How I got here.. | The Irish Duelist

How I got here..

Before I start writing some 'proper' articles I thought it would be a good idea to let you guys know who I am (in this game) and how I've gotten to where I am today.

(Note: I advise you to get some coffee, as this article is unbelievably long, a lot longer than what I intend to write in the future.)

2002-2004: In the Beginning

I first came across Yu-Gi-Oh! in 2002 when the game (and TV series) was just released in English. My younger cousins were playing this new card game and they asked me to give it a go. Even though we were playing by 'Anime Rules' the game was quite fun and intriguing. I was always a video game player so card games (especially trading card games) was a new concept to me. When they told me that there was a TV series to go along with it I went away and watched a few episodes and thought "Wow!". I was hooked and my connection with Yu-Gi-Oh! began.

After a week or so I picked up a few starter decks, one for myself and one for my brother. I went with the Kaiba starter as I liked the look of Blue-Eyes White Dragon and gave him the Yugi one. Over the summer it was just the 4 of us playing against each other for pure enjoyment. Once school started again though, their interest in the game died down a little, but we still had a few games on weekends. Around this time I was able to access the Internet for the first time. I didn't own a computer (and still don't) so I had to make do with one hour at the local library every week. I did a few random searches based on whatever games I liked at the time (I think it was Final Fantasy VIII) until I remembered to do a Yu-Gi-Oh! search. When I hit the Enter button I was redirected to this page. There were plenty of articles there, some of which I might read again soon actually, and I was like a sponge, soaking up all the information I could. It was here that my competitive drive first formed.

From that point onwards the main aim when playing against the others was to win. I started thinking more about decks and how they should work, picking up the basic principles of good deck design along the way. My first deck after this was a Blue-Eyes White Dragon deck that just aimed to get the big 3,000ATK Beatstick out as quick and ad often as possible. I started to pump a little money into the game, buying whatever packs (Legacy of Darkness, with its Warrior and Dragon support, was the newest set) I could get, as well as 3 Kaiba SE starters. Despite my competitive edge, I was still a casual player by today's standards, relying on luck and starter decks to get most of my cards. I didn't even know what eBay was or that you could buy siingle cards. Over the next year or so I was winning almost every game and starting to take the game a little more seriously, despite not knowing that there were tournaments in Ireland. Eventually, my brother and cousins grew out of the game and I had nobody to play with (or against) so I was 'forced' out of the game. I packed my deck and all the spare cards I had away, never to use them again...

...or so I thought.

2006-2007: A New Challenge

2 years on and I had gotten into Art College. For the first few weeks I was getting lifts ('car-pooling' for all you American readers out there) in and out off a neighbour who was working in the city but once he got re-located to another part of the country, I had to get the bus. After finding the most direct route from the Bus Station to the campus I noticed a comic store and wandered in. I had a look around, saw plenty of different things for different games (Warhammer etc.) until I came across some Yu-Gi-Oh! boosters (Cyberdark Impact! was just released). At this point I told the store owner that I used to play Yu-Gi-Oh! and had some spare cards I'd like to sell. He told me that they don't buy or sell singles, but that there was a tournament on on Saturday morning and that I should show up.

After college that day I went home and dug out my box of cards to see what I could do with them. I assumed that the game had developed over the past few years and that my Dragon deck wouldn't cut it at tournament level so I ended up building a new deck based around Goblin Kings. The aim of the deck was to get 3 of them out on the field at the same time, as they would have 2,000ATK and couldn't be attacked. I also had some Summonned Skulls and a Jinzo in the deck so I was pretty confident that I would do well. For a first tournament I did okay, finishing 11th out of 19 players, but I knew I had it in me to improve. I started talking with the older players, Kevin M., Dean M., Jeff T., Jacky W. and Dan P., and got a few tips and advice from them. These guys were great players, running the best decks at the time (Monarchs mainly) so I was always on the up and up. At the next few tournaments I did a little better, but couldn't bridge that gap yet with my out-dated deck. This pattern continued up until the end of the format. Once March came along, everything changed..

2007: A Star is Born

At the start of March, I first heard about the National Championship, the biggest event of the year. Since I wasn't one of the higher-ranked players in the country at the time, I had to qualify from a Regional event, and there was one coming up in Galway on the 10th of March. I was running Monarchs at the time but my deck was still pretty awkward, so I asked for a little advice from the others as usual. They were all quite busy working on their own decks aswell but Chris M. took a look at my deck and pointed out where I was going wrong. "You're trying to do too many things at once" was the overall gist of what he was trying to say so we worked on a more solid deck together. By the end of the day, I was running Ratbox Monarchs and it was doing well, better than what I had before anyway.

That was on the Wednesday, but since this was a 'big' event I needed to have a side-deck. I usually sided in cards the standard way, taking out the cards that don't work against your opponent and adding ones that do, but I was afraid of upsetting the balance of the deck. In the end I came up with something that was new to me: a 'switch-side'. The deck would change completely from one deck to another to throw my opponent off and snatch a few shock wins. That was the plan anyway considering I still wasn't as skilled as my expected competition.

This was the first event that I ever played in outside of Limerick so I didn't know what to expect. I remember having to get a different bus to the others as I had to get into Limerick first so I was on my own for the next 2 hours. It was kind of a good thing, as it let me think about the event and what I should expect. I ran various scenarios out in my head and thought about how I will do. The main aim I suppose was to just do my best, I didn't think that I could win the thing...
When I showed up I had a look around to find the rest of the Limerick lads and I showed Kevin the side-deck. "I ****ing love this" was his reply, and considering he was the best player (at the time) in Limerick that was quite a compliment. It was also the confidence boost that I needed to help me settle down. I wrote a report on the event, click it if you want, but here are my thoughts looking back on it now: I couldn't believe it, winning my first ever tournament and qualifying for the National Championship. I think the fact that I played against so many of my local players helped me out a bit as I knew what they were running, and their playstyle.

Summer 2007: Climbing the Ranks

After the Regionals win I improved greatly and was doing a lot better at my local events. It was a great feeling, being one of the 'better players' for the first time. I still had a lot to learn though, and took every win (and loss) as it came, trying to understand why and how I can win more often. Around April the strength of my Regionals deck had died down and I needed something new. Gadgets were quite popular at the time and I liked they way they worked so I did a little research on them. After looking around various websites I started to dislike the 'classic' way of running them as it was quite slow. I'm a fast player and I like fast decks, even today. After a lot of searching I found a deck that I liked and 'netted' (copied) it before making various changes to it. I started to go on a winning streak with the deck, winning local after local until the next regionals came around in Limerick. I had a great deal more confidence in myself than I did in March and swept the tournament in convincing fashion.

The next big event was the Irish National Championship, the biggest event of the year. I knew for certain that I wasn't going to top this one so I played with the aim of doing my best again. The Gadget deck was fine and I got off to a good start before losing to the eventual Champion (Brian Dunne). I felt that it was a game I should have won, but my inexperience with certain cards (mainly Solemn Judgment) cost me the victory. I won the next few rounds before losing in Round 6 to one of the finalists due to another misplay on my part. I then felt dejected at cracking under pressure and proceeded to lose the final round aswell. Still, 23rd out of almost 100 players was a good result for my first time and I was happy with the deck my overall performance.

With the National Season over, it was just minor events until the end fo the format. I had climbed up to around 25th in the National Rankings and was having a good first year in competitive play. Unfortunately, my ego was rising faster than my skill level and I was starting to annoy people with my online behaviour. That particular quality stuck with me for over a year and even lingers about now to a lesser extent. It's one of the few things I don't like about myself as a player and something I'm trying to iron out.

Winter 2007: Manchester Calls

The start of the Winter 2007 format was still very low-key, wich only local events doing the rounds. After the National Championship I had gotten into online trading and my collection was vastly improving. This opened up a lot of deck building opportunities and I tried out a few ideas, the latest trends, anything that could secure me more wins. I was still playing for enjoyment to a degree and my competitive edge hadn't taken me over yet. I ran Clock Tower Burn and nobody could cope with it for a long time, but after taking a single loss in October, I got a little anxious and scrapped the deck.

The week after that there was a Pharaoh Tour Qualifier in Limerick. the Pharaoh Tour was kind of a cross between a National Championship and a Shonen Jump Championship, so it was the ultimate test for me. But first, I had to qualify. After scrapping the Clock Tower deck I was in a slight state of panic, letting things to go my head. Eventually, I decided to run Perfect Circle for the first time, as it was 'the' deck to play at the time. I took an early loss in the Swiss rounds, but managed to make I to the semi-finals, where I faced off against Chris (how ironic).

I lost the first game but was doing really well in the second when I noticed something: His side-deck was very close to his main deck and some cards looked like they were going to fall onto the main deck. While I know it wasn't an intention to cheat (Chris is the cleanest player I know) my competitive edge took over and I called him on it. After a bit of a debate he recieved a Game-loss, and I won Game 3 to go into the finals. At this point, my spot in Manchester was secured but there was a very twitchy atmosphere going around. People were saying that I took it too far with the 'Rule Sharking' and a great sense of guilt took over. I ended up losing the final but I didn't care as I had qualified. To this day, I keep telling Chris that I 'owe him a win', which I do, but we haven't found an event that he badly needs to qualify for yet so that win is yet to be re-paid.

The day after, I went to Cork to prepare for Manchester. I had ditched the Perfect Circle deck and went back to Burn as I had finally gotten a set of Dark Bribes to finish it off. Playing in Cork was an interesting experience, the place was a lot more relaxed and a welcome change from playing the same people in Limerick every week. I won again and decided to head down to Cork more often. Between then and January I tried out everything I could, considering I had almost every competitive card I 'needed' at this stage but couldn't find the right deck for Manchester. Around Christmas time I settled down with the deck that won the French Pharaoh Tour Finals, the deck that I like to call 'French Macro'. It did okay at locals and at the warm-up event that all of the Irish players who were going organised, but it didn't feel right. My fears were finally confirmed in Cork the week before the big event, as I lost in the final due to some very bad hands (which I was getting all along).

Final 6th January 2008 from Tom on Vimeo.

So, I flew off to Manchester with no deck idea in mind. Not good. On the train up to Dublin I re-built perfect Circle as it was still dominating in America. The deck was testing okay when we touched down in Manchester and there was a pre-event going on at FanBoy 3. The Pharaoh Tour Finals were expected to be on a similar scale to a Shonen Jump Championship, so I was going to be facing a lot of 'Tier 1' decks, such as Perfect Circle, Light and Darkness Dragon and Zombies. The pre-event was just the same, and while my deck did what it was meant to do, it wasn't doing as well in the mirror-match which wasn't a good sign. Stephen Lynam (Dublin player, was #1 in the National rankings at the time) was having similar problems, but Paul Sweeney (Athlone player, plays in Dublin a lot, Ireland's #1 Gadget player) was doing really well with a Gadget deck that was designed to take down the Tier 1 decks. When we got back to the hotel we all did a little more testing. Lynam had already decided to run 'Peps'' deck and after seeing it in action I said "**** it, give me the decklist, I'll run it aswell". So, he gave it to me and I built the deck at midnight before heading off to bed.

The next morning I looked at the deck and realised that there was a problem. As I didn't have all of the cards for it I had to do with replacement options, but they didn't look like the best cards to go with. The missing cards were irreplaceable in my opinion and I needed them, FAST. With that in mind, I headed straight for the venue while the others got breakfast. I looked at everybody's trade binder, and asked everybody I met "Have you got 3 Dimensional Prisons and a Soul Taker?" until I found somebody. Since I needed the cards right away I just made an offer right away, trading away one of my 3 Necrofaces (They were worth $250 at the time) for the cards I needed, even though I would be losing about $100 in trade value. I didn't care though, the deck was ready.

After registration and the player briefing I was set for Round 1, going up against Jamie "Biggy" Allen. I had no idea who this guy was (or any of my opponents to be honest) which was kind of a good thing as it allowed me to concentrate on the game itself and not lose to a player with a reputation. I won the first 3 rounds and it felt like that Galway regional all over again. I lost the 4th round (to a player who topped, I always seem to lose to a player who tops in big events), won my next 2 and lost the 7th to the deck I was running the week before (damn irony). I had to win my next 2 games to stand a chance of topping and I did, barely. There was an anxious wait until the results were announced. I was on 7-2, with good tiebreakers, so I was in with a shot. Unfortunately I finished 10th, but that was still a great achievement and I felt that I proved myself on a big stage. The whole weekend was a great experience and I plan on going to the next one this Winter.

The next month was the usual cool-down with me playing in local events, using the deck I did so well with. Here is a video of it in action:

Final 20th January from Tom on Vimeo.

March-May 2008: The Allure of Darkness

As the format drew to a close, the National season began to kick off again, and with the recent release of Phantom Darkness, I began to change as a player, and not in a good way. While I was still getting better with every event, I was also becoming a lot more competitive and 'point hungry' as I aimed to be #1 in the National Rankings and potentially, a National Champion. I needed to test myself, and went all the way to Dublin to take part in a Regionals. I was running Macro again, and as usual, it wasn't working out to my liking (When I run a deck, I set very high standards for myself. Basically, if I can't win with a deck 90% of the time, I scrap it.). On the morning of the event, i ditch my deck at the last minute and went with Magical Explosion. I lost the first round as I was still learning how to play the deck, but then went on a winning streak that would take me to the finals:

Dublin Regionals 24th Feb 2008 from Mark Kenny on Vimeo.

I didn't win, but consdering it was the first time I ever ran the deck, I was happy with second.

As the March format began, the age of Dark Armed Dragon had dawned upon us, fitting really, considering I was playing (and behaving) like a blood-thirsty lunatic who was hell-bent on becoming the best. For the next 2 months I was pretty nasty, copying (and then working) the strongest deck in the history of the game, showing no mercy, even to the younger or more casual players, and selling cards online (and at certain tournaments) to make as much cash as possible sothat I could buy my 3 Dark Armed Dragons (and a Crush Card Virus). I went to every event I could, demolishing weaker players along they way, in a vain attempt to be #1 before May. I guess you could sum it all up in this video:

Cork 20th of April : Final from Tom on Vimeo.

Nationals came up after that, and with it, the game had been damaged, almost beyond repair. Players all around the world were running decks similar to the above, and winning (or losing) in less than 2 turns. Something had to give, and it did, when the deck as we knew it was crippled by an 'Emergency Limiting'. I had relied on the deck more than anybody else in the country and was now facing into a big tournament with no deck in mind (yet again). In the end, I slapped together a deck the night before and hoped for the best. At the National Championship I did okay, but it was nowhere near the inflated expectations I had in the weeks leading to the event. I ended up at 4-2, finishing 13th, which isn't bad. However, I was humbled, given a right schooling, and I had to change.

June 2008: Dutch Gold

After Nationals, I was in a pretty downbeat mood. I was a cocky, arrogant, inconsiderate player who thought only of himself. I was also #2 in the National Rankings, but it meant nothing to me at this stage. The European Championship was 5 weeks away, and I had to completely change the way I behave, and the way I play to re-gain any sort of credibility. I tried different decks, different apporaches, talked to as many players as I could about how I could improve and I found myself in a familiar spot: Big event tomorrow, and no deck. I had tested everything I could all week in Amsterdam and nothing was working and this time, I didn't even have a deck built the night before.

So I went to the Beurs van Berlage without a deck (as usual), and only an hour to register. After a walk around the tournament floor I ended up with a bunch of British players at one table and started building a deck. I was halfway through when I met Luke Lennard ("Crush Card Kid") and we started chatting. he told me that he was running Dark Armed Dragon aswell and pulled out a decklist that we could go over. I asked him if I could copy it and he said it was fine. As I was in a rush, I copied the deck card-for-card (thought I had to replace Gold Sarcophagus with a Mirror Force) and registered with about 5 minutes remaining. Then came the next problem: my card sleeves. I had just opened a pack and started sleeveing when I noticed that there were marks all over them. I had to talk to a Judge right away and explain the situation. After about 10 minutes I had managed to get a new set of sleeves (Russ, I owe you a pack, thanks) and was good to go.
I won my first 2 games in convincing fashion and was ready for Round 3 when myself and my opponent (Sven, he practically paid for my trip over here thanks to a huge trade we did in March) got a random deck-check. The judges called both of us over, and at first Sven was given a Match-Loss for marked sleeves. My sleeves were okay, but apparently some of my key cards (Crush Card Virus, Destiny Draw) were bent and the Judges were suspicious. However, I escaped with a warning and was lucky that it ended at that..

..or so I thought. After about 20 minutes the Head Judge came looking for me and told me that both myself and Sven were downgraded to game-losses and had to play out a third game. With only 1 minute left on the clock we basically had 2 turns to find a winner and after a Rulings confusion I was declared the winner. Both of us were exhausted after the ordeal and we wished each other luck in the remaining rounds for the day. Round 4 and I was up against Stefano Memoli, one of the best players in Italy. He was playing and behaving in a very suspicious manner and I honestly thought that he was cheating at one point. During the course of the game, we got into a big argument over a Reckless Greed and the air was very tense. We were on Table 1 too so there was a bit of an audience. In the end though, I won and also won my final 2 games of the day (with my fair share of luck, I have to admit) and was one of only 4 players to go undefeated on Day 1.

I was over the moon, I coudn't believe it. However, I knew that were was still a lot of work to do and couldn't rest on my laurels yet. In fact, I had to sleep under a pile of towels that night as the other Irish guys stole my bedsheets! Day 2 began and I wasn't feeling well after that rough sleep. Nonetheless I was ready to go and I won my 7th Round against Pierre Pardelles. From this point onwards things started to take a turn for the worse. I won my first game of Round 8 against David Dursun and was doing well in the second. He summonned an Armageddon Knight and resolved its effect and THEN activated Torrential tribute. I assume it was just sloppy play but I felt like calling him on it. However, after the arguments I had with some players the day before I let it go. Next thing he summons 2 Dark Armed Dragons and I concede the duel. I look at my field, and hand after doing so and realise I made a HUGE mistake. I could have stopped his attacks and won the game (and the match) next turn. I was so annoyed with myself that I let it get to me, and the tide started to turn. I opened Game 3 with a decent hand, but as I was still annoyed with myself I made a horrible opening move that screwed me over for the entire game. I ended up losing the match, but I felt that i was okay. I just had to win 4 more games to top and have a chance at qualifying for the World Championship. Unfortunately, I started to make mistakes, and lost the next game, then another, and so on until I ended the day with a 7-5 record. Going from 7-0 to 7-5 (and 2nd to 40th) was heartbreaking, but I tried to look at the positive side and at the end of the day, I felt that I knew exactly where I stood in comparison to the best in Europe.

I knew deep down that I had the ability to be the best, but still lacked the experience and level-headedness to get there right now.

July 2008 - present: Number 1, and beginning to act like it (hopefully).

After my European exploits I felt like I was turning a new leaf. I saw myself as being a good player with a lot of potential still. I was also closing in on that #1 spot in the Rankings, which was a good feeling again. However, I was recieving a lot of criticism across the forums. While some thought I was doing well, others started to pick at the flaws in me as a player (and a person), which I rightly deserved. This, and the humbling I got at Nationals were sure-fire signs that I had to look at how I behave and turn things around for my own good. It was back to locals again and I scrapped Dark Armed Dragon. It was good (and bad) to me, but I felt that it had run its course and I needed to try something new. The recent trend at Shonen Jump Championships showed that Gladiator Beasts were (and still are) the deck to beat so I went with them up until the end fo the format.
The deck felt so good and had answers to everything, so I was bound to get a lot of wins as a result. What surprised me though was the winning streak I went on afterwards. I won something like 40 matches in a row, going undefeated at local tournaments for over a month before people started to improve and find ways to beat me. During this period, I had also toned down on the engative aspects of my play and behaviour and I was commended by quite a few for it. While I appreciated the comments, I was not changing to make people think I'm great, I was changing because I had to. During the month of July I finally gained the number 1 spot in the Rankings and, whether I liked it or not, (some) people were going to look up to me. That placed a further emphasis on changing the way I was as I now had to set a good example for others.

This year, more than any other, was a great learning experience in my life, and I have to thank the game for that. I'm back in Art College now writing this blog and am happy with myself as a player, and as a person.


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