It’s the biggest tournament of the year. No event draws a larger crowd or more interest than “US Nationals,” now known as the North American World Championship Qualifier (WCQ). This year there were over 1800 participants, and I finished 2nd. In this article I’m going to tell you my story. You’ll learn how I prepared, hear what my weekend was like, see my decklist, and get my thoughts post-event.
Who is this guy?
Peyton Manning. Tom Brady. LeBron James. Kobe Kryant. Billy Brake. Jeff Jones. It doesn’t matter if it’s the NFL, NBA, or Yu-Gi-Oh; people want to see the super-stars, and see them do well. I mean, what would’ve been more epic than seeing LeBron versus Kobe in the NBA finals? So when all of the Yu-Gi-Oh super-stars got knocked out in the early rounds, people got upset. I mean, imagine the stakes if four-time Champion Fili Luna faced off against three-time champion and seven-time finalist Jerry Wang, in the North American WCQ Finals, to determine, once-and-for-all, the greatest Yu-Gi-Oh player of all time. It’d be amazing!
So I get it. A couple of new-comers by the names of W. Samuel Pedigo and Hansel Aguero in the finals doesn’t exactly draw the same level of interest, at least not yet. But just because we weren’t known doesn’t mean either of us didn’t deserve to be there. I’m not afraid to say that I worked harder and smarter than anybody else at the event, and know from speaking with Hansel since the WCQ that he also put forth a tremendous amount of time and effort.
How did I do it?
Did you catch that? I worked harder and smarter than anybody else. And that’s what it’s about. I have a full-time job and a fiancé (practically another full-time job) and I don’t have as much time to dedicate to playtesting compared to many of the “pros”. That doesn’t mean I didn’t playtest for hours. But you’ve heard the saying, “practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.” Going through the motions isn’t enough. Every step of the way, I’d stop and analyze the game to see what I could’ve done differently, and what would’ve happened. Win or lose, after my opponent abruptly leaves the duel room on DuelingNetwork, I stay and play out what I could’ve done.
And I didn’t spend all of my time playtesting. That’s not enough. There’s no way to understand all of the possible combos that a deck like Tengu Synchro can perform by playing the game. Instead, I created a spreadsheet of all of the possible outcomes from the deck’s most common two-or-three card combos. I color-coded each play on if Effect Veiler could interrupt it or not. I counted how many monsters each combo put into the grave for Pot of Avarice fodder. I checked how many draws I could get off of it, and analyzed the change in card advantage.
High Mid Low
Effect Veiler $23.07 $20.91 $19.98
Set Duelist Revolution
Type Tuner Monster
Rarity Ultra Rare
Card Text During your opponent's Main Phase, you can send this card from your hand to the Graveyard to select 1 face-up Effect Monster your opponent controls. Negate the effect(s) of that monster until the End Phase.
Store Condition Qty Avail Price
EMPIRE CARDS Unlimited - Played 1 $18.42
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The Game Academy Unlimited - Near Mint 6 $20.11
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I’ve never seen as many matches end in draws as I did this weekend. I’m convinced it is because people spent so much time analyzing what plays they could do and how to do them. And they probably still missed the optimal play! Whereas my preparation enabled me to see the combos and how to perform them quicker, providing me with more time to determine what the right play was.
Given that my preparation was reflected in my performance and results, I believe that this format is significantly more skill-based than people have given it credit. Although Tengu Synchro can be sacky, the matches are still almost always determined by the players’ skill. In my tournament report, you’ll read how I went 6-1-1 in the mirror match, with my only loss coming as a result of a misplay.
Friday night at almost 2:00 A.M., I get to the hotel. Although I was supposed to sleep on the bed, Scott Page (congrats on Top 64) and Kyle Bowling are dead asleep and won’t make room for me, so I end up having to sleep on the floor. And to make matters worse, Billy Brake likes to pretend like he’s visiting Antarctica when he goes to Yu-Gi-Oh events, so he keeps to hotel room at freezing temperatures. I wake up at 6:00 A.M. and am too cold to go back to sleep. (Insert Frozen Solid Gantetsu joke here.) Four hours of sleep isn’t what I was hoping for. But I’d done it before at Providence, when I got in at almost 4:00 A.M. because United Airlines computer systems crashed, and had to wake up at 8:00 A.M. I shower and make sure to grab some breakfast.
Tip: If you don’t have breakfast you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage. Getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, and staving away hunger are all necessities for avoiding fatigue at large events. And don’t wait until you’re starving to eat, because by then it might already be too late. It takes time for your body to absorb it. Remember that it’s your responsibility to take care of yourself, and losing due to fatigue is as much your fault as any misplay.
Round 1: GKs 2-1
Almost two-thousand people were there, including no more than a couple dozen people from the Dallas-Forth Worth area. But as fate would have it, I was paired up against somebody from one of my locals. He wins game one, I counter by winning game two. Game three starts right as time is called. The both of us pass for four turns in a row; turn five is mine. If I can deal any kind of damage, the match is mine. And that’s just what I wanted. I activated Dark Hole and destroyed his two GK Recruiters along with two my own monsters, but he still has three backrow and a Necrovalley. I have a Dust Tornado set with a live Spore in grave. My plan is to summon Lonefire, go into Glow-Up Bulb, Dust his Necrovalley, bring back Spore, and attack with both in order to play around Dimensional Prison or Book of Moon. If he has Mirror Force or Torrential Tribute then I’ll have enough monsters for a Pot of Avarice and can bring back my Bulb for defense. I summon Lonefire Blossom, and tribute it for another Lonefire, attempt to do it again, and he activates Rivalry of Warlords! I’m forced to chain my Dust Tornado and search out Dandylion. I attempt to attack for game and it goes through!
Round 2: Water Synchro 2-1
Game one my opponent opens up with two Genex Undine! Despite dropping Maxx “C”, and drawing three or four cards off of it, I don’t have the right combination of resources to get past the Brionac that he rides to victory. I can’t comprehend there’s even such a significant combination of cards in Tengu Synchro that can’t counter a Brionac. But despite opening double Undine again in one of the following games, I’m able to outplay him the rest of the way to win the match.
Round 3: Blackwings 2-1
I’m not focused and despite not making any blatant misplays, I don’t feel like I’m making the optimal decisions. Fortunately, a crucial mistake by my opponent tips game one in my favor. He normal summons Sirroco and specials Gale and immediately declares at attack on Tengu with Gale. He forgot to halve! He does come back to win game two, but I take the match in game three. Good player (made day two); bad mistake.
Round 4: Tengu Synchro 1-1
I fought a hard game one, but he’s able to get off two Pot of Avarice and I’m not able to draw into either of mine. I can’t overcome the resource deficiency. In game two, six of my first seven or eight cards are two Crows, two Debunk, a Veiler and a Maxx “C”. It was bound to be a slow game. With time winding down, staring down a Caius, defense-position Debris, and a couple of backrows, with only a Crow, Veiler and Spore in hand, I thought it was over. But alas! My first Pot of Avarice of the match! I manage to win game two outright, but because we were in time already we’re unable to begin game three and the match ends in a draw. But given my grim circumstances just a few minutes earlier I’m delighted with the results since I knew X-2-1 would be good enough to get me into the Top 64. It was as if I got a free pass.
Round 5: Tengu Synchro 2-0
I win my first die roll of the day and proceed to ride it to a quick 2-0 victory.
Round 6: X-Sabers 2-1
In Dallas I rode X-Sabers to Top 32 and would’ve made Top 16 if I didn’t forget a Darksoul search, and I almost topped with them again as recently as Providence (finished 33rd). I couldn’t have felt more comfortable, and if not for a blatant misplay in game two, I would’ve won in two. I have a Caius on the field, a Solemn Warning set and a Debris Dragon in hand and am at 2200 life points. He had just searched for an Emmersblade off of a Darksoul search, and instead of setting it, set the card he drew instead. Feeling like I needed to apply pressure, I summon Debris and attack his set monster. As I suspected, it’s another Emmersblade. I activate my Solemn Warning to negate Emmersblade’s effect, dropping me to 200 life points. On his next turn he simply summons Emmersblade and attacks my Debris Dragon for game.
Round 7: Worms 2-0
Game one is mine, but game two should’ve been his. Despite activating all three of his Nebulas in the first four or five turns (and having an enormous deficiency in card advantage), I’m able to apply enough pressure with Tengu to drop him to 1200 life points. (At one point I had all three of my Tengus on the field at once!) For the rest of the duel I’m forced to play defense. But when time in the round starts to run out he starts to apply the pressure. He’s amasses a field full on monsters and I’m forced to make one final attempt to wipe out the rest of his life points. I activate Giant Trunade. My opponent is devastated. He scoops up his backrow, piles them onto the rest of the cards in his hand, and rests his head on his first. I use Spore’s effect, return him to my hand using Zephyos’ effect, then re-summon Spore to synch for Hyper Librarian, and attack over Cartos for exact game! And then it hits my opponent. He had Maxx “C” in his hand! He looks at his next card and it’s Honest!
Round 8: Evan’s Scraps 1-2
I’m exhausted. Despite my 6-0-1 start, and winning only my second die roll of the game, I can’t bring myself to focus on the game. More disheartening was the fact that winning that die roll ended up working against me. I opened up with Tour Guide, summoned it, searched Sangan and set Mystical Space Typhoon and Dust Tornado. He activates Pot of Duality and reveals a Thunder King, takes it, summons it and successfully runs over my Sangan. I bluff a Pof of Avarice and draw into Gorz the next turn. It costs me the game, and I side out Tour Guide. But sure enough, in game two I open up with Sangan. Because he’s my only playable monster, I set him along with a couple of backros and pass. He has Thunder King, again! Fortunately I have defenses this time and am able to take game two. But in game three my only monster is a Cyber Dragon. I’m forced to Book his, yeah, Thunder King. I special Cydra, run over his Thunder King set a couple of backrows and pass. He summons Scrap Chimera without and targets, and Mind Controls my Cyber Dragon, and synchs for Scrap Twin Dragon! Without any response or follow up he wins the game, the match, and proceeds to finish swiss as the top seed.
Round 9: Tengu Synchro 2-0
Only one more match, then I can rest. I try to fight off the fatigue, but it’s not the only demon I’m battling. In the past I’ve stuggled to cope with a loss, and it usually costs me the next match. After I started 4-0 in Charlotte, a game one loss in round five spurred two consecutive losses. The two losses I had in Providence were consecutive. Fortunately this time around I drew extremely well! With a Solemn Judgment to back me up, I applied pressure early with two Librarians and a Tengu. I continued to push, was about to bring out a Stardust Dragon for additional protection when my opponent scooped. “I was afraid of Mirror Force,” I reasoned with my opponent on why I continued to push despite already having game on the board. “You certainly weren’t afraid of Torrential Tribute”, he quipped. I could tell he thought I was a scrub. I didn’t say anything though; I wanted him to doubt my abilities.
Game two starts out almost exactly like game one. I get out a swarm of double Librarian and Tengu backed up by a Solemn Judgment again! The next turn I synchro with one of my Librarians for a Brionac. Despite not having enough for game on the board, the damage I was going to deal would’ve been so devastating that he would’ve had to drop Gorz that turn, if he had him, so I activate Maxx “C”. If he does drop Gorz, I’ll be able to draw two cards to return Gorz back to his hand in main phase two. He doesn’t have Gorz though, and I finis him off next turn. I apologize for how well I drew. Instead of taking the loss in strike, he berates my choices like after game one. I defend my plays and he continues to pout. I didn’t feel bad for beating him so handily anymore. I finish day one at 7-1-1 and only need to win one of the next two duels to advance to the Top 64.
Round 10: Junk Doppel 1-2
Game one he Veiler’s my Debris and attempts to counter with a power-play of his own, but gets stopped in his tracks by my Royal Oppression. He simply sets a monster and ends. I’m only at 2500 life points, and read that his set monster is a Debris Dragon. I followed my instincts and didn’t attack, since attacking into a Debris and losing 1000 life points would’ve left me with enough life points for only one more negation using Oppression. A few turns pass and he’s able to seize control and take game one. It was a Spore. Spore. If I would’ve attacked and kept pushing I could’ve had game. I storm back and take game two. Game three goes into time and I have the Last Turn. He’s ahead by 300 life points, and has a Card Trooper, Ancient Fairy Dragon, Formula Synchron, and a set monster on the field. I have five monsters in the grave, including a live Spore, along with a Debris Dragon and Pot of Avarice in hand, and I draw into a Caius. I activate the Avarice, thinking for some reason it was my only play. I could’ve summoned the Caius (using Spore) or Debris Dragon (and gone for a Black Rose), and attacked over the Card Trooper for 2000 life points, giving me enough life point advantage to negate his Formula if he tried to synch with Trooper. And if he would’ve used Oppression, I could’ve simply ended and won the game.
Round 11: Tengu Synchro 2-0
I didn’t win the die roll, but manage to outplay my opponent to take the match in two games.
Top 64: Tengu Synchro 2-1
It feels like a repeat of Round 9 on day one, when I drew extraordinarily well in games one and two. I have a field consisting of double Librarian and Brionac, backed up by two Solemn Warnings and a Solemn Judgment. He activates Dark Hole and I Solemn Judgment. He summons Tengu and I allow it, thinking his only play is the Glow-Up Bulb in his grave. He activates Pot of Avarice, and I remove the Bulb with D.D. Crow. And just when I think the duel’s over, he tributes his Tengu to steal my Brionac, grabs another Tengu, pitches the last two cards in his card to return my two Librarians to my extra deck, and attacks for exactly 4000! I’m disappointed, but also impressed by my opponent’s grits. Game three has more back and forth, but I still take the match and advance to the Top 64.
Top 32: Anthony Alvarado’s Kristya Turbo 2-1
The match gets off to an ugly start with a rulings dispute in two consecutive turns. Valhalla is active already, and he summons Kristya. I tell him I have a response to the activation of Valhalla’s effect and he returns Kristya to his hand. I activate Limit Reverse to bring back my Debris Dragon. He resummons Kristya and then activates Maxx “C”. I say that’s Fine, then he draws a card and I call a judge. Because he summoned Kristya, that means the effect of Valhalla had already resolved, and he missed the timing to chain Maxx “C” to Limit Reverse. On the next turn, I tribute my Tengu to take his Kristya (so that I could attack directly with it for game), but he chains Book of Moon and targets his Kristya. Because Kristya is now face down, Tengu’s effect can now activate. The judge rules in my favor in both disputes, but poor play costs me game one. Fortunately I’m able to rebound and take the next two.
Top 16: Tengu Synchro 2-1
You know how I felt bad about Tengu-swarming my opponents in Round 9 and in the Top 64? That’s what happened to me in game one. Unable to prevent it with a Maxx “C” or a Warning, my opponent goes off. I manage to clear his board, with nothing left but a Glow-Up Bulb and a Caius. I set Bulb and plan on using its effect as fodder for Caius, assuming it’s going to get ran over. Instead, he Mind Controls it, summons Debris Dragon, and synchros for Trishula. It’s a trend: I comeback and take games two and three.
Tip: I get frustrated when my friends come to me, seething after a loss and tell me about how lucky their opponent got in game x. Remember that matches are three games, and although your opponent will draw better than you sometimes, and one game may be out of your control, typically the outcome of the match is still in your hands. It’s very uncommon for you to play a perfect match and still lose because your opponent drew that well. However, this is assuming you have a reliable, skill-based deck. Samurai, Agents, and Gravekeepers are more linear and your matches will be much more dependant on how you draw, and not how you play.
Top 8: Bo Tang’s Tengu Synchro 2-1
At this point, after each round, the judges take your deck and gives it back to you when the next round begins. Between Top 16 and Top 8, one of my Tengu disappeared from my deckbox. I’m scared that I may get a game loss or even a match loss. Fortunately the judges allow me to replace it and proceed with no penalty. Not that it mattered. Déjà vu. Bo Tengu swarms me into submission game one. I don’t give up; game two is mine. I don’t have much to work with in game three so I have to resort to pushing with Zephyros, then summon Debris Dragon and revive D.D. Crow for extra support. The next turn I draw into a Cyber Dragon. At first glace I think it is a dead draw, but then I do a double take. I tribute Zephyros for Cyber Dragon and activate Zephyros’s effect and pay his cost by returning D.D. Crow back to my hand! For the third duel in a row, I lose game one but take games two and three to advance to the next round.
Top 4: Thomas Mak’s Agents 2-1
I take game one and he gets game two. In game three have a good hand, but I don’t have any backrow hate. I can’t risk letting him set up for a late Kristya or Hyperion play so I decide that I have to push early and hope he doesn’t have Gozen Match. Fortunately he doesn’t, but he’s able to fight back and seize control with a Venus and Hyperion backed up by a live Herald in hand. I have one turn to take back control. My first attempt is a Trishula, that gets negated by Herald. Zepyros allows me to follow it up with a Catastor play that I use to take out his Hyperion. From there I slowly gain advantage back and earn a birth into the North American WCQ Finals!
Finals: Hansel Aguero’s Tengu T.G.s 1-2
Tip: mental toughness in an enormous aspect of Yu-Gi-Oh. You have to be able to rebound after losses. Any kind of loss: game, match, or a single misplay. You also have to be able to turn your nervous energy into positive energy. During day two I kept signing Lupe Fiasco’s “Superstar” song to myself: “if you are what you say you are, then have no fear.” If you are what you say you are, then all you have to do is play like it. There’s no reason to be nervous. Focus.
Now try doing that on the largest stage in Yu-Gi-Oh, in your first ever feature match. Yeah, I’ll admit it. I was nervous. I thought I would regain my composure once the duel started, but the opposite happened when Hansel Trap Dustshoot’ed me. To be Honest, there was a part of me that had already given up on game one after that Dustshoot, and said I would win games two and three like I had been doing all day. Of course that’s not how it turned out. For the first couple days after the event I couldn’t even finish the video of game one because I played so poorly. It wasn’t until after I read the feature match and saw how well he drew that I realized that no matter how well I played I never had a chance. That’s not to say I didn’t rebound during that match. Although everybody looks back on that game two and remembers my OTK, it looked and felt as though I was going to get 2-0’ed. I kept myself in a position to success though. Unfortunately he had Dark Bribe and Royal Oppression in both games two and three.
Everybody knew that once T.G. Hyper Librarian came out the game was going to change. But what deck would vault to the top of the meta because of it was still a mystery. Junk Doppel? Fabled? Fish OTK? YCS Providence gave us the answer. If Tengu Synchro could win a premier event without Librarian, it was going to be the deck to beat at Nationals with Librarian. It’s quick, strong, and consistent and has the versatility to solve almost any board. Here’s my decklist and the Reasoning behind my choices:
Tengu Synchro Samuel Pedigo
Location: 2011 North American WCQ - 2nd Place
View a Sample Hand!
Solitaire this Deck!
Main Deck Sideboard
1 Blackwing - Zephyros the Elite
1 Caius the Shadow Monarch
2 Debris Dragon
1 Effect Veiler
1 Glow-Up Bulb
1 Gorz the Emissary of Darkness
2 Lonefire Blossom
2 Maxx "C"
3 Reborn Tengu
1 Ryko, Lightsworn Hunter
1 Tour Guide From the Underworld
1 Book of Moon
1 Dark Hole
1 Enemy Controller
1 Foolish Burial
1 Giant Trunade
1 Monster Reborn
2 Mystical Space Typhoon
1 One for One
2 Pot of Avarice
1 Bottomless Trap Hole
1 Call of the Haunted
1 Dust Tornado
1 Limit Reverse
1 Mirror Force
1 Royal Oppression
1 Solemn Judgment
2 Solemn Warning
1 Torrential Tribute
2 Breaker the Magical Warrior
2 Cyber Dragon
2 D.D. Crow
2 Kinetic Soldier
2 Malevolent Catastrophe
2 Thunder King Rai-Oh
1 Trap Dustshoot
1 Ally of Justice Catastor
1 Ancient Fairy Dragon
1 Arcanite Magician
1 Armory Arm
1 Black Rose Dragon
1 Brionac, Dragon of the Ice Barrier
2 Formula Synchron
1 Iron Chain Dragon
1 Scrap Dragon
1 Shooting Star Dragon
1 Stardust Dragon
2 T.G. Hyper Librarian
1 Trishula, Dragon of the Ice Barrier
Tour Guide -
The more Tour Guides you run, the higher the odds are that you’ll get Sangan onto the board. But it also increases your chances of drawing having one without a useful target. Running one was like running two Sangans, while keeping the chances of drawing into a 1000 attack vanilla minimal. I also wanted to make sure I didn’t rely too much on Sangan, to avoid situations like in my round eight match against Evan’s Scraps.
As I was playtesting, I noticed that I would often either (a) have a dead continous trap (sometimes blocking a Gorz play) or (b) needed another non-tuner. Having the versatility to Foolish for Zephyros to get a non-tuner allowed me to make many more plays that would’ve otherwise not been possible. And being able to reuse my Call or the Haunted, or have another out to my own Oppression while also putting a four-star 1600 attack body on the board is extremely powerful. Drawing it isn’t that bad either. He still have 1600 attack, whose only drawback as a vanilla is being vulnerable to Tengu.
Maxx “C” and Effect Veiler -
I main-decked a Maxx “C” in Dallas, and have remained a fan of the card ever since. It started out as an experiment with Junk Synchron, but even after Junk got tossed from my deck the results Maxx “C” yielded in the mirror match were too good to pass up. I didn’t want to run four cards that are activated from the hand though, since it could result in some really awkward openings. Instead, I decided to take out a Veiler. It’s a minus that you have to take in order to stop your opponent’s more powerful monster effects. Maxx “C” on the other hand is more preventative. It’s basically a “STOP” sign for the opponent, and in most cases it’s free since you’ll draw at least one card off of it.
Bottomless Trap Hole -
The bane of Bottomless’ existence in the main deck over the past year has been Plants. But with the focus on Librarian, even they were vulnerable enough to it to warrant running it in the main deck, because it’s so good versus the rest of the meta.
Royal Oppression -
It’s good versus almost every deck in the meta right now. The only reason not to run it is because it also locks down my own deck too, but Tengu and Debris Dragon’s 2000 defense provide defense under Oppression if I’m forced to activate it prematurely.
Dust Tornado -
In retrospect, I might have used a Trap Stun instead of Dust Tornado since it’s significantly more powerful in the T.G. matchup and would have given me one more way to play around my own Oppression. I would have moved the Dust Tornado to the side deck and taken out the Trap Dustshoot.
Gorz and Mirror Force -
A friends of mine recently summed up Gorz in two words: “necessary evil”. He gets stuck in your hand, or is rendered useless when your opponent plays around it, but still has to be played because he’s good against bad players, or wins you games when even the good player has no other choice but to take the chance that you don’t have it.
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For example, I’ve neglected to run Mirror Force in past events, citing its ineffectiveness versus good players, only to lose far too many games thinking to myself “what is this guy doing? If I had a Mirror Force, he loses.” As dead as Mirror Force and Gorz can be, they’re key cards in surviving the gauntlet of mediocre players that you’ll play at big events, because not all players are equally skillful, and part of the game is understanding the different tiers in the player base.
There may be a significant amount of luck in Yu-Gi-Oh, but you still have the ability to control a significant amount of the factors that determine the outcome of every game. Take responsibility, work hard, work smart and you’ll be rewarded. Remain aware of all of the external factors that contribute to your results as well, such as fatigue and mental toughness. In sports, they say that young teams have to learn how to win before they can contend for a Championship. So it’s extremely rewarding to actually experience the psychological growth of a competitor. Over the weekend I finally learned how to rebound after losses, and overcame the misplay that cost me making it to the Top 16 at YCS Dallas. Now next time you see my name in contention, you won’t overlook me. Hopefully you won’t have to wait long—look for me in Indianapolis and Amsterdam!