Skill versus Luck | The Irish Duelist

Skill versus Luck

Here's an article by "JPB" (aka InfusionsCap on on luck, skill and what they mean in the game of Yu-Gi-Oh! He's been writing a few articles on his thoughts about the game over at "DGZ" and they've been well-recieved by the competitive players over there so I felt it appropriate that I share this one with you all. You can read the original thread here, which also contains the article below.

Today I want to talk about something that always seems to come up twice a year, and this is one of those times. As a new list is announced or getting ready to take effect, the YGO community begins to analyze the card pool and weigh their options to try and determine what route to take at the beginning of the format while the meta shapes into what it will eventually be. Everyone has their own process for this, myself included, but that is not what I want to discuss in depth today. I want to talk about the cycle of conversation that comes around every time we are on the cusp of a new format, and a common trend I have noticed in every discussion at banned list time for the past few years.

Everyone hears this conversation about this time...
  • Player A: I don't know what to do, there seems to be several good options.
  • Player B: Well, I'm going to play Gladiator Beasts. They are always good at the start of a format where the meta is undefined.
  • Player A: GBs? When are you going to let that deck die?
  • Player B: I don't need to let the deck die. It is the most skill demanding deck out there, and I'm good with it.

  • Now, I'm not trying to knock anyone who plays GBs, likes GBs, or is planning to play GBs. I myself am a huge fan of the deck because it appeals to my playstyle. I have always liked to play control based decks over aggressive decks, that's just how I like to break the game down and I have fun doing so. I am not trying to knock anyone who likes aggressive decks like Samurai's either. Those decks are often very strong choices, and are perfectly acceptable to take to a major event.

    What I am trying to do though, is shed some light on some common misconceptions that I feel a large percentage of the YGO community has come to "adapt" as their own viewpoints because someone else said it, or because they have noticed the trend of GBs seeing play a lot at the beginning of a format then dying out.

    Many people say that GBs are the most skill demanding deck in the game. While I understand what is meant by that comment, that statement can't be entirely true for every given game. There are two things I want to address in this article, luck vs. skill, and grinder decks vs. scrum decks. This is not a rant thread, this is meant to be a jumping off point for intelligent discussion, and hopefully after sharing my view on this situation some light will be shed on the common misconceptions of what skill and luck actually are, and how they correlate to the game as a whole.

    Before going on, I want to talk for a minute about different types of decks. Every deck has one ultimate goal, to win. That much is obvious, but how the different decks in this game go about doing so is where it gets a little more complicated, and that is what I want to hit first...

    Grinder Decks
    Grinder decks are commonly referred to as such because the nature of the deck is not overly aggressive in terms of a sheer beatdown, but the aggression these decks produce is a point of pressure. Grinder decks do just what the name suggests, they grind the game out. Essentially, what grinder decks do is trade very strong, aggressive opening gambits for slower, more control based openings. This may seem bad, but there is an added benefit to this. In making this exchange, grinder decks also get stronger as the game goes on. The more turns that go by, the more likely a grinder deck is establish full control of the board, or in some instances simply chip away at the resource count of the opponent, until total (or close to it) control of the board is established, and a higher resource count is achieved. To measure the aggression of a grinder deck, thing of a chart, with a small dip at the beginning of the arc, then it levels off for a bit, then rises, exponentially more sharply as you go on. Many decks that still see play today are classified commonly as grinder decks. Gladiator Beasts, Stun, and under the new list, probably Blackwings as well are good examples.

    Scrum Decks
    "Scrum" decks are essentially aggro decks. Many aggro decks are designed to either rush the field and produce a one turn kill (OTK) or jump out with an aggressive field, making it very difficult to come back against it. There are some decks that are aggressive that are not specifically designed to produce an OTK, but the field and advantage they can generate early in the game essentially leads to an OTK because there are little to no "outs" to the threats on the board. Six Samurai and their amazingly powerful synchro monster Shi-en is a perfect example of this. The deck has the potential to produce an OTK, sure, but it does not have to, and even when it doesn't the field can be too aggressive to successfully have a counter attack mounted against it.

    Aggro decks come with their own risks and rewards. The reward of playing an aggressive deck is speed. Getting into massive boards and threatening positions early on can guarantee victory quite frequently. Many players prefer to play aggressive decks simply because they can put the game away quickly and are more likely to simply have to follow the steps their deck is designed to follow. Players that prefer aggro decks generally dislike grinder decks, and vice versa. But that's okay, this is a diverse game and there is room enough for everyone to find something they like.

    Aggro decks biggest risk is over-extending then having their field disrupted. Cards like Dark Hole are a perfect example of why being too aggressive without having an OTK setup or a situation to avoid a threat that will bust your field apart is a misplay. If the aggro player expends many resources and does not completely secure or win the game, their stranglehold over the match can be shattered, and grinder decks thrive off that.

    The most aggressive decks have a couple turns to establish the control they are designed to. Then, they have a few turns to put the game away. If it has not happened by that time the aggro player runs the risk of losing on the "advantage pivot." The control player is getting too much time to pad their options, and that can spell disaster for the aggro deck that has expended many options to get the field they currently have. Fish, Samurai, Lightsworn, and Absolute Zero are examples of decks that are primarily aggro decks.

    There are some decks that are very versatile however, and shift gears rather easily between aggro and control modes. Current format Blackwings, Plants and X-Sabers are pretty good examples of this, although X-Sabers are really more toward the aggressive side of things. Control is played early in the game until a big aggressive play is set up to generate additional advantage off of it, usually swinging the momentum so much that it secures the game. Hyunlei is the prime example of this.

    Whew...So what was the point of that? What did that have to do with a misconception, or GB's, or anything really? People often say that GB's are the most skill demanding deck in the game. Now that I have talked in a little bit of detail about different types of decks and how to classify them, I can get to the real issue at hand; luck vs. skill.

    What is the difference in luck and skill?
    When it gets right down to it, I think luck is a very overused term in this game. A little luck never hurts the person receiving it, and I know everyone has legitimately been "sacked" at least once in their career as a duelist. However, I think luck gets a bad rap. "Oh wow, I made this amazing play and he had Dark Hole!" Well, perhaps your play was an over extension. Are you sure you made the right move? "The only thing I lost to was Heavy Storm!" Well, perhaps you should not have set your whole hand turn one for no reason. Are you sure you made the right move?

    Basically, people misplay all the time and blame luck for it. Nobody is perfect, I'm sure as hell not, but part of getting better and understanding the game is to know the difference in a bad beat and a bad play. Luck can't always be against you.

    Skill is another aspect that is not properly evaluated. Often times players will think they are better than they are, or will panic in the face of a well established player and make bad moves thinking they are inferior and need to rely on luck to get there. This never works however, because the "pro" players in this game take the time to think all the moves over, weigh the options, and make what they think the best move for the situation.

    So when someone says "GB's are the most skill demanding deck in the game" they are not fully realizing the implication being made by that statement. That statement implies that only the best of the best should even be able to win a game with that deck. That statement also implies that other more "aggro" decks do not require skill at all (see, I promised I was going somewhere with all of this."

    The simple fact of the matter is this...EVERY DECK IN THIS GAME REQUIRES SOME AMOUNT OF SKILL TO PLAY PROPERLY, AND LUCK IS ALWAYS GOING TO BE A FACTOR, BUT SHOULD NOT BE A CRUTCH! I wanted to capitalize that because it is the central point of this whole article.

    What someone really means when they say that control (grinder) decks are more skill demanding than aggro (scrum) decks is they have a smaller margin of error. Skill is simply a measurement of making the right decisions within a duel, whether you are in a winning position, a losing position, or a neutral game state. Every deck has certain ways it goes about reaching the ultimate goal of winning the duel, and that is where the skill comes in. You have to understand what your deck is trying to do, how it does it, and what you have to do to get there. I'll use GB's and Samurai's as an example of what I am talking about.

    When a grinder deck like GB wins a game, many players attribute that to the player behind the deck, saying they are very skilled for beating odds and winning with an underpowered deck. While this is of course sometimes true, sometimes the luck factor was high as well. Maybe the GB player opened with an insane control hand such as Laquari, War Chariot, Book of Moon, Test Tiger, Solemn Judgment, Solemn Warning, and they get to play first. That hand is pretty sick, and unless you cheated, you are lucky to get it. Point being, just because you are playing a control deck does not mean it is all about skill. Win or lose, luck is still a factor.

    The inverse is true for aggro decks. Many times when a player loses to an aggro deck we hear this..."He just had everything!" This does happen, and many aggro decks are designed to play out like that. But while some chalk it all up to luck, remember the skill aspect in this match as well. Just because a scrum deck is built to be very fast and very aggressive does not mean it's always going to play out that way. Take the Samurai deck for instance. Suppose you open with a hand with no Samurai, no ROTA, no Smoke Signal, and a couple Six Sam United, a Musikane Magatama, and a Double Edged Sword Technique. It can be difficult to get there with this hand. A huge chunk of it is dead, and you have to get to a monster to do anything really.

    Aggro decks run into bad luck as well. In addition to the usual skill requirement of knowing the correct order to play things in to set up the appropriate combination of cards this deck relies on, the skill comes for them in two ways; building the deck to be as consistent as possible, and knowing how to play such an aggressive deck with a bad/slow draw. The defensive options are often more limited in aggro decks, so you have to be able to make the most of what you have to work with.

    Tele-DAD is another example I want to throw in quickly. Tele-DAD, depending on who you talk to, is either the most skill demanding deck ever, or the sackiest deck ever. But how can the opinions be so broad? The fact of the matter is, based on the hand you draw and the matchup you are in, it really could be either. Mirror matches for Tele-DAD took a lot of skill to play with very little margin of error. What happens if you don't get out DAD and they hide behind Reaper and Oppression? What happens if you don't go off before the opponent, do you use your oppression and commit to a slower game? These are tough decisions, but regardless of if you were winning or losing the game, skill was the factor that helped make those decisions, not luck. Luck is an uncontrollable force that dictates what you draw, when you draw it, and other such things as that. Skill is a measurement, and it is entirely up to you.

    Understanding the other decks in the meta is the key. Knowing the most common sequences of play that aggro decks perform, as well as the options that control decks usually have in front of them can help you make the most educated decision possible.

    So to sum up, every deck requires skill to play, and luck is always a factor. The two go hand in hand, constantly at work sometimes with each other, and sometimes against each other. I recently saw in another thread where someone had given a statistic that GB were at least 75% skill. The simple fact is that there is no way to put a number on it. No two games are ever exactly the same. Sometimes, luck plays a bigger factor in you getting a good hand, or a nice top deck, or maybe the other way around and your opponent ripped the best you have ever seen in your life.

    Some games nothing crazy happens, and the best player usually ends up winning those games (most of the time at least, lol.) Skill is required for anything you play, whether it is the fastest of the Six Samurai decks in the world, to the slowest of the anti-meta decks ever built. You still have to know what your deck is designed to do, how you plan to do it, how it interacts with other cards and decks in the meta, and what to do in a variety of situations, both common and uncommon. The most important thing you can do is find a deck you enjoy, learn how to play it properly, learn how it coincides with the other decks currently seeing play, and go from there. Putting skill vs. luck ratios on a deck is pointless and truly impossible to measure because the draw, matchup, and a number of other factors will influence this differently from game to game.

    For anyone who stuck through and read all this, thank you for your time and I hope this helps you in some way, or at least gives you something different to think about.

    Until next time, play hard and play well!

    If you spot any other articles across the forums that you think the Dueling world needs to be made aware of, feel free to contact me via Twitter (link at the top of the page) and I'll see what can be done.