This is the third installment of "Getting There." I truly believe in the strength of this project and hope it will lead to SJC and Regional success for you TCGPlayers out there. We will be focusing on Gladiator Beasts this week, another venerable archetype that has consistently dominated the top tiers of tournament competition since release.
Oft misunderstood, the Gladiator Beast build has always been built in a certain mechanical fashion. With changing card pools and metagames, it would be wise to adapt your tactics.
Introduction to Gladiator Beasts
In my opinion, Gladiator Beasts are another experiment akin to Gadgets. Gadgets are basically small attack monsters that instantly replace themselves, "floating" upon summon. The designers of Gadgets were curious what would happen if the traditional "Big ATK, Big Results" method was flipped in favor of a card advantage-based theme. Long story short, Gadgets have been a top deck since their introduction in the OCG.
Gladiator Beasts are a class of monsters that create card advantage through the battle phase. If a successful attack resolves, Gladiator Beasts are likely to benefit in some manner. Due to the release of a certain unnecessary Gladiator Beast in particular (Equeste), this has effectively enabled Gladiator Beasts to perpetually replace card advantage in battle.
It must be said that Gladiator Beasts should have never received certain cards. The progression of Gladiator development goes as follows:
The Gladiator's Assault set released most of the cards that most Gladiator Beast players know and love. Strictly using this card pool, Yu-Gi-Oh! superstar Paul Levitin won a premier event (Shonen Jump Minneapolis) in a Dark Armed Dragon dominated format.
But by then it was too late. The next sets had already been released and Light of Destruction introduced a new "boss monster" for the archetype. Gladiatior Beast Gyzarus is a Dark Armed Dragon-like card that can target any class of Yu-Gi-Oh! card (facedown monster, faceup monster, spell, or trap).
Finally, The Duelist Genesis introduced Gladiator Beast Equeste and Gladiator Beast War Chariot. Later sets introduced Gladiator Beast Samnite and Gladiator Beast Retiari. As you can see, Gladiator Beasts did not receive all of their support cards at once. They have evolved with new additions.
Strengths of Gladiator Beasts
Like all other decks capable of winning a premier event, Gladiator Beasts have a certain play that threatens to effectively win the game, period. This play is Gladiator Beast Secutor into a Gladiator Beast Heraklinos lock. Heraklinos can negate any spell or trap in your arsenal; backed up by a Gladiator Beast War Chariot, the Heraklinos controller has effectively won the game.
Unfortunately for those who consistently lose to Gladiator Beasts, the Heraklinos soft lock can be created through a simple two card combo. Any Gladiator Beast + Test Tiger can fetch Secutor. Secutor can then bring two Gladiator Beasts to the field, including Equeste. The net result may look something like this:
Gladiator Beast + Test Tiger= Gladiator Beast Heraklinos and a card of advantage (through Murmillo, Retiari, or Equeste).
While this Secutor play constantly looms over the duel and threatens players who do not develop their field, it is not necessarily the bread and butter of the Gladiator Beast strategy. Gladiator Beast players actually love to create an open game state where both players leave open fields. They do this by using multiples of nearly every important defensive card in the game, from Book of Moon to Enemy Controller to Dimensional Prison to Bottomless Trap Hole.
The bottom line is that Gladiator Beasts are extremely adept at forcing the opponent to do something. Many other decks do not have this advantage. If you leave them alone for too long, Gladiator Beasts will create Heraklinos or generate immense advantage through Equeste.
Addressing the Pace of the Gladiator Beast Deck
The premise is that clear fields lead to clear attacks. Clear attacks lead to destruction. And destruction leads to the dark side of the Force. Since every Gladiator Beast threatens to be a floater at any time (due to the ridiculous Equeste), the Gladiator Beast monsters themselves are expendable. And if you put your opponent in a position where he or she has no cards to stop you, these Equeste plays can create a sustained +2 or so in a few turns.
However, do not make the mistake of thinking Gladiator Beasts are one-dimensional open game monsters. The introduction of Gyzarus has actually created a series of game-breaking options for Gladiator Beasts that benefit from a closed game state. These interactions are numerous:
- Gladiator Beast Darius is capable of retrieving a graved Bestiari at any time, creating a Gyzarus. This means a successful attack will destroy two cards of your opponent's.
- Rescue Cat is capable of creating the Secutor play at any time along with a host of other dangerous plays such as double X-Saber Airbellum or the aforementioned Darius into Gyzarus play.
- Summoner Monk, in conjunction with Rescue Cat, can create an Arcanite Magician on demand along with a direct Gladiator or Airbellum attack.
Each of these plays can create whopping +2 or even +3 exchanges in your favor (for comparison, a Pot of Greed is a +1). In addition, the plays will actually often flat out win the game. For example, Gyzarus could destroy two cards. Once it attacks, it could retrieve an Equeste (which fetches a War Chariot) and a Darius (that fetches a Laquari in the graveyard). These three monsters would then fetch Heraklinos, leading to the Heraklinos + War Chariot lock. All of this would merely require a two card combo.
Speaking of Gladiator Beast War Chariot, the card enables Gladiator Beasts to thrive upon smaller monsters. If your monster cannot sustain field presence by itself (i.e a Mystic Tomato), you can expect to see a flurry of unproductive -1 exchanges through the chariot. Unfortunately, the Gladiator Beast player can then tag out for Equeste, retrieving Chariot for yet another soft lock.
As a disclaimer, I personally feel many of the recent support cards that Gladiator Beasts have received were entirely unnecessary. I think the deck itself is clearly capable of placing well at events without the imbalanced introductions of Gladiator Beast Equeste and Gladiator Beast War Chariot. From personal experience at local tournaments, Gladiator Beasts are the most frustrating deck for beginners and intermediates to play against. New players simply do not enjoy having every single effect monster negated perpetually.
Formulating a Strategy for Gladiator Beasts
First, I want you to assess the type of player you are. Do you prefer open or closed game-states? The savvy Gladiator Beast player can manipulate the game state to their liking unless facing other pressure-based decks such as mirror matches or X-Saber Airbellum based decks.
The reason is that other decks do not have the capability to force you to do something. Nobody is forcing you to use a normal summon at all when you're controlling Gladiator Beasts! All of the defensive cards and monster removal in your arsenal should ensure clear hits eventually, so feel free to take your sweet time if you desire.
Cards such as Ryko, Lightsworn Hunter and Dust Tornado are great for ensuring an open game state. These cards should clear the board easily for your Gladiator Beasts to get direct attacks in.
On the other hand, cards like Gladiator Beast Hoplomus and Starlight Road, along with your playstyle (setting 4 to the backrow), are great for ensuring closed game states. Most opponents are not comfortable with summoning and attacking into a field of three spell/traps and a set monster. It will likely ensure passivity.
Choose your Gladiator Beast Poison
You must also make the decision of whether or not to take advantage of the closed state. Gladiator Beasts are generally very limited to a template of commonly used monster cards. It's very difficult to fit the Rescue Cat engine, the X-Saber Airbellum/Summoner Monk engine, and the Elemental Hero Prisma engine into the same deck. You will likely have to pick and choose between the different options.
Some tips for this:
- Rescue Cat is versatile and works in both states. The drawback is that it requires a few extra vanilla 1600 ATK monsters in your deck (perhaps a Samnite and an Airbellum slot). The strengths generally outweigh the drawbacks handily.
- Summoner Monk is not recommended unless you are focused on achieving closed games with your Gladiator Beast build. Gladiator Beasts often run around 10 spells, making Monk difficult to play at times. While its effect is incredible in breaking up fields, you will often achieve similar results through the more versatile Prisma + Test Tiger play.
- Elemental Hero Prisma can be included with or without Elemental Hero Stratos. I generally do not recommend using Stratos. In a Flamvell Firedog/Gravekeeper's Spy infested environment, 1800 ATK simply does not buy what it used to. Throw in the fact that you can't use War Chariot with these monsters and Stratos becomes even worse.
Prisma by itself is quite incredible. Do not forget that Prisma can reveal and dump a Gladiator Beast Laquari. This has important ramifications to be discussed below.
How to Counter Gladiator Beasts
Before talking about counters, keep in mind that some Gladiator Beast hands and setups will lead your loss almost regardless of what you do. Gladiator Beasts are a deck that are highly dependent on going first and setting up their backrow and gaining tempo. You simply have to win the games where you get to go first!
Most of the Gladiator Beast plays are telegraphed. Therefore, it's generally not a good idea to make plays with your deck that are vulnerable to War Chariot or Book of Moon. In the early game in particular, Gladiator players do not necessarily have monsters in the graveyard. Any attack they make will only lead to a 2100 attack vanilla monster (like Laquari). So you are not under immense pressure in the advantage game.
The likely first tags for the Gladiator Beast player will be Bestiari and Retiari. Most players are smart enough not to tag into Bestiari versus your backrow since they don't want Bottomless Trap Hole to resolve. But you generally do not want to play monsters and only play defensive traps or chainables in the early going (do not set bluffs, for instance).
Your goal is to set up spell and trap removal to put one (or multiple) big attack monsters on the field at the same time. Gladiator Beasts as a whole are very vulnerable to big monsters. They cannot consistently handle threats such as Cyber Dragon and Flamvell Firedog without spell/trap support.
If your deck cannot handle the matchup, I would suggest including cards to the main that help. Traps that remove monsters from play are amazing because they prevent future Equeste plays for advantage. Remember, any time you use a piece of removal on a Gladiator Beast such as Mirror Force or Torrential Tribute, you are effectively -1ing yourself. You are on a clock to lower their life points to zero before an Equeste simply retrieves that destroyed monster to the hand.
Other cards such as Book of Moon and Royal Oppression are great for the matchup as well. Gladiator Beast players love summoning, declaring attacks, and then using Book of Moon past the window where you can activate cards like Mirror Force and Dimensional Prison. Your own Book of Moons will stop this trick while also blocking War Chariot.
Access the Side-Deck for Success
Quite frankly, some decks have a terrible matchup in game one with very little recourse for better results. If your deck is using combinations of weaker reactive monsters (such as Cyber Valley and Battle Fader), lower attack monsters that can't push over the field (such as Ryko and Gravekeeper's Spy), or combo-based strategies (such as Quickdraw Synchron), it's very difficult to beat a Gladiator Beast player that goes first and draws a good hand.
Go to the side-deck and devote multiple slots to Gladiator counters. Mirror of Oaths and Swallow Flip are great options. Mirror is better for closed games (where you need more cards to complete combos). Swallow Flip is better if you have key cards to protect or want to open the game. Royal Oppression and Skill Drain are obviously fantastic.
As for monsters, great counters include Cyber Dragon, Phantom Dragon, Doomcaliber Knight, and other monsters that are larger than 1800. You need to control the field to achieve any sort of success.
Again, as with Blackwings, I would suggest building a Gladiator Beast deck and playing with it. It will help you see the win conditions and game situations that make it difficult to achieve those win conditions.
Good luck in your endeavors either using or facing off against Gladiator Beasts.