Sunday, February 19, 2012

Re-Ionization! The March 2012 Ban List: Analysis and Preparations

Well, guys, it’s been a while, but I’m finally back!  I’ve had a busy few months, getting all my schoolwork and trying to stay on top of things.  As a result, I haven’t been posting much - and I apologize to my dear readers, but I’ll do my best to post much more frequently!  I figured I’d jump right back into it with the announcement of the ban list.  Without further ado, this has been the confirmed OCG list (which, if history proves true, will be the exact same as the TCG list):
Glow-Up Bulb
Trishula, Dragon of the Ice Barrier
Trap Dustshoot
TG Striker
Agent of Mystery - Earth
Lumina, Lightsworn Summoner
Reborn Tengu
Emergency Teleport
Shien’s Smoke Signal
Level Limit - Area B
Torrential Tribute
Ultimate Offering
Call of the Haunted
Yeah, I know.  We all know.  It’s pretty bad.  It addresses none of the current problems that plague the format.  The Synchros that most of you have worked hard for are now, for lack of a better phrase, being phased out slowly in favor of the new Xyz mechanic.  The banning of Trishula, Bulb, and Spore is a horrendous slap in the face to those that bought Konami’s Synchro-oriented product within the past year, and I’m sure many of you feel Konami has taken advantage of your buying habits (and thus, your trust in them to shelve a secure, stable product).  In all honesty, they have.  

However, I don’t want to discourage you from playing, nor do I want to push any of you away from the game!  Rather, I’d like to offer an explanation for the complete vomit that is the list - an explanation that Konami has no intention to offer at all.  I’m sure many of you are looking for a reason why the cards you’ve worked so hard to obtain are now unplayable, and you are now forced to buy cards exclusively from the latest sets.  Although my explanation, without a doubt, will not satisfy your desire to know as much as one from Konami, I feel that our explanations would indeed be similar in many regards.  
I posed the following observation a few months ago: much unlike Konami, the makers of Magic - the Gathering, Wizards of the Coast, will explain why they banned cards upon the announcement of their “list”.  They acknowledge that they have weakened their customer base’s trust, and as a result, product sales and the size of the player base will decline.  They do something that Konami has never done before - they apologized, and asked their consumers to listen in on how these mistakes (such as Jace and Stoneforge Mystic) were made.  I’m not a fan of Magic, nor am I even remotely interested in playing, but this article really swept me off my feet.  Why hasn’t Konami done something like this? 
After a few months of thought, and upon the careful observation and analysis of the most recent ban list, I’m sure I’ve finally found the answer.  When people like you or I design ban lists, we construct them to form an ideal format - a format where several (if not many) decks have a chance at topping, and decks which were unfair previously have had a portion of their power limited.  Cards that generate mass advantage are placed on the list to make their respective decks less consistent or problem cards are banned to push players into using fairer, more balanced cards available.  Therefore, I feel confident in saying that when we design ban lists, we design them with one thing in mind - the state of the game.  
But here’s the issue - this is what we would do.  Us.  Not Konami.  We are not the makers of this game.  We do not produce product.  We do not have to make a profit to keep our employers paid and happy, we do not have to sell boxes of our newest set to keep the business going, and we do not have the responsibility of the families of all those that work for us on our shoulders.  So what does this mean?  Simply put, Konami is forced into this position by default - they are required to think like a business, and not like a player!  Unlike you and I, who construct ban lists based on fairness and the state of the game, Konami designs ban lists for profit.  And so we see the company and the player base are at odds - one is concerned with money, the other with the good of the game.  Thus, this leads to the creation of a list that does nothing to fix the problems in the game, such as opening into Evolzar Laggia and multiple backrow, Magician/Tour Guide and Shark, or just setting up for big plusses with Inzektors.  

And yet, this approach to list creation is easily rebutted.  Sure, designing a list with profit in mind will yield (perhaps substantial) short-term profits via pack and product sales, but hitting cards that players worked hard to get (especially when those cards can cost upwards of $100) will diminish the trust between the consumers and the company.  So the rebuttal is this: if Konami designed lists with the state of the game in mind, players would trust Konami with product making and continue to invest money in cards, resulting in more money over the long-term as opposed to more in the short-term.  New sets would still sell because players are interested in buying (and trying) new things - though these sets wouldn’t sell as quickly in a format which players are forced to buy recent packs, such as this upcoming one.  But the long-term relationship between the consumers and Konami would surely be strengthened, leading more players to continue buying product over the course of many formats!  
So why don’t they do this?  
I wish I knew the answer.  I really do.  Perhaps I’m missing something - perhaps they are.  Either way, I don’t think we’ll find out, given Konami’s secretive and distant relationship with its consumers.  But at least you’re more aware of how the list is created - remember, profit oriented, not game-state!  
Enough ranting.  I’m sure most of my readers would rather hear about what this format has to offer, rather that what it could have offered.  As most of you know, most changes were made to accommodate the domination of three decks: Inzektors, Wind-Ups, and Dino Rabbit.  As I said before, none of the changes on the list even remotely weaken the power of any of these - in fact, the changes serve to strengthen them!  If you want to win consistently in competitive play this format, you’ll need to be playing one of these three, or a variation of. The banning of the Plant engine and severe debilitation of Agent Angel strips away competitors.  Glimmers of hope have been given to decks such as Six Samurai (to sell Samurai Assault and Ra Yellow, perhaps?), however, these decks are insignificant to the power and speed of the former three, and are (as of now), irrelevant in the metagame.    
So how do we combat this?  What can we do about it?  First of all, you’ll need to get some cards.  Most are expensive.  Since the problems of the end of this format were not addressed, they carry over to the upcoming one.  You’ll need a set of Maxx “C” to compete with the speed and power of Wind-Ups and Dino Rabbit.  You’ll need a set of Fiendish Chain to stop Inzektors, Wind-Ups, and Rabbit from plussing and taking the game within the first few turns. You’ll need a set of Tour Guides for consistency and speed to answer big plays.  Unless you play something odd, if you don’t have these cards, you’ll need to work hard toward getting them (though keep in mind, some of these are getting reprinted in Epic Dawn, arriving in May).  I get asked about my opinion of replacements for these cards, and I’ll gladly give my answer right here and now to avoid any confusion: there are none.  It’s better to have one copy of Fiendish Chain or Maxx “C” than three copies of a mediocre replacement.  Unfortunately, this is what is typically required to do well in higher-level play.  

I hope my article doesn’t come off as too grim, because, in all honesty, Yu-Gi-Oh will always be Yu-Gi-Oh, and you can have fun if you want to!  But if you’re competitive, I hope you took something away from this in terms of predicting future lists (remember, profit, not game-state!) and obtaining cards that will be good within the next few months.  I realize this is a different take on one of our articles, and I figured I'd shake it up a bit to see how you guys take it.  I’ll be posting through the days to give you our more typical work: tips, combos, and deck lists for those that want to better themselves! 
Glad to be back,
Dr. House

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Good Player's Toolbox: Summoning Comprehension

At one point or another, we’ve all been there before.  “Geez...I know I need to negate the summon of this, but I don’t know if I can do it,” you mutter to yourself, mulling over whether you can negate the summon with Thunder King Rai-Oh and save your Solemn Warning for later, or just be safe and play the Warning.  Great players understand how to play their cards, and are particularly aware of the intimate associations between their cards and the opponent’s.  That being said, this dilemma remains much more common than you might think, though I’ve seen many, many more players in this (significantly worse) situation: 
Player A: I activate Monster Reborn, targeting Scrap Dragon.
Player B: I negate Monster Reborn with Thunder King Rai-Oh
It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?  Thunder King reads: “...negate the Special Summon of 1 of your opponent’s monsters, and destroy it.”  It might be confusing at first, but Thunder King just doesn’t quite work this way.  Why is this?

Here’s the kicker: there’s a huge difference between the special summon of a monster through a condition and the special summon of a monster through an effect.  This is the key to understanding how cards like Thunder King, Black Horn of Heaven, and Solemn Judgment cannot negate certain special summons while cards like Solemn Warning and Royal Oppression can.  So, without further ado, let’s make this distinction clear: there’s a big difference between (1.) a monster special summoned through a built-in condition (not an effect!) and (2.) a monster special summoned through another card effect.  The first part will be fairly complex, but the latter part is much simpler and straightforward - I promise!  If you’ll stick through the explanation of the first part, you can definitely make it through the article and expand your in-game knowledge.  This will be rewarding and very well worth it, especially considering the vast number of cards that negate summons.  So, without any hesitation, let’s dive into it!
The first type of special summon is a monster that can be summoned through a built-in condition.  What does this mean?  This means that some monsters can special summon themselves when a condition is fulfilled.  For example, when you have three darks in your graveyard (condition), you can special summon Dark Armed Dragon.  When you have four or more Lightsworn monsters of different names in your graveyard (condition), you can special summon Judgment Dragon.  When your opponent controls a monster, and you control no monsters (condition), you can special summon Cyber Dragon from your hand.  Get it?  These are not effects, they are conditions.  They do not “activate”, they are fulfilled.  When the condition occurs, you are free to special summon the monster as long as the condition is present.  

This type of summon, which is dependent on a condition, is called an inherent special summon.  The above examples make this summon seem “passive” in the sense that you don’t have to “do” something to get the monster on the field - in other words, you can just wait for three darks or four or more different Lightsworns to unleash your boss monsters.  This isn’t always the case!  For this reason, it can get confusing if you see cards that look like they’re special summoned through an effect, but they’re not.  Some notorious examples (that follow a common trend of discarding from the hand to special summon them) are Dark Grepher, Machina Fortress, and Swap Frog.  They’re almost worded like effects in the sense that some seem like ignition monster effects, like Machina Fortress: “You can discard Machine-Type monster(s) whose total Levels equal 8 or more to Special Summon this card from your hand or Graveyard.”  Sounds like a monster effect, right?  Nope, not quite.  This is a condition.  Same goes for Dark Grepher or Swap Frog.  When you discard a dark or water monster (condition, which, in this case, is also a cost), you can special summon the card.  The condition of discarding is fulfilled, but no effect was activated.  
Therefore, these types of summons, known as inherent special summons, do not start a chain.  You can banish a light and dark to special summon Black Luster Soldier; it looks like an “active” effect in the sense that you have to “do” something to get it on the field, but it’s not.  It’s a condition, and therefore, an inherent special summon.  On the note of “doing” something to summon monsters that are inherent special summons, let’s look at a common game mechanic: you can send a level 2 tuner and a level 4 non-tuner from your side of the field to the graveyard (condition) to special summon Brionac.  What does this mean?  Of course, it means that synchro summons are inherent special summons!  Their condition is fulfilled when you send the correct combination of tuner and non-tuner monsters from your side of the field to the grave, allowing you to special summon the synchro monster.  The same logic holds for the new Xyz monsters - their summon condition is fulfilled when you overlay the correct levels of the correct monsters.
Whew!  Got all that?  That’s how inherent special summons work.  So just to recap, they are not special summoned through effects and therefore, do not start a chain.  Some are “passive”, where you can simply wait for conditions to be fulfilled (like Dark Armed Dragon or Judgment Dragon), while some are more “active”, where you have to make the condition work (like discarding, banishing, or sending cards to the graveyard).  It’s easy to tell all of them apart, though: they do not summon themselves by an effect that activates.  With that in mind, let’s look at something totally different: cards that can special summon through effects, rather than conditions:
1.  You banish Mezuki to special summon Goblin Zombie.  The Goblin Zombie is summoned through Mezuki’s effect, not through Goblin Zombie’s effect.  
2.  You banish Vayu and Sirocco to special summon Blackwing Armed Wing.  The Armed Wing is summoned through Vayu’s effect, not through its own condition.
3.  You take a direct attack, with no cards on your side of the field, triggering Gorz the Emissary of Darkness’ effect.  You special summon Gorz and a token through the effect of Gorz in the damage step (again, this is not a condition, this is an effect that triggers when you take damage, similar to Tragoedia!).  
4.  You activate Monster Reborn, targeting Scrap Dragon.  The Scrap Dragon is summoned through the effect of Monster Reborn, not through its own summoning condition.
5.  Your opponent activates Starlight Road, summoning Stardust Dragon through the effect of Starlight Road.  (Indeed, this is why Stardust summoned through Starlight Road can only negate one time - because it was not special summoned properly through its own synchro “condition”, and therefore, cannot special summon itself during the end phase!)
6.  You discard Dandylion as a cost to activate the effect of One for One, summoning Glow-Up Bulb from the deck.  The Bulb is summoned through the effect of One for One, not its own effect.  

Got the hang of it now?  I felt this type of summon is best explained through example, since many players find themselves performing these moves, but don’t understand how these monsters are really summoned.  Monsters summoned through card effects do not have to be summoned strictly through other monster effects - they can be summoned through spells (such as One for One or Monster Reborn) or traps (like Call of the Haunted or Limit Reverse).  They’re summoned through card effects, meaning they’re summoned through an effect (whether it be monster, spell, or trap) and not a condition!  This is the difference between an inherent special summon and a summon through a card effect.  This is the ultimate distinction I want you to make at this point, so be sure you understand this!  If you do not, it is definitely important enough to go back and review it, since you cannot understand the next section without understanding this one!
So now that we have a good grip on how these summons are accomplished (either through conditions or effects), let’s understand how to stop them.  We’ll start at the best summon negation cards, which are the ones that are the most encompassing.  Cards like Solemn Warning and the late Royal Oppression are exceptionally powerful because they say “Negate the summon of a monster or [a card effect] that special summons a monster. . . “  From this, you can see that it negates inherent special summons (first part, “Negate the summon of a monster. . . ”) and it negates summons through card effects when the effects activate (second part, “a [card effect] that special summons a monster”).  Got it?  So Warning and Oppression negate both types of summons.  

But what about stuff like Thunder King Rai-OhThunder King just has the first part of Solemn Warning: “Negate the special summon of a monster. . .”, so it can only negate inherent special summons.  Thunder King cannot negate special summons that are accomplished through card effects, like Monster Reborn, Vayu, Mezuki, and so forth, but it can negate inherent summons like Cyber Dragon, Dark Armed Dragon, Black Luster Soldier, Machina Fortress, all Xyzs, all synchros, and “contact” fusions (but not fusions via Polymerization!).  Steelswarm Roach is essentially a weaker version of Thunder King - it negates the special summon of a leveled monster.  This means it’ll only negate inherent special summons, and it can’t touch Xyz summons.  This is the weakest of all summon negators, and, despite the rarity, I’ll never understand why it’s sitting on its current price of roughly $60.  
But what about Solemn Judgment?  This card is a bit tricky, but stick with this, and you’ll get it down.  Solemn Judgment says “Negate . . . the summon of a monster and destroy it.”  So this part of Solemn Judgment reads exactly like Thunder King, and will only stop inherent special summons.  However, Solemn Judgment can also negate Monster Reborn (which is a summon through a card effect) by negating the activation of a spell card.  This part is tricky, though: note that Solemn Judgment cannot negate the summon of a monster special summoned through Monster Reborn.  Meaning once the monster targeted by Monster Reborn hits the field, Solemn cannot negate the summon, because it was special summoned through the effect of Monster Reborn.  Rather, you’ll have to negate the activation of the effect that special summons the monster - in this case, you’ll have to Solemn Judgment the Monster Reborn itself, and not the monster special summoned through Reborn.  Got it?  If not, be sure to review the difference between these two types of summons in the opening paragraphs!  For those of you that are visual learners, here’s a diagram encompassing summon negation from broadest to most restrictive:

Great players that compete successfully in premier events have a strong edge over players that don’t understand how this concept works.  They understand the mechanics of summoning, and not just memorizing a bunch of card interactions like “Oh, you can’t negate Reborn with Thunder King.”  Rather, they understand why.  This is advantageous because new and unusual cards pop up all the time, so understanding how the mechanics work is much more a time-saver than memorizing thousands of card interactions.  In addition, because great players understand this concept, it allows them to consider every aspect when being conservative with cards; they know when to save their Thunder King or expend that all-powerful Solemn Warning.  If you’ve got this down, you’re one step closer to being the best player you can be!

Dr. House

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Show Me The Way: Effect Veiler

Today, I’m going to discuss a card that’s commonly played, yet so often misplayed: Effect Veiler.  First, just like all future “Show Me The Way” articles, I’ll go into a brief discussion explaining why this card is amazing this format (and therefore, why you should be playing it!), then I’ll follow up on how to play it.  So, let’s talk about Effect Veiler!
Since Heavy Storm is back this format, most good players you’ll be playing against in premier events will play conservatively - they won’t set their backrow so hastily, nor will they set all of their backrow if they draw into multiple.  In fact, since Mystical Space Typhoon is now basking in its unlimited status, you’ll find that several players have eliminated non-chainable backrow from their decks altogether to leave their opponents with “dead” copies of Typhoon and Storm!  Therefore, the focus has shifted away from backrow and toward “hand-traps” to stop an opponent from going off. Great examples of these “hand-traps” are Effect Veiler, Maxx “C”, and D.D. Crow.

Effect Veiler is perhaps the most prominent example of the three.  Since monster spam and removal are typically achieved through other monster effects, such as XX-Saber Faultroll, The Agent of Creation - Venus, Black Rose Dragon, Scrap Dragon, and Brionac, you can see how powerful monster effects are - especially when they go off unhindered by opposing backrow!  This is extraordinarily relevant because, in case you haven’t noticed, games are typically won this format in one (or both) of these ways: massive monster swarms and destruction.  Since Effect Veiler prevents (to some extent) these scenarios from happening, you can imagine why it’s such a great card.  Therefore, it’s logical to see how handy negating these monster effects are, and just to recap, there are two reasons: traps have gone down in utility this format and more games are won through monster effects than ever before.  
However, there’s a problem: many players simply struggle to figure out when (and why) to play Effect Veiler.  There are two rules to playing Effect Veiler.  The first rule, perhaps the broadest and one most commonly utilized is:
Rule 1:  Play Effect Veiler when card advantage deems it favorable to do so.
In other words, play Veiler when the card advantage is more favorable to you than your opponent.  Let’s take the following example:
Case 1:  Your opponent special summons T.G. Striker and Warwolf, then normal summons T.G. Rush Rhino.  You can see a Trishula play coming.  He synchs into Trishula, targeting three of your cards.  You chain Effect Veiler.
Why is this favorable?  Well, let’s look at the card advantage involved from your side of the field: -3 monsters to synchro Trishula +1 Trishula - 1 Effect Veiler = -3 +1 + 1 = [+2].  Therefore, you’ve given up 1 card, while your opponent gave up 3, netting you a cool [+2].  Indeed, card advantage deems this is a great play!  

However, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to come out in the plus range [+X] to play Veiler well.  For example, if your opponent summons a card that generates massive card advantage (say, a [-3] or [-4] for you), then it’s much better to take the inherent [-1] from playing Veiler (since it goes from your hand to the grave, generating no immediate advantage) than take the massive disadvantage.  Examples of this are Black Rose Dragon or Dark Armed Dragon plays when you have several cards committed to the field.  Though these card-advantage focused examples are obvious ones, there are some situations where playing Veiler might not be so obvious.  Thankfully, this is where the second rule comes in handy!

The second (and less precise) rule to playing Veiler is:
Rule 2:  Play Veiler when your setup for the rest of the game is in immediate danger.  
Let’s say you’re playing Frog Monarchs and you have a Sangan in your hand with nothing else but tribute monsters and Effect Veiler.  You set the Sangan, hoping to score your Swap Frog and set up for the rest of the game from there.  Your opponent recognizes this as an extremely passive play and capitalizes on it.  He special summons Swap Frog by discarding Treeborn and tributing the Swap Frog for Caius, targeting the face down Sangan.  Your setup is in extreme danger here!  You won‘t be able to play any of the cards in your hand unless you get your Swap Frog, so it’s necessary to play Veiler in this case.  
Now that I’ve explained how to play Veiler, I’ll explain how not to play Veiler.  First and foremost, do not play Veiler on any little monster effect.  For example, if you know your opponent is going to use Zombie Master’s effect, discarding a monster and targeting Plaguespreader to synchro into Brionac or Orient Dragon to rid you of your Stardust, do not play Veiler on Zombie Master!  Instead, play Veiler on Brionac or Orient Dragon, since neither of these cards can power over your Stardust.  It requires foresight, but with practice, you’ll get the hang of it.
That being said, there are some things you’ll almost unconditionally Veiler.  I’ll let you in on a couple of them, but it’s up to you to figure out what the pattern is!  My two examples are:
Trishula.  If you let Trishula’s effect resolve, you’ll be out a card in your hand and on your field (and possibly a key graveyard card, like Spore or Plaguespreader).  But if you Veiler, you’ll only be out a card in your hand.  
Spirit Reaper.  If Spirit Reaper makes a direct attack and you have Veiler in hand and say, Dark Armed Dragon with exactly three darks in the grave, you should definitely Veiler.  In fact, if you have any other live card in your hand, you should Veiler the Reaper.  Why?  Because you’ll lose a card anyway to Reaper’s direct attack, so it might as well be one that isn’t critical to your strategy.  

So what’s the pattern from these examples?  Here’s the answer: it’s card advantage.  You’ll be losing cards in either case, so you might as well make the most of them.  If you’re not understanding the concept of card advantage, be sure to go back to the main page and check out the article!  If you’re suffering from Veiler misplays, you’ll need to brush up on foresight and card advantage.  Take a moment to compute the card advantage before and after effects go off to determine whether Veiler is something you’d want to play, then think about how badly an effect going off will affect your strategy and setup.  Remember, practice makes perfect! 
Dr. House

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Good Player's Toolbox: Doing Well at Premier Events

We all like to win.  That’s why we play Yu-Gi-Oh!, right?  To have fun and to snag the occasional triumph.  With YCS Toronto edging its way closer and closer this weekend, many people need some pointers on how to make the most of these kind of events - not only YCSs, but also regionals and even locals.  There a few relatively easy and logical steps you can take to shine at these premier occasions, many of which are listed here:
Everyone seems to forget about or underestimate the power of a good night’s beauty sleep.  It’s essential that you get sufficient sleep before a big tournament - it affects you more than you think.  At least 7-8 hours are necessary if you want to function at your highest level!  Why?  Because, above all else, Yu-Gi-Oh! is a thinking game.  You need to think on your feet (or chair, in this case), analyzing your opponent’s moves and reacting accordingly.  No amount of playtesting until the wee hours of the night before will get you through those grueling 9 - 11 rounds of play.  If you’re more focused on sneaking in a nap in between rounds, odds are your playing will suffer as much as you will!
Be prepared!
If you’d like to save the hassle of scratching down your decklist 10 minutes before registration closes in a frenzy to get it submitted on time, and possibly delaying the start of the tournament (those last minute arrivals secretly annoy everyone awaiting the the first round!), then prepare your decklist early!  The Konami website has an online version of the decklist sheet you can print and fill out ahead of time.  In addition to saving time, this will prevent you from making last minute deck changes that can be detrimental to your success. 

As a sad example, if your friend has an extra copy of Two-Pronged Attack and swears by his success with it while playtesting, in a panic you just might add it to your side deck (read card advantage article and weep over this travesty!).  Mistake!  Big, bad mistake!  Avoid playing cards you are inexperienced with; if you haven’t played with it before, how can you expect to know when and how to use it (and if it’s actually good)?  On a side note, you’ll need some fresh card sleeves for each day you plan to play.  Doing this will hopefully prevent opponents from falsely accusing you of marking cards in your deck.  Ultra Pros are generally a good choice because they tend to have fewer spots on them after play.  I like the black, white, or pink ones best! Sexy!
Eat a great breakfast!
Yeah.  You’ve heard it before.  Your mom has told you this since you were born and has made it applicable to everything you do: school, work, play, and everything else she could possibly think of.  It’s true, though.  The food has as much to do with your brain functioning as it does with your stomach feeling satisfied.  Glucose is the primary energy storage in your food, and this is the energy that your brain runs off of!  As previously stated, you’ll be thinking all day, so you really need to have enough fuel to last you through the event.  Breakfast can help you here - let it!  However, that trusty glucose is metabolized throughout the day, leading to a problem for your hungry brain.  This leads us to the next tip:
Snack, snack, snack!
Once that brain food you ate for breakfast gets digested and your small intestines savor the last of that nutritious goodness, you'll need to refuel.  Drugstore goodies such as Ritz Bits (personal favorite), Cheez-Its, Gardettos, Pop-Tarts, and Gatorade are all excellent choices.  However, avoid those popular Monster energy drinks.  Sure, they’ll have you wired for 30-45 minutes, talking 90-110 MPH while vigorously shuffling your hand, but what happens when it wears off?  You crash, and you crash hard (and to no surprise, so does your playing!).  You need something more substantial than sugary caffeine.  Depending on the event location, there might be food provided for a cost, but it's not guaranteed, so it’s best to bring snacks!  
Watch your stuff!
Many have had it happen to them before.  Your Trishula goes missing from your extra deck after a group of guys was “admiring” it.  Your age-old 1st edition LOB Dark Magician that your best friend gave to you years back gets bent after some kid takes it out your binder to appraise it.  Odds are, if you’re still reading this article, your cards are important to you.  So don’t let this happen!  If you have to bring a trade binder, keep it in a backpack that you wear in front (yes, like a kangaroo pouch).  Watch others as they look through your cards, and try to limit it to one person at a time so it’s easier to keep track of your things.  Also, never trade while you’re playing!  This is the easiest way to get distracted and lose track of your stuff.
Get familiar with the event!
Get there early.  Before it starts, walk around, getting to know the place in case you get lost (it happens!).  Make sure you have a ride both to and from the location.  If the tournament is in a different state, make sure to reserve a hotel at least 2-3 months ahead of time.  It would help if you can get a place that is within walking distance from the event location.  For one, YCS events are usually held in a busy city center.  After the tournament ends, you can unwind and explore the cityscape then simply walk to your hotel.  Secondly, if your ride doesn’t show or if the area is too crowded, you could just walk to the event.  Dr. House and I like to use TripAdvisor to get reviews, locations, and telephone numbers of possible hotels and restaurants in tournament areas.
If you can keep these points in mind while preparing for your next big tournament, you just might be able to surpass your expectations and reign victorious!  Just remember there is more involved in doing well than being familiar with the meta, long nights of extreme playtesting, and researching your card choices!  You’re most likely prepared enough to play well, but what good is it if you can’t make it though the day?  Don’t stress yourself more than you need to!  Relax, follow the steps, and have fun!  
Ms. K  

In the Spotlight: Zombies

You’ve definitely heard of them - they’ve been around a while.  Whether you’re a longtime veteran or a player just starting out, you’ve listened to the stories about (or experienced firsthand!) the power of Zombies.  From Japan’s “Tier 0” Zombie synchro deck with 3 Mezuki, 3 Burial from a Different Dimension, 3 Dark Armed Dragon, and 2 Card of Safe Return to our (the TCG’s) watered-down version with 3 Burial from a Different Dimension, 2 Mezuki, and 1 Plaguespreader Zombie (as well as several variants prior to this), we see that Zombies have been on and off the upper tier lists.  With the limiting of Mezuki, Brionac, and Burial from a Different Dimension, Zombies lost a considerable amount of power and consistency, disappearing off the upper tier list for quite some time.  
But they’re back again.  Enter Tour Guide from the Underworld.  This is it.  This is the card that makes the Zombie archetype playable and consistent.  The card that ties together the deck, creating first-turn Sangan setups or explosive plays characterized by a blend of synchro and Xyz monsters.  Without further ado, here’s a decklist of upper-tier Zombies of this format:
    Monsters:   23
3 Tour Guide from the Underworld
3 Goblin Zombie
3 Maxx "C"
3 Thunder King Rai-Oh
3 Spirit Reaper
2 Pyramid Turtle
1 Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning
1 Gorz the Emissary of Darkness
1 Dark Armed Dragon
1 Sangan
1 Mezuki
1 Plaguespreader Zombie
   Spells:   11
3 Book of Life
2 Mystical Space Typhoon
2 Enemy Controller
1 Mind Control
1 Book of Moon
1 Monster Reborn
1 Dark Hole
   Traps:   6
2 Dimensional Prison
2 Solemn Warning
1 Torrential Tribute
1 Trap Dustshoot
    Extra Deck:  15
2 Leviair the Sea Dragon
1 Wind-Up Zenmaines
1 Number 17: Leviathan Dragon
1 Number 39: Utopia
1 TG Hyper Librarian
1 Ally of Justice Catastor
1 Brionac, Dragon of the Ice Barrier
1 Orient Dragon
2 Revived King Ha Des
1 Black Rose Dragon
1 Scrap Dragon
1 Stardust Dragon
1 Trishula, Dragon of the Ice Barrier

Consistency, Consistency, Consistency!

This deck breeds consistency.  The first thing you’ll notice are the full playsets of Goblin Zombie and Maxx “C”Goblin Zombie is the heart of the deck - you’ll need to learn how to utilize the search power to play this deck effectively.  It’ll set up Synchros via Plaguespreader Zombie, blocks and presses for advantage via Spirit Reaper, Brionac, Dragon of the Ice Barrier plays with Mezuki, and anything you can think of in the deck.  It should come to no surprise that getting a Goblin Zombie live is key, which is why two Pyramid Turtle are included.  Additionally, Pyramid Turtle allows you to keep a Zombie on the field to set up for a big Synchro or Xyz play the following turn.  

Maxx “C” is one of the best cards in the deck - one which which really shines when you’re playing competitively.  Let’s say your opponent explodes with Rescue Rabbit or Tour Guide from the Underworld.  You’ll notice the trap lineup is nothing impressive, but Maxx “C” is!  It’ll stop big plays from going off (at least, to those who understand card advantage) while allowing you to draw cards.  The more cards you draw, the more chances you have at drawing your combo pieces and power cards.  It’s searchable via Sangan (which you have “four” of, compliments of Tour Guide from the Underworld!) and serves to help keep your opponent in control.  To emphasize the awesome-ness of Maxx "C", I'll be posting a full article on it soon!
Consistency is the key, especially in tournaments of 9 - 11 rounds, such as YCS events.  You’ll be relying on your sets of Goblin Zombie, Maxx “C”, and Tour Guide to grant you access to your deck, and it’s an extremely important resource to learn how to use.  
Power Plays and Card Advantage
This is perhaps the best OTK deck I’ve played all format.  I can put 2-3 Synchro monsters and 1 Xyz monster on the field early to mid-game (assuming the game lasts that long) as well as a Leviair the Sea Dragon.  We’ll start with the basic combo of the deck:
Combo 1 - Mezuki Madness
Start the game off with an early Mezuki [+1], granting you an easy synchro or more card presence.  This is often accomplished as early as the second turn.  Set up wisely, making sure you have Plaguespreader and Goblin Zombie on the field or in the graveyard.  This would be an ideal play: set a Turtle and let your opponent attack into it (or if your opponent’s smart and doesn’t attack into facedowns, ram it into their monsters to get what you need!).  Grab a Goblin Zombie with Turtle (blocking with multiple Turtles if necessary).  Normal summon Plaguespreader, synchro Brionac, search Mezuki with Goblin Zombie.  Discard Mezuki to rid your opponent of a synchro or Xyz.  You’re all set up at this point!

Alternatively, if you open with a Turtle and Goblin, you can let Turtle get you Plaguespreader during the battle phase, then normal summon the Goblin, going into Brionac.  The same play will essentially be accomplished.  This is one of the many “removal” strategies of the deck.  Alternatively, you can synchro into Orient Dragon or Revived King if you don’t want their Sangan or TG search to go off.  Any path you choose mentioned above grants you access to a great level 6 synchro and your Mezuki/Goblin/Plague setup.  
Combo 2 - Leviair: The Zombie Recycler
Once you used up Mezuki (but not Plaguespreader!), normal summon Tour Guide.  Get another Tour Guide or Sangan and Xyz into Leviair.  Detach a material, and special that Mezuki right back!  This grants you access to your banished pile.  This is extremely powerful because it’s essentially like running a beefed-up Burial from the Different Dimension on an 1800 beater.  However, Tour Guide from the Underworld isn’t the only way you can make Leviair the Sea Dragon - you can accomplish the same thing (on a slower basis) with Spirit Reaper.  You have a full set of Spirit Reaper with three copies of Book of Life, a Mezuki, and Monster Reborn, allowing you to put two Spirit Reaper on the field and make Leviair.  Therefore, you’ve got 2 total Tour Guide plays (one for each pair), along a full set of Spirit Reaper to help you make Leviair the Sea Dragon.  Woah! That banished pile is free for you to dig into! 

Remember this: don’t use up Plaguespreader unless you absolutely have to!  Plaguespreader is your source of synchro summons, and you should never activate the in-grave effect to “stack” and special, because this will cut you off of future synchros.  Avoid this!  Only stack a Plaguespreader if you have Tour Guide from the Underworld in your hand, an unused Leviair effect, or you’re going for game and only need one synchro.  Remember this!
Of course, the deck doesn't stop there.  Tour Guide is just one card.  Let’s say you have Tour Guide and Book of Life.  Normal Tour Guide, going into Leviair, detach and do the Mezuki combo, getting your Mezuki back.  Activate Book of Life, bringing back Plaguespreader, banishing your opponent’s Glow-Up, Spore, Agents, Plaguespreader, and so forth.  Synchro Plaguespreader and Mezuki for a level 6.  Banish the Mezuki, bring something else back, like Revived King Ha Des!  
For those of you looking to flex your new card advantage skills, here’s the card advantage in that play: [+1] from Tour Guide + [-1] from inherent Xyz + [+1] from Leviair effect + [+0] from Book of Life + [-1] from synchro of Plaguespreader and Mezuki + [+1] from Mezuki.  Whew!  Thankfully, you’re well-seasoned in card advantage counting after reading our articles, but if you missed it, here’s the count: +1 - 1 + 1 + 0 - 1 + 1 = [+1].  So a Tour Guide into Leviair coupled with one graveyard revival card (either Book of Life, Reborn, and so forth) grants you a Leviair, a level 6 synchro of your choice, and a free Zombie from your graveyard special summoned to your field at a total card advantage of [+1].  Impressive!
“Combo” 3 - Doin' the Derp
Black Luster Soldier and Dark Armed Dragon - hey, who doesn't like free wins?  One's a [+3], the other's a [+1 or 2].  'Nuff said.  Thunder King for Black Luster Soldier, or Mind Control or Enemy Controller an opponent's monster and get Utopia.  There's your light, you're set to go - full derp ahead! 

A neat trick is using Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning and Tour Guide from the Underworld together.  Banish your Thunder King Rai-Oh and a Dark for Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning.  Then summon Tour Guide from the Underworld and bring the Thunder King Rai-Oh back for a game-sealing combo!
“But Why?” - Concerning Card Choices 
This Zombie deck is quite different from a lot of other builds out there.  Mostly, I get a lot of heat for only running one tuner (Plaguespreader).  This is more than sufficient to play the deck, because Plaguespreader can be recycled almost indefinitely, and is effortlessly searched out.  This is all the deck needs, and it just doesn’t make sense to clutter up deck space with unnecessary tuners when you could add more power and consistency to the deck.  One pet peeve of mine is Pain Painter.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “But it’s like Plaguespreader!”  Exactly.  It’s like Plaguespreader.  Meaning it isn’t Plaguespreader.  It can’t self-revive from the grave, which is, without a shadow of doubt, the best part of Plaguespreader Zombie.  The perfect word to describe Pain Painter is “unnecessary”.  Play better cards.  Don’t even get me started on the situational mess that's Blue-Blooded Oni.
Another thing I get some criticism on is my choice of 3 Book of LifeBook of Life is, simply put, amazing.  It revives any Zombie type monster from the graveyard, including Revivied King Ha Des for an easy level 8 synchro.  It banishes key cards that generate advantage in your opponent’s graveyard.  It takes away that Light (or Dark) for Black Luster Soldier.  It blocks future plays for your opponent (try banishing Grapha, Dandylion, Spore, or Glow-Up Bulb with Book of Life!).  The deck moves so fast, that drawing 2 (or even 3!) in your opening hand won’t hold you back - rather, it opens up more explosive plays for you while shutting down plays for your opponent.  
Given the current meta, Thunder King Rai-Oh is a great choice for this deck, because it shuts down so many opposing meta deck plays. Additionally, Thunder King Rai-Oh allows you to produce Black Luster Soldier derps, If you don’t open up with a Zombie, Thunder King Rai-Oh is simply an amazing card to put on the field during your opening turn.  It stops Rabbit plays, Tour Guides, opposing Thunder King Rai-Oh (via suicide), Duality, most floaters, and so forth.  In fact, Thunder King Rai-Oh is so deadly that I’ve included two copies of Dimensional Prison for opposing Thunder King Rai-Oh - a well protected copy of Thunder King Rai-Oh can shut this deck down!

This deck isn’t exactly for the faint of heart.  It requires an in-depth knowledge of card advantage, combo setup, combo disruption (what to use your Maxx “C” on, what to banish with Book of Life - it’s not as straightforward as it seems), and the damage step, as well as a fairly good grip on predicting plays and knowing when to push for game.  Put simply, it requires an advanced player and a good bit of practice.  
On a personal note, I've been testing this deck since the advent of Tour Guide in EXVC, playing it through the old, new, then old (again) Xyz rulings.  I've got to say, when I was playing the deck under the "Xyz-materials-on-field" ruling, it was absolutely insane.  I was so sure it was going to get smashed by the ban list come March 2012, but I'm extremely content with the ruling change!  I love this deck, and I wish it could stick around forever!
If you’ve got the heart for it, definitely pick it up.  It’s a great deck that’s extremely difficult to beat in the hands of a skilled player, but regardless of what skill level you’re at, it’ll take some practice.  Remember, be patient!  You’ll get it down eventually.  I’ve only touched the surface of all the combos that this deck is capable of in this article, and it’s up to you to discover the rest yourselves!  Don't let this intimidate you, pick it up and play!
Dr. House