Tales from the Long Exile: Duel Masters

I don’t know if this counts as “traditional” gaming, considering this story is about a CCG, and, come to think of it, dates back to 2004 or so, meaning it might not even BE in the “Lnng Exile” but I figure… Why not? The payoff’s amusing, trust me.

So, this was during one of my former jobs, wherein I only rarely had weekends off. In fact, I NEVER DID. But I was assigned to a special project in their main office (they should have sent full timers or co-managers, but my store could spare neither. Well, that and you didn’t want to send the full-timers for this…), which meant working Monday through Friday.

Somehow this added up into Austin conning me into playing Duel Masters. I suppose I just really wanted to play something. Even if it was Wizards of the Coast’s knockoff of Yu-Gi-Oh! I suppose it was a better game, due to actually having resource management, but it wasn’t that much more strategic, especially considering the main strategy involved playing the most powerful Evolution monsters (all of them Rare or higher, of course) and crushing your opponent’s shields as quickly as possible. Shields were life, you had five, and getting attacked without being able to block breaks one. Unless you’re dealing with a Double Breaker, but we’ll get back to that.

Anyway, for these six weeks or so, and God it felt like longer, I played in the tournament at Dragon’s Den every Saturday. And I’ll be honest: I wasn’t very good. But then I didn’t spend as much on the game as others and thus, did not have all the cards you really needed. Yeah, much like, you know, every other CCG, the true utility cards were hard to find. (Please see: Battle Spirits and its ridiculous zero-cost and one-cost/cost down one monsters…)

I mean, my first tournament appearance had me going up against the worst player in the store… AND LOSING. Still new to the game, I didn’t have nearly enough defense and thus got stomped badly. I wish I could remember this guy’s name, but I can only recall him as “the seven-year-old.” Because he was seven. And barely understood how to play the game. But he played with such heart. We’ll get right back to that, though.

Now, see, I don’t necessarily “play to win,” as I consider that outlook inimical to fun. Oh you can call “fair play” arbitrary if you like, but technically, all play styles outside of the one intended for any game are arbitrary. That’s the very nature of arbitration. Anyway, as is standard for me, as I so often lose, I instead play for fun. And my “fun” often involves showing my opponents that they’re not as smart as they think they are. The one deck I remember playing was a Nature (green) deck I entitled “Leaping Tornado Horn Doesn’t Suck” and it used the titular monster- which two of the other players were saying “sucked”- as its lynchpin. Did it win? Actually, yes. Oh it didn’t win the tournament, but it didn’t do badly. And perhaps more importantly, it racked up so much attack power that our resident fat kid shrieked in terror. And isn’t that what gaming is really all about?

I could go into Austin’s unfair practices, such as having several players with front loaded decks that didn’t pay to enter the tournament. He called them his “Eliminators,” and it’s exactly what it said on the tin: Their goal was to ensure nobody else won, and thus, that the store never needed to give out prizes. That stank back then, it stinks now, and I’m frankly quite glad I am no longer in any gaming store, so I don’t need to deal with such flagrant underhanded tactics.

At any rate, near the end of my time there, it came to pass that there was a convention that weekend, and many of the regulars went to it. Bringing us down from our usual number of ten-plus to six. Which wasn’t enough to run a proper tournament. So, Austin, not wanting to punish us for showing up, held something with his cobbled-together team play rules. We were, naturally, corralled into teams of three each.

Also naturally, the teams were the three top tier players, squared off against the three bottom tier players. And yes, I was indeed in the latter, and yes, so was the seven-year-old. He was still playing his lopsided Fire deck, but he’d splashed some Light so he had Blockers. It was the best deck I ever saw him play.

It was still utterly ineffectual.

My opponents were the store champion and two others who, as I recall, were higher in the ranks. Two of them, champion included, were running Darkness decks, with heavy creature removal and rush down tactics. They were deadly in single play.

On my team, I and the third player were both running Water decks, and as it turned out, both running Angler Clusters (a cheap 3000 Blocker that becomes a cheap 6000 Blocker if you’re playing mono-Water) and Aqua Lancer (an Evolution monster that was not only a Double Breaker, but Unblockable as well).

Maybe you’re already seeing where this story goes.

The game began in earnest, with my placing myself on the left, and the seven-year-old on the right, across from the Darkness-wielding, attack-happy champion. This might seem mean, but my goal was not so much to win, as it was to make the bastards earn their victory over us, to make it as hard for them as I possibly could. So, yes, I used the kid for a scape goat, an object of ire for both Darkness players, and, near the end of his life, had him take actions to further frustrate the champion. This included forcing the kid to attack, an act both he and the champion regarded as useless, as not only would he just block it, but not actually lose anything, as his deck enabled him to recycle Darkness creatures who die in the field. “I’ll just re-play it,” he said, but the look on his face when he poured over his hand and tried to decide just WHAT it was he was going to play was well worth it.

So yes. I threw a seven-year-old at my opponents. Some of you might consider it lousy. That I was being mean to the kid. That I was wrong to consider him useless and should have made him a more equal part of the game. And I say… It’s not my job to hold his hand. Everyone serves a purpose. And if your purpose is the decoy, so be it.

And he played this part well, for by the time they’d managed to kill him, the Darkness players had both used their good creature removal on him. All of it. To the point where I had to avoid face-palming, as that would have only tipped them off to the fact that they’d fallen into my trap.

Well… I suppose calling it a “trap” is ennobling it a little. Fairer to use one of my favorite quotes:

“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”

Napoleon Bonaparte, if you’re wondering.

Yes, I had a plan in mind. Or rather, now I had a plan in mind, as goes another quote:

“No plan survives contact with the enemy.”

Molkte the Elder, if you’re wondering.

For, seeing how readily they wasted their resources in killing someone who would have run out of steam on his own, they had nothing, and I mean literally nothing to take out my surviving partner and myself with. No, they would have to resort to force… And they had nothing on the field that could crush a 6000 power Blocker. Indeed, few things at the time could.

So we sat there for another few turns, until we got out our Aqua Lancers. The aforementioned Unblockable Double Breakers. So it didn’t matter how many Blockers they had, unless they could eliminate the Lancers, they were dead in the water… So to speak.

And again, at something to the tune of 6000 attack power, they didn’t have anything that could kill the Lancers. As such, in the span of another few rounds, all three of our opponents had fallen, and the team of “losers” had won.

Only time I ever won one of those ridiculous tournaments, too.

And if you’re wondering about the kid? Well, as we were cleaning up and preparing to leave, I sought him out and made sure to thank him for his help, as I told him we would not have been able to win without him… And it was true. Without him to waste the opponent’s time and resources, we never would have been able to secure a victory.

… Even at age seven, I think the kid realized that fact. Realized that I had used him as a decoy. As such, he grumbled at me and shuffled his feet. His father, though, did not approve of this, and insisted he thank me, which he then did.

And it was true, after all. I couldn’t have won without his help. Sure, he didn’t contribute in the way he probably would have liked to. But sometimes, what we want to do and what we have to do are not the same thing. Or, put another way, a win’s a win.

So, I won. And then shortly thereafter, returned to a more comfortable work schedule. And never played Duel Masters again.

And good riddance. That game is horrible

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