3 major spheres to be: knowledge, cognition, and behavior.

In order to become a dominant player in this game, one must have extensive knowledge of the game, its components, its rulings, and the “meta” game. Many players feel that they have adequate knowledge, but I would consider this area to be the biggest weakness of most players. Thankfully, it is also the easiest to address. Knowledge means not having surprises come up mid-match. It means that you are prepared and have an adequate base that you carry with you into each match. In fact, if your base is larger than your opponents, you automatically enter the match at a distinct advantage.

Many people feel that knowledge means knowing what every card in your deck does and their rulings inside out. This is true, but it goes much further. It also means knowing what every card in your opponent’s deck does and their rulings inside out. This means spending a great deal of time reading card effects and their rulings. To give you an example, every 6 months, I used to go on UDE old rulings page and read every card ruling from A to Z. That’s right, EVERY card ruling. Yes, it took hours and is not an entertaining read by any means, but I knew my opponents cards better than they knew them and this gave me a huge advantage. I realize that the rulings page is gone, but there are ways to increase your knowledge. Konami does have ruling on the newer sets, and many decks focus on these sets so that is a great start. There are some other rulings data bases (net rep, yugioh wikia), but they aren’t as organized and make a difficult read. At the very least, you should never walk away from a match and be unclear on an effect/ruling. That should be your motivation to find the answer and prepare yourself for a future similar event.

In addition to individual cards, knowledge of the current competitive decks and predictions of the frequency they are played can be invaluable. Many people netdeck, card for card, and this means that you can anticipate everything in their deck. It is more important to know all the cards that face down Mystic Tomato can fetch from your read rather than the simple fact that you read the Tomato. For this I recommend practice, and not just 1 on 1, but getting a team of people to build all the top tier decks and playtest the various match ups until you can predict their every move.

Cognition and mental capacity can be a limitation for certain players. For those unaware of the term, cognition (from the Latin: cognoscere, "to know" or "to recognize") refers to a faculty for the processing of information, applying knowledge, and changing preferences. Cognition includes many processes fundamental to Yugioh including: memory, association, attention, perception, problem solving. For players “hitting the wall”, this is certainly the most difficult sphere to improve upon. Many of these processes are determined by genetics and early childhood experiences, but that is not to say that one cannot improve on these.

My recommendation to anyone that wants to improve their cognitive function is NOT to practice Yugioh or card games but to step away and try other means. There are several tools created specifically for this. Most people are familiar with the “Brain Age” DS series. There are also several puzzle workbooks and such that one can work through.
Additionally, if people can identify their specific weaknesses, they may try to develop their own tools to help themselves during the game. For example, I know that my short-term memory is not what it used to be, so I bring a notepad to every match and am constantly scribbling notes. And its not just cards in hand, I will also occasionally scribble “card reads”, cards in grave, etc. It amazes me when people are completely shocked when they swing into the Mirror Force they saw with Dustshoot. I usually just laugh and say something like, “I got a lucky top-deck”, not wanting to demonstrate their own ignorance to them (unless I know it will throw them off their game).

YuGiOh is a game of decisions. Decisions are an outcome that results from a person’s inherent behavioral pattern which is influence by the individual’s mental capacity and then applied to a specific problem. My personal observations have shown that top-tier players have many similar and even identical behaviors. This is not co-incidence, nor is it mimicry. It is due to a simple fact, certain behaviors lead to success.

Behavior can be broken into 2 types; inherent/automatic and adaptable. I find that players that hit the wall have too many automatic behaviors and lack adaptability. What I mean by that is, players not exploring potentials of different outcomes adequately.

Let us use an example to illustrate. Back in the days of flip-flop control, games would quickly become simplified. It would not be unusual for player A to draw Dekoichi in a “top-deck war” vs Player B’s empty field, for example. The player with the automatic behavioral thought pattern will set the Dekoichi. That’s what you do when you draw Deko; you set it, flip next turn, draw a card and swing for 1400.

However, in order to break the wall, one must consider WHY you are making that play, and the potential options available. In the example, the player, in actuality, has 3 choices: set Deko, summon Deko, pass.

What if the player passes, could that be any good? Chances are no, since there aren’t any specific advantages of holding that extra card in hand at that moment in time. If the player’s deck heavily requires a card with a discard cost AND there is high probability of drawing it next turn, then perhaps some consideration could be made, but it would seem that the better alternative is to set the Deko and draw into the discard fodder anyways.
How about summoning the Dekoichi? This is where a player needs to think about the game state and circumstances in depth. If your opponent has 1400 or less LP, then it’s a no-brainer. What if your opponent has 2000 LP? What if they have 3000 LP? One must now consider the trade-off that can be made – 1400 LP damage now vs an extra card draw next turn. This is where player’s that hit the wall falter. They are so ingrained with the concept of set Deko, flip, that they are blinded to the potential of the immediate 1400 damage and the fact that it could be game winning.

My recommendations to improve gameplay behaviors are two-fold. One, watch the “pros” play. Become familiar with common plays, reads, fakes, baits, etc.
Secondly, always be adaptable and consider the outcomes of less-optimal plays. Sometimes, they are in fact the better play. Sometimes, they feign weakness and lead to game winning moves later on.

This reminds me of a classic move made by a good friend back in the day. He was playing a machine deck and his opponent was playing a Destiny based deck (I believe T-Hero). Score is about 7000 for Machine deck and 4000 for Destiny deck. Destiny player has a Stratos out but is afraid to overcommit due to Mirror Force and Torrential not being played yet. He has 3 sets vs Machine decks 1. Machine player has heavy storm, Cyber Dragon and Dekoichi in hand. He passes. He takes 1800. His turn, he passes again. Takes another 1800. He sets a second backrow and ends. Takes a third 1800. He draws into Limiter Removal this time around, plays heavy storm, drops Cyber Dragon and Deko and Limiters for game. In case you are wondering, that players name was Lazaro Bellido.


Hitting the wall is a rite of passage for virtually every player that wants to step up their game to the top tier competitive level. Many people at this stage will give up and accept this level of skill, but it can be overcome. It will take hard work, and it is up to you to decide of its worth. It will require intense studying of card effects and rulings. It takes recognition of your weaknesses and finding ways to overcome them. It takes practice, observation, and patience. But once you break through the wall, you will reach the top tier of gameplay, and it sure is fun at the top. Good luck, and see you at the top tables.