This is a guide on several points that determine the outcome of a duel. Knowledge and attention on these points can make the difference between winning and losing a duel. The range from moves and plays to the basic way of thinking a duelist should have.
Note: There will be no mentions to deck building and side decking. This is strictly about in-duel playing.
The first turn
A good 30% or more of the duel is determined in this turn. You don’t know your opponent’s deck, and he doesn’t know yours. It is an “exploratory” turn for both players. So let’s check some things out. First of all, it matters if you go first or second. And here’s why:
Going first: This has its benefits and drawbacks. By going first you are given the chance to set up your field as much as you like, with no intervention from the opponent. This means setting your traps, activating monster effects setting up your strategy, or even starting your plays to overwhelm your opponent. Here are some pointers:
If you have a lot of things to do on your first turn, do them, but only if you can ensure your opponent’s next move. This means that if your hand supports big plays for the first turn, you should only do it if you have a way of keeping this setup with minimum changes in your opponent’s turn. This means something like Starlight Road, Solemn Judgment, Stardust Dragon or Laggia. Summoning 2 or 3 XYZ monsters followed by 2-3 backrows and then ending your turn can mean the end of the duel after an opponent’s Dark Hole or Heavy Storm next turn. It leaves you with a card disadvantage, a thing that is not easily reversible.
Don’t give your opponent easy targets. Setting a monster with no way of negating an attack (or that way gets MST’d) and then your opponent attacks with a Guaiba or a Firedog, this can mean a LOT of trouble up ahead. If you are unsure of your opponent’s moves and deck, don’t make plays that can benefit him greatly. Setting no monster instead of setting one when you know your monster can easily be taken out should be considered. This applies for Spells/Traps. MST is @ 3, and many decks main destruction abilities. Chainable cards are the best in this scenario, but even if you don’t have any, try not to commit too heavily on the field. That first turn Call of the Haunted is really not necessary. Set just 1 card, either your opponent will take it out via MST, or even better, he will waste his Heavy Storm on 1 card.
Gorz. Leave your field empty if not for a very good opening hand with lots of options. Summoning Gorz first turn can mean trouble for the opponent, since play hasn’t moved on, and it’s difficult to get rid of since he won’t have any cards already set on the field to negate Gorz. Perhaps your opponent will not even make an attack, fearing a Gorz. (At this point you can bluff if your hand is crap and you understand if your opponent’s opening hand is good or not. If it’s good, he’ll attack. If it’s not, he’ll try to avoid Gorz.)
Tip: Pro Storm
Pro Storm is a move using Heavy Storm. The idea is: You set Heavy Storm first turn. Your opponent, thinking it is a trap, will only set up to 2 cards from his hand, so that if you play Heavy Storm from your hand next turn, you will both be @ -2. Next turn, flip Heavy Storm, and now your opponent is @- 1. Cool huh?
Going second: Your opponent is all set. Not many things you can do here.
Set those MSTs…! If you don’t plan on wiping the field clean for a power move, set any MSTs if you have them. Yeah they might get destroyed by opponent’s MSTs, but if not, your opponent may try to destroy them on his turn, meaning that you can chain them and gain a +1 by targeting something else on your opponent’s field. Or your opponent might have just wasted a monster’s destruction effect on a card that ended up destroying another of his on-field cards.
Don’t set backrows and THEN attack that opponent’s face-down monster! It might be a Ryko, and you just gave your opponent targets other than your monster. FIRST make the attack (preferably with a not-so useful monster) and then set. Always attack first, and set later.
Bait your opponent’s traps. In a hand consisting of a Thunder King Rai-Oh and a Tour Guide (for instance), try to summon Thunder King first. If it gets destroyed, at least you have TGU for play next turn, and it will be a more “secure” play since you already baited out an opponent’s Solemn Warning, Bottomless, and you don’t have to worry so much about another.
Play has now moved on. Many moves are played from each player. Let’s check some things here.
Try to memorize opponent’s hand cards. Any information you have about your opponent’s hand can be useful to you. Remember Maximillion Pegasus? It’s exactly the same. Either your opponent misplayed and you got to see a card, or you or him bounced a card to the hand, or added something, this card is known to you now. Try to remember is later on, your opponent may end up with just this card in his hand, meaning that you get to have total control over your moves in accordance to his hand.
Don’t commit to the field if not absolutely necessary. When you have a card in your hand that is to be used in a couple of turns, don’t ever set it. Your opponent will be more nervous when he sees many cards in your hand, just because he doesn’t know what they are. Even by setting a card you are letting your opponent know it is a spell/trap. No other options. A Card Destruction followed by 4 backrows lets your opponent know you have either 1 or 0 monsters.
Never (and I mean NEVER) give up the game until your LP are down to 0. There are countless examples of “lost duels” which are won by a game changing lucky top-deck. If you still have LP, stay and fight. You might get lucky on your next draws, your ever-confident opponent might slip. Either way, the duel is not lost if you still have at least 1 LP.
Don't make "useless" moves. When you are in a situation in a duel that is in your favor, try to keep it that way. Don't summon any monsters when you are already beating up your opponent with the ones you have. You might end up losing them all from a Torrential Tribute. The way you should be playing your opponent, should be the minimum available. Store as many cards in your hand as you can for future use. Don't play them all right away. The lucky top-decks that might save you in another situation, might save your opponent, when you're winning.
Try to keep as many options in your hand. This can range from monsters to be summoned, to spells to be played, even to entire combos. If not the right time, save them for later.
Errors can happen here too. Many players try to finish off their opponents with everything they have, and end up with no defenses, prone to a Dark Hole, or a late-played BLS. Unless you can ensure your opponent’s demise in your turn, don’t ever rush. It’s better to take two turns to take him out, and still maintain some sort of defense, than going all out and get stopped by a Fader, Honest, Tragoedia, Gorz. Giving your opponent room to breathe can mean him turning the tables on you, when he is only left with 50LP. Isn’t that a shame?
Never make your opponent’s life easy. You can bluff your moves. You can consider the outcome of your moves. All these things are necessary.
Example: You know your opponent is playing a monarch deck. You decide to use your Scrap Dragon’s effect and pop a card, and then attack. Your opponent brings down a Fader. No way of getting rid of it now. Next turn, Caius…
When you can’t “predict” your opponent’s responses on your moves, always assume the worst. Yeah, risking pays off sometimes, but not always. It’s like the End-Game situation. The fact that it MIGHT work doesn’t necessarily means it will. And unless some other way out on your part, never make moves when you are not prepared for your opponent’s responses to that moves.
Rulings are your friend. By knowing the game mechanics, you can get yourself out of difficult spots, just by “abusing” rulings. This cannot be taught by us, you have to learn them yourself but they are important. Some examples are:
MST your own Dark Hole/Heavy Storm when Starlight Road is used against you. This way Starlight won’t destroy your card, it will only negate it, and no Stardust comes up.
Respond to your own cards resolutions. Don’t tell me a Torrential Tribute destroying your only DARK monster your opponent has, on his turn, isn’t sweet if followed by a Dark Smog banishing that DARK monster before he gets a chance to use it…!
Keep a straight face. Frowning after a bad draw is like telling your opponent “My hand is SO bad that even if your grandma was dueling me right now, she would win”. Only use it for bluffs. Nothing besides that. This is another way of keeping your hand unknown to your opponent.