The “Upstart Goblin” Conundrum

Yu-Gi-Oh-players have the same question as this guy: Is it really worth it?

Consistency is the name of the game in Yugioh. Having a consistent way to start your combos, draw or search cards, or even simply racking up enough damage on board to finish the game is of paramount importance. There are various generic cards that help decks with consistency issues, such as the “Upstart Goblin” shown up top. However, while the card text is perfectly straightforward, the usage is anything but. I want to go into detail with this card and sum up all the arguments I have come across while also using one of my least favorite subjects: math. But do not worry, I am not simply going to sling some numbers around myself, since I got help with the numbers part by a friend of mine who studies mathematics and wrote his bachelor thesis about probabilities. Also, feel free to check the following article by guest writer “Tinker” on YGOrg, which I was sceptical about at first, but turned out to be completely correct in terms of mathematics and does make a lot of important points when it is best to play the card.

The source of many debates and, quite honestly, a lot of confusion.

Let us start with the base line: Since “Upstart Goblin” is a limited card at the time of writing, you can only ever run one copy of it per deck. Assuming the normal deck size we are working with is 40 cards, “Upstart Goblin” is one card in forty, or 1/40 of the deck. In addition, we are drawing 5 cards at the start of the game no matter what, which gives us five chances to draw the single card we want out of the forty cards in the deck, therefore 5/40 (or 1/8, which is basically the same chance but less helpful from a visualization perspective), which is also the chance of drawing a copy of “Upstart Goblin” in your starting hand. This is only the probability for going first though, since the player going second gains another card to work with, which increases the chance of drawing “Upstart Goblin” in the starting hand plus one normal draw to 6/40. Everything should be clear so far.

The chance of 5/40 (or 6/40 going second) is therefore also the chance for how often this situation is even going to happen. Only in one out of eight games is this scenario even relevant, since you will only draw “Upstart Goblin” in that many games and I have yet to talk about what problems exist with playing “Upstart Goblin” in general; but I will come to that. In percentages, the 5/40 are 12,5% of all games, while the 6/40 are a 15% chance. At this point, I want to clarify a misconception that is relatively easy to see through, but which happens surprisingly often: Increasing the number of cards in your deck automatically worsens your chances of drawing into “Upstart Goblin” in the first place. With 41 cards in the deck, the chances of drawing the card when going first reduces to 5/41 or 12,195%, which is only a tiny amount worse than the 40 card scenario but obviously still worse. If you run for example 43 cards we are talking about 5/43 which is 11,627% and if you go as far up as something like 48 cards (which I would never recommend anyway) we are at 5/48, which goes as low as 10,416%. This means that the chance of drawing “Upstart Goblin” in your starting hand went from “one in eight” to more of a “one in nine-point-five” really, and is therefore significantly lower. So, one theory that comes up occasionally is that running more than 41 cards plus “Upstart Goblin” is not a good idea; and most players will agree with that part.

The question is therefore whether one should run 40 cards plus “Upstart Goblin“, 39 cards plus “Upstart Goblin” or simply 40 cards without including the card at all. Lets assess the options:

  • The 40 card plus “Upstart Goblin” scenario does have some merit, since you can treat it as additional banish fodder for “Pot of Desires” and therefore increases your deck in size without losing you any of the consistency. However, there is also the discussion that you dilute your deck by a small margin, which can show in drawing into a handtrap after playing “Upstart Goblin” when going second or that milling it does not give you anything worthwhile in your graveyard while the card that was milled could have been a solid option otherwise. If you want to read further ideas on that end, here is a reddit discussion that talks about that subject in length.
  • The 39 cards plus “Upstart Goblin” seems to be best in a deck that cannot profit from the extra added card from the previous scenario for whatever reason. The exclusion of “Pot of Desires” for example makes an additional card in the deck rather pointless (unless you have some other card that can make use of the proxy slot), in which case it would be best to make the deck as tight as possible and therefore running the minimum amount allowed.
  • The 40 cards without “Upstart Goblin” scenario is also relatively common, since there are various reasons to ditch the card. I listed some of those reasons further down in the article, but this is mainly due to the healing effect on the card being more harmful to the strategy than the card draw is helpful, or simply having enough searching power to not include the card into the deck; for example, I have yet to see a “Nekroz” deck using “Upstart Goblin“, since there is simply no need to run the card.

However, one fact that I have to clarify is that the chances change so little that they barely matter. Sure, you might run into the scenario of drawing the card and profiting/bricking with it very occasionally, but you change so little running the card that you sure as hell do not need to think about it in casual-minded decks, but there is also a good chance that you should first think about other factors in your deck before spending time on an efficiency analysis for the single copy of “Upstart Goblin“. However, if you desperately need some guide that tells you in which scenarios the card is best, here is a broad overview that I would deem somewhat helpful:

Burning for 1000 AND drawing a card? Yes please.

You should run “Upstart Goblin” if:

  • You have enough searchers in your deck to actually profit from the deck thinning effect those cards will automatically have and therefore have a higher chance of drawing into something better or more useful in the given situation.
  • You need additional draw options while not caring about giving the opponent life points. This can be anything from not touching the life points because you win via other means (“Exodia”, for example) or simply playing a control deck that cannot push that hard anyway but is great in keeping the opposing board in check.
  • You have about 39 cards in your deck during deckbuilding and do not see any reason to add anything else due to not wanting to draw into it at any given time or adding something potentially bricky to your deck. “Upstart Goblin” is often referred to as a blank card and will simply cycle into the next card on your deck upon being played, making it a good “proxy” card to run.
  • You want a card to side out during sidedecking that you would not miss going into game two or game three. Despite all the uses “Upstart Goblin” might have, it is incredibly easy to drop it against some counter option or another combo piece if necessary.
  • You run cards that profit from healing the opponent. “Anti-Cure” decks come into mind and both “Darklord Nurse Reficule” and “Bad Reaction to Simochi” can turn the +0 from “Upstart Goblin” into far more.
Upstart Goblin’s” worst nightmare.

You should not run “Upstart Goblin” if:

  • You have an OTK strategy that (regularly) deals less than 9000 damage. The strategy can still work under normal conditions by dealing up to 8900 damage, but if you end up short of the final stretch you just needlessly give your opponent the chance of turning the game around.
  • You play a beatdown deck and cannot afford to heal the opponent for a card. This seems straightforward, as I have pretty much just listed the effect, but there are various decklists with a beatdown-focus that still run one copy of “Upstart Goblin“. Those decks will not aim for an OTK but instead bashing through the field using somewhat slower means; but there is no good reason to make your own life more complicated by healing the opponent and therefore making your win condition harder to reach.
  • You cannot play Spells for whatever reason (running cards that block them or using an archetype like “Super Heavy Samurai”, which ceases to function with Spells in the graveyard).
  • You cannot draw cards for whatever reason. This is pretty straightforward, as it would block you from playing “Upstart Goblin“.
  • You are in a tournament environment and time was called for the last turns, after which the player with the most life points automatically wins. It would be fairly stupid to heal the opponent to a winning amount.

And that is basically it. “Upstart Goblin” is a solid card to run in various decks, but like with any other card in the game there are various opinions regarding the inclusion into a deck. Some decisions are mathematically justifiable, while others are simply up to player preference. Feel free to send me a message or leave a comment if I missed a point or if there is an error in the argumentation, but otherwise I hope this helped to clarify when to chose one of the oldest draw spells in the game.

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