End Game/Combo Game

Today I discuss some pure Theory-Oh! based around different types of game states: the neutral game and the end game or combo game.

Both me (Kyle) and Matt play around with many other games (tabletop and video) and are always trying to glean knowledge from how they function and from different strategy employed in each game. We try to use this different outlook to gain any kind of advantage in play style and strategy for playing games and creation of our own game ideas. Today, I decided to bring you along on one of my journeys in my mind where I thought about disciplines from another completely different game and tried to apply them to Yu-Gi-Oh!.

The concept I bring you today is taken from a game most people are familiar with, Super Smash Bros. In the Super Smash Bros competitive scene, two players battle one another and over the course of the game you can essentially divide the battle into 3 distinct parts: neutral game, combo game and end game. The end game is pretty simple, and is more of a step rather than a phase. It’s the main goal of the game, which is to prevent the opponent from getting back to the stage. The neutral game is the main portion of the game, it involves jockeying for space with the opponent using movement and quick attacks in order to get an opponent into a position allowing you to enter the next game phase, the combo game. The combo game is when a player gains control of the opponent and attempts to volley them with either attacks that are guaranteed to hit next or by attempting to predict the opponent’s escape and continuing to attack. If the opponent is able to escape, the game returns to neutral game. From the combo game, you generally are aiming to combo the opponent into the end game, in which you prevent the opponent from recovering and you thus defeat them. It’s also possible to completely skip the combo game and go from neutral to end game if you damaged the opponent enough by entering the combo game enough.

At a glance, completely unrelated to Yu-Gi-Oh!, but as I said, I like to glean as much information as possible and apply it to other games. I’ll begin by saying that Yu-Gi-Oh! has a similar end game to Smash Bros in that both players are competing against one another to achieve and end game state, which in Yu-Gi-Oh!’s case is depleting the opponent’s life points, as opposed to preventing the opponent’s recovery. Yu-Gi-Oh! also has extremely similar game states to the neutral and combo game.

For Yu-Gi-Oh!, I’d divide the neutral game into some subsections, the setup and the grind phase; both terms are pretty familiar to anybody who plays regularly at Yu-Gi-Oh! events. Setup is preliminary to some deck’s action. In order to really make any kind of plays some deck types require you to set them up, even if that setup is so minimal you might forget you’ve done it. Some decks have very complex setup, while others literally only require you summoning a monster. Then, once the desired setup is achieved you start to grind. Some decks literally have zero setup, meaning they can immediately start grinding without a single preliminary action. As an example, Frog Monarchs must first setup Treeborn Frog in the graveyard, or for a deck like HEROs it only requires getting Elemental HERO Neos Alius on the board. Then, both of these decks are setup and can begin the grind phase. An example of a deck that has no setup would be Dragon Rulers (pre-January 2014). Without any action, you make a play to threaten the opponent, which is one reason the deck was so strong. After a deck has setup it enters the grind phase of the neutral game.

This phase is very similar to the neutral game of Super Smash Bros. In the neutral game of Yu-Gi-Oh! both players jockeying for position within the game in order to get the opponent into a position where you can enter into the combo game and ideally the end game. Rather than using spacing, like in Smash Bros., Yu-Gi-Oh! controls the game using field presence and card advantage. A lot of the time, people like to think that shear card advantage can allow you to win, which isn’t true, that’s why I added the element of field presence. It really doesn’t matter how many cards you have as long as a player has control of the field he has control of the game and is more likely to enter into the combo game.

What I find interesting though, is that in order to enter into a combo game state, card advantage and field presence are technically irrelevant. We use advantage and presence as tools to meet a specific condition: vulnerability, of the opponent that is. The point of using your card advantage and field presence is to push the opponent into a state of vulnerability, and I think this is frequently lost. I see a lot of players grinding in order to gain field presence or to gain card advantage, which is fine if gaining this advantage or presence results in the opponent’s vulnerability, but sometimes it does not. Of course, I must follow this up with an example. This is kind of where the idea of a “janky OTK” comes into play.

As of now, one of my goals in dueling is to always look at a situation with the mindset of trying to OTK right now if possible as a priority to taking control of the field or gaining advantage even if I know the prior are possible. The duel puzzle I presented not too far back is a great example. In that puzzle I was playing Lightsworn Dragon Ruler deck and my hand had a lot of potential for different types of setups, defensive fields, searching etc. These are all great and fine, but the purpose of Yu-Gi-Oh! is to reach the end game and defeat the opponent, so it only makes sense to prioritize the option that reaches the end game even if it completely sacrifices all field presence and advantage. If you’ve read any of the comments on the puzzle, the solution to puzzle involves you either discarding or banishing a Judgment Dragon from your hand and also foregoing the ability to setup a wall of Red-Eyes Darkness Metal Dragon plus Lightpulsar Dragon in order to make a Constellar Ptolemy M7. You even have to banish an Eclipse Wyvern from the field in order to summon the REDMD, all things that completely forgo what could be considered conventional Yu-Gi-Oh! wisdom. The reason being is it creates a 100% assured OTK. (I could know it was 100% because I knew he was running no Veilers, Scarecrows or Battle Faders so you can put that out of your mind)

How is this relevant to everybody? Its not all that important, but I like to keep an open perspective on all situations while dueling, and sometimes I practice going through different perspectives in a duel. This perspective allows me to win a lot more games because it allows me to detach myself from some of the basic concepts and see core advantage and disadvantage of the game other than cards and presence. Basically it becomes a matter of life points over everything else.

I haven’t yet explained my take on this “combo game” as I’ve been calling it, so I’ll go into that next. The combo game in Yu-Gi-Oh! is when on player begins making a push on the opponent that elicits response/ Generally this results in a kind of back and forth tussle of cards. The way this plays out is different depending on a deck’s style. Some decks simply allow opponent’s to combo and have little to no responses to the opponent walking all over them, they probably consist of cards that allow them to combo more powerfully than most decks, dubbed “combo decks”. An example would be Hieratics. Hieratics really only have 1 defense in standard builds: Swift Scarecrow. Other than that you can do whatever you’d like on your turn versus a Hieratic deck. On their turn they have a multitude of plays that combo. Then there are decks like Fire Fists which run a fair amount of Trap Cards. (some of them don’t run as many, but let’s think about a heavy trap build) These decks typically have a lot of response to opponent’s effects and also some combos, more of a “balanced deck”. In the most extreme cases a deck has the ability to negate options the opponent takes at almost every turn but has almost no combo game of its own and these decks have been termed “permission” decks because you must ask these decks for permission to make plays. An example of that deck would be Counter Fairies, and to a degree Prophecy/Spellbooks. Those are the extremes, and a deck can be anywhere in between.

The most interesting interaction between these decks I think is between a combo deck and a permission deck. The combo game is most prominent in this styled match-up when the combo deck goes on the offensive against a permission deck. The combo deck barrages the defenses of a permission deck in order to break through and find a point of vulnerability. This is done through the countless play combos the deck has trying to bait out specific cards of the permission deck. The permission deck on the other hand is trying to read the opponent’s plays and stop the most essential parts of the combo only so resources aren’t wasted on the opponent’s baits and eventually their combo resources run out. Both decks aim to make the opponent vulnerable and enter the end game and take the opponent. The combo deck usually enters the end game quicker, because it gains assured victory the turn of its combo. A permission deck can have practical victory many turns before it has actually won the game, but due to the random nature of Yu-Gi-Oh! and some heavy luck factor a permission deck can lose due to a “lucky top deck”. A permission deck may enter a state where it will win in 3 turns unless you draw *enter specific card name here* as a typical win condition and plays the odds in order to win. Most permission players hate wombo cards that turn the game away from their practical victory and are most likely to complain about top deck Pot of Avarice, Monster Reborn, etc.

Well, this really didn’t go anywhere, but I thought it was interesting. If you liked me babbling about Theory-Oh! please comment and tell me so I’ll make more! If you didn’t, well tell me that too so I won’t make any more. Maybe you want me to change it a little bit, maybe this or that who knows. Tell me what you think.

QOTW? Question of the Week:

Who plays competitive games other than Yu-Gi-Oh! and what are you favorites? I play a lot of other games that are competitive, but the only game I could really consider myself to play at a competitive level is Yu-Gi-Oh!. I do really like Pokemon and Smash Bros a lot though.

Written by: Kyle

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