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Aaron Fletcher on YuGiOh!
Metagame Breakdown: Why do cards work?
February 1, 2007

Cookie Cutter decks get a lot of bad press, as understandably people don't like to play the same deck during a tournament round after round. Many people assume that it's due to people's lack of creativity, lack of knowledge or just plain lack of time why people copy decks, but lets think for a moment shall we? Can we apply psychological practices to Yu-Gi-Oh! in an attempt to explain the trend in 'Cookie Cutter decks'?

The current trend in Yu-Gi-Oh! deckbuilding is to build decks based on single card merits, that is cards which do not specifically benefit the deck as a whole but themselves offer short term gain. Its thought that through continued short term gain you can swing the balance of the duel in your favour and effectively have a long term advantage. This very 'micro' view that every little counts towards the whole, for example Breaker the Magical Warrior can offer the user an automatic + 1 in terms of card advantage, yet it doesn't directly contribute to the point of a deck, the majority of competitive decks aren't geared to singularly curb the use of Magics/Traps, yet still use Breaker the Magical Warrior. So I believe its safe to say cards are used singularly which may not contribute to the whole point of the deck.

Lets view some more cards which offer us some short term gain, possibly some of the best for the current format, Torrential Tribute and Mirror Force - possibly some of the most played traps at the current metagame. These cards have requirements, so they don't follow that they offer us short term advantage, as their effect isn't immediate. Their effect is delay somewhat and dependant on other factors, such as monsters attacking, and monster summonings. How come cards such as this are played? Well what they offer us as a duelist dramatically outweighs the potential for cost, in the hands of an experienced player, this card can be deadly.

Sakuretsu Armour you may argue is counter intuitive, its chainable, and it can only ever be a 2 for 1 at best usually, holding  the same activation requirements as Mirror Force.To answer this we need to look at when the surge in popularity of Sakuretsu Armour began. The surge in popularity came after Mirror Force's Rotation on the ban list which there was little influence which you could have on your opponent's turn, and it stuck. I would argue that people don't like to move out their comfort zones, and this is something which has ingrained itself into the Meta Psyche. This in the coming months (and few previous) is reducing and switching to more viable, chainable alternatives as the surge in Mobius increases (due partially to Gadget's Premier where 1 for 1 removal becomes lackluster). This is an idea which can be highlighted by research into pattern recognition. One theory of pattern recognition is that there exists a set of miniature template or patterns which are stored in the long-term memory and against which we match incoming information. Mirror force was already an established pattern in decks, Sakurestu Armour somewhat matched the established pattern, so was used as a substitute.

But does this make Breaker The Magical Warrior, Mirror Force, and others which offer short term advantage 'good cards'? More importantly does this make any card that doesn't offer short term advantage 'bad cards'? The short answer is no, the long answer is more complex. Here I propose the idea that there are no such things as 'good cards'.

Imagine if everyone was playing a decktype completely useless in terms of advantage, so called 'Staples' or 'Semi Staples' were completely different. Lets take E Heros as an example. If 90% of competitive players played an E hero deck which is completely irrespective of concepts such as advantage, field presence, and its sole concern is pulling off a combo, this deck will have more chances of winning, and making an appearance in tops of tournaments. To highlight this further, many people often have thought, 'if only I have played this differently', well increasing the number of people playing that sort of decktype you increase the chances of people making the correct play under certain situations, thus perpetuating this deck to the Top of the tournament.

Now think to yourself, if everyone was playing the decktype E Heros, and you were the only one not to what would you do? Many of you reactants out there would say 'No I wouldn't conform I'd be an anti conformist (which ironically is an form of conformism)' but lets look at some evidence before you make up your non-influenced mind. A study conducted by Asch highlights the effect which others, mainly the group has on us.This study concentrated on the estimation given by of a group of participants. The participants were required to state which of a variety of parallel lines were the longest. There was a degree of ambiguity as the lines were of similar length.In the control experiment, there were no confederates (people who are 'stooges') to distract the participant. In the non-control experiment, there were a number of confederates and a single participant. In turn, each of the group were required to state which of the lines was the longest in which the confederates all said that the shorter line was longer. The participant was the penultimate to answer, and  heard a variety of incorrect answers.In the control experiment, only 1 percent of trials resulted in an error. In the non-control experiment, 75% of participants made at least one error. Without being drawn into an evaluation of the study, there are many explanations as to why we conform to the majority but the fact is we do. So I ask you again if everyone was playing an E Hero deck, what would you play?

What does this have to do with good cards, or even why cards work? In a meta dominated by cards which don't hold dear our 'Advanced Meta' concepts,  'Advanced Meta' decks as we see it wouldn't be ran. Cards which pertain to such concepts would be deemed unworthy as they do not directly reinforce or (including anti meta here) directly go against the grain of an already reconciled meta, so wouldnt be given the time of day. Think of it this way, If no one played X decktype, then the Anti decktype Y wouldn't be played. A possiably more accessible argument is the role of Mobius the Frost Monarch and Sakuretsu Armour. An increase Mobius the Frost Monarch's usage leads to a drop to Sakuretsu Armours usage as the card has reduced impact, and an increase in the use of Bottomless Trap Hole. This in turn causes the decrease in the use of Mobius, and an increase in the use of Sakuretsu Armour. This highlights how the role of other cards in a meta can influence how effective another card is.

In conclusion, cards which are deemed as 'Cookie Cutter' or pertrain to 'Cookie Cutter' decktypes aren't that. No card is good in a Yu-Gi-Oh! trading card game, no card is better, its rather the meta which determines which cards are played, and by over playing of cards, it perpetuates it's own use.

Thanks for taking the time to read this!

Aaron Fletcher


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