In Solving the Trap Card Paradox, Patrick Hoban coins two terms to define two deck types. There are large decks and small decks. Paraphrasing Hoban’s definitions, large decks have many plays at their disposal, requiring minimal investment to achieve consistent success. Conversely, small decks have fewer plays and requiring a significant investment. Thus, larger decks have an advantage against smaller decks. In other words, may the deck with the most plays win.
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Examining the Differences
Full-power Shaddolls represent one example of a large deck. Shaddoll Fusion is capable of summoning a boss monster on its lonesome. Additionally, this one-card play requires no investment from the hand or field. Furthermore, this card does not consume the user’s normal summon. Since Shaddoll Fusion is a one-card play, the opponent can expect additional summons or back-row during the same turn.
For Shaddoll Fusion to summon a Fusion monster this way, the opponent needs control of a monster summoned from the extra deck. Therefore, the Shaddoll user is opening the duel second. This is significant, as the player opening second draws six cards from the deck instead of five cards. This translates into Shaddoll Fusion existing as a live one-card play at least 39% of the time (assuming three copies of this card are in the deck). Opponents relying on the extra deck can expect the Shaddoll duelist to have such a play at their disposal more than once in three duels.
Consider Xyz-oriented archetypes such as Constellars, Burning Abyss, and Battlin’ Boxer. The main play, a Xyz summon, requires playing two monster cards from the hand onto the field. Furthermore, this play is expensive, consuming two cards and a normal summon on average. The user will most likely not have a follow-up play on the same turn. Since the normal summon is consumed, the user of such decks will need to protect their investment. Protection arrives in the form of smaller decks playing significantly more defensive cards than larger decks.
In the battle between smaller decks and larger decks, the objective remains the same for users of either deck. Duelists will want to ensure their opponent is incapable of outplaying the pace of their deck. Users of smaller decks will elect to play more floodgates in order to bring larger decks to their pace. Larger decks may simply rely on disruption to create openings against established boards. Furthermore, larger decks have access to powerful monsters with an inherent defensive capability to inhibit the opponent’s ability to respond to such threats.
A skill gap may exist between pilots of large and small decks. Large decks provide a safety net or a significant margin for error due to its capability of extending several cards with little consequence. Whereas users of smaller decks will require extensive knowledge of card advantage and or the opponent’s deck, as a few misplays can very well cost him or her the duel or a match outright. In addition, the deck building process is much easier for large decks, as its core is very powerful and consistent, allowing for tech choices capable of giving the deck unrivaled levels of versatility. Users of small decks will need to make conscious decisions about every card selection and their potential consequences.
Which to Play?
Differentiating large and small decks is relative across formats. Newer cards are introduced every few months. Additionally, powerful one-card plays and engines usually find themselves somewhere on the forbidden and limited list. Some of the largest of archetypes may find themselves dwarfed in the face of newer decks with more powerful effects. The definition of deck typings in this way is variable in nature, but constant by definition. The larger deck will win out on average, but will not remain large forever.
When building a competitive deck, it is important to set sights on creating the largest deck possible. However, it is also important to understand the limits of a particular deck build or archetype. For example, look at the Red-Eyes archetype in its current state. Its most powerful cards are expensive. Red-Eyes Fusion limits the user’s ability to summon additional monsters. Additionally, The Black Stone of Legend requires a normal summon to output a vanilla monster with 2500 attack points at best.
Furthermore, The Black Stone of Legend is unable to use both of its effects during the same turn. Each card represents a one-card play, however, both plays consume a normal summon, which serves to make the opponent’s job of containment easier. Alternatively, the Red-Eyes user can forego the usage of Red-Eyes Fusion and The Black Stone of Legend into other builds such as using ritual spells, other fusion cards, synchros, and field spells. However, such plays require significantly more deck space, reducing consistency and the deck’s defensive capabilities. Choosing this route may bear as little fruit as before, if not less.
What are some ways to identify archetypes or cards capable of belonging to a larger playstyle? Smaller decks tend to compartmentalize many aspects of a functioning deck. Monster removal is its own card. Resource recursion is its own card. Special summoning requires an additional card. However, this is not the case with larger decks.
Look at the Blue-Eyes archetype. In the past, special summoning a boss monster required an investment of at least one card. However, Blue-Eyes Alternative White Dragon reduces this cost to nearly nothing. In addition, Blue-Eyes Alternative White Dragon is capable of destroying monsters via its card effect or in battle. The Sage with Eyes of Blue has two highly useful effects depending on the situation. It can exist as a simple tuner while searching another tuner in the process, or it is the catalyst for summoning a Blue-Eyes monster directly from the deck.
Cards with this level of utility effectively render staple cards redundant. Therefore, users of large decks can capitalize on specific redundancies to create additional summons, provide more disruption, and generate more card advantage. While on the topic of card advantage, large decks may have basic and consistent plays which can produce at least one or two additional cards in hand or on the field. Some of the most ban-worthy of decks generate more than three or four cards in a single play. However, in today’s format in both the TCG and OCG, larger decks will feature powerful boss monsters capable of disruption on either player’s turn, in tandem with traditional defensive staples.
In conclusion, decks featuring many routes and avenues for playing the game are large due to the sheer amount of plays available. Smaller decks will attempt to compensate for such a disadvantage by the inclusion of more defensive oriented cards. However, the objective remains identical for users of both decks, which is to ensure the opposing player is incapable of playing at a faster pace than himself or herself. Although many decks may fall within such classifications, the usage of the terms large and small are relative to a variety of factors such as the release of more powerful cards and the forbidden and limited list. It is not impossible for small decks to compete and win against larger decks; however, the odds are stacked severely against them. This is where skill comes into play. Regardless, deck builders should always shoot for the moon whenever possible.