It all comes down to this: one-thousand and fifty-six competitors, thirty hours, sixteen rounds, and countless triumphs and defeats have left us with just two remaining duelists. For Lazaro Bellido and Kris Perovic, this is the culmination of dueling careers that have spanned years. Neither has ever been a Shonen Jump Champion before, and today, that’s going to change for one of them.
Kris Perovic called me just before midnight on Friday. His phone call woke me up, and he told me he was in the process of walking from nearby Santa Anna Airport four miles away to his hotel here in Costa Mesa. Twelve hours before, he made a last-minute decision to jump a flight to California, and while he was buying his ticket someone tried to steal his luggage. One full-body tackle, a security strip-search, and two almost-missed connections later, he landed in California with no money in his pocket. If you saw the pictures of Kris from yesterday, well, now you know why he looked like the pale shade of death. At this point, Perovic is running on nothing but sheer determination.
Lazaro on the other hand landed here on Wednesday, and is full of energy. The result has been spectacular play after spectacular play all weekend long, as Lazaro has continued to make ridiculous reads and mind-boggling decisions that have paid off virtually every single time. One of the most innovative dueling strategists in the world, Lazaro is responsible for stuff like the triple Thestalos triple Zaborg Monarch deck, as well as the Superfriends’ Zombie build. Today that might finally pay off.
Kris Perovic was armed with his signature Diamond Dude Turbo deck, the only one in the Top 8. Lazaro was packing Dark Armed Dragon Return, the deck of choice for the other seven members. The odds seemed in his favor, and when he won the roll they got even better.
He opened the first duel with Elemental Hero Stratos, searching out Destiny Hero – Dasher. He followed that up with Destiny Draw, discarding the Dasher to draw two. He set two cards to his spell and trap zone and ended.
Perovic activated Allure of Darkness, removing Destiny Hero – Plasma. “Pass?” asked Lazaro hopefully, grinning. Perovic smirked with a bit of a laugh, and shook his head. He considered activating Scapegoat, but then decided to use E – Emergency Call to get a Stratos of his own. “Anything?” he asked as he added it to his hand. Lazaro had no response. Perovic summoned Stratos, got Destiny Hero – Diamond Dude and shuffled his deck. Both players were being completely meticulous and clear. Neither is known for mind games, shenanigans, or rule-sharking: just for being amazingly good at this game.
Perovic ended and play was to Lazaro, who discarded Destiny Hero – Fear Monger for another Destiny Draw. He activated Premature Burial to special summon Destiny Hero – Dasher, summoned Destiny Hero – Disk Commander, fed him to Dasher, then attacked over Stratos. Lazaro’s own Stratos followed up with a direct attack and play was back to Perovic.
He was holding Dark Armed Dragon, Dark Magician of Chaos, Magical Stone, Diamond Dude, Scapegoat, Brain Control, and Divine Sword – Phoenix Blade. He held that Scapegoat in his fingers again, contemplating it, and counted Lazaro’s in-hand cards (three) before settling on Brain Control. It let him take Dasher. Lazaro took him back with Enemy Controller, tributing Stratos. If Kris had Monster Gate Lazaro would have needed to make that move, but Kris did not — Lazaro had made the wrong read, and it might be Kris’ opening.
He activated Magical Stone Excavation, discarded Divine Sword – Phoenix Blade and Dark Magician of Chaos, after laboring over the latter. He took back Allure of Darkness, activated it, and drew Monster Gate and Destiny Draw. He pitched Dark Armed Dragon, needing his other monster for Destiny Draw. He discarded Diamond Dude for the Draw, drew two more, and then activated Scapegoat. He placed four Sheep Tokens on the table and then ended, holding Reasoning, Monster Gate, and Lightning Vortex.
Lazaro set another spell or trap in the place of his used Enemy Controller, then set a third. Dasher turned to attack, hit a Sheep, and turned to defense again. Next turn Perovic used Monster Gate to trade one Token for Dasher, and when it attacked into Mirror Force he passed. He now had Premature Burial in hand.
Next turn Lazaro activated Raigeki Break! It destroyed one of the two remaining Sheep Tokens, and he discarded a Dark monster to put himself at three in the graveyard. He special summoned Dark Armed Dragon, flipped his face-down Dimension Fusion and it was over!
Perovic conceded and the two duelists conducted some friendly small talk while making their side decking choices. As cutthroat as this match could have been, there was really nothing but respect and friendship between these two duelists.
Lazaro Bellido captures the first duel! He was perhaps just one game away from completing his years-long journey, and capturing the richest prize ever offered at a Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG tournament.
“I’ll go first,” announced Perovic. He opened with Reasoning, Monster Gate, Divine Sword, Card Destruction, Brain Control, and Diamond Dude. I don’t think you could ask for more options, and knowing Perovic he was going to slow-roll it to get one more.
“Go.” Sure enough! Perovic was laying it all on the line, betting that Lazaro couldn’t take him out in a single turn. This was a classic Perovic move, and must’ve taken a tremendous amount of courage to execute in the finals of the biggest Shonen Jump Championship of all time.
Lazaro activated Reinforcement of the Army, searched out Armageddon Knight and activated Destiny Draw to discard Destiny Hero – Disk Commander. He summoned Armageddon Knight next, sent Dark Magician of Chaos to his graveyard, and brought him back with Premature Burial. That let him take back Destiny Draw, and he activated it to pitch Destiny Hero - Fear Monger for two more cards. Dark Magician of Chaos and Armageddon Knight both attacked: good news for Perovic who was dropped to just 3800 life points — still enough to activate Dimension Fusion. Lazaro passed with nothing set and it was Kris’ turn to try and put together a KO-turn.
He drew Jinzo. He set Brain Control, activated Card Destruction, and discarded. Lazaro lost D.D. Crow, two Dark Armed Dragon, Jinzo, and Snipe Hunter. If Kris had put a card in his graveyard, if he had played anything at all on turn 1, he’d have lost on account of the Crow and the Dragons.
Perovic drew into Plasma, Divine Sword, Monster Gate, Royal Decree, and Lightning Vortex. He activated Brain Control to take Dark Magician of Chaos, tributed him for Monster Gate and flipped Reinforcement of the Army, Magical Stone Excavation, Allure of Darkness, Heavy Storm, Destiny Draw, Reasoning, Monster Gate, and Scapegoat on his way to Destiny Hero – Dasher. He summoned the Dasher, pressed him over Armageddon Knight and set Royal Decree. This was Lazaro’s chance.
He brought back Dark Magician of Chaos with Dimension Fusion and returned Premature Burial to his hand. He used it to special summon Snipe Hunter, and discarded a card to destroy Perovic’s set spell or trap — Royal Decree. Lazaro summoned Elemental Hero Stratos and with that summon, had enough damage on the field to attack Destiny Hero – Dasher and finish the match. Perovic knew it instantly, and immediately gave Lazaro the handshake!
Ladies and gentlemen, Lazaro Bellido is now the owner of a complete collection of Shonen Jump Championship prize cards. On top of that, he’s finally become a Shonen Jump Champion!