It certainly has been a minute since I’ve written a Patreon article about improving within the Dragon Ball Super Card Game… sorry about that (to those who enjoy reading these things). To be honest, life has gotten in the way – and it has been the best possible thing for me in regards to my growth within competitive DBS.
I’ve had two of my best results within DBS happen recently and there are definitely a lot of factors that contributed to that – the main ones being that DBS once again became just a hobby and I was able to take my natural abilities and instincts from playing TCGs over the years and just rely on those to carry me through my deck building, deck selection, and decision making within the game itself.
To address the first part of that, for a while DBS was such a huge part of my life. It was the vehicle to hang out with friends, compete, act as a creative outlet, also provided income via content creation/the 3xG Patreon, and of course I did a lot of other activities related to the game – honestly to a point where it just wasn’t fun to play and the drive to compete/succeed just wasn’t there anymore.
The thing is about that, once you take something and make it your biggest focus, you become so mentally and emotionally invested that you end up with your self-esteem and self-worth tied to what you are able to accomplish or create in that space. It isn’t healthy and is definitely not the best way to generate positive results – there’s too much pressure on any and every action you take that you end up with some form of choice paralysis and your anxiety gets to an all-time high before every game you play, because YOU make the results matter.
Leading up the the Gamerz event and the Columbus regional the boys and myself didn’t get to spend much time testing at all. Between my new career, relationship, and overall focus on just living and loving life – DBS took a backseat. Instead, I relied on my skills and knowledge from the past and combined that with just “goldfishing” or “shadow playing” to make sure my decks functioned and the theory used would come to life on a regular basis.
Today I want to walk you through some important points that can help with participating in competitive events or just act as a refresher/re-engagement tool for anyone who is burnt out within the competitive scene.
#1 “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” – Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”
This quote truly hits the nail on the head when trying to describe how to best be prepared for events. If you walk into an event only knowing what your deck can do, then you’re going to struggle trying to learn matchups on the fly. If you walk into an event not knowing the full potential of your deck and not knowing what the rest of the field is capable of, you’re doomed to fail. However, if you walk in and know exactly what your deck’s full potential is, alongside what the rest of the field’s full potential is, you’re setting yourself up for success.
Yes testing for me was limited, but I spent any available free time watching YouTube, reading through Facebook posts, engaging in our FOExPPG team chats, and checking out decks on deck building sites to learn what decks to have on my radar. Not only that, I spent a lot of time talking through various theories, and also the full potential of each deck, alongside the crux of each deck. From there I began to think of how to capitalize on those weaknesses whilst playing something with a really high power level to match what the rest of the format was doing. From there I would just spend my time goldfishing/shadow playing the deck to find all of the interactions and to help fine tune ratios.
To break this down further, looking at the format heading into Gamerz the narrative within the community was focused around how diverse the format was. Not only that, but decks that have to commit resources in the first 2 turns were incredibly popular – King Piccolo, Launch, Mecha, etc.
This meant that if you could out-tempo the opposing player in the first 2-3 turns and try to kill on 3, you could easily win a lot of game 1’s. Then of course in post board games you have the ability to still be high tempo, but the added disruption could get you there. Mecha Frieza was the perfect fit for this due to the ability to abuse Giant Ball and Tyrannical Blow in conjunction with Frieza 4 drop from Battle Evolution to act as your early game pressure that snowballs into U9 Assemble, which also helps you get to your wincon of Cell Xeno or Bergamo beatdown on turn 3.
Heading into Columbus, the narrative within the community was that Mecha, Dark Broly, Vegeks, and King Piccolo were the best decks. The goal heading into this event was to avoid mirror matches since the field was more narrow. Not only that but if you look at Mecha, Dark Broly, King Piccolo, and Vegeks a few things stand out to me: awakening with a high life total seems appealing since it gives you a buffer, Dark Broly and Vegeks both play Dark Power Black Masked Saiyan and Koitsukai in their 65, God-Sealing is incredible versus Bergamo and Demigra, Heroic Prospect is solid, playing a lot of negates is good for reducing combo steps, a reliable board wipe is great right now, Gohan 4 drop that kills a 3 or less, ignoring Barrier, is great against Mecha, Bean is busted, Zen-Oh Super Combo gets you out of being tapped out by your opponent… the list goes on for a while.
While Frisco and Jose ended up on Soul Striker Boujack, I went with SS2 Gohan instead due to its ability to access God-Sealing on turn 2 with Zen-Oh Unison, the ability to generate cheap threats without being hurt by DPBMS or Koitsukai, being able to balance out play/draw with Zen-Oh Ramp, consistent access to Gohan 10 drop, abusing Buu Unison, awakening consistently on turn 2, access to 8 negates main board between Dimension Magic and Vegeta 1 drop, being able to ramp harder to Turning the Tide when on the play, being able to main deck the Gohan 4 drop that kills a Barrier threat 3 or less, playing a deck that loves 4x Zen-Oh Super Combo – basically, SS2 Gohan was the perfect call for the event, in my opinion.
These two scenarios above both show the power of knowing the enemy and knowing yourself. As stated before, there was minimal testing involved for both of the decks used in these events – it just came down to being familiar with the format enough to be able to speak on and theorize what cards and turns within the game were the most impactful, then seeing how we could beat prey on that for that specific weekend. This honestly is probably the hardest thing to learn, since you have to balance the targeting you’re trying to do with playing something inherently powerful. It is very easy to lean towards playing something that is too narrowly focused on targeting that you sacrifice overall power or too narrowly focused on being powerful that you lose matchup percentage in pre and post board games.
When analyzing a format I tend to look at a few things:
1. What threats do the best decks HAVE to play in order to be optimal? How do they play those threats?
2. What cards trade positively with those threats? (Generate X for 1’s, God-Sealing Versus Bergamo – you trade 1 card for 2 of your opponent’s energy and you stop a threat)
3. Among the top decks, what does the ceiling look like on power turns (turn 2.5 – 4, 2.5 refers to you having 2 energy heading into their turn 3)
4. What cards best disrupt those turns that fit into a powerful strategy?
5. Once we stifle a power turn, how can we best capitalize and take over/set ourselves up for a win?
#2 All the Small Things
The details always matter – this alone truly separates the top tables from the rest of the pack. Cards in hand, cards in drop, cards in warp, what card does my opponent have the ability to play this turn, what cards hurt me in this position, what sequence of plays gets me back in the game/what sequence of plays can my opponent string together to beat me, etc. – this list of items should be running through your head constantly throughout a game, this is the kind of information that keeps you engaged.
When you’re dialed in at a granular level and you’re aware of everything going on within a given matchup and the game state on a turn by turn basis, the results are staggering. The ability to predict, prepare, and either choose to act or be reactive based on the data presented is such a huge boon. It isn’t just as simple as shuffling up and hoping you draw well, there is another human on the other side of the table that is trying to defeat you and you are forced to interact with the cards they are choosing to play – you have the choice to just be aloof and care free, or the choice to keep repeating the questions in your mind about what is going on within the game so that you can make the best decisions possible based on all discovered and yet to be discovered data.
It takes a ton of time and practice to get to this point, but the hardest part is consistently executing each round, regardless of opponent.
This leads into a piece about “farming” lower levels of competition. The early rounds of a tournament are so crucial to reaching top cut/placing high overall. Sometimes you either select a deck based on a particular matchup and face a deck that hard counters you early in the jungle, or more often than not, you’re just not dialed in because you don’t take your opponent seriously and you think you can just coast to a win.
The way I’ve combat this is from watching a Magic streamer named Michael Jacob, who’s handle is Darkest_Mage. When he plays a game via Arena or MTGO, regardless of whether or not it’s a rando in testing, or a well-known player in a tournament, he refers to them as “enemy”. Of course I still interact and engage in conversation with my opponents, because having fun is paramount, but when I just think about the game itself, I always think in terms of being against the enemy, the person/deck that is actively trying to defeat me/end my tournament. Doing this has helped me stay dialed in for the past few events, and has also aided in any testing I do as well.
#3 I Control My Own Destiny, Not The Game
Every decision you make within a game matters. What you charge, how you sequence your turn, what damage you take, what you combo, what turn you decide to go for game, how you plan to punish a mistake, what cards you try to trade up for, etc. – it all adds up across the course of a game of DBS. That’s the most beautiful part of this game. This means that when you’re playing, you shouldn’t be thinking of the match result, you should be thinking in terms of how well you’re making each decision throughout a game.
This is so important because this is what pulls you out of the results oriented mindset and puts you in a place where you’re focusing on all of the things that matter while the game is taking place. Not only that, but it helps you better find what may have went wrong for you during the course of the game and takes you away from trying to blame variance. Variance exists in every card game, but I can guarantee 99% of losses are tied to a decision that was made at any point of a given game – from the mulligan, to the last few turns.
Speaking of mulligans! When looking at your opening hand you have to ask yourself a few questions:
1. Does this hand support my most optimal plan for turns 1-3? (If it is post-board you have to still prioritize the cards that make your deck function so you have more chances of drawing to your sideboarded outs, your second priority should be drawing any needed tech for the matchup)
2. If not – what cards are missing?
3. How many copies of X card am I playing and what are my chances of drawing it if I only get to draw Y cards on the redraw?
Based on this info I will determine how many cards I throw back. I tend to be really aggressive when it comes to the mulligan since I stick to that rule of making sure my hand supports my most optimal early plays. The mulligan also usually plays into my deck selection as well. I love playing a deck that has the ability to mulligan for a certain set of cards to get the early game card draw going – SS2 Gohan just needs a skill-less and an enabler and Monarch just needs a U9 Assemble or a Frieza 4 drop plus an extra card to get going.
#4 A 15 Card Sideboard does Nothing, but a 15 Card Sideboard with Intent is the Most Powerful Asset
Best of 3 is my format of choice and the reason for that is because of my strength in post-board games. I’ve spoken on this before, but having a detailed plan is the most important part about building a sideboard, especially when such a high percentage of games take place after sideboarding. Having a plan is one thing, but take that another step and walkthrough what cards you can side out in each matchup to create the best configuration for that given game. The thing that puts that over the top is when you then sideboard based on being on the play vs being on the draw.
When you’re on the play, you want to be as proactive as possible, since you get to strike first and have the ability to spend your energy in the early turns to punish the opponent’s strategy with your sideboarded answers. On the play you also get to keep the overall cost of your deck the same since your threats that cost 2+ energy can come down without too many repercussions.
When you’re on the draw, it’s more about reacting and being able to control the pace of the game through your sideboard cards to disrupt the opponent’s power turns which are usually 2-4. Also when you’re on the draw you should take a look at your threats depending on the matchup to see whether or not the game is ever going to get to the point where you can deploy them or ask yourself if they are expensive enough to where a single answer will be a blowout since you’re going second.
When creating your sideboard you really should be thinking about cards that are relatively inexpensive that either act as harsh annoyances to the opponent’s game plan or are just stone cold axe murderers within a given matchup. It is also important to know what your main board is naturally strong against/weak against so you can properly configure your entire 65 to sure up those weak spots or enhance those strengths within a given matchup. You also when choosing your sideboard cards should write down the purpose of each card.
Sideboard for Gamerz:
3x Vegeta, Unison of Fury – Dark Broly
2x Final Spirit Cannon – Any matchup where I would need to tap down something without a combo step in order to trigger Bergamo and go for game
2x Released from Evil – Reboot Gohan
1x Tyrannical Blow – Any matchup where 3 drops or less/unisons mattered a lot
1x Secret Identity Masked Saiyan – Any matchup where this card was an X for 1
1x Final Flash – Any matchup with a troubling threat whether it be something annoying with barrier or a huge finisher
1x Planet Vegeta – Post-board consistency with saiyan tech package
1x Son Goku, Absolute Annihilator – Invoker on the play and Baby
1x Son Gohan, Changing History – Blue decks
1x Dark Power Black Masked Saiyan – King Piccolo and Vegeks mainly
1x Mechikabura, the Broken Seal – Any deck that was weak to having their important card named or another way to stall Dark Broly
This is so important because once the tournament is over you can grade how well each deck served its purpose/whether or not you may have gotten the format wrong. Where I went wrong at Gamerz was with my prediction of seeing more blue decks/the actual impact of 2x Final Spirit Cannon, alongside my worry about Reboot Gohan and 2x Released from Evil. In hindsight, I could have played 1x Final Spirit Cannon, 1x Released from Evil, and played 2x Nimbus in the side – which would have been so good in top cut rounds.
Its also important in deck selection to make sure that your deck can balance out the play/draw disparity. This is something a lot of players miss when trying to determine what the best decks are within a given format. This also plays into how I landed on mono-yellow Mecha and Blue SS2 Gohan – powerful decks that can awaken consistently and have a way of generating card advantage and threat advantage for little to no energy on the play and draw.
#5 Shadow Playing/Goldfishing is Underrated
Understanding how a deck functions is the most important part of this game. Often times we find ourselves without someone to play with or just not enough time in the day/week to properly test. Building a deck on Untap/Octgn or in paper, then setting up a game for you to draw, mulligan, and mock play the first few turns trying to find the ceiling and crux of a deck is invaluable. This is the basis for all of the data I used heading into the last few events – I understood how the decks wanted to best function, and I found ways to prey upon that desire.
From here I would start to develop my theories and with any free brain space I would begin processing what a game would look like and how the cards would best trade against each other across the course of an actual game. Then of course I would bounce that data off of the 3xG Bois and the FOExPPG team to gain their feedback and take that into my calculations.
I’d then start constructing a deck to capitalize on all of the data points available that is also powerful whether it is a mainstream archetype or not. I’d shadow play/goldfish to make sure the deck can function as intended. Next, if life permits, I’d run that deck against other decks I have built to make sure it checks the power level box. Then finally, if life permits, I’d run the deck against the best decks/decks I’m trying to target to make sure the games play out similar to what was in my head. From there I would make my adjustments to then correct any issues whether it be a lack of consistency or a lack of overall power.
All of this starts with that initial shadow playing to test each of the best deck’s functionality though – isn’t that wild? This is probably the one thing a lot of players do, but don’t necessarily leverage the data as much as they should. Also keep in mind that if you’re shadow playing and you fall in love with one of the best decks, that is okay too! From there you can take that deck and see how it can capitalize on the given format/fix the issues you’ve noticed within the current configuration – that is exactly how I landed on Monarch (mono-yellow Mecha), because Frieza 4 drop from Battle Evolution made it so that you always (hyperbole) found multiple U9 Assembles, which as we know is the card that skyrockets the deck’s power level and consistency.
As you can see from the rants above, there’s still a lot to learn/re-engage with when it comes to competitive DBS. I hope going over these points helped in some way, because for me they have been huge in my own development over the last few months. As you head into your next local or your next major event, I hope you can keep some of these items in mind and see how well you’re doing on these five points. I look forward to hopefully making more content like this, especially with the next set coming out, and I thank you so much for taking the time to read my thoughts about stuff and things.