Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What Is So Bad About Prophecy?

I want to try and start a new segment. As a player who feels seriously alienated by the increase in speed and power of commonly played decks over the past few years, I think it might be cool to do posts where I  generally explain why (from my point of view at least) certain things are just not okay. (Because if we've seen anything recently, it's that clearly a lot of people are knuckleheads who really just don't get the concept of "balance" - either that, or maybe they weren't around for the old days to witness what balance truly was.) I'm going to say this at the beginning of every article in this series - do NOT read any further if you don't think there are any problems with this game. If you honestly feel that the current state of Yugioh is totally flawless, then these articles are not for you.

So for today's inaugural discussion, I want to take a quick look at Prophecy and explain why the deck is so unbalanced and what we might've done differently to make it less broken.


From how I understand it, the key to the modern Prophecy deck's power can be summed up two words: the network. The deck exists as an amalgam of several different Spell Cards (obviously, the Spellbooks) that all center around either supporting themselves or supporting Spellcasters. If you're a veteran of the game, you probably already realize the idea of an archetype basically consisting of Spell Cards as the main actors with Monster Cards who in turn support them back is an inherently dangerous concept - Spell Cards are a very easy-to-use category of cards, whose mainstream counters are few and far between and whose applications can be rather diverse and are inherently quickly employed.

When you combine the power of heaps of Spell Cards that can already interact with each other with monsters like Spellbook Magician and High Priestess of Prophecy who can further exploit them by providing an actual body to support them, things are bound to get crazy.

And they have! Prophecy is easily one of the most influential decks in the OCG at the moment, forcing nearly every deck that wants to stand a chance at competing to pack some form of answer to the strategy. From Droll & Lock Bird to Eradicator Epidemic Virus, you have to do something to Prophecy if you want to be able to win.

But why is that specifically? Let's take a look at each Spellbook card that is seeing play right now and examine why it is so good, and what Konami probably could've done differently with it:

Spellbook Magician of Prophecy: Starting off, I actually find this card to be a little too balanced - speed is everything nowadays (partly because of this very deck, ironically), and it's a little strange to give someone the choice of either waiting a turn for his effect or forcing you to kick out a 500 ATK monster in a deck with very little defense. A little more ATK (maybe 1000, because Earth) would have been cool, but maybe as a trade-off for the flip effect just to keep things fair.

of Secrets: The primary Spellbook that searches all the others. It seems like a rudimentary concept until you consider the existence of Spellbook Magician of Prophecy - why exactly does the archetype need two Spellbook searchers? Hint: it doesn't. We'd probably be better off with this card never having existed, instead of just being "corrected."

of Power: A thousand-point boost and the power to (yet again) search for other Spellbooks is just too much. How about you can gain 500 ATK instead, and instead of searching (which you already have Magician for) inflict a little damage to your opponent for a successful kill? Damage does follow the theme of this being the "aggressive" Spellbook, after all, and plus it seems more fair.

of Wisdom: The Spellcaster's own Forbidden Lance. It would be more fair if this reduced the targeted monster's ATK by some sizable number (maybe 500-1000), but even then it would still be quite good. High Priestess is the main "body" of the deck, and by having near-constant access to a card that nearly guarantees her survival against commonly played removal you are making her a little too strong. Especially because even if your opponent DOES kill her, you can revive her most times and make this card live again. Speaking of revival, that brings me to...

of Life: This card has its own set of restrictions and those are all well and good, but the key loophole here is that it doesn't have to stay on the field for its revival target to survive. Drawing MST a turn too late will kill you against this card - that would be a nice correction to make in its design. Otherwise, I actually think this is a pretty fair card (assuming we change Wisdom).

of Eternity: This supports High Priestess (and the deck as a whole) too strongly by establishing a cyclical pattern of plays - Secrets for this card, banish Secrets to kill something, then play this and get Secrets right back and do it again next turn. That is only ONE example. Probably should not have been made; after all, it's called "banish" for a reason.

of Fate: I'll never forget the feeling in my stomach when I realized this card isn't a piece of shit. Any card that is both a Quick-Play and with multiple effects should automatically raise some red flags, and this card makes it even harder to threaten Priestess by countering Monsters while Wisdom counters Spells and Traps. I think this would be more fair by only having one effect - Banish three books to banish a card on the field. Still pretty powerful owing to the speed of the deck at filling its grave and reusing banished books anyways (not to mention the general lack of banishing effects/revival in the game), but at least it loses its flexibility and becomes easier to play around now. With this new edit, it would be extremely fair if Eternity just didn't exist.

The Grand Tower: I could go on and on, but I'll keep this short by drawing an analogy to The Gates of Dark World - an extra draw every turn is just a little crazy, especially when in this case it comes with an insurance policy to reimburse you should it get destroyed.

Star Hall: The ATK boost looks small at first, but is a big deal considering how important monster card strength is in defeating the High Priestess. It also boosts other commonly played monsters like Breaker to levels that allow them to more easily handle some of the deck's hurdles, like Thunder King. Also, like Tower it gives you a another card if it gets destroyed, which counters one of the biggest drawbacks for cards that need to stay on the field to be useful.

of the Master: Obviously, what makes this one so good is that it breaks the number one rule that the other Spellbooks have in an effort to (somewhat weakly) curb their power: "You can only activate 1 "[of this card]" per turn."
This card has its own restrictions though in that you must control a Spellcaster and have another Spellbook already in hand to use it. However, I feel like copying effects that have restrictions for a reason is just a bit too good. This might be another card that just shouldn't have been made, especially since the other Spellbooks are just so damn strong - if you've never played against Prophecy before, imagine how unfair it is for your opponent to use Secrets twice in a turn or give a single monster +2000 ATK and search two more books because they copied Power. It's just too much, and it's another perfect example of how the power of just a couple of Spellbooks can easily reach unfair levels just by being built upon as a group - thus, the creation of a network.

Judgment Day: You can probably find (or have already read) numerous articles explaining why this card is basically the end of the world, so I won't waste much time with it. All I really want to say is that multiple plusses in a single, highly searchable card that also helps you summon the main body of the Spellbooks is just not okay.

And that's it! All ten of the most powerful Spellbooks currently seeing play plus Magician, and why they're so good. So we've established by this point that this archetype is above and beyond what is normal, whether or not it wins games. But how do we convince other members of the community that Prophecy is not okay? How can we create a vocal segment of the population that expresses such disdain for the deck that Konami will be pressured to destroy it in its current form?

Well to be frank, Spellbook Judgment Day is currently doing a lot of the convincing on its own. No duelist can make the case that SJD is not unhealthy for the game. But SJD is only one card, and some people may not necessarily make the link between Judgment Day and the power of the cards that it supports and that support it. In other words, some people might feel like Prophecy will be perfectly fair once Judgment Day is Banned. So how do we convince them otherwise?

There are other aspects to the argument that we should be prepared for. To look at them, we need to understand what controls Prophecy - in other words, what "outs" will people use to try and defend the deck, its philosophy, and its playstyle against the use of force to destroy it (the banlist)?

1) External forces - many decks have access to cards like Droll & Lock Bird, EEV and Anti-Spell Fragrance that sometimes can instantly ruin Prophecy entirely.

This is inherently not an end-all cure simply because of statistics - you can't always draw these cards, and even when you do, the Prophecy player might have the "counter for your counter." Also, for many decks these cards are unavailable during Game 1 of a match (and you know things are crazy when people are sacrificing their main decks to be able to use these cards even during Game 1).

2) Internal forces - the structure of the deck inherently lacks defensive capability. A huge amount of Spells basically means little to no room for Traps.

This problem is partly already solved by already existing cards like Threatening Roar, Fate, and Wisdom, but exacerbated by the prevalence of decks with strong monster lineups or reliable access to OTK plays.

3) In the TCG at least, a significant external control would be the price tag - not only is Prophecy expensive, but most players can spend less building Fire Fist or Mono Mermail which are currently much more proven strategies and are believed to offer a higher chance to top. This significantly constrains the amount of players entering any given event with the deck, and makes its chances of topping much more susceptible to luck. But true competitive players will stop at nothing to win, and may very well throw down the cash for the cards once Judgment Day comes stateside.

Now that we see how flimsy these control aspects are, perhaps you will be able to combat these arguments should they come up with your fellow duelists. I'll have to wrap this up for now, but hopefully I was able to enlighten some minds and show you guys the true power of Prophecy from a theoretical perspective. Later!

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