Welcome back to more “Rocco talks about Yu-Gi-Oh! despite everyone asking him to stop”. This time I am here to discuss something incredible that happened at YCS Indianapolis 2023. A man by the name of Jeff Leonard went on a 4 round win streak playing a dedicated Exodia strategy, something that should not work as effectively in 2023.
First, a little background on Mr. Leonard in the community. Jeff started playing Yu-Gi-Oh! because of his son. When he asked his son what he should play he was told “Mystic Mine, because it is very simple to play.” Mystic Mine is the most frustrating card printed in modern Yu-Gi-Oh! Not only is it what we consider a floodgate (a card that stops effects from activating or entirely stops aspects of the game), but it was a floodgate that effectively forced both players to stop playing the game. Mystic Mine’s effect is as follows: If your opponent controls more monsters than you do, your opponent cannot activate monster effects or declare an attack. If you control more monsters than your opponent does, you cannot activate monster effects or declare an attack. Once per turn, during the End Phase, if both players control the same number of monsters: Destroy this card. The deck strives to activate this card and play zero monsters to the field forcing the opponent to either destroy the card with the effects of spell or trap cards, or pass their turn summoning no monsters so that Mystic Mine destroys itself in the End Phase. Jeff took to the deck as it stopped his son from making combo plays on him. In September of 2019, Jeff managed to place Top 16 at Pro-Play Tour Orlando in the middle of a diverse meta heavy in combo-decks. A great showing for a dad who picked up the card game to play with his son. Through COVID Jeff played in online tournaments, notably content creator and Twitch Streamer MBT’s Cwarantine Series tournaments and subsequently MBT’s Chalislime Monthly tournaments. He won 1st place in 2 of these monthly tournaments through judicious applications for cards that stops the opponent from playing the game while Jeff’s cards apply burn damage without summoning any monsters. Usually a player using this type of strategy would be maligned in the community. After all, it is a deck whose sole goal is to play a prolonged game of solitaire. However, because of Jeff’s story players praised him for his efforts in joining his son playing the game and he became something of a folk hero.
Fast forward to the weekend of October 21st 2023 and Jeff Leonard has entered YCS Indianapolis with a very special deck. Mystic Mine has been banned for 10 months. Jeff stuns his first round opponent by playing a deck dedicated to resolving the effect of Exodia, The Forbidden One. This hero proceeds to win his best-of-3 in rounds 1, 2, and 3 of the two-day, 1,958-player tournament. In round 4 Konami officials placed Jeff’s match on stage and on stream as a feature. Jeff’s opponent would be Justin Singh, a storied veteran in the Yu-Gi-Oh! competitive circuit with several top cut finishes in major tournaments and a participant in the most recent World Championship. Justin is playing Tearlaments, a deck that dominated the meta earlier in 2023 but had important cards limited and forbidden on the February 13th Forbidden & Limited List.
From November 2022 through the February of 2023, the Yu-Gi-Oh! meta was dominated by the Tearlaments archetype. Tearlaments were a group of Dark/Water attribute Aqua monsters whose deck mechanic was to send their monsters to the graveyard via card effects (as opposed to being sent there as material for monsters summoned from the Extra Deck). The main way it achieved this was the milling effects built into each Main Deck monsters’ on summon effect. As a bonus, when those Main Deck monsters hit the graveyard they can fusion summon by shuffling itself and other required materials from the hand, field, and graveyard into the deck. The fusion monsters the deck created had additional mill effects and effects to bring themselves back to the field if they are sent to the graveyard by a card effect. This strategy was supplmented by 4 Earth Fairy monsters released later in the first half of the year: Agido the Ancient Sentinel, Kelbek the Ancient Vanguard, Mudora the Sword Oracle, and Keldo the Sacred Protector. Kelbek and Agido act as supplemental mill engines as when they hit the graveyard they both have an effect that forces each player to mill 5 cards. Mudora and Keldo acted as supplemental interaction pieces, allowing you to banish them from your graveyard as a quick effect (instant speed) to shuffle up to 3 cards back into the deck from either graveyard. The amount of interactions this deck could put up for the opponent’s turn was so great that very few decks could get past a first turn board state.The meta became mostly Tearlament mirror matches which took great skill to navigate as you opponent was playing all of the same interaction pieces you were and the way Tearlaments interact with the opponent manages to actually counter the opposing Tearlaments game plan.
When the February ban list came, the deck plummetted in usage. Tearlaments lost their most important fusion monstert, Tearlaments Kitkallos. Kitkallos required relatively generic monsters as material, but itself is named as material on Tearlaments Rulkallos, one of the more important pieces of interaction the deck summons to the field. After the ban list, players would resort to using King of the Swamp to supplant Kitkallos, as King of the Swamp is allowed to replace any monster specifically named as a material requirement for a fusion summon. After months of relative dormancy, the strategy has seen a resurgence using King of the Swamp, allowing them to make their fusion monsters using it as replacement material for the fusion summon and as replacement material for other impressive fusion monsters, such as Grapha, Dragon Overlord of Dark World. The deck had some rogue play through the past 8 months, but as of the latest ban list the deck has taken on new life and was a favorite to make top cuts at Indianapolis. Tearlaments as a deck excel at creating points of interaction for the player to utilize during their opponent’s turn and sparked the complaint within the community that Tearlaments made their opponent’s turn “our turn”. This aspect of their gameplay was not entirely lost after the February 13, 2023 ban list, but it was diminished in consistency enough that other lower-power decks could break through.
This is what Jeffrey Leonard is up against in his Round 4 feature match. I’m realizing now that I never explained what Jeff was playing. He rolled up to this event with his own personal build to consistently achieve an Exodia FTK. An FTK, or first turn kill, is when the player who wins the die roll is able to win the game on their first turn without the opponent taking a turn. This is achieved through burn strategies that either are able to put out a massive amount of burn damage in one single combo, or abusive monster effects to loop burn damaging effects through graveyard shenanigans. These are also achieved through alternate win conditions. FTKs are extremely difficult to come by as Konami tends to ban and errata cards responsible for enabling these FTK strategies.
In Jeff’s case, the cards that might have caught Konami’s watchful eye is Blue Dragon Summoner (a spellcaster monster who, when sent from the field to the graveyard, allows you to add 1 Dragon, Warrior, or Spellcaster monster to your hand), or Selene, Queen of the Master Magicians (a link monster that gains spell counters for each spell on the field and in either graveyard. You can then remove 3 of these counters to revive a Spellcaster monster from your graveyard). Fortuitously, Exodia and all of his limbs are Spellcaster monsters. Jeff constructed a deck that managed to construct a deck that aims to summon Blue Dragon Summoner from deck using Timestar Magician and the Pendulum effects of the Igknight monsters. Timestar Magician will initiate the clock by adding Exodia, The Forbidden One to your hand. Then Jeff uses the Pendulum effects of an Igknight monster to attempt to destroy Timestar Magician, but Timestar’s replacement effect instead sends a Spellcaster from deck to grave. From there all Jeff has to do is summon 3 copies of Selene, using Blue Dragon Summoner as material for the summon and reviving him each time, until he assembles the limbs.
I should also explain that assembling Exodia is not a trivial task. Not only is each piece of Exodia limited to one copy per deck, as opposed to the standard 3 copies for unlimited cards, each piece on its own does not aid in acquiring other pieces. In the past, the most consistent way to achieve Exodia was through a combination of cards that allowed you to effectively draw your whole deck. Those strategies have since been dismantled by the Forbidden & Limited list and players would have to get creative in order to achieve this alternate win condition. Jeff is one such player.
In game 1 Jeff gets first turn and starts his combo, but Justin responds with a Kelbek to return the monster Jeff needed for his combo back to the deck. Justin is completely unaware of what Jeff’s plan is, as Jeff’s initial combo seems to be a generic combo-based Warrior deck. Jeff pauses and finds the new combo line to achieve his end goal and successfully loops Blue Dragon Summoner’s effect and assembles the Forbidden One. As soon as Jeff adds Exodia to hand the crowd goes wild and is clearly supporting Jeff’s win for the whole match. Of course the stream display showed the crowd that Jeff was playing Exodia, but that doesn’t change the electricity that runs through the venue as Jeff executes his combo to finish out game 1. Justin is in disbelief and smiles as he watches as his opponent adds what are arguably the most iconic cards in Yu-Gi-Oh!, second to Blue-Eyes White Dragon and Dark Magician, to his hand one by one.
In game 2, after consulting their side decks (the same as side boards for those who play Magic: The Gathering) Justin chooses to take the first turn and succeeds in executing his own combo uninhibited to set up points of interaction to stop Jeff’s combo on his turn. Jeff starts his turn with promising summons of two Santa Claws, a monster that summons itself to the opponent’s field by sending an opponent’s monster to the graveyard without the opponent being able to respond to the summon. However, Justin’s board state was still too strong for Jeff’s opening hand to contend with and Jeff surrenders game 2 and they move on to game 3.
In game 3 Jeffrey chooses to go first and begins to execute his combo by summoning Junk Forward and then Neo Space Connector with the intention of summoning Neo-Spacian Aqua Dolphin from the deck in order to gain hand information. The crowd raves. Justin counters the Neo Space Connector’s effect activation with Herald of the Arc Light, a fairy monster that negates the activation of a monster effect by discarding itself and another Fairy monster. Jeffrey is forced to pass turn, but he is in luck as Justin draws his card and his face drops. Justin sets one monster face-down and passes the turn over to Jeffrey with a dejected smirk as the crowd roars with excitement and chants “Jeff”. Jeff starts his turn with the summon of another Neo Space Connector, but that is met with an Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring which stops Connector’s effect to summon from deck. However, Jeff still had the Junk Forward from the previous turn and is able to kick off his combo with the two warrior monsters. Jeff deftly executes his combo with 15 minutes on the clock and sets up his board of 2 Igknights in the pendulum scales, and Timestar Magician on the field. Jeff adds Exodia to hand and the crowd cheers, Justin claps in response. Jeff proceeds with the rest of the combo and as each piece of Exodia is added to Jeff’s hand the crowd cheers and chants his name. When Jeff gets to the final piece remaining the crowd chants “One More Piece”. Jeff wins the match with a second successful Exodia Obliterate.
This was a historic moment in Yu-Gi-Oh! as a man who joined the game to play with his son, beat a deck and player favored to make top-cut at the end of day 2. The hero Jeff proceeds to lose his next 3 rounds with grace and drops from the tournament with a 4-3 record. Jeff place 591st at the end of the weekend, but his feature match will live on forever.
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