Why yes, I have been catching up on the end of the Battle City arc of the original Yu-Gi-Oh: Duel Monsters since I found out that season 1 and season 3 were on Netflix.
And while Queen’s Gambit may be the premier show to watch if you want to feel nostalgia for attending in-person tournaments (they even named the show after a Netrunner card!),Yu-Gi-Oh offers us important insights into Netrunner play and tournament organization I think we can all benefit from. Of course, the idea of connecting Netrunner to card animes is not entirely new, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more to learn.
The following are my important observations from the first 4 seasons of Yu-Gi-Oh, and what they teach us about Netrunner.
Heart of the Cards
Yu-Gi-Oh summary: The Heart of the Cards is a big concept in YuGiOh, and it generally means trusting the deck to give you the cards you need, when you need them. Yugi Muto, the protagonist, frequently invokes his trust in the Heart of the Cards, and is usually rewarded with the perfect card.
Fig 1 “What! That Anansi should have flatlined you!” “Yes, but you forgot my installed resource!”
Netrunner lesson: The concept of Heart of the Cards gives us not one, but two, useful Netrunner tips, especially if you are a newer Netrunner player. Firstly, if you are in a bind and don’t know what to do, draw a card. While Yugi draws good cards in that situation because he’s cosmically destined to have lucky topdecks, you will draw good cards because you put cards you want in your deck. Secondly, Yugi will often recognize that only one card in his entire deck will result in him winning, and will play with the assumption that he will draw it. And while you aren’t fated to win every game as long as you have an unshakeable faith in your deck, you might as well play as if you are going to have good luck if you are in a situation where you are going to lose if you don’t.
And the impact of the Heart of the Cards is doubly powerful in Netrunner as compared to Duel Monsters. Because in Duel Monsters, you can only have faith in your deck. But in Netrunner, you can have faith in your own draws, AND the random accesses you get off of central servers.1
The next time you have the game locked up and I make some flailing last ditch runs on R&D that pull me up to seven points, know that it’s not that I’m lucky. It’s just my faith in the Heart of the Cards being rewarded.
The Power of Friendship
Yu-Gi-Oh summary: The second biggest recurring concept is the Power of Friendship. Yugi’s friends root him on as he plays his games, and somehow, that power makes him win games more. And just like the foes they go up against, Yugi’s friends have a variety of different favored deck archetypes, interest in competitive Duel Monsters, and experience. And Yugi is stronger for it.
Netrunner lesson: There are lots of different ways a group of Netrunner friends can support each other. You may have heard of testing groups, where a bunch of (usually) pals get together to solve the monumental task of figuring out what are the best decks to play in a big tournament, and what is the best way to pilot them. But Yugi’s friends don’t do that.
When I think of a ragtag bunch of Netrunner enthusiasts who are all doing their own thing but love and support each other, I think of the Colorado Netrunner scene. My own impressions of Colorado Netrunner players lead me to believe that they are a bunch of kind people with heterodox deckbuilding tendencies.2 And while more disciplined testing groups likely get better results, we should not forget that Colorado has given us Limes, our reigning World Champion.
Fig. 2 Limes: The King of Games
Is there actually a lesson to be learned here, or did I just want to put Yugi Muto hair on a Limewire logo? Unclear. But consider that while you might put down Limes’s incredible victory to a combination of play skill, good luck, and some sick meta reads, you should also consider the impact of the Power of Friendship.
The Spirit of the Puzzle
Yu-Gi-Oh summary: Yu-Gi-Oh features numerous Millenium Items. Each gives the wielder a variety of powers. Yugi has the Millenium Puzzle, which gives him the ability to commune with an ancient Egyptian pharaoh. When Yugi plays Duel Monsters, he can talk strategy freely with the pharaoh, and they collaborate on figuring out lines of play.
Netrunner lesson: While plenty of Millenium items offer some supernatural abilities that would be quite useful in a Netrunner tournament such as reading your opponent’s mind, seeing the future, and taking over opponents’ bodies, the Millenium Puzzle gives Yugi an ability that is mundane enough that you can achieve it too: having a friend to talk to.
Of course, you aren’t allowed to ask your friend for play-advice during a game of Netrunner. But before and after are fair game. Netrunner is a complicated game, and getting fresh perspectives will make you a better player. I’m often surprised by how much better I play after talking strats with a friend. If you were so inclined, you could join some group like Itinerant Pro-Testers (Discord Invite), and find some people who could function as your pharaoh mentor.
And if even you aren’t interested in getting better, you still might enjoy having a friend in your ear while you play online. Having a pal on comms might not allow you to use Mind Shuffle to help you out if your opponent is using a Millenium Eye to read your mind, but the two of you might have a lot of fun.
The length of the Battle City arc
Yu-Gi-Oh summary: Seto Kaiba, the best character, organizes a tournament called Battle City. Everyone seems to have a great time, despite several of them being tortured over the course of the tournament. And it’s some of the best episodes of the show. But here’s the thing: the whole thing takes almost two entire seasons. And that’s because after about 30 episodes to figure out who is going to get into the Battle City Finals (a cut to top 8), it takes more than 30 episodes to finish those finals.
Netrunner lesson: Cuts take FOREVER. The reason why the Battle City Finals and Netrunner cuts take forever is different (Netrunner cuts, especially cuts to top 8 or top 16, are inefficient, where not a lot of people are playing simultaneously. Meanwhile, the Battle City Finals take forever because the games take about 10 minutes a turn). But the point is the same: cuts take years and years to resolve.
If you are a tournament organizer, I urge you to think deeply about whether a cut is actually worth it. How many of these do you think are good reasons to double the length of your tournament?
- The fate of the world is in the balance and you need to unite the three Egyptian god cards
- You want to give the best Netrunner players in a region the chance to prove they are the best
- You are rewarding one player and one player only a large cash prize and the chance to save their kidnapped love one
- You want to make extra, extra sure that only the very best player on the day is crowned champion of a 7-person GNK.
If you have the time, maybe just consider an extra round of swiss.
Fig. 3 As a tournament organizer, Seto Kaiba is a hero of mine, so it pains me to use this depiction of him on a bad day.3
Yu-Gi-Oh summary: Midway through the Battle City arc, the gang gets kidnapped in cyberspace, and have to play a bunch of duels in computer land. It gets spiced up with some novel deckbuilding rules (everyone has to pick one card in their deck to function as their Deck Master, which is like an ID which gives you a special ability). It’s not as satisfying as the Battle City arc, but it is good fun.
Netrunner lesson: Most of us are stuck in virtual world right now, where we can’t play in-person, even though that’s way more satisfying. But at least there’s some novel deckbuilding events to keep things fresh while we are all waiting to be released from the clutches of a figurative resentful AI.
Exploding KaibaCorp Island
Yu-Gi-Oh summary: At the end of the Battle City tournament, Seto Kaiba sets off a time bomb to explode the entire event venue. People clear out of the venue quickly. Kaiba flies off in a robotic dragon.
Netrunner lesson: Just a generically useful technique I think any TO should have in their back pocket in case their tournament goes over time because they foolishly included a cut.
Fig. 4 <3 My hero <3
- Thank you to Queen-in-Exile, Chouxflower, for this point.
- Admittedly, the comparison between the protagonists of Yu-Gi-Oh and the Colorado Netrunner scene is slightly weakened by the fact that the Colorado meta is constantly trying to flatline you, and also they are super into anime villain Elizabeth Mills over there.
- It should be mentioned that Single Sided Swiss does have some advantages over Double Sided Swiss that remain without a cut. In my relatively uninformed opinion, neither leads to a strictly better tournament experience, so I’m glad people are talking about it!