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How to build a competitive yugioh deck: step by step

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Table of Contents:

1. Examine Your Meta
2. Choose a Strategy and a Win Condition
3. Do Your Research
4. Choose an Appropriate Ratio
5. Toss it All in, then Thin to Win
6. Focus Focus Focus
7. The Side - Ultimate Proof of a Good Duelist
8. Testing 1, 2, 3 ... 50?


1. Examine Your Meta

Before you start even looking at what archetype you want to build a deck around, the first thing to do is always, always, always, DETERMINE YOUR META. The "meta" is dependent upon the following criteria:

A. The current ban list
B. The cards currently in the game
C. The decks you are most likely to encounter

Understanding the reasons for why a card is banned is important to understanding whether you should use the card. There typically exist four particular reasons for why a card is admitted to the ban list. They are:

1. The card, in and of itself, creates a win condition that is easily obtainable.
2. The card, in and of itself, can consistently create a card advantage of +2 or greater in the player's favor.
3. The card, in combination with only one or two other cards, can create an OTK.
4. The card, in combination with only one or two other cards, can create an infinite loop.
5. The card, in and of itself, can defeat your opponent's entire strategy.

Understanding the ban list and understanding why certain cards are restricted, limited, or semi-limited can often lead to you find what effects are considered especially powerful, and then you can make a deck that is capable of mimicking some of those powerful effects.


2. Choose a Strategy and a Win Condition

At this point, you should now have figured out, at least approximately, what decks you can most expect to end up playing against and what their strategies are most centered toward. Now, it is time to determine what general strategy you wish to play, and what your primary win condition will be for your deck.

A win condition is the way in which you envision your deck winning the duel. All decks need to have this. It is what will create focus and synergy in the deck later on.

When choosing a competitive deck-type you need to, in general, match up that deck-type against the meta you expect to see. Zombies may be an awesome deck, but if your meta consists of a bunch of people using Macro decks, you are going to have a lot of bad matchups. Your choice does not have to be one of the meta decks, but it should be a deck that, in general, you feel has some sort of advantage over most of the meta you expect to see.


3. Do Your Research

In this next step you will be researching the hell out of the deck-type you chose. When I say research, I mean follow this method:

1. Determine how the deck-type has performed in the past
2. (if applicable) Find decklists from pros who ran your deck-type
3. (if applicable) Find records of duels involving your deck-type
4. Determine your key cards
5. Determine cards that either have synergy with or combo with your key cards

To determine how the deck-type has performed in the past, you need to look at past tournies and see if your deck-type has had any strong showings. For local tournies, you can ask around and see if anyone has played with and done well with your deck-type in any of the recent previous tournies. If you're working with a deck-type that uses cards that were only recently released, this may be a more difficult task. If you cannot find anybody who has used your deck-type before, it most likely means one of two things - either your deck-type is not well enough known yet so very few people are running it or your deck-type is so bad that nobody bothers running it because they know it cannot beat the current meta. Most often, it will be the latter statement that is true in this case. The only information worse than this is if you hear from people who tried your deck-type, that definitively in tournament play the deck does not work well. If you find this to be the case, I strongly suggest changing your deck-type now, before you commit a whole lot more time working on something that has a high probability of failing to meet your expectations.

The next step is to do some more searching. You'll be wanting to find as many decklists for your deck as possible from expert duelists. You are not doing this just so you can copy their decks. That is not the purpose here. The purpose is to see what duelists who have tournament experience are running in order to give yourself ideas on how you should construct the deck yourself.

The next thing to do can be a bit tricky for some decks. You want to try to find a recorded duel where one or both duelists were using your deck-type.Finding records of duels where your deck-type won can help early on with giving you info on some of the combos you can create with the deck-type. Finding records of duels where your deck-type lost can give you info on what some of the weaknesses of your deck-type are, and you can attempt to fix or in some way cover those weaknesses when you actually begin building your deck.

After having viewed other people's versions of your deck-type and after checking out records of duels involving your deck-type you should now have some idea of what cards absolutely MUST be in your deck. These are key cards that are central to pulling off your strategy and that cannot be replaced. These aren't the cool and interesting cards that make neat combos. These are the cards where if you don't have them your deck physically does not work properly. If you've come this far and you are able to say with a straight face that your deck has no key cards, then what that tells me is that your deck does not have enough focus to be competitive and therefore you should start over from the beginning before wasting a bunch of your time. A deck with a bunch of random, powerful cards doesn't cut it in tournie play.

For the last step of this chapter, you need to now determine cards that have synergy with or combo with your key cards. Synergy is when one card's effect helps out with another card's effect. The more synergy your cards have, the more flexible your deck will be when difficult situations arise. Having synergy also increases the focus of your deck. This is slightly different from cards that can create combos. Typically, combo cards are not as flexible and, while they can create giant pushes in your favor, they need to either have certain conditions fulfilled or they need for you to have certain other cards in your hand or on the field or in the grave. The term for describing these combo cards is "situational." If you can fulfill the situation to create the combo, you will be rewarded for it. Just be careful because typically if you draw the card without having the situation for using the card fulfilled it can become a dead draw. Dead draws are a bad thing. You want as few of them as possible in your deck. When you draw a card at the beginning of your turn, you want to be able to say "sweet, I can use this!" as often as possible. Therefore, although combo cards can have big pay-offs, just be careful that you do not add to your deck too many cards that can become dead draws.


4. Choose an appropriate ratio:

Now, although there is no set ratio for the cards in your deck, there are some things you should keep in mind:

1. Having less than 14 monsters means on average you will have only two monsters in your starting hand, and you will typically only have approximately a 1:3 chance of drawing a monster with each of your draws.
2. Having more than 25 monsters means on average you will have four monsters in your starting hand and only two spell or trap cards. You will also typically only have approximately a 1:3 chance of drawing a spell or trap card with each of your draws.

While you should keep those two facts in mind, I will again stress that this does not mean you can't make a deck with less than 14 or more than 25 monsters. It only means that you should only go outside of that range if your deck is specifically made to function with those proportions.


5. Focus! Focus! Focus!

Focusing your deck means not adding any cards that do not serve a specific purpose toward your strategy. This is my #1 rule for deck building!


All cards in your deck whether they are monsters, spells, or traps, whether they are in your main deck, side deck, or extra deck, must support your overall strategy in some way. There is no reason to include a card in your deck, even if it is a powerful card, if it does not pertain to your strategy.


6. Toss it All in, then Thin to Win

The final size of your deck should not exceed the 40 card minimum. The reason for this is simple. When making a deck, you are creating a strategy where you want the correct cards in your hand as quickly as possible so that you can begin your big combos. The less cards you have in your deck, the higher the probability of drawing the card you need.

I want to make two notes of decks that are exceptions to the 40 card rule of thumb. Those decks are Gadgets and some Lightsworn decks. Gadget decks basically run six or nine Gadgets, and having more than one Gadget in your starting hand decreases their effectiveness since the point is to use their effects to keep on getting +1's in your hand for card advantage. Therefore, Gadget decks tend to run a few more cards in the deck to try to decrease the chances of ending up with two or more gadgets in the starting hand. The other deck that sometimes uses more than 40 cards are Lightsworn decks. While LS decks can run 40 cards, some people prefer to run a few extra since LS can have issues with decking out sometimes. Personally, I still wouldn't go too much above 40, if at all, but the concept is giving up some consistency in exchange for less chances of decking out. Decking out, however, can typically be fixed by playing more conservatively


7. The Side - Ultimate Proof of a Good Duelist

In a match duel, the most important factor for winning is proper creation and use of the side deck. The person who does the best job of preparing and strategically using a side is often going to be the person who wins the match. This is really where the big boys play. Those who plan ahead correctly and make the best side decks are quite often the ones who go on to win those big tournaments.

In general there are two ways to take advantage of side decking:

1. The Defensive Approach
2. The Offensive Approach

The defensive approach is one where you side in cards that are less useful for your deck's personal strategy, but that have a strong impact on shutting down your opponent's deck. This is the most common way to side deck and it has been proven to be very effective in most formats. There are many different and good cards to use with this approach to side decking, and if used correctly you can allow your deck to cover up its own weaknesses while shutting down your opponent's biggest plays. However, know well that there is a trade-off for this. If you side in too many cards you could end up doing serious damage to how well your own deck functions. Therefore, in side decking the name of the game is beating down your opponent's strategy using as few cards as possible so that your own strategy still runs relatively smoothly. Overlapping cards that can work well against multiple deck-types you expect to see is highly recommended.

The offensive approach is a completely different take to side decking. Rather than covering up your weaknesses and trying to exploit your opponent's weaknesses, you instead side into a completely different deck-type! This throws off the opponent and allows you to be unpredictable in both the 2nd and 3rd rounds, and it can make your opponent's efforts at side decking nearly worthless if done correctly. The upside to this type of side decking is that if done correctly you minimize the damage you take to the consistency of the deck while making your opponent's efforts to side deck potentially worthless. One of the downsides is that not all decks are capable of these types of large-scale transformations, and pushing it to the point where you have to make changes to you main deck just so you can transform in the 2nd duel can be dangerous and may cause you to lose the 1st duel due to not having as solid of a deck. Therefore, while this is certainly a fun and interesting way of using the side deck, I suggest using it sparingly and only for decks that can easily side into another proficient deck-type that has different weaknesses than your main deck.


8. Testing 1, 2, 3 ... 50?

You'll want to physically test your deck against all of the decks that you believe you may encounter. You'll want to test your deck many times against all of the decks that you believe you may encounter. To start, you'll want to play at least 20 - 30 duels with the deck.

Another thing that all this testing does is it familiarizes you with the deck. Now, some of you are probably sitting back right now saying "Dude, I know how the cards are supposed to work in the deck," and I'm going to tell you right now that you don't. I have never once come upon any sort of competitive deck where I knew everything about the deck before playing with it several times. By playing with the deck, you learn what the best options are in situations where there is more than one way to make a correct move. You learn how to get yourself out of a hole, and you can discover synergies that you never knew were there. You WILL find hidden combos that you didn't know existed just by playing with the deck many times.

Once you've dueled with the deck 20 - 30 times against a good opponent who is using decks you expect to play against, it is now time to make tweaks. This is where you decide whether that card you kept at one copy is worth it, and whether you need to change the proportions of any of the cards you have. You are not fiddling with your strategy here. You've already decided on what your deck is going to be. These are minor adjustments that are meant to refine the way the deck runs.

Well, once you are done refining your deck, guess what? It's time for another 20-30 duels!! In fact, top duelists, the ones who win major tournaments, will often duel with their deck over hundred times before they've decided it is ready for tournament play.

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