Looking back on my last two subjects for this column, I can’t help but notice that they both happened to be members of Team Overdose. This was actually pure coincidence. Anthony Alvarado and Kris Perovic happened to answer their email faster than everybody else I contacted. But, given that fact, I’m pleased to present something completely different this time around!
I had the pleasure of attending the World Championships this past summer, and while I was unable to report from the event, I was able to accomplish a great deal of hanging out. Unlike the past few Worlds, this one was packed with surprises. Greece versus Mexico for the finals? Japanese players dropping like flies? Deck Destruction making it to the final day of competition? No one could have anticipated any of those events, but their surprising nature has made them common knowledge. Now every duelist worth their salt knows about the surprising finals matchup. Everyone knows about the tournament’s upsets, and they know about Jorge Fabian Pina Lizarraga’s stunning showing with Deck Destruction. But still, some stories got lost in the shuffle.
Today, I get a chance to correct that, to some degree.
Of all the duelists I met at the World Championships, one of my favorites and one of the most remarkable was Cindie Uddstrom. The National Champion of New Zealand, Uddstrom put forth a unique, calculated style of dueling, played a remarkably daring Ojama Trio deck, and came out of nowhere to take a respectable Top 16 finish.
And she’s female.
While Cindie first earned the attention of her dueling peers competing for the title of World Champion by being the only female player in the tournament, it was a distinction quickly outpaced by her unique choice in decks. Brendan Chock made waves at Shonen Jump Championship San Francisco by placing in Day 2 with a burn deck. Cindie Uddstrom did the same, did it at the World Championships, and did it with a far more original build than Chock’s. If her performance had been publicized, we could very well have encountered a different national metagame in the U.S.
Here’s the breakdown of her stats!
Name: Cindie Uddstrom
Occupation: IT Help Desk Administrator
Residence: Wellington, NZ
Team: Team Evolution (no relation to the American team with the same name)
Top Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG Achievements:
—2005 New Zealand National Champion
—Finished thirteenth at the 2005 World Championship
Sponsor Status: Unsponsored
Though Cindie doesn’t consider herself to be a gamer per se, she has been an active player of games for over a decade. “I wouldn’t say I’m a gamer, but I've been into games since I was ten, when our family got its first PC. That was the beginning of the end for large amounts of activity for me!”
While many top duelists began their gaming careers with video games, Cindie was quick to mention that she considers her gaming to be rooted in sports first. “[I] started with sports, then video games, now TCGs and video games. I've done a bit of everything: sailing, horse riding, gymnastics, and athletics.” Horse riding isn’t a typical answer to the question, and it’s just one small example of the unique traits that Uddstrom possesses. She doesn’t fit the mold of the average competitor, and the differences run far deeper than just her gender and nationality.
She’s a woman of taste to boot, as proven by the other games she spends her time on. “I enjoy Vs. System. For non-TCGs, [I like] a bit of everything.” She counted off some of her favorite video game genres and games. “Racing, Need for Speed. RPGs, the Final Fantasy series. Strategy, Age of Empires and Settlers of Catan.” Pretty hardcore stuff!
Returning to the matter at hand, I asked Cindie what she liked about Yu-Gi-Oh!. This game has a lot to offer, and it attracts a wide variety of players for many reasons. Her answer spelled out her nature pretty well, quickly summing up her constructive attitude. “[I like] thinking of new deck ideas, building it and seeing if it works.”
She paused for a moment. “The guys are great too!” She gave me a grin.
An ever-present fixture of Cindie’s existence at the World Championships was her boyfriend, Jason. Not me—Cindie’s Jason is larger than me, and, well, he’s from New Zealand. He’s actually one of the reasons why this article is slightly delayed. We always need pictures of the duelists we interview, and while Jason and I talked at Worlds and he proved to be very friendly, I couldn’t exactly find the proper way to say, “Hey, can I get your girlfriend’s email address? I’m just going to take a bunch of pictures of her.” I couldn’t imagine that adding, “Don’t worry, I do this all the time,” would have made the situation any less awkward.
Like I said, he’s a lot bigger than me.
Jason’s support seemed to be a boon to Cindie as she took on the best duelists in the world. They’d talk between rounds, and I learned that both of them are competitive duelists. Cindie was quick to give Jason equal credit for her unique deck at the time of the tournament, and it seemed like they made a great team.
I asked her who she felt were the best players in the game, and while most duelists can usually spout a list of competitors that they respect (and sometimes a secondary list of players they particularly don’t respect), Cindie recognized that her nationality cut her off from having an informed opinion. “I can only speak for New Zealand,” she explained. It was an answer that demonstrated a greater sense of global awareness than most. But, while it was obviously just an explanation of why she couldn’t answer my intended question, I was of course reminded that, as far as the history books are concerned, the “best player in the game” within Cindie’s realm was the woman I was talking to.
While Cindie projects an air of realistic confidence, there’s no vanity or ego within her statements, and that was emphasized when I asked her if she felt any players were overrated. She again limited her scope to what she could realistically address, sticking to New Zealand. “No one here is really overrated. We all know what each is capable of, and anyone who tries to talk themselves up is usually challenged to a few duels where we see the truth of what they say.” It was a succinct answer that again portrayed Cindie’s very realistic outlooks.
She got her start in Yu-Gi-Oh! the way so many of us did, by being sucked into watching Yugi’s daily adventures on TV. “I started watching the cartoon, as I'm sure most people did. Got online looking for local info about the game and found the forums which I now haunt most days. I met the group of Yu-Gi-Oh! players in NZ, and met Jason. He sent me some commons and gave me ideas. He kept helping me to be better than I was.”
Intrigued, I asked her about how she came to join up with the team she plays with. “Team Evolution has been around Wellington for quite a while. I was invited to join during the Nationals, since I proved I was a good player, and I was and still am good friends with all the guys in Evo.” Good call by them.
It was in that event, the 2005 National Championships, where she locked in her choice for her favorite card in the game. “Secret Barrel,” she said, smiling when I asked. “When you do 3400 damage to someone with one card, you tend to like using it. In the finals of the NZ National Championships, I hit my opponent for 3200.” In that match, Cindie had activated Secret Barrel, her opponent played Royal Decree, and she chained Solemn Judgment to win out on the chain. She recalled the exact words in the fast exchange. “Barrel . . . Decree . . . Solemn Judgment . . . He looked through his cards and just said, ‘I can’t beat that.’” Again, she couldn’t suppress a grin. There’s nothing sweeter than flat-out outplaying an opponent, especially when it’s with a rogue deck!
Being a national champion has its perks, and for Cindie, it’s travel. Her favorite tournament experiences are the on-the-road ones. “All the tournaments away from home have been great, because it’s getting away. It’s an adventure as well as being a tournament. Nationals was cool, asking [the UDE representative] repeatedly on Day 1 for the tickets to Japan, not ever thinking I might actually get them for real! Yup, I cried when I won. Worlds is another one [of my favorites], more because of meeting so many great people. Every player I talked to was friendly and happy to share anything. We were all mates for those five days, and I still am with some of them.”
What was it like, representing her country at Worlds? “Awesome. It was one of the best feelings I will ever have. I attribute my success to everyone that helped me. After Nationals, most of New Zealand had only one focus, that we had someone from our country going to compete at Worlds, and that’s what the country’s energies were put towards.”
Turning my focus to the present, I asked Cindie what she felt were the three top decks in the current Advanced format. She chose Tomato Control as her first prospect, quoting the tricky and versatile nature of the deck. Second, she picked Warrior Toolbox, citing its ability to spin answers out of nowhere. Her third choice was Earth Return from the Different Dimension. This part of the interview was actually an email exchange, and next to the deck’s name, Cindie just wrote “Beats” as her reason for choosing Return. Despite the amount of disrespect the deck gets, one has to admit that it can bring out huge offensive pushes like nothing else.
While Cindie has earned my respect for her raw playing ability and her status as a genuinely good human being, I had to ask what her experiences were like as a female duelist. I wondered if her gender made any difference to her play experience, and again, she had a realistic answer that showed the awareness I’ve started to regard as one of her signature strengths. “[Opponents] usually start out thinking I'm a pushover. That is, once they get over the surprise that I actually play. That works to my advantage, though. It only works on people I don’t know, and in places where my reputation has not preceded me.”
She mentioned that she gets a lot of “Hey, you’re the burn girl, aren’t you?” in her home country. “The guys here are all too focused on the game, so even the tight jeans and leaning over the table trick doesn’t work. Being female is not really an advantage. It’s not a disadvantage either, though.”
For reference, here’s the deck that Cindie ran at the World Championships.
2 Lava Golem
3 Giant Germ
2 Des Koala
2 Stealth Bird
1 Morphing Jar
1 Cyber Jar
1 Pot of Greed
3 Wave-Motion Cannon
2 Chain Energy
2 Level Limit – Area B
1 Heavy Storm
3 Ojama Trio
3 Secret Barrel
3 Just Desserts
1 Ring of Destruction
1 Magic Cylinder
2 Gravity Bind
2 Curse of Darkness
She was probably the only duelist there who wasn’t running Graceful Charity.
Though its success stunned many competitors, Cindie’s deck was actually an intuitive pick for the era of Thousand-Eyes Restrict Lock. Lava Golem could wipe out Thousand-Eyes as needed, or even feed on the opponent’s lock by sitting next to a face-up Thousand-Eyes Restrict and just burning away, as the Golem can’t attack when Thousand-Eyes is face up. Giant Germ provided defense, and Morphing Jar allowed the deck to bomb its entire hand and pull a new one. With only twelve monsters, it was easy to claim card advantage by doing so.
Ojama Trio served to clog the opponent’s field while feeding Secret Barrel and Just Desserts with more fodder for dealing damage. Curse of Darkness was massive tech against duelists who would basically sit and wait out a game in order to draw into powerful spell cards. Together with Chain Energy, Curse could slow down an already slow-going format, giving Cindie all the time she needed to draw into her burn.
In fact, tempo was the main thing the deck had going for it. Duels went on for ages, often with little attacking going on, and Cindie’s focus on big one-shots over renewable sources of damage took advantage of that fact. Her trap choices played right into the conservative tendencies that most top duelists were prone to having, and her emphasis on chainable damage sources would allow her to outplay opponents armed with Dust Tornado. By drawing Tornado and Mystical Space Typhoon to her chainable face downs, she’d in turn free herself to make use of Wave-Motion Cannon and her other continuous cards. It’s a radically different strategy from what anyone else was playing at the time, and breaking it down card-by-card, you can see the strength of every choice she made.
It remains to be seen what 2006 holds for Cindie Uddstrom. She confessed at the time of this interview that she had spotted a deck idea while rifling though a box of commons, and that she did indeed have something up her sleeve, but she wouldn’t tell me what it was.
Whatever she decides to play, she’ll probably be successful with it. Armed with a very rare, very conscious grasp of the nature of the game and its active environment, Cindie deserves a lot more stateside recognition than she’s received. Backed by a strong team with real emotional ties, she’s a solid pick for another Worlds appearance this summer. Completely free of ego but imbued with well-earned confidence, she’s alert, mentally agile, and gifted at thinking outside of the box.
It’s admirable enough to have the courage to go into the World Championships with a rogue deck. But having the skill to back it up makes Cindie Uddstrom unique in the dueling world. If her decks get a bit more publicity this year, she could easily set trends on a global level!