Five Takeaways from the First Week of Master Duel

After a great deal of fanfare – promotional advertisements, explanatory videos, and community speculation – Konami released Yu-Gi-Oh: Master Duel unexpectedly and quietly, almost as if trying to sneak it past us.  Not to be duped, duelists all over the world quickly logged on.  However, they soon realized that, in one way or another, this was not the Yu-Gi-Oh they knew.  

Master Duel is still only a few days old, but there’s already a lot to learn if you want to succeed.  Here are five takeaways I’ve discovered that may prove useful for one who wants to progress in their Master Duel journey.

5. Lock onto (at least) one competitive deck.

You may have heard your friends or your favorite creators talk about how free-to-play friendly Master Duel is.  It gives you lots of free gems, and the crafting system gives you a lot of leeway in terms of creating and dismantling cards.  This much is true; however, don’t assume that this will always be the case.  Though you do get daily missions that give you gems, most of your gems come from unlimited missions that you will gradually consume over time.  And we don’t yet know how much more the game will give us after that.  Besides the daily missions and story mode (which you will also eventually exhaust), the only other source of gems is ranking up on ladder.  But to rank up on ladder, you’ll need a deck that can consistently string together wins.

Master Duel presents a great opportunity to build your favorite casual, for-fun deck.  I’m not saying that you can’t or shouldn’t take that opportunity.  But you should make sure you can also build at least one “meta” deck.  I’ll get to what a meta deck means later, but there are plenty of resources on the topic online.  Settle on a deck that can carry you up the ladder, to make sure you stay competitive and benefit from at least one reliable source of gem income.  Because if you use all your gems on nostalgia decks or Table 500 gimmicks at the start, you may find yourself waiting a long time to progress up the ladder and finding the gems to put together a stronger strategy.

(As a quick addendum: In his most recent video, Yugituber Stevie Blunder briefly broached the possibility of official Master Duel tournaments using Hearthstone’s Conquest format as a solution to Master Duel’s single-duel structure.  This format asks competitors to bring three different decks to an event.  At each round, both players see the decks their opponents brought, and choose one deck to ban.  They must then play a best-of-three, and win two games with two different decks.)

As a Vanguard Zero player who has seen Hearthstone’s format ported into Zero’s tournaments, I consider this a very real possibility for Master Duel.  The other, most common solution is that Konami simply adds side-decking and best-of-threes directly to the game.  However, Conquest would add best-of-threes while keeping the single structure and without the need for any further coding.  To speak cynically, it would profit Konami to make players build multiple decks with many URs.  To speak optimistically, it would benefit the game to force a diversity of decks and let players ban bad matchups.  Both attitudes indicate that Conquest could arrive in Master Duel’s future.

There’s no way to know how likely this is.  It might not even be on Konami’s radar.  But if Conquest happens, having a solid meta deck becomes all the more important.  Even if you decide to stick with a deck you like and know well, you may still need at least two more.  And if future competition pits you against two or three meta decks per round, you’ll want your own to keep up.  But you only have so many gems, at least for now – so use them, and your crafting materials, wisely!

4. Brush up on OCG rulings.

This one’s for you TCG players.  Western duelists were taken by surprise upon realizing that Master Duel uses an interesting TCG-OCG hybrid format.  Part of that comes from its modified OCG banlist.  But another crucial part comes from the fact that the game mechanics in Master Duel comes from the OCG, not the TCG.  That means that there are certain rulings and interactions that play out differently than you’re used to.  And those differences can make or break your gameplay.  You don’t want your rank-up duel to be taken out of your hands by a ruling you didn’t know.

A concrete example may be helpful to understand the importance of this knowledge.  According to popular Yugituber and rules judge DistantCoder, and as clarified by u/TheScarepigeon, in the OCG trigger effects in a public knowledge zone (like the field) activate before trigger effects that respond to the same trigger, but activate in a private knowledge location (like the hand).  DistantCoder’s explanation applied this ruling to Altergeist Multifaker.  If an opponent had a trigger effect that triggered off the Altergeist player’s trap activation, that effect would take precedence before Multifaker could activate.  u/TheScarepigeon applied it to Salamangreat.  If one summons Salamagreat Balelynx and activates its effect, that player can’t immediately follow up with Salamangreat Gazelle.  The opponent has a chance to reply with an effect before Gazelle can activate.

Knowing rulings has always been important for competitive play, in both the TCG and OCG.  If you play Master Duel, it becomes all the more important to know not only common rules, but also OCG-specific rules you might not be used to.  I’ve experienced firsthand how crucial that knowledge can be in order to succeed.

Now, how exactly should one learn these weird rulings?  Well, that’s the tricky part.  There’s no definitive list of every ruling difference between the formats.  The Rulings Megathread on Reddit’s r/Yugioh contains several rules resources, including the Official Rulebook and the OCG’s “Perfect Rulebook.”  There are a couple forums here and there that offer one or two interesting differences.  But you may have to simply power through the rulebook and find the differences yourself.  Or, you might simply need to learn by experience, especially with some rulings unique to Master Duel.  (For example, DistantCoder and others tested a “legal” infinite loop involving Jinzo, Amplifier, Skill Drain, and Royal Decree on Master Duel, resulting in a brand-new interaction.

You always have time to learn something new.  Dust off the books and get learning!

3. Maxx “C”

(That’s it.  That’s the takeaway.)

Well…Maxx “C” is…a card.

I’ve been meaning to write an article about Maxx “C” for a while now.  And maybe it’ll still get a dedicated article in the future.  But I’ll say a few words about it here for now.

TCG players were in for a shock when they realized the banlist was a modified version of the OCG list.  That meant that many cards that were banned or limited in the West were free in Master Duel.  But in addition to all the combo pieces and archetype mainstays, that included Maxx “C” being legal at three.  

This difference between the TCG and the OCG has been contentious for a while.  TCG players who want “C” to return say it helps keep the combo meta in check, citing the OCG.  TCG who oppose the card say it’s unfair and too centralizing, and say either that the OCG can’t be compared or that it isn’t necessarily healthy.

Well, now TCG competitors can confront the center of this conflict face-to-face.  Konami has thrown the Western world back into a format wherein Maxx “C” is at 3.  What happened?  Is it good?  Bad?  Healthy?  Oppressive?

The only thing I can say definitively right now is that it’s good, insofar as you almost always win when you play it.  Since so many meta decks are combo decks, Maxx “C” works against almost everyone. Even “control” backrow heavy decks like Eldlich and Shaddoll summon a few times in a turn.  And if you resolve it, the opponent either passes on the spot, makes a minimal board in as few summons as possible, or takes the “Maxx C Challenge.”  (That challenge is to summon so many times that the opponent decks out.)  The first two options make the opponent an easy target.  The last option almost never works.  Even if the opponent could put that many summons together, Maxx “C” will eventually draw you an Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring or a Nibiru, the Primal Being to stop the turn cold.

So, Maxx “C” is a good card.  That much could be expected.  Indeed, all but one of the Top 8 contestants of popular YouTuber Swagkage’s 256-player tournament played Maxx “C” at three copies.  The question is: Is the fact that Maxx “C” is good…good?  How healthy – or not – is Maxx “C?”

Well, it’s complicated.  Yes, Maxx “C” can win games by itself.  But it was designed to be a counterbalance against all the unfair things combo decks can do.  This dichotomy formed the root of the whole debate in the first place, and we’re seeing it in action now.  Furthermore, Maxx “C” has counters, such as Called by the Grave (at two in Master Duel), Crossout Designator, and even Ash Blossom. 

Detractors argued that every deck needed to dedicate half their deck to counter Maxx “C,” by piling in all those counters.  But a glance at the Top 8 of the Swagkage tournament puts a wrench in this argument.  Those decks didn’t run very many dedicated Maxx “C” counters – and, judging by their performance, they didn’t need to.  Yes, most ran two or three Ash, and a couple ran two PSY-Framegear Gamma.  But those good, generic hand traps don’t take up that much space, and would probably see play anyway.

But Maxx “C” detractors have one last trump argument.  So far, I’ve illustrated Maxx “C”‘s usage as a going-second hand trap that reins in combo decks.  But by far Maxx “C”‘s most unfair aspect is that a combo deck can go through their whole line, pass turn, and then drop Maxx “C” on the opponent trying to break their board.

That’s tough.  Combo decks make incredibly powerful boards.  Maxx “C” creates an incredibly powerful answer.  But a combo board and Maxx “C” working together?  That just doesn’t seem right.  On top of that, what about all the casual combo decks just trying to put a decent monster on the board?  Do they deserve punishment from Maxx “C” too?

I honestly can’t say whether the card’s pros outweigh the cons, or vice versa, in terms of its place in the game.  But in terms of its place in your deck, the answer feels pretty cut and dry.  For better or for worse, it’s Maxx “C” to three for the foreseeable future.

2. The meta isn’t in tiers.  It’s on a dartboard.

As mentioned, Master Duel follows a modified OCG banlist.  And the OCG has many cards off the list that the TCG banlist still hits.  And when I say many, I mean many.

So when TCG players started Master Duel, they realized that a bunch of meta decks that had already expended their meta lifespans in the TCG had new life in Master Duel, thanks to the freer banlist.  Pendulum has Heavymetalfoes Electrumite and Astrograph Sorcerer.  Zoodiac has Zoodiac Drident.  Adamancipator has Union Carrier and three Block Dragon.  Drytron has three Cyber Angel Benten and Eva.  And Virtual World has…the Very Fun Dragon, True King of All Calamities

These are just a few examples.  Upon seeing this, TCG players were basically spoiled for choice.  What deck actually stands at the top, now that so many cards are legal?  Does the meta stay the same as in the TCG?  Will old powers take back the throne?  

Again, there isn’t a good, definitive answer.  Sure, people give their top five or their tier lists.  But in reality, so many decks are competitive that they balance each other out just by sheer volume and diversity. 

Eldlich is everywhere on ladder, and people cite its strength in best-of-ones.  Well, it is good in best-of-ones.  It’s less susceptible to Maxx “C,” it plays a great grind game, and it controls almost everything the opponent tries.  But in the Swagkage tournament, only one Eldlich deck made it to the top cut (of 28 players, due to Challonge errors).  And yet, that singular Eldlich deck made it all the way to the finals.  This was despite the fact that they started to play best of threes in top cut.  And in the finals, Eldlich only lost to its arguable worst matchup – Virtual World. 

By the way, who had VW pegged as the best deck?  Sure, plenty of people said it was good.  And it is good: Virtual World Kyubi – Shenshen locking the graveyard, Virtual World Gate – Chuche popping them, not to mention the Calamities floodgate.  But would you have picked it out of 256 players?  Especially when you consider that there were only two VW in top cut?

Then consider Adamancipator.  In the Swiss portion of the Swagkage tournament, it felt like every other feature had Rocks in it.  In fact, as I was planning this article, I was considering changing my takeaway to “The deck to beat is Adamancipator.”  And with five representatives in top cut, that felt like a justified choice.  But by top 8 only one Adamancipator deck remained – and not for long, as it then proceeded to lose to Zoodiac.  Don’t get me wrong – Adamancipator is ridiculously strong.  Several negates, a lock with Dragon Buster Destruction Sword, and follow-up if necessary?  At its best, the deck is nearly unplayable.  But in this latest tournament, it just didn’t convert well.  The rocks are solid, but not unbreakable.  

By the way, if you were wondering about the Zoodiac I mentioned: Zoo took five spots in top cut and two spots in top 8 (three if you count the Zoodiac-Tribrigade deck).  With Drident, a legion of hand traps, and Divine Arsenal AA-ZEUS – Sky Thunder, the deck is certainly formidable.  But it has a lot of competition to reckon with.  For example, if you want to play Beast Warriors, do you want to play pure Zoo?  A Zoo-Tribrigade hybrid?  Or do you want to stick with pure Tribrigade?  If you want to play Tribrigade, you also have the hybrid deck with Lyrilusc to consider. 

And on the topic of hybrid decks, there are several different combinations you can make with Invoked, Shaddoll, and Dogmatika.  And I haven’t even mentioned Drytron, as well as so many other strong decks that made top cut.  There’s Sky Striker, Prank-Kid, Thunder Dragons, some variation of Pendulum…

I hope you can see what I mean about the difficulty about ranking the best decks.  There are just so many, it’s hard to compare them all against each other.  We have a rather large tournament to draw data from, but it’s still just one tournament.  If you want to judge by representation, Zoo and Adamancipator are the best decks.  If you want to judge by the winner, Virtual World is the best deck.  And if you want to judge by expert opinion, the Master Duel Meta website still has Drytron and Tribrigade at the top, even after factoring the results of Swagkage’s tournament.  And on top of all that, ladder is a completely different experience from a tournament.  You can get away with more with a Tier 2 deck – whatever that means – on ladder than in a tournament.

The point is, the meta is far from solved.  And that’s only natural – Master Duel has only existed for a few days.  So if you want a competitive deck, you have plenty of options.  If no one deck immediately appeals to you, just pick a name that seems to come up often.  You could literally paste a bunch of deck names to a dartboard and throw a dart at it.  Chances are you’ll land on something that’ll suit your needs. 

But all that being said…

1. If you want to play rogue, blind second.

This is my personal hypothesis, so take it with a grain of salt.  That said, I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t have good reason.

As stated above, Master Duel’s meta is basically a who’s who of the greatest going-first combo decks of all time.  If you’re not playing the very top decks, you’re playing a losing game if your rogue decks aims to try something similar.  If you try to go first with rogue or non-meta, there’s just always a better board that someone else is making.  And everyone’s geared to play around the boards that meta makes.  The reason why meta is, well, meta, is because they mix the power of their boards with their ability to play through disruption.  If you’re not playing those decks, chances are you’re losing out on one or the other, or both. 

If you’ve ever watched Moneyball, the A’s can’t beat the Yankees by trying to play like the Yankees.  The A’s just don’t have the resources that the Yankees have.  They have to do something entirely different in order to win. 

And to that, I have one answer: blind second.

Rogue can’t match Master Duel’s meta turn one combos.  That could have been true in a tamer land like the current TCG; it’s not true here.  But I believe that rogue’s storied history of dedicating itself to breaking boards going second can still translate to success in Master Duel.  The diverse meta and best-of-one tournament makes crafting an all-encompassing turn one board rather difficult.  But it does encourage a ready-for-anything going-second strategy that aims to plow through anything in its path.

You can get one guaranteed copy of Lightning Storm (and Ash Blossom) with gems.  Mystical Space Typhoon comes with the Synchro starter deck.  The Kaijus are all available at relatively low rarity.  (Gameciel, the Sea Turtle Kaiju is only an SR.)  Forbidden Chalice is as affordable in Master Duel as it is in paper.  Zeus exists.  With the help of going-second staples, many decks have the ability to play through the opponent’s disruptions, not to establish a powerful board, but to go immediately on the offensive and end the duel in a handful or even one turn.  

I play Mekk-Crusadia Kaiju with a decent amount of success.  The Kaijus remove problem boss monsters very well.  The Mekk-Knights’ ease of summon can either bait out interruptions or act as a backup plan.  Forbidden Chalice puts in a lot of work, especially against Apollousa, Bow of the Goddess.  Of course, Maxx “C” helps find the cards I need, and puts pressure on the opponent.  These cards and others make way for Crusadia Maximus and either Crusadia Equimax or Mekk-Knight Crusadia Avramax to end the duel in one turn.

Crusadia took me from Gold to Platinum III.  Even in Platinum, it takes games that I think my Drytron deck wouldn’t have.  But even if you doubt the capability of Crusadia, there are tangible examples of blind second working.  Sky Striker, Mekk-Invoked, and Cyber Dragon all made top cut of Swagkage’s tournament, and would rather go second than first.  Pure Zoodiac, though a meta deck, prefers to go second, disrupting with hand traps before going into Zeus.  The top 8 Adamancipator list featured three copies each of Lightning Storm and Forbidden Droplet, and aimed to go second and wreak havoc.

I really think blinding second can yield tremendous results, especially on ladder.  If you want to make your non-meta deck competitive, don’t try to copy what the best decks do.  Instead, put together a deck that showcases your best offensive effort, and make the most out of the six cards you get going second.

Conclusion

Master Duel shows a lot of promise, but also a lot to be wary of.  Choose a deck wisely, make good use of your materials, and sharpen your game knowledge, and you’ll go far.  Not only will you fare well in rank, but you’ll also prepare yourself for whatever developments may arise in the future.

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PlacetMihi

YGOPRODeck Writer


One thought on “Five Takeaways from the First Week of Master Duel


  • Avatar
    January 25, 2022 at 8:21 am

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    From one week of playing in a format in which Maxx C is legal, I must say this card has surprised me positively.
    In the end it is this: A turn ending handtrap. So in terms of strength it’s on par with Lancea, Dimension Shifter (although those two often times still allow for minor setup) and Droll and Lock Bird. Under Maxx C you can still do minor plays at the cost of giving your opponent 1-3 cards – which is huge, don’t get me wrong – but that’s more interactive than being forced to pass turn since you’re locked out of performing actions at all. The only handtrap I’d rank stronger in terms for what it does is Nibiru. Nibiru also ends your turn but does so after investing a lot of ressources. Can be good for some decks and devastating for others. There’s a reason a lot of meta decks are defined by their playablitity through Nibiru.

    Of course that’s not the only thing that factors in. The other major factor is how many decks a handtrap hits. Lancea and Shifter are very situational. Droll hits more decks and so does Nibiru but again, a part (not every part) about being a meta combo/midrange deck is being able to play around it. Maxx C, similar to Ash, works against pretty much every deck. That’s what makes it so frustrating to so many players. They can expect their every opponent to play it and it will almost always work against your deck.

    But here’s my takeaway:

    1) The universality makes it less frustrating, not more frustrating. Okay first of all, getting hit by a high impact handtrap is ALWAYS frustrating. I’m not saying Maxx C isn’t, I’m saying it’s less frustrating. When you get hit by a Lancea, a Droll or especially Nibiru you feel very singled out. “Of course they’re on the handtrap that outs my deck specifically”. Even if this is simplified since handtraps are often format dependend and can be expected it still feels frustrating to be hit with Nibiru if you know the best decks of the format wouldn’t care. Knowing it’ll hit everyone the same and yours would hit your opponent just as much simply feels less infuriating.

    2) It’s nice that you can play many outs. Yes it affects deckbuilding. Yes that can be annoying if you feel like you have to play the exact same 8 cards in every deck (although that’s one of the charm in older formats like GOAT and Edison, knowing what kind of powerful cards your opponent is on from the get go and trying to play around that). However most decks are on triple Ash already so it’s really just about playing or not playing Crossout and Called By. However at the end of the day you’ll be able to stop Maxx C from resolving more than you would stop any other handtrap. I’m not saying it’s fair because it can get stopped but I already established that the handtrap itself feels less frustrating than other high impact handtraps (subjectively speaking of course) so adding to this that often times you can prevent your opponent’s Maxx C is nice.

    3) If it affects the format at all, it would for the better. Even though OCG has Maxx C at three we – more or less – still mirror their format on same set releases. Despite Maxx C the same combo/midrange decks that dominate the TCG also dominated the OCG for the same period. If the meta dies to Nibiru you’re rewarded for playing a deck that doesn’t. If everyone is on Droll you gain an advantage by playing a deck that doesn’t care about droll. It’s like that but less dependent on the format. Decks like Floowandereeze and Striker care less about one of the strongest handtrap and therefore get a little boost as their opponent WILL be on 3 cards they don’t really care about. That doesn’t make the strongest decks stronger, it incentivizes playing tier 2, rogue and below decks that can dodge Maxx C for a wider format. Of course that’s speculative since we don’t have Maxx C in our TCG formats but I think it’s a fair assumption.

    4) I’m editing this one in but I do wanna voice one concern, regarding the first point I made. While I do believe Maxx C feels less frustrating than other high impact handtraps and doesn’t single out specific archetypes, having a high impact handtrap played against you as frequently as Ash Blossom or Impermanence might be turn out to be the most frustrating to play against. Right now you expect to get hit with either Ash or Imperm (or whichever low impact handtrap is format relevant) and you can usually play around it, bait it or play through it. However if you’re hit with a turn ending handtrap that often starting game 1 already instead of game 2 or 3 where a lot of these handtraps are sided in, we may end up in a format in which establishing boards will happen less frequent. So in the end it is not the impact but the universality that could potentially give reason to this handtrap being the worst but for now I do wanna see how Maxx C would impact the game we’re playing today and see for myself how these hypotheses stand.

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