When most players are dealt a poor hand, they resign themselves to losing, whether they are aware of it or not. Some players freeze up, hoping the opponent also has a bad hand. Some players continue to play as normal, going through the motions. Some players even admit defeat far before their lifepoints are reduced to zero. In this article, I will explain why I believe all of the above are the wrong approach.
At a glance, Goat Format seems to be defined by randomness. The format is full of powerful one-of cards that have a dramatic effect on how the game unfolds. This random nature is a fact we cannot avoid, but we can leverage it to our advantage, as randomness creates an opportunity for taking risks and gaining rewards. But to master this concept of risk/reward, we must consistently answer these two questions:
Rules for Avoiding Risk in Goat Format
In my experience, most Goat Format players are too conservative, either because they are not very good at answering these questions, or they do not think about the game with this mindset. Another reason is that old articles and mid-level play theory teaches Goat Format players to avoid the powerful one-of cards, and to actively play around them until they are in the graveyard. There are also many general rules about good play in Goat Format that you might have heard before. For example:
All of these principles are actually risk-averse, and generally these are great things to do when you are winning. After all, it is good to be conservative when you are ahead. Unless you make a huge mistake that gives your opponent unexpected card advantage, or an opportunity to kill you, it is not likely you will lose. However, if you play with this mentality while you are losing, you will almost certainly not improve your win probability and you will continue to be losing the game.
Risk and Inevitability in Goat Format
When an American football team is losing late in the 4th quarter, they go for 2-point conversions, throw the ball more often, and do not punt on 4th down. When a European football (soccer) team is losing in the 80th minute, they increase their pace, substitute for more offensive players, and push their men forward. So whichever kind of football we are talking about, teams consistently violate traditional play theory when they are in trouble. The same principle is true in other sports and games, including trading card games! When you are losing, you should play differently, and break the general rules for risk-averse play. You need to gain reward, and you need it before the clock hits zero, so get out there and take some risks.
How does this translate to Goat Format, though? There is no countdown clock per se, but there is the clock of inevitability. Many games of Goat Format are actually decided early on, even if they take a while to play out. One of your goals should be to anticipate your opponent reaching inevitability and do everything in your power to prevent that from happening. That means taking risks.
Rules are Meant to be Broken
For every general rule I listed about Goat Format above, there are corresponding rewards that you can potentially gain by breaking them.
Attacking with two monsters means that at least one attack is likely to succeed. Sometimes allowing an opponent’s monster to survive your battle phase will be too much for you to overcome, whether it is a flip effect Monster, an Airknight Parshath, etc.
Summoning multiple Monsters can progress your game state and provide much needed field presence. This can generate a tempo advantage that gets converted to card advantage via Tsukuyomi locks or easier tributing.
Setting multiple spells and/or traps can make it harder for your opponent’s attacks to succeed. It may also cause them to play more conservatively, allowing you time to get back in the game. This can also generate a tempo advantage.
Using traps on floating Monsters can disrupt an opponent’s plans for that floating Monster. If it is a flip-effect Monster, you might disrupt a Tsukuyomi lock. This can generate a tempo advantage.
Setting an unchainable spell or trap on your first turn can help protect your only monster. It can also hedge against an unknown opponent who might play cards that generate advantage through battle, such as Mystic Swordsman LV2, Blade Knight, Don Zaloog, or Spirit Reaper.
Using Heavy Storm early in the game can guarantee your attack gets through. It can let you set an important Spell or Trap without having to fear an end phase Dust Tornado or Mystical Space Typhoon. It can also let you cash in your Heavy Storm for a 1-for-1 value before you proceed to set your entire hand of spells and traps.
Summoning Airknight Parshath early generates pressure, digs for cards, and left unanswered can single-handedly win the game. This move certainly risks Snatch Steal, or it might force a trap that causes you to lose tempo. Having your Airknight Parshath stolen is almost always very bad. However, falling behind on tempo is sometimes not so bad, especially if the rest of your hand contains more answers and aggression. Drawing out a trap also has the benefit of reducing your opponent’s defense density (one less trap in their arsenal) for the next time you summon an Airknight Parshath, increasing your likelihood of future success.
Summoning Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning early in the game is the ultimate out to something you cannot deal with otherwise. For example, you might be facing a set Magician of Faith with a trinity piece in the Graveyard and a potential Tsukuyomi lock. Alternatively, you might be facing an Airknight Parshath that is threatening to run away with the game and be a valuable graveyard resource even if it you destroy it. Finally, summoning Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning early in the game can be quite gamebreaking. It can force your opponent not to summon or set monsters, and it can deny your opponent graveyard resources, all thanks to its once per turn banishing effect. In the meantime this allows you to stall in order to build up a field of weaker monsters and potentially set up Tsukuyomi locks.
Lifepoints are important, but like any resource, they can be leveraged to accumulate other resources. I would argue most Goat Format players overvalue lifepoints, especially those who learned how to play when Exarion Universe was more commonly allowed in online play. In Goat Format, there are many ways to leverage lifepoints, but I’ll note two common examples: waiting to activate Scapegoat, and waiting to activate a trap in exchange for taking direct damage. Both of these moves sacrifice lifepoints but can generate tempo in the future. Waiting to activate Scapegoat can save tokens for later which can be very valuable because of Metamorphosis, especially if you are waiting to draw your first or second copy. It can also catch your opponent by surprise if you wait until your end phase. Waiting to activate a trap can allow you to protect an important monster in the future, even one you have not drawn yet but anticipate needing to draw and keep on the field in order to win. You can also save your trap to destroy a more threatening monster in the future, such as Airknight Parshath, while allowing you to answer the less threatening monster either in battle or with Thousand-Eyes Restrict.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Probabilities and Risk
Now, I want to mention that there is actually one more question to answer if you want to become a master of risk/reward in Goat Format. While I have so far advocated for Goat Formats players to take more risks, it is also true that sometimes you should not take risks. As mentioned, you do not want to take risks when you are winning comfortably. But you also do not want to take particularly big risks when you are only moderately behind or in an even gamestate. So you need to answer this question: How big is this risk? How likely am I to fail or succeed?
And this is perhaps the most difficult question to answer and one that I cannot do justice in this article. This is really a question of probability, particularly when it comes to playing around one-ofs, two-ofs, and three-ofs. However, we cannot exactly whip out a probability calculator in the middle of a duel (or maybe we can?). But there are a few things you can do to get better at answering this question. First, I recommend you learn about the basic theory of probability, whether it is a statistics textbook, another article about probability in card games, or by chatting with a math geek. Second, you can learn to intuitively estimate probabilities on the fly by gaining experience with the format, and to some extent, you can also try to incorporate reads into your decision making process, if you are good at making reads. Third, you can memorize some basic Yu-Gi-Oh! probabilities, or look up more specific probabilities on www.yugioh.party:
One thing I want you to notice right away about these numbers is that your opponent is much more likely to have the counter to the risk you take if it is late in the game and they have not already used up said counters. Conversely, if it is earlier in the game, it is far less likely that your opponent will have the specific counter to your move, especially if it is a one-of. That means it is often most beneficial to take big risks early in the game, when they are far less likely to backfire.
Concluding Risk in Goat Format
Finally, it is important to put all these ideas together and analyze the likelihood and impact of alternative moves. In a typical game of Goats, there are hundreds of opportunities to make different moves. Most of the time, the less risky move is correct, either because taking a risk does not have a large payoff, or because your position is already fairly solid. But more often than you might think, it is appropriate to take a risk. Even after you master this decision making process, you will still fail to win quite often. But if you are giving yourself a decent chance to win when you otherwise had very little chance to win, that risk you took was well worth it.
As much as I wrote above, this article barely scratches the surface of the risk/reward universe that exists in Goat Format. Much of mastering risk/reward will be learned from experience. Until next time, be bold, keep an open mind, and consider more unorthodox plays.
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Want to learn more about the Goat Format fundamentals of lifepoints and card advantage? Check out "Who's Winning?" - Goat Format Fundamentals. Want to learn about risk? Dust Tornado vs Snatch Steal talks about the risk and reward of this specific situation.