Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel reminded me that putting yourself out there is challenging. Whether you duel on the regular or are dusting off the deck for the first time in years, pouring your heart and soul into constructing a deck and pitting it against a stranger online is surprisingly nerve-wracking. What if my card synergy isn’t any good? Is my opponent snickering at me because my cards aren’t up to the hottest meta? What if … I lose? That fear can be surprisingly crippling and prevent you from enjoying the best aspect of the game: testing your skills against fellow duelists. Even worse, it keeps you from getting better.
Battling this mindset is something I’ve continually coped with. From 2003 to 2009, I was a competitive Yu-Gi-Oh! player. I never strutted into the hallowed halls of a world championship tourney or anything, but I was a regular at my local comic/toy stores. I remember how nervous I was testing my deck, which I only played against a small friend circle; I assumed strangers would obliterate me. Even though I was proud of what I created, I couldn’t afford all the top-tier cards, and having that exposed felt embarrassing. The anxiety almost made me want to avoid public play in the early days. But my friend’s support and my passion for the game got me over the edge.
As I competed in more and more tournaments, that fear of embarrassment and losing subsided. For one, I got spanked quite a bit, so I quickly learned to enjoy swallowing spoonfuls of defeat. More importantly, I realized it didn’t matter if I lost. No one called me out for sucking, I wasn’t sent to the Shadow Realm, a loved one didn’t perish, and my opponents were rarely jerks. I’d get a “GG” and move on. But I learned from those defeats and returned better prepared. It also made me more willing to experiment with my strategies. Sure, I’d get a raised eyebrow now and again for making an unorthodox play, but I didn’t mind as much because I’d given myself permission to fail.
After retiring from tournaments during my college years, I got my Yu-Gi-Oh! kicks playing video games. I’d been away from actively playing for a long time, so I was content with dueling AI opponents; my confidence to challenge strangers vanished, and that nagging anxiety returned. From Tag Force to Duel Links to Legacy of the Duelist, I avoided online matches like The Lion King’s elephant graveyard. I stayed in my comfort zone of dismantling Jaden Yuki’s predictable strategies time and again. Playing these games got me to speed on the current format, but I hit a skill ceiling and wasn’t getting better.
With Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel, I challenged myself to step up to human players again and regain my confidence. I’m glad I did. Not only is it a blast encountering so many types of duelists, decks, and strategies, but it’s also a mental exercise putting my creations out in the world. Though necessary, having people judge something I made can be exhausting after a while. I’ve been a writer for over a decade now, and, believe it or not, I still get jitters pitching feature ideas or hitting that publish button for the same reasons I was afraid to show off my Dark Magician deck all those years ago. It’s scary, but sticking your neck out, accepting the possibility of failure, and learning that messing up isn’t the end of the world makes life a lot easier and more rewarding. But you have to keep putting in the reps and don’t allow yourself to slip back into your comfort zone for too long. Keep creating, whether it be a duel deck or a wild, potentially world-changing idea, and throw it out there to see if it sticks. You’ll score a win sooner or later, and nothing is more satisfying.