There are a few elements that define good players. They make accurate reads. They understand card advantage. They have a good grasp of the meta and the key cards that comprise it. These are all skills that aspiring players need to work toward, and we’ve already made the biggest leap: card advantage (see previous article). We’ll make another big leap today with something simpler (thankfully!): playing conservatively. One of the biggest reasons “good” players win on a consistent basis is because they play conservatively. Be aware that you need to understand the basic concept of card advantage, so be sure to read (and understand) that article before rushing into this one!
What does playing conservatively mean? Well, it revolves around a simple principle: don’t play cards that you don’t need to. As we go through the article, I’ll provide examples that (hopefully) illuminate on how to play conservatively and why players are rewarded for doing so. Obviously, the reward will come from winning the game or securing a more advantageous position, and these are things that you’ll naturally discover as you start to implement them into your playstyle. Let’s start out with a simple example involving an often-misplayed card, Heavy Storm:
Your opponent sets two cards to his backrow and passes.
Right away, you identify that your opponent is not playing conservatively. That is, he is in a position to lose cards when he doesn’t have to. The lingering threat of Heavy Storm in the format would spell a potential [-1] in terms of card advantage for your opponent if you were to play it right now and achieve a [+1] on your side of the playing field (the classic “two for one”, 2 backrow for 1 Heavy Storm = [+1] for you, [-1] for them). So, immediately, you’re at an advantage! You’re an aspiring conservative player, while your opponent is not! Congratulations, you’ve taken the biggest step!
Now, let’s say your hand consists of a Mystical Space Typhoon, Lyla, Lightsworn Sorceress, Tragoedia, and 3 other cards. Being an aspiring conservative player, you want to use the minimum number of cards possible to achieve the most advantageous gamestate. You’ll see the results of this in the attack of Tragoedia in turn 2 (we’ll get there, don’t rush!). Let’s say you take Route 1:
You blind Typhoon a backrow, hit his facedown Typhoon. You normal summon a Lyla and lose it to Torrential Tribute. You now have 4 cards in your hand.
You took Route 1 and ended your turn. Your opponent then summons XX-Saber Boggart Knight and attacks you directly, and you special Tragoedia at 1800 ATK (600 x 3 remaining cards in your hand).
Now let’s say you’re well seasoned in playing conservatively, and you take Route 2:
You summon the Lyla, baiting out your opponent’s cards. He’s forced to play Torrential (or risk losing it), leaving you with the lone harmless Typhoon facedown. He’s out a Torrential, and you’re out a simple Lyla. You pass with 5 cards in hand.
This time, he summons the Boggart, and attacks directly. You summon the Tragoedia with 2400 ATK, ready to be boosted to a wopping 3000 ATK with your next draw! You’ve secured a much more advantageous gamestate through a bigger monster just because you played conservatively.
Now, that’s a fairly simple example of playing conservatively and achieving success through old-fashioned beatdown. But what happens when we climb up the power scale and venture into more complex strategies? Let’s say it’s late game. Your opponent has a lone backrow, and you’re holding a Mystic Tomato and Dark Armed Dragon in your hand, with 2 darks in your graveyard. Your opponent holds a Dark Hole, backed up with his backrow. Let’s say you’re not quite acquainted with playing conservatively yet, and you take Route 1:
Summon the Mystic Tomato and attack directly. You attack into Mirror Force, sending the Tomato to the grave, effectively filling it up with 3 darks.
The nonconservative player will simply special summon the Dark Armed in main phase 2 (MP2) and pass, just to have a monster on the field. But why do this? Is it completely necessary (assuming life points permitting)? You can’t gain card advantage through Dark Armed since there are no more cards on either side of the field. You can’t attack to inflict damage, possibly for game. So why do this? To make matters worse, your opponent drops Dark Hole, and attacks directly with a freshly topdecked Blackwing - Bora the Spear. At this point, your opponent has 1 card, and you have none, so you’re at a [-1]. You put yourself in a bad position because you rushed. So let’s example what would have happened if you would have waited and taken Route 2 (the conservative route):
Summon the Tomato and attempt to attack, running into Mirror Force. Pass, with the Dark Armed in hand. You opponent, now at 2 cards, summons Bora and attacks directly. You draw for your turn, topdeck a Spirit Reaper, and special summon the Dark Armed, popping Bora with Dark Armed’s effect, netting a [+1] in terms of card advantage.
Note: Just as a reminder, this is because cards in the graveyard do not count toward card advantage, only cards on the field and hand, with the exception of cards like Spore and Mezuki, which provide [+1]’s from the grave. Effectively, you give up a card in the graveyard (no change in card advantage) to destroy one card on your opponent’s side of the field, getting you a [+1]. This means you now have more advantage over your opponent because you have more cards (1 Dark Armed + 1 Reaper = 2, compared to 1 Dark Hole in hand = 1, so you’re at 2 (you) - 1 (opponent) = [+1]), hence the name: card advantage!
You then normal summon the Reaper, and attack directly with Reaper, netting yet another [+1] with Reaper’s effect! You now have 2 cards, while your opponent has none, just because you played conservatively! Your total card advantage at this point is [+2] when you took Route 2, compared to [-1] in Route 1. This is a significant improvement! Congratulations, you’re one step closer to being the best player you can be!
Let’s say you know your opponent has a Dark Hole (via Pot of Duality, or something of the sort). He summons a Bora and passes, with only Dark Hole in his hand. You have a hand of Judgment Dragon, Jain, and Foolish Burial with a Wulf in your deck and 4 Lightsworn monsters with different names in your graveyard. A nonconservative player will rush (assuming he can’t win this turn) and summon Judgment Dragon, like in Route 1:
You summon the Judgment Dragon, nuke the field for your [+1] (Bora destroyed), and attack.
You walk right into the Dark Hole next turn, plus whatever your opponent has for you. Bad play! Don’t do this! Rather, play conservatively and force the Dark Hole on smaller monsters, keeping your big boss monster for late game in Route 2:
Normal summon the Jain (or Foolish a Wulf), attack over the Bora, and pass. You’ve achieved a [+1] through battle. Your opponent is forced to play the Dark Hole and whatever topdeck he has. Now, you can play the Judgment Dragon, destroy the topdeck for another [+1] ([+2] at this point!), then Foolish the Wulf or summon the Jain (whichever you didn’t do), and attack for massive damage! With this route, you have two great monsters on the field and have effectively played around the threat of Dark Hole. Conclusively, we can see here that conservative play rewards the player with a [+2] and game finishing boss monster.
Let’s take another example. Suppose you’re playing an Agent Angel deck, and you have a well-established field: a loaded Gachi Gachi Gantetsu with a souped-up Venus. You have Honest, Earth, and Master Hyperion in your hand, with a single Shine Ball in the grave. Pretty nice! However, your opponent special summons TG Striker and Warwolf, going into Catastor, taking the inherent [-1] from the synchro summon (-2 synchro materials + 1 synchro = [-1] for your opponent in overall C.A.). He attacks over your Venus. Now, the non-conservative player will panic and take the least effective way out, Route 1:
Banish Earth from your hand, summoning Hyperion. Banish another fairy in the graveyard, destroy Catastor.
Note that in Route 1, you gave up 1 card (Earth) to destroy 1 (Catastor). In other words:  of your cards for his  card translates to a [+0] for you. Why do this? Why settle for break-evens? Simply take Route 2, the conservative (and therefore, more advantageous) route:
Normal Earth, getting another Agent ([+1]!). Banish Venus in the grave, special Hyperion ([-0], as opposed to [-1] in Route 1. Banish the Shine Ball for the Catastor ([+1])!
Here, you’ve played conservatively and accumulated card advantage! You break even in Route 1 ([+0]), but in Route 2, you net not a [+1], but a [+2] ([+1] from Earth search, [+1] from Hyperion destruction). Awesome!
Perhaps the best example of playing conservatively can be seen in Solemn Warning plays. Let's say you have a set Solemn Warning and your opponent has one card in hand and Spore in the grave. He removes a Lonefire to special summon Spore as a level 4 tuner, then normal summons Blackwing - Zephyros the Elite to synchro summon a level 8 monster. Let's compare what a conservative and non-conservative player would do, and see which route is better:
You activate the effect of Solemn Warning to Spore's activation, negating the summon of Spore. Your opponent then normal summons Zephyros.
In this case, Solemn Warning acts as a one-for-one or [+0]. You then take a direct attack, lowering your life points by 3600 this turn! Ouch!
Your opponent activates the effect of Spore, special summoning it. You let it go through. Your opponent then normal summons Zephyros and synchro summons Stardust Dragon. You activate the effect of Solemn Warning, negating the summon of Stardust Dragon.
In this case, Solemn Warning becomes a [+1]: the 2 synchro materials in exchange for 1 Solemn Warning = [+1]. In addition to card advantage, you've also saved 1600 life points. The conservative option is much better in terms of card advantage and life points!
Clearly, you can see that being conservative and letting your opponent waste resources to get rid of your cards is much more effective than rushing into power plays. When employed correctly with card advantage in mind, you’ll have multiple match victories under your belt in no time!