The Art of Side Decking
Posted 04 December 2010 - 01:20 AM
► The Side Deck.
A Side Deck is the pile of cards we're allowed to use between Duels in a Match. While it can range from 0 to 15 cards, official tournaments make the number either zero or fifteen. All or nothing.
Of course, when you take Side Decking seriously, there's absolutely no reason to not running all 15 cards. The Side Deck is as important as your Main Deck, and more often than not decides the outcome of a match. Using appropriately your Side Deck will give you an edge over the competition, so learning how to build a good Side is vital.
► Building your Side Deck!
○ Identifying your Main Deck's Weaknesses.
As everyone should know by now, knowing the weaknesses of your Deck is very important. It's silly to think that you can build a Deck prepared for each and every situation: that just doesn't happen. Each and every Deck has their own Achilles' Heel, and identifying yours is the key point on determining what you should have in your Side Deck.
Suppose you're playing the popular X-Saber Deck. It's very strong, both offensively and defensively. While most of its monsters have low base ATK, Sabers make up by being able to unleash several Synchro Summons. They also excel at Graveyard manipulation, have an excellent field presence, have access to lots of self-replacing monsters, have several cards that can either take out a lot of cards or can get cards for basically no cost, and they're one of the few decks that can hit both hand and field to provide a great control over the Duel.
But not everything in X-Sabers is rose-colored. To make some of the deck's big plays, you need to commit cards to the field. XX-Saber Faultroll needs at least 2 X-Sabers on the field to be Summoned. Gottoms' Emergency Call needs both a face-up Saber and a pair of targets in the Graveyard. They rely heavily on their Trap Cards to perform at their best too. The most important thing is that they rely a lot on Special Summoning and Monster Effects.
One might say "that's no problem, my deck doesn't have any troubles performing those actions". And I'm sure you haven't: Sabers are good for a reason. A good Deck should be able to do what it's designed to without falling over itself. But, identifying what you rely on also helps you identify what you need to prepare against.
Being a Trap-heavy Deck, anything that locks Traps is bad news for you. Jinzo, Royal Decree and Trap Stun can hurt you a lot. Trap negation, like Seven Tools of the Bandit, also can leave you defenseless and ruin your key play. Being a Monster Effect-based Deck, you absolutely need your effects to go off. Things like Divine Wrath, Gladiator Beast's War Chariot, Effect Veiler and Skill Drain are some of your worst enemies. Remove from play mechanics also hurt you a lot, since you need your Graveyard to do a good performance. Banisher of the Radiance, Dimensional Fissure, Dimensional Prison, D.D. Crow and some others can really leave you cornered. Special Summoning also takes a key role on your Deck, so cards like Royal Oppression, Vanity's Fiend and similar give a lot of trouble to you. Graveyard Effect negation and locking, like Necrovalley or Skull Meister, also gives you several troubles, making a lot of your cards dead draws. Some of those cards are Main Deck picks, and some of them are Side Deck picks. Whatever they are, you can't be prepared for everything.
Of course, a good idea is to include Main Deck answers to common threats. If Traps slow you down, you use Trap Stun to negate them, or lock them for a turn, so you can safely drop Hyunlei and clear the backrow. Cards like Solemn Warning also keep monster-based threats off the field. But what to do when your opponent brings out a card that you don't have an answer for?
You use your Side Deck.
○ Types of Side Decks.
Now that you have pinned down what your weaknesses are, you're ready to build your Side Deck. But what to include? There are several cards that counter stuff, some more situational than others. What you need to pick?
First of all, you need to know what type of Side Deck you'll be building! Yes, there are different types, like there are types of Decks. Determining what will be your approach will let you decide about your choices more accurately.
● "Counter" Side Deck.
The most common type of Side Deck, and the one most people is accustomed to. This type of Side Deck contains cards that allow you to deal with the most popular trends in competitions. While you can use powerful generic cards that give you protection against several threats (like Seven Tools of the Bandit, Effect Veiler or My Body as a Shield), people usually include those "this would be absolutely awesome against X but useless (or not so good) against Y" cards that you don't put on your Main Deck. Cards like Chain Disappearance, Crevice into a Different Dimension and Swallow Flip are examples of cards that aren't useful in every matchup, but excel at disrupting specific decks.
When using this type of Side Deck, you usually take out the cards in your Main Deck that are the least useful against the current opponent, and Side in these specific answers. By trading cards that would be dead draws by situational cards that are awesome against that specific Deck, you have a great edge on the second and third game.
● "Anti-Counter" Side Deck.
Commonly combined with the above Side Deck, this type of approach is for players that don't want to change their way of playing, and include cards that let them keep doing what they do best without being interrupted. Cards like Hero's Rule 2, Trap Eater, Twister and Imperial Iron Wall are choices that are mostly used to counter opposing attempts to disrupt your strategy.
This type of Side Decking is a bit more tricky, as it needs a lot of knowledge about trends and appropriate "reading" of your opponent's cards. If you Side in Twister or Trap Eater to combat Royal Decree but turns out your opponent isn't using it, you're in trouble. Now you have dead cards in your build, which can lead you to lose. The best cards for this type of approach are cards that not only disrupt specific things, but have other uses against commonly used cards.
● "Transformation" Side Deck.
The most difficult approach of all. This allows the user to change their Main Deck into a completely different build by using their Side Deck. This approach is very difficult, as it needs a flexible build that can allow for such changes, as well as a secondary strategy that actually does something to counter popular builds.
For example, it's meaningless if you change your Quickdraw Dandywarrior Deck from a "Quick Synchro" approach (with Volcanic Shell, One for One, Cold Wave and few Traps) to a more control-based approach (using Caius, Hamster and a heavier Trap lineup). The core build is still Quick Dandy, and it has the same core strategy. That means that whatever your opponent sided against you is probably going to work anyways. If after siding you still can't handle Necrovalley or are going to suffer by cards like D.D. Crow, then what's the point of transforming your build?
Usually, people change their core strategy using this type of Side Decking. A Graveyard-based Monarch Deck can side into Macro Monarch, which deals with most Graveyard-based Decks and makes any Graveyard disruption meaningless because you don't care about your Graveyard anymore. A Falcon Control Deck could very well side into a Burn variant, knowing that most people nowadays isn't prepared for Burn, abusing that fact and winning games due to unexpected threats.
The surprise factor is everything with this type of approach, so you need to be very clever. By changing your strategy entirely and making your opponent's siding useless, you gain a great edge. If needed, you can revert to your initial strategy after confusing your opponent with the strategy change, so they won't know what are you running in the end. The unknown makes people doubt, and that is what you will be capitalizing on.
► Useful tips!
At first, using your Side Deck can be difficult, but with time, you'll get the hang of it. There are a few things you need to practice before though.
○ Cover-up for your Deck's weaknesses before anything else!
If your Deck is strong, but has that single fatal weakness you need to address, include something in your Side for it! Even if the Deck isn't as popular, if you happen to encounter it, you'll be in a lot of trouble. If the build isn't very common, just dedicate a pair of slots for answers against it. Being prepared for the worst never hurts.
○ Deck Testing is the best way to know what to Side!
I know I don't need to tell you this, but practice, a damn lot! Test your Deck against anything you can find: there's no Deck you shouldn't avoid playing, challenge them all. When you find what cards give you trouble or which build is the one you always have trouble with, no matter what you do, that's what you should have a Side Deck answer against.
○ Check the common trends, and prepare against them!
Even if you usually have troubles against them, heavily siding against Gladiator Beasts is meaningless if nobody will end up playing them in your area right? Try to keep up with the most common trends, and include answers to those trends. Unless it's to cover a definite Achilles' Heel, the "I'll Side this to have an answer if I ever play against X" thinking is usually a bad idea.
○ Make a Side Deck according to the area you'll play into!
It's also meaningless to make a Side Deck prepared for high-level events if you're gonna be playing locals or regionals where people don't run these type of decks at all. Always make your Side Deck thinking on the metagame of the area you'll be playing into! It doesn't matter if the last YCS didn't have any Hero Beat Decks: if your area is plagued with them and they give trouble to you, by all means Side something against them!
○ If you don't know what to Side, then use a lot of Swiss Knives!
New people aren't used to the common trends. Happens a lot with casual players entering the competitive scene. It might take time to see why a certain card is useful against a certain deck. When you're unsure, try using cards that happen to counter a lot of other cards! Divine Wrath, Seven Tools of the Bandit, Effect Veiler, D.D. Crow, My Body as a Shield and several others are cards that are good all around. Some of them are Main Deck worthy in some builds, because of their ability to handle a lot of different situations. By using these cards on your Side Deck, you can have an answer to a lot of Decks in very few cards. Only when you're sure what to expect is when you make specific picks.
○ Don't put cards in your Side when you can't keep it in your Main!
This is a very common and bad practice. If a card can't be placed in the Main Deck because of space, players usually dump it to the Side Deck. This is an awful habit, and you should avoid it. The Side Deck isn't a dump for whatever you couldn't fit: It's part of your overall strategy, and must be thought throughly.
○ Choose cards that don't disrupt your Deck's flow!
Banisher of the Radiance is usually awesome against the commonly-played Decks. It disrupts recruiting, Graveyard-based effects and locks certain plays, like Quickdraw Synchron or Brionac. But, if Banisher hurts you as badly as it hurts your opponent, you should better keep your distance. Instead, use cards like Divine Wrath, Crevice into a Different Dimension or D.D. Crow that help you achieve a similar goal without disrupting your main strategy. On the same boat, if you're Main Decking about 12 Traps, odds are that siding Royal Decree will hurt you more than it helps. Use Trap Stun or Seven Tools of the Bandit instead, giving you that negation you need, when you need it only.
○ Side-Decking also needs practice!
Side Decking appropriately might be an art by itself. Only with dedication and practice you can know how to do it efficiently. Some cards that are really good sometimes have to be sided out, and that's something you need to be aware of. Those Dimensional Prisons might be awesome, but against your opponent's Breakers and Trap Stuns, they won't do a lot and become easy targets instead. Try to side them out to make space for your chainable removal for example. Ah, but keep those Prisons against Hero Beat! Just because they are bad against just one Deck doesn't mean you should always side them out. Side out those excess tribute monsters instead, so you can side in more answers you can use ASAP.
Practice is also needed to know what cards you need in your Side and what cards you should drop to try something else. If you have some D.D. Crows sided but you never use them, drop them and try something else. Trial and error is the basis for experience, and Side Decking is no exception.
○ Check out what you Side in and out, that could make your Main Deck stronger!
If you find yourself siding out a certain card(s) in all matchups, you should probably consider dropping that card from your Main Deck. Try adding something else that gives better results!
On the same way, you might find yourself siding in those Cyber Dragons way too often. Why not Maining them? That way, you free some slots in your Side Deck, giving you more options to work with!
○ Don't use extremely situational cards, unless you're sure they will be useful!
Nature's Reflection is a card that can absolutely destroy Burn Decks. But, it's really worth to give it a slot if you won't use it at all, or you'll end up siding other cards that are more generic? Don't use cards that require a very specific scenario, unless the common trends allow you to do so. A lot of Decks nowadays use multiples of monsters with 1000 ATK or below, and almost always they're involved with key plays. Chain Disappearance is extremely situational because it only works against those monsters, but since they're so common nowadays, that makes it an excellent Side Deck pick.
This also applies to "tech" cards. Don't use them unless you know exactly what you're doing and why! Don't try to be different, try to be efficient, both with your Main Deck and your Side Deck.
► Bottom Line.
I'm by no means a YGO expert like many others I know, nor I'm an article expert like MasterSimon (which writes awesome stuff, check it out). But I think proper Side Decking is something that every player should learn at some point to improve their overall skill. I hope this article helps someone to hone their abilities a little bit.
Check out this topic too! It includes several cards that are usual Side Deck suspects, and you can discuss things you think are Side worthy.
Comments and opinions are welcome, and thanks for your time!
Posted 04 December 2010 - 01:35 PM
Posted 04 December 2010 - 03:46 PM
Posted 04 December 2010 - 04:04 PM
Posted 04 December 2010 - 05:12 PM
As a tip I could offer to everyone, I'd say that trying to cover all angles when making a Deck is too tiring and not always gives the best results. This is my personal approach, but when I build a Deck, I follow 3 easy steps:
1.- Focus the build on the idea, combo or strategy I had, and focus on making it work appropriately.
Before thinking on common trends, before thinking on weaknesses, before everything, I try to build my Deck thinking on what it needs by itself to work properly. It needs stability, the ability to do what it's designed to do without relying so much on the luck of the draw and the ability to actually reach the intended win condition. Card ratios, tech cards, the commonly used stuff and everything on the deck is totally aimed to reach the goal I had in mind. If I'm doing Blackwings for example, I try to think what strength of the BW Deck I want to capitalize on, and design the Deck to support that strategy. If I'm centering on Sirocco's ability, overall stability and flexibility or multiple Special Summons via Blizzard/Vayu, I need to decide what is the main plan and what is support to reach that plan.
For this stage, I don't care about the opponent yet. I need my deck to be able to work by itself, so that's the first priority.
2.- After having a functional build, I test it against different decks to see what actually works or what is only good in paper.
This is the elimination process, and this is what allows me to know what I should replace, what only works in theoretical scenarios or what should I include to increase performance. If I originally ran my Deck with 16 Traps, but found that I have too many dead cards or that opposing Trap Stuns/Cold Waves/Seven Tools hinder my advances too much, I reduce the Trap lineup and prepare myself to deal with these threats. This stage is also when I determine if the Deck is actually viable or I have to change my focus, idea or just scratch everything and start again.
The process is long, but in the end I have a build that is capable on holding on its own and doing what it was intended to do, even when faced against other decks. Since you're sticking to a game plan, it's obvious at this point what are you strong against and what hinders you. This step also determines if your build is geared for casual or competitive play: if I made an awesome deck that breaks everything but just can't win against the meta builds, then it's a casual build. If the build has enough strength to hold its own against the popular decks, then it's a tournament-capable build.
3.- When a capable build has been reached, I design a Side Deck that covers up the Decks weaknesses and that gives me an edge against troublesome decks, using the method written on this article.
Only after knowing my build inside-out, I design a Side Deck. Then, following the process I described above, I can determine what I need, what I don't, and if my Main Deck could use some of the Side options as Main picks.
This is the way I do things; I won't brag being an awesome player because I am not, but this definitely has given me results. I might write an article about this soon, detailing the process and using an idea I have in store to build a Deck. I hope this also helps somebody, and thanks again for the feedback! I hope to read more comments soon.
Posted 04 December 2010 - 05:36 PM
Edited by Siyanor, 04 December 2010 - 05:38 PM.
Posted 04 December 2010 - 10:32 PM
i havent tried using side decks much since i've only played against myself or the wc games whichdont suppport side decks so i havent had much expireince with them but this could be interesting
my favorite sd right now is a wattt one it has synchro monsters so that i can turn a watt lockdown int a Watt synchro strike
Agian very cool and thnks 4 the tips
Posted 04 December 2010 - 10:40 PM
Posted 06 December 2010 - 05:22 PM
When you build a Deck, it seems that you take into account all cards into an archetype, and build the deck from there. You add and drop cards, but always sticking to the archetype in hand. You try to make something that can use all the best cards in an archetype, so it ends up being very flexible. That is a good method too because it leads to many options in a same build, but as I like to say, I prefer a Deck that can do only 1-2 things but excels at doing them than having a build that can perform several actions but cannot reach full potential on any. It's a matter of preference IMO, and I consider neither approach is "wrong". Both can be successful executed properly.
I'm glad you find this helpful! I hope that anything else I've wrote helps you in any way.
That my friend, is a praise that I'm very grateful for. I really admire Simon's analysis, so thanks for comparing me to him.
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