Cesar Gonzalez grabbed a seat with me to sit down and chat a bit between Rounds 1 and 2. He’d just demo’d the Huntik TCG before the tournament started, and was surprisingly pumped about it: “It’s so cool! You can move around a lot, it’s really deep . . . the game is great! I want to play that game now!” Ever on the lookout for a new challenge (and easily bored), it seemed as if Cesar had found a way to keep himself entertained even during the delayed tournament start period.
But with the tournament now in full swing and his first win under his belt, it was time for the two-time Shonen Jump champ to get focused. Today’s turnout was completely unexpected: 620 competitors would press today’s tournament to a whopping ten rounds, and we only had a few minutes to pick the brain of one of dueling’s best!
Cesar Gonzalez (CG): “I had to play Twilight!”
Jason Grabher-Meyer (JDG): “Is that just the worst deck to play against? Since they have that 10% chance of just drawing a broken hand that you can’t possibly beat?”
CG: “Yeah, it’s the worst.” He laughed. “I won my first round, but he OTK’d me second game and there was nothing I could do. I came out with Crush Card Virus on Games 2 and 3 though.”
JDG: “Well, that usually does the trick. We don’t have much time, so let’s cut to the chase: you’ve made Day 2 more times over the past year than any other duelist in the game. What do you think sets you apart from other competitors?”
Cesar Gonzalez (CG): “Well, I am The Princess!” Cesar laughed again and gave a thumbs up. “Honestly, I’m really good with Dark Armed. I know when to activate cards and when not to. I don’t over-extend as easily as other players do: I’m pretty conservative.”
JDG: “On that note, there’s sort of an ongoing discussion about the importance of card advantage right now. Even today amongst top players, there’s talk about card presence not being as important now as it once was. Do you think that’s true?
CG: “To me, it’s definitely about whoever has more cards. It’s everything. You have more options, because you have more outs — both outs to big plays, and solutions to your opponent’s cards. If they’re stuck with just something like a Teleport, they only have one play to make.”
JDG: “Following up on that, you’re one of the most conservative players in competition right now. What do you think is the number one skill a player can benefit the most from in this format?”
CG: Cesar didn’t hesitate with his answer. “Definitely conservative playstyle. My advice is to play conservatively, a lot. That’s how a lot of us get up here: Lazaro [Bellido], Adam [Corn] and me are all really conservative.”
JDG: “Are there any particular cards or situations you feel that applies to?” Okay, I knew the answer — but I wanted Cesar to be the one to say it.
CG: Cesar exploded and almost yelled his answer, smiling: “Conserve your Solemns! That’s the main thing: if you can save your Solemn Judgments until you absolutely have to use them, you usually win.”
JDG: “We saw that in Adam’s play back in Tulsa, in his Day 2 features.”
CG: Cesar nodded emphatically. “He and I playtested a lot at Baltimore, and we talked about playing conservatively with Solemn. How important that is. That’s what made us do so good.”
JDG: “So where do you normally play?”
CG: “I only really come to Shonens and Regionals, and stuff. I do play at locals sometimes, but I don’t really go there to play in the tournaments. I just show up and playtest with people, like my friend Steffon Bizzle.”
JDG: “Is that his real name?”
CG: Cesar laughed yet again: “Yeah! We make fun of him all the time. But his name really is Bizzle. He’s coming up; he just started playing. He’s got a couple Regional tops but he’s never been to a Shonen. He’s pretty good!”
JDG: “Do you think any other up and coming players this year are showing a lot of promise?”
CG: It took some time for Cesar to find his answer; it was a visible strain. “Let me think . . . People I’ve beaten in Top 16 . . . Let’s see…” A light bulb seemed to turn on in Cesar’s head: “Oh! I really liked George Saveedra. I played him in the Top 8 of Seattle. He’s conservative as well, and he’s good at choosing his spots. When I faced him in Day 2 he played his cards really well, and it was hard for me. Whenever you play conservatively, it becomes harder for your opponent to read your cards.”
JDG: “Could you expand on that?”
CG: “Like, if you have one card set for several turns, and I make plays to try and get you to use that card but you don’t, I start reading it as a bluff. Like Reinforcement of the Army or something. So when I do over-extend and it turns out that that card is a Solemn Judgment after all — that’s really tough. It catches you by surprise.”
JDG: “Yeah, I see that catch players in feature matches, though it’s rare to see duelists play with that tactic in mind these days. 2008 was huge — do you have any goals this year?”
CG: “Yeah! I want to win my fourth Shonen Jump!” Cesar gave a fist pump and then folded his arms across his chest.
JDG: I blinked: “Wait, haven’t you only won two?”
CG: “Exactly! I want to win two more this year! And Top 4 Nationals! If Dark Armed is still the format, I’ve got no doubt I’ll keep topping.” Confidence is clearly not a problem for the two-time Champ. I’d imagine anyone with his track record would feel the same.
JDG: “Alright, so obviously you’re playing TeleDAD. Exact same build as last time?” Cesar nodded and grinned. “So what are you hoping to play against?”
CG: “All TeleDAD! No Lightsworn! No Lightsworn and no anti-meta. No Gadget, no Little City. I’m even playing the same side deck I used in Detroit. It’s built to beat pretty much everything; there’s some tech in there for TeleDAD, Zombies, anti-meta, Lightsworn . . . I side Royal Decree. I side it in for Burn, Little City, Gadgets.
JDG: “Decree seems underrated right now.”
CG: “I think it’s really underrated right now” agreed Cesar, nodding. “My first Shonen Jump, the first time I won, I won because I was the only person siding Decree. Everybody was playing OD Burn, or Chain Strike, and I stopped them all. It’s really good nowadays too.”
JDG: “I can’t believe you’re still playing the same deck. While everyone else is innovating you continue to just play the exact same build you’ve run for several Jumps. What’s up with that?”
CG: “I don’t like Plaguespreader! I always draw it first turn, I never miss. And then when I have it first turn and want to do combos with it, I never have the Reinforcement of the Army or the Dark Grepher to get it into the graveyard! So I just keep playing the same thing.”
JDG: “Gotcha. Were you expecting the turnout this tournament got?” It seemed like few had anticipated 620 people.
CG: “Yeah, I was definitely expecting ten rounds! It’s San Francisco, it’s California, so this doesn’t surprise me.”
With those questions down Round 2 began, and The Princess was off to conquer another victim! Cesar Gonzalez is currently the most consistent competitive player in North America. With his credo of conservative strategy, there’s no reason he can’t make Day 2 yet again here in San Francisco!