Normally I would avoid writing an overly-segmented article that hops from topic to topic, but I feel like when it comes to the new format, there are a lot of things that aren't garnering enough discussion. With Regional results pouring in from the past weekend a lot of short-lived trends seem to be getting a bit too much attention, while some big points seem to be going ignored. Since that's the situation, I'd like to take today to consolidate what I think are some beneficial thoughts about the current environment all in one place, so you can quickly absorb them and put them to work. First up?
It's dead. The moment it was announced that Lumina, Charge, and Necro Gardna were all hitting the Limited List, with Honest becoming Semi-Limited, it was pretty obvious that Lightsworn were over and done with. There are some who maintain that the deck can survive with an emphasis on triple Kristya and triple Trade-In, but frankly I've been running that deck for three months now, and there's no way I'd attempt it without triple Charge and triple Lumina to manage my graveyard.
Yes, Judgment Dragon is still playable at two. But that doesn't really matter, and there's no greater demonstration of that fact than our most recent SHONEN JUMP Championship – in which we saw two Lightsworn decks go head-to-head in the finals, neither of which ran Judgment Dragon. Lightsworn was actually one of the most successful decks in this past weekend's Regionals, but to me that's just a holdover during the period where new decks are being developed and old ones are being clung to. The deck's two remaining trump cards are Judgment Dragon and Celestia, and neither of those cards will survive Starlight Road (which became legal yesterday).
It was a fun ride, and I'm sure one day we'll all get to dust off our Recharges and our Garoths, but for now, the deck is hamstrung and can't compete with the big strategies.
Zombies As We Know Them Are Gone:
My forecast for Zombies as a whole is actually a bit brighter than that for Lightsworn. Don't get me wrong – Zombies as we know them were obliterated by the Limitation of Mezuki and Burial from a Different Dimension. You won't see undead hordes dropping five or six Synchro monsters in a single turn anymore: that version of the theme is over.
But one could make a strong argument for other Zombie variants – I definitely plan to do so over the coming weeks. Zombie World Skill Drain, with Paladin of the Cursed Dragon has seen play here and there for over a year, but the strategy that I think has the most potential is Zombie Hand Control. Decayed Commander is a unique card that's reminiscent of Don Zaloog, and with cards like Pyramid Turtle, Book of Life, and triple Smashing Ground backing it up, it could do some serious damage in today's slower environment. Add a splash of Mystic Tomato with a couple Dons, and you've got a deck that definitely warrants testing.
Blackwings Are The Deck To Beat:
Hands-down, Blackwings are going to be the number one deck to beat for the next three months. While one could argue that Blackwings are in no way superior to several other decks in contention, they're cheap to build and incredibly easy to play at a level that can win tournaments, so they're going to be the top pick for many Duelists. Anyone who was already running Blackwings is likely to keep running them, while lots of ousted Zombie and Lightsworn players are likely to take up the cause.
And it's certainly not a bad investment. The Shining Darkness brings new cards with high potential to the Blackwing arsenal – namely Blackwing Treasure and Blackwing – Breeze the Gentle Wind. With most “draw 2” spells expunged from the competitive environment, Blackwing Duelists will wield four once Blackwing Treasure is released. Breeze is a fast card that brings back old Whirlwind-into-Gale plays, and makes the Blackwing deck even faster. Nabbing your Blackwing cards now, before The Shining Darkness bumps their secondary market value, isn't a bad idea.
While Blackwings may not quite match the competitive potential of one or two other decks in the hands of a highly skilled competitor, I'm betting that that's not likely to matter. They're powerful, require little practice to play, and they can main deck Royal Oppression. Any deck you make for this format has to be ready for Blackwings.
Gladiator Beasts Are Great, But…
…They require more skill than Blackwings do to reach their competitive peak. Some top-notch Duelists are considering Gladiators to be the no-brainer deck choice until The Shining Darkness releases, but those are well-practiced competitors with an excellent understanding of core theory and highly adaptive playstyles. The reality is that there are a lot of Duelists who will pick up a Gladiator Beast deck, try it out, find that it isn't working the way they'd hoped, then pack it up and go back to Blackwings.
That's not to say Gladiators aren't one of the best, perhaps even the best, of the mainstream archetypes right now. They're definitely up there. But they won't be as common a sight as Blackwings, and for every great Gladiator Beast Duelist, there will probably be half a dozen that won't really hold it together past Game 1 in a match. That Gladiator matchup is an important one, but I'd rank it just beneath Blackwings strictly due to numbers alone.
Wild Card Kitty:
To me, the deck that's toughest to forecast the future of in this format is Synchro Cat. With significant Regional success this past weekend, Synchro Cat remains an enigmatic choice for several reasons. First up is variety: there are a lot of different builds of this deck floating around right now, and we're seeing everything from versions that look like they were built last summer, to promising new lists packing Super-Nimble Mega Hamster and triple Flamvell Firedog / Flamvell Magician. The sheer number of approaches to this strategy makes it tough to tell how successful the deck will be.
In addition, the popularity of Synchro Cat has never been linked to its success in the past, which means that even if relatively few Duelists play it, it could still show up at any Regional or JUMP and win. When Synchro Cat won both the US and Canadian National Championships last year, it made up only a small amount of each tournament's field. Even without Dark Strike Fighter the deck has one big thing going for it: it can Synchro Summon more often than anything else out there.
Of course, without Synchro Summons the deck underperforms, which means its success will be subject to one more complicating factor. Namely, the fact that we could find ourselves in…
…A Royal Oppression Format:
Unless everyone somehow forgets that the end to the last three consecutive formats was “Royal Oppression all over the place”, I think we're bound to see a tremendous amount of this card in the next six months. Blackwings should be running it across the board. Gladiators can choose to run it, Monarchs should probably be playing it too, and even Synchro Cat can main it to lock the game with a big monster. The most-talked-about decks in this format can all play this card, and an overwhelming number of Duelists will likely choose to do so. With that said, one must be ready to either run Royal Oppression yourself, or be prepared to beat it consistently.
A few points to remember? Dust Tornado, Malevolent Catastrophe, and Jinzo are all great answers to this card, and the strength of the latter option could bring Machines back into competition. Beyond that, learn to spot and take advantage of unique opportunities to outplay Oppression. In last week's article I discussed how Totem Dragon and any number of big two-tribute Dragons could turn the tables on an Oppression player. You can obviously do the same thing with Blackwing - Vayu the Emblem of Honor, or Creature Swap. And remember – since you can negate the effect of Starlight Road with Royal Oppression, if you activate Heavy Storm to try and destroy a field of Oppression + face-down Starlight Road, the Road can't stop you. But one of my favorite answers to Royal Oppression is also one of my favorite changes to the Advanced Format…
Smashing Ground To 3 Is Huge:
The lack of hubbub and commotion about Smashing Ground going to three copies per deck boggles my mind. In a format where summoning big monsters is tougher than it has been in over a year, we're allowed to play three copies of one of the best 1-for-1 removal cards of all time. Gladiator Beasts will run this at three, pressing past bigger monsters so they can continue to wreak havoc on the opponent's cards. I personally think Blackwings should run at least two. The ability to wipe the opponent's field of key monsters really hits home this format, breaking up Gladiator Beast War Chariot plays, alienating Blackwing – Kalut, and simplifying Duels at the speed of light. Did your opponent open with a face-up X-Saber and a set Saber Hole? Smashing Ground solves your problem. Consecrated Light keeping your DARK monsters in check? Smashing Ground to the rescue.
And it punishes Oppression! If you're the kind of Duelist who likes to summon one big monster and then flip Oppression to lock up the game, remember that your opponent may be packing up to three simple 1-for-1's that will turn your own trap card against you with a simple beatstick. In all the discussion of answers to Royal Oppression, triple Smashing Ground is one of the best, destroying one of the most common strategic uses for the card while having high utility at any point in a duel.
Chimeratech Fortress Dragon Is Important:
Even in an environment jam-packed with Royal Oppression, double Cyber Dragon remains a game-winning choice that easily slips into most decks. For just two slots in your main deck not only will you get to wield the power to destroy virtually any Level 4 monster in battle, while drawing out Bottomless Trap Hole at tactically strong times; you'll also get access to one of the best pieces of Machine tech ever printed, Chimeratech Overdragon.
Gadgets, Space Ships, and Machine Beatdown backed by Jinzo could all have potential in this format, but they all fall to Chimeratech Overdragon. Gadgets just love to flood the field with bushels of monsters, leveraging the extra card presence from their Gadget effects into on-field pressure: the more 1-for-1 trades you make to try and defend yourself, the faster you lose, simplifying the Duel when the Gadget-playing opponent has significant card advantage.
But Chimeratech Fortress Dragon neutralizes that threat, letting you make an effortless move to level the playing field. As long as you can summon Cyber Dragon without losing it to an effect in response, you can suck up every Machine on the table and Fortress Dragon will gain 1000 ATK for each. In one fell blow you can even things up in card economy to put yourself back in the game in the long term, while also generating a short-term threat that can clinch the Duel then and there. Fortress Dragon isn't just something to consider if you already main two Cyber Dragon – you should actually consider siding Cyber Dragon to use it, because it's that good against Gadgets.
Draw Cards Rule:
Allure of Darkness and Destiny Draw are both at 1, and Solar Recharge might as well be Forbidden. What does that mean? Opportunity! Lesser-played draw cards like Trade-In, Cards of Consonance, Common Charity, and Convert Contact are all more valuable, since draw power on the whole is far more difficult to come by.
Last week I put this theory to work, as I demonstrated the raw speed of a Dragon deck packing Trade-In and Cards of Consonance in triplicate. But that's only the start of the list of decks that get a boost thanks to this change. Neo-Spacian variants with Convert Contact benefit both from the change of pacing, and the addition of a second Dandylion to pair with their Debris Dragons. Fairies can play Trade-In and even Advanced Draw – the list goes on.
Flat out, any deck that can pack three draw cards in this format (that isn't Lightsworn) is worth taking a second look at, because Blackwings, Monarchs, Gladiator Beasts, and Synchro Cat don't have that level of draw power anymore. Gladiator Beast's Respite, is the only card that comes close, but it's almost never been played successfully in threes, and it's too difficult to play in an environment with so much simplification.
There's a tremendous amount of potential for lesser-played decks to see major use in this format. Address the top matchups, prepare for Royal Oppression, and take advantage of trends in speed and draw power, and you can win with original, innovative creations. The lines have been drawn: understand where they lie, and the next several months are going to be full of success for you and your tournament endeavors.