As with any field of study it is important to understand the fundamentals that drive the various interactions and laws governing the system. In Physics this consists of the three fundamental forces: Gravity, Strong Interaction, and Electroweak Interaction. Taking a page from the physics playbook I'll try to understand the fundamentals of Yu-Gi-Oh! and expand upon them in subsequent articles.
First we need to understand the objective of (competitive) Yu-Gi-Oh! Everything is a resource: Cards in hand, cards in deck, cards in play, cards in graveyard, removed from play cards, cards in extra deck, life points, normal summon, game phases, time, turns, etc. The game is all about managing these resources and using them to deny the same resources to your opponent. To win a game of Yu-Gi-Oh! you must deny your opponent life points (reduce them to zero) or cards in deck (win by deck-out). There are other cards that change win conditions. Final Countdown for instances makes turns a resource your opponent can run out of.
These resources can be divided into three types if groups:
- Resources you start with and naturally get more of as the game progresses.
- Resources you don't start with, but naturally get more of as the game progresses.
- Resources you start with, but don't get more of naturally or without action.
The first type of resources is playable cards. You start the game with a 5 card hand, and gain an additional card every draw phase. It doesn't matter if the cards are in hand, on the field, in the graveyard, or removed from play. The important thing is their effects can be activated, or they can be put into another relevant area such as the field.
The second type of resources includes the battle phase, normal summons, and once per turn effects. You only get one normal summon per turn and battle phase per turn. Your normal summon is essentially Yu-Gi-Oh's version of mana or a land drop (Magic: the Gathering reference). The battle phase is the primary way in which many use their monsters to lower their opponent's life points to zero. Once per turn effects can help improve your position without necessarily improving your card advantage.
The third type of resource includes life points and cards in deck. These resources are important because without them you can't play the game. If your life points are reduced to zero or you have no cards left in your deck, you lose the game. However, as long as you haven't lost the game, it doesn't matter how many life points you have, or how many cards are in your deck.
The three forces are:
- Card Economy
Card economy, which is commonly mistaken for card advantage, deals with the manipulation of playable cards. To gain card advantage you want to attempt to trade your playable cards for your opponent's playable cards. Essentially you are attempting to reduce your opponent's options while increasing yours. Even if your opponent has some cards left in their hand, on the field, or in some other zone, it doesn’t matter if they are not relevant. Card advantage is just the positive side of the card economy scale, the other side is card disadvantage.
Tempo deals with manipulation of the second type of resources. While you may not be getting additional cards for summoning a monster, you do gain some tempo. You could be in a better board position even though you may not technically be in a better card position. Similarly if you deny your opponent the ability to take advantage of their battle phase you are not ahead when it comes to cards, but you may still get some tempo. Making sure you can capitalize with every normal summon, every battle phase, and every recursive effect is very important for gaining and maintaining tempo.
Stamina deals with the manipulation of the third type of resource. Sometimes you'll trade life or cards in deck for an effect. Other times it will be the other way around. This is probably the more important aspect of stamina because it sets it apart from card advantage. Trading a card simply to reduce your opponent's life points doesn't sound appealing from a card advantage standpoint, but that card doesn't matter if your opponent's life points goes to zero.
Understanding the fundamentals is a good start, but we need to look more closely at each of the three forces to understand them better. The purpose of each of these three forces is to give you different ways to evaluate cards. Hopefully this series of articles will also help us move beyond our notion of skillful game play as merely counting card advantage. You may be surprised at the actual theoretical basis for the success of some decks. Props to Patrick Chapin (and by proxy all the great MTG writers that influenced him) who's Magic: the Gathering articles inspired this article. Next time I'll be putting up an article that takes a closer look at card economy in Yu-Gi-Oh! terms.