Haters gonna hate. That's the thought that immediately comes to mind these days, when I think about Steelswarm Roach. Reaching the 80 to 90 dollar mark shortly after its release, the Rank 4 Xyz that I've referred to as “Thunder King on steroids” went from being a darling of the Dueling community to a figure of controversy and disagreement as time wore on. At one point, it dipped to about half of its all-time high in the secondary market, as hundreds of online voices sought to belittle its reputation. Objections ranged from, “It can't stop Xyz monsters,” and, “Thunder King stops deck from searching and it doesn't take two monsters,” all the way to, “1900 ATK isn't a lot of attack,” and, “Utopia's stronger.” All of which are perfectly valid points. But what few were saying in response? Those points are largely irrelevant when it comes time to judge whether Steelswarm Roach is a viable, important card or not.
Sometimes it's my job to take an unpopular stance, in order to help readers see things clearly and compete to the best of their ability. I took heat years ago for saying that Dark Grepher was an awesome card, right before it became a defining part of the dominant Dark Armed Dragon Return deck. I took heat a month or two ago for promoting Maxx “C”, just a few weeks before Billy Brake played two in his Main Deck to win YCS Toronto (where half the Top 8 played it). So with dozens of cases like those in mind, I'll brave some flames today to discuss why Steelswarm Roach is a top pick for any deck that can play it.
...Don't worry about me! In preparation for writing this, I've been eating asbestos by the handful for weeks! If my science is correct, I should be juuuust Fine...
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Let's Talk About Toronto … Because a lot of other people are, in the context of Steelswarm Roach. And why not: what better place to find evidence of the viability – or lack thereof – of a new card, than in the first competitive tournament in which it was legal. That's totally logical, but the problem is that the conclusions some are drawing aren't really taking everything into perspective. It's not enough to just count the Roaches and make a decision. You have to break things down a bit, so let's do that.
Ten members of the Top 32 played Steelswarm Roach, including Top 8 finisher Tristan Gonzalez, and the eventual Championship winner, Billy Brake. That number might not seem impressive – it's less than a third of the Top 32 – but you have to place it in the proper context. Eleven of the Top 32 finishers couldn't run Steelswarm Roach, because they were running some version of Agents, where the Roach is almost impossible to Summon. The same goes for Logan Djuricin's Monarch deck, which didn't run any Level 4's whatsoever. Suddenly we aren't talking about ten Duelists out of thirty-two making the choice to play Roach. We're talking about ten Duelists out of twenty, which is a really different picture.
If Agents and Monarchs didn't play Roach, what did? Good Question. A lot of the Plant Synchro decks played it. The Karakuri decks played it. The anti-meta beatdown deck played it. Robert Boyajian's Tech Genus deck played it, and though Tyler Nolan's T.G. build didn't, I largely feel like it should have (more on the reason behind that in a bit). It was a no-brainer in Dave Trepanier's Nordic deck, which can make it with Reborn Tengu and free copies of Guldfaxe. Even Simon Phoenix played Roach in X-Sabers: I'm not even sure that's the right call, since it's pretty tough to Xyz Summon there. But clearly he found it worthwhile, and I'm happy to default to the authority of a repeated Top 32 competitor. He is, after all, the bad guy from Demolition Man.
Caption: This is Simon Phoenix. Would YOU tell him not to play Steelswarm Roach?
Personally, I can sort of see where people were coming from, doubting the Roach on the way into Toronto. I mean, there's always baseless negativity from the people who can't afford a new expensive card, and thus decide to rail against it on message boards. That's Yu-Gi-Oh! some times. But there was room for that level of speculation before Toronto, because the metagame was relatively up in the air. There were no Top 32 decks to point to because it was a new format, and thus no way of saying, “Here's the metagame we're talking about.” If you want to argue a suspect opinion in a vacuum of information, hey – go for it. I don't have the tools needed to stop you.
But now I do. Take a look at the Top 4 from YCS Toronto, and it's really easy to pencil out the top three decks of the current format: Plant Synchro which won, Tour Guide Agents which took 2nd and 3rd, and Tech Genus which took fourth place. Steelswarm Roach isn't super-useful against the Tech Genus deck: it can function perfectly well without Special Summoning, and it also packs Skill Drain. The other two decks are a different story. Plant Synchro focuses entirely on achieving victory through its Synchro Monsters: without them, the deck usually doesn't win. And Tour Guide Agents relies on Master Hyperion; Archlord Kristya; Chaos Sorcerer; and Black Luster Soldier, all of which the Roach can shut down. Without those monsters, the decks just don't function, with Tour Guide remaining as their only real offensive thrust. Sure, the Agent deck could power through Roach with a Gachi-boosted Venus or their one-off Jupiter, but those outs are pretty manageable.
Two of the top three decks right now can't win when this thing is on the table. For me, that's a pretty clear-cut verdict: Steelswarm Roach is definitely worth playing. There's just one catch...
You Have To Protect It It's totally true: 1900 ATK can be vulnerable. It's not weak per se, but it isn't Overwhelmingly strong, either. When you play Steelswarm Roach to lock your opponent down, you generally want to do it in one of two situations. First, when you know by process of elimination (and knowledge gleaned from play observation and cards like Trap Dustshoot) that your opponent is factually incapable of getting over Roach – barring an unlikely topdeck. Second, you can play it when you have the proper back row to defend it from foreseeable threats.
The latter is rarely a perfect science. I mean, if your opponent's already used all their Mystical Space Typhoon's and their Heavy, and you have Dimensional Prison, then go for it. But that situation's rare. Having multiple back row sets to ward off attackers is good. Having a Stardust Dragon to protect those cards is also good. But usually, the decision to Summon Roach will have some element of risk assessment involved. You'll combine your knowledge of your opponent's possible outs, with your potential to successfully protect the Roach against an array of threats, and that'll determine whether or not you Xyz Summon this card.
It's a calculated risk, but it can be mitigated by playing Roach in decks that pack enough defensive cards to protect it. Straight-up, I like Roach a lot more in a deck packing double Dimensional Prison, Bottomless Trap Hole, and Solemn Warning, than a deck that only has a pair of Warnings. By the same token, I like Roach far more in Billy Brake's Plant Synchro build (which plays two Enemy Controllers) than I do in some of the other Plant builds in the Top 32 of Toronto. Brake's defense-heavy Plant variant was living proof of the motto, “Aggression wins games, but defense wins Championships.” That's not always true in Yu-Gi-Oh, but it certainly was in Toronto, where Brake's Enemy Controllers and Scapegoat served double-duty as both flexible defense and aggressive enablers.
It's a blade that cuts both ways. On one hand, defensive cards help you run Steelswarm Roach efficiently: that's why that despite Skill Drain, I'd probably run it myself in Tyler Nolan's Tech Genus deck. At the same time, you can view Roach itself as one of the benefits to playing a strong defensive lineup. The two go hand-in-hand, and Roach can be so good that I think of it as part of the argument in favor for playing a robust trap line. Heck, I'd buy it as the basis of an argument for several decks that didn't make the Top 32 in Toronto, like Gadgets and Gladiator Beasts.
The general Dueling population still doesn't quite appreciate Steelswarm Roach for what it truly is: a game-stopping play against some of the most important decks in this format. It's languishing around the 50 or 60 dollar mark right now: that's up from where it was, but still nowhere near it's all-time high. Rescue Rabbit is just around the corner, and it's going to make Steelswarm Roach even better than it is at present. If you don't have yours yet, my advice would be to bite the bullet and do what you have to do to get one sooner, rather than later. I sincerely doubt that it's going to get any cheaper any time soon, and despite its potential to get even stronger in the future, it's already incredibly good today. If you gave up on it before, give it another shot; and if you never tried it, now's the time.
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