Playing to Win : Part 1 | The Irish Duelist

Playing to Win : Part 1

I first came across the articles of David Sirlin about 18 months ago when I was getting back into the game and starting to play at tournaments. I was browsing some topics on the Pojo forums when I saw this and it was (and still is) a very good read. I should buy the book some time, but for now, Sirlin's webpage will do me fine.

This week I'll look at Part 1 of his 'Playing to Win' articles and see what implications it can have for Yu-Gi-Oh! players. Please note before reading that this is for competitive play. Strictly sticking to Sirlin's theories will probably result in "You're taking this game too seriously" comments from your peers so the best course of action would be to take his articles into consideration, but to avoid treating them as some sort of "Yu-Gi-Oh! Bible".

Introducing . . . the Scrub
Sirlin's definition of a 'scrub' (you may have heard the term across online forums before) is thay they do not play to win. What he means is that they subconsciously hold themselves back by putting some limitations on what they will do to win. In Yu-Gi-Oh! this could mean not running the 'Tier 1' deck just because everybody else is, making wild plays because they're more enjoyable, or complaining about 'cheesy combos' (Like Cold Wave > Prisma > Test Tiger > Gyzarus > Heraklinos).

"A scrub is a player who is handicapped by self-imposed rules that the game knows nothing about. A scrub does not play to win."

Basically, Yu-Gi-Oh! as a game does not care if you're running a deck full of commons, summoning Gyzarus every turn or anything like that. What goes into Mantis at the end of the round is the result, and nothing else (unless you intend to drop, but that's besides the point). Therefore, you should only be concerned with winning, and finding every possible (legal) way to increase your chances of winning. However, the scrub does not realise or fully take this into consideration when they play and holds themselves back for whatever subjective reasons they have.

"The scrub would take great issue with this statement for he usually believes that he is playing to win, but he is bound up by an intricate construct of fictitious rules that prevents him from ever truly competing. These made-up rules vary from game to game, of course, but their character remains constant."

Sirlin then goes on to elaborate on this statement, using Street Fighter as an example. I've never played the game so I can't directly relate to what he is saying, but that's not important. What's important is that you see what he is trying to say overall and apply it to whatever game you are competitively playing right now (in this case Yu-Gi-Oh!). I find this quote to have the most relevance to 'our game' right now:

"A common call of the scrub is to cry that the kind of play in which one tries to win at all costs is “boring” or “not fun.” Who knows what objective the scrub has, but we know his objective is not truly to win. Yours is. Your objective is good and right and true, and let no one tell you otherwise. You have the power to dispatch those who would tell you otherwise, anyway. Simply beat them."

People complain about 'net-decking' (the process of finding a decklist online, copying it, and using it to win) a lot on Yu-Gi-Oh! forums, but everybody who does is behaving like a scrub. Running 'the best deck' may be boring to these players, but it's what wins the game in the end. You don't get prizes for running the most enjoyable deck at a tournament (unless you actually win with the thing) or for running cards that nobody else is, just because nobody else is running them. If you're truly playing to win then you shouldn't be bogged down by 'originality' unless what you're running has been proven in testing to have a significant advantage over everybody else you expect to play.

There are parts of Sirlin's articles I believe shouldn't be taken too seriously however when it comes to Yu-Gi-Oh! as they could potentially damage the integrity of the game. "Winning at all costs" would be one of them:

"The scrubs will play “for fun” and not explore the extremities of the game. They won’t find the most effective tactics and abuse them mercilessly. The good players will."

What I am referring to here has got nothing to do with how you actually play your cards, but the notions of "Stacking" and "Rule-Sharking". Stacking is where you intentionally manipulate you (or your opponent's) deck so that you draw the best (or they draw the worst) hands/cards possible. That matter has already been classified as cheating and rightly so. Rule-Sharking (intentionally picking at your opponent's procedural errors in order to force them to lose the game) has not however. While it is playing to win in its extreme it is very unsportsman-like and should not be tolerated. I should know, I've 'sharked' (and been sharked) before and it is not something that Yu-Gi-Oh! needs on any level of competition.

Getting back to the deck discussion (Quick note: I am of the belief that your deck will determine the outcome of the majority of your games, skill and luck deciding the rest), here is another quote that has some relevance to our game:

"Many new tactics will later be discovered that make the original cheap tactic look wholesome and fair. Often in fighting games, one character will have something so good it’s unfair. Fine, let him have that. As time goes on, it will be discovered that other characters have even more powerful and unfair tactics."

This quote could explain a lot about how people look at Yu-Gi-Oh! decks over time. If you look at the March 1st 2008 format you can see this belief in action. Dark Armed Dragon decks were stomping all over everything else and causing a lot of complaining from scrubs (and possibly noon-scrubs) alike. While the mid-format limitations were forced to come into effect to slightly neuter the deck it was still the deck to beat. That was, until the newest set, Light of Destruction, was legal for tournament play. With it came a new decktype that would make 'Classic' Dark Armed Dragon decks seem fair game: Gladiator Beasts. Gladiators then proceeded to dominate almost every major tournament across the world, bringing about the scrub brigade again. While GB is still the number 1 deck for the time being, the tides are turning again with Teleport Dark Armed posing a threat to its power. I have a feeling that in a few months time, T-DaD will be just as moaned about as Gladiator Beasts were.

The final paragraphs of his article also have a lot of relevance to Yu-Gi-Oh! players and the scrubbish comments that fill up the forums every day. How many times have you heard "This guy's no good even though he topped an SJC" or similar? Read on:

"I’ve never been to a tournament where there was a prize for the winner and another prize for the player who did many difficult moves. I’ve also never seen a prize for a player who played “in an innovative way.” (Though chess tournaments do sometimes have prizes for “brilliancies,” moves that are strokes of genius.) Many scrubs have strong ties to “innovation.” They say, “That guy didn’t do anything new, so he is no good.” Or “person X invented that technique and person Y just stole it.” Well, person Y might be one hundred times better than person X, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the scrub. When person Y wins the tournament and person X is a forgotten footnote, what will the scrub say? That person Y has “no skill” of course."

Well, that's it for this week, I hope you enjoyed it. I'll hope to write about Part 2 in next week's installment.

'Till then.


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