The December 15th Night Thread Offers A Gentleman’s Agreement

Competitive Yu-Gi-Oh is a weird beast. On the one hand, it’s a very skill-intensive game, one that rewards players who devote themselves to learning every intricacy of their deck and players who find the exact right card to break a format wide open languishing in their trade binder. But on the other hand, it tends to be a very high-power game, where any old person with even half an understanding of how things work can draw some insane hands and get lucky. There may be no better illustration of this tension than the 2nd Dragon Ruler format.1 Even though the format consisted almost entirely of Dragon Ruler variants, the mirror match relied heavily on player skill. Almost everything the deck could do could be countered by something else, and if all you knew were the basics you would quickly be outmaneuvered by a more experienced competitor.

Unless, of course, you happened to resolve one of two trap cards. Return From the Different Dimension and Sixth Sense were both incredibly powerful and nearly impossible for the Dragon Ruler deck to answer, outside of its own copies. If a player managed to resolve one of these two back-breakers unopposed they would almost certainly win, no matter how much better their opponent was. Now, each of these cards was Limited,2 but that was almost more of a curse than a blessing. The cards would pop up often enough to steal games, but not so often that it was actually worthwhile to devote any resources to countering them.

Well, at least not the traditional ones. Enterprising competitive players came up with their own solution. Tournament YGO is played best two out of three, and in between games players can swap out cards from their main deck with cards from a “side deck”. So, some players began to offer so-called “Gentleman’s Agreements” to their opponents after game 1, where each player agreed to side out the two trap cards face-up and play a “fair” game instead. The fact that this game would heavily benefit the more experienced party was of course left unsaid.

Eventually, these two problem cards would be banned outright, and the competitive scene would move on. Fast forward to the spring of 2015. Yu-Gi-Oh is once again dominated by a single deck, this time Nekroz. Like Dragon Rulers, Nekroz is a skill-intensive mirror match, except when it’s not. The problem card now is Djinn Releaser of Rituals. If one player resolves a summon using Djinn, they would almost certainly win. Now, unlike with the trap cards there were a few ways for a Nekroz deck to get out of an opposing Djinn lock, but unfortunately those cards were dead weight in all other circumstances. Frustrated at losing games to “lesser competition” and annoyed at having to run circumstantial outs, players brought back the Gentleman’s Agreement. Side out the Djinn after game 1 face-up, and you can safely side out all your clunky Djinn answers and play a more streamlined games 2 and 3 that favor the experienced duelist.

However, there’s a slight wrinkle here. Unlike Return From the Different Dimension and Sixth Sense, Djinn isn’t actually Limited. Players never ran more than one copy for reasons,3 but still. You could. One player realized the implications here: Patrick Hoban, the best duelist of the era and perhaps of all time. Like his peers, Hoban frequently offered Gentleman’s Agreements. But, at the ARG Fort Lauderdale tournament Hoban took it to the next level. While siding his Djinn out face up, Hoban would side in a second copy from his side deck, face down. Meanwhile, his opponent would be busy removing all their answers to Djinn, believing it to be a non-factor in the upcoming game. With this tricky twist, Hoban stirred a LOT of controversy.4 “How DARE he trick his opponents like that?” the competitive community exclaimed in uproar. “Only we are allowed to do that!”

The official Facebook page for YGO judges5 was overrun with complaints. Eventually, the game’s head judge decided she didn’t want to deal with this nonsense anymore, and declared that moving forward all forms of Gentleman’s Agreement would be considered collusion, punishable by disqualification. And thus ended this strange, silly era of competitive Yu-Gi-Oh.