Building To Beat Plants - SilverBullets

Jason Grabher-Meyer

11/9/2011 9:45:00 AM

Last week we established a premise that, based on feedback, I think a lot of people came to agree with - for serious competition in this format, you have to either play Plant Synchro, or play a deck that's packing specific tech for that matchup. We talked about the top decks in recent YCS tournaments, and identified which cards let them throw down against the most feared deck of recent Championships. To recap, that was Naturia Beast in Karakuris; Archlord Kristya in Agents; and Skill Drain in Tech Genus. We discussed how Dark World didn't have that kind of main decked edge at YCS Columbus, and how that factor - combined with huge side deck hate - resulted in Dark World not making it to the Top 32. We also noted that Dark Smog from Photon Shockwave brings that anti-meta element to the strategy, giving Dark World a clear path to high-level competitive status.

I think the basic premise is worth recognizing, and pays off in a lot of different ways. If you know how a deck wins, you get a better understanding both of how to play it, and how to play against it. That makes in-game decisions easier, while also helping you innovate established strategies when it comes time to revamp current builds. When you really understand what's happening on a format-wide basis, you can also construct far more effective side decks. But one of the biggest advantages has nothing to do with the decks we talked about last week - the strategies already acknowledged as potential winners. By far, my favorite use for a premise like this one, is in the improvement of underdog strategies, or the creation of entirely new ones. If we can accept that any deck with consistent performance and specific advantages over Plant Synchro can be viable, then suddenly the format opens up and we can start looking beyond the top five decks.

There are actually lots of little tech cards that can singlehandedly dismantle the Plant Synchro strategy, but for today I want to focus on just three. They've been selected for discussion here because they're flexible, and can fit into a variety of decks. Once we discuss those three cards, I want to talk about five of my favorite decks that can run them: it'll be a mix of innovated strategies and legitimate underdogs, so there should be something for everybody. Let's get started!

The Spell Stomper:
At the beginning of this format, it was pretty easy for an experienced player to see that Summoning Stardust Dragon and then protecting it was going to be a winning strategy for a number of different decks. What wasn't so readily apparent, was that the metagames that crystallized in most TCG territories would make the same premise true for Naturia Beast. Though they remained an important part of strategies like Tech Genus, trap cards spiraled downward in overall popularity in the first two months of this format, with many successful decks running as few as one trap, or none at all. This had two big effects. First, most Duelists wound up using those extra card slots to play more spells. In addition, the lack of trap cards meant less interference with certain monsters, due to a lack of trap-based removal. Wholly separate from that trend, and partly responsible for it, was the fact that big strategies like Plant Synchro and Dark World are largely reliant on spells to mobilize in the early game. Spells cards are seeing more play; they're more important; and fewer Duelists are relying on trap cards for defense.

These three factors have created a perfect storm scenario, in which Naturia Beast is hugely effective. Protecting your back row from Mystical Space Typhoon and Heavy Storm, and shielding your monsters from Dark Hole, the comparison to Stardust Dragon is apt across most matchups. But against Plant Synchro in particular, Naturia Beast alienates the opponent from cards that advance their central strategy, like One for One and Foolish Burial; cards they rely on for defense, such as Scapegoat and Book of Moon; and cards they play for disruption, like Enemy Controller and Mind Control. None of these cards are icons of the Plant Synchro strategy - when you think “Plant Synchro,” you tend to think about the monster cards as the focal point, not the support pieces. But without the support cards online, the deck is plagued with dead draws (YCS topping builds play, on average, thirteen spells), and it simply doesn't have the maneuverability and wide range of choices that make it so effective. If you can drop Naturia Beast on your opening turn, or very early in the Duel, you can beat Plant Synchro. It's not a guarantee, but you stand a pretty good chance. Any deck with enough EARTH monsters to run this thing, can find big advantages by optimizing to drop it early and reliably.

The Graveyard Ganker:
With four of the five top decks right now being so dependent on their Graveyards, plenty of Duelists looked to Macro Cosmos / Dimensional Fissure strategies for success after YCS Toronto. They didn't find any, largely because they encountered the same pair of problems that such decks always face. First, inconsistency: the deck can draw no copies of Cosmos / Fissure, or multiple copies, both of which are usually losing scenarios. Second, a vulnerability to Mystical Space Typhoon and Heavy Storm, in a format where both cards are played to the hilt. I try to never say never, and I always try to avoid dealing in absolutes, but Macro Cosmos strategies have always had to fight the same challenges, and they rarely overcome them.

Don't get me wrong - that's not to say harrying the opponent's graveyard is ineffective. Dimensional Fissure on its own can be extremely useful as a complement to a number of competitive, well-acknowledged strategies. The problems of the Macro Cosmos Duelist are actually pretty easy to avoid: if you don't play 5-6 cards that effectively do the same thing, you won't draw multiple copies so often that it costs you tournaments. And if you aren't solely dependent on banishing effects, and aren't relying on cards like D.D. Survivor that are all chumpy in their absence, your deck still can still function when things don't totally come together. By playing triple Dimensional Fissure in the right strategy, you allow yourself a big advantage when you draw it, and suffer little negative impact when you don't. The kicker is that there are a number of decks that have historically played this card to successful results, and yet, they're not even appearing at tournaments this format. Kind of mind-boggling, but we'll set that straight by the end of this discussion.

Quick sidenote? Dimensional Fissure stops cards that need to be sent to the graveyard in order to be played. That means it doesn't just stomp out Glow-Up Bulb; Dandylion; Spore; and other central cards in Plant Synchro. It also fends off Maxx “C” and Effect Veiler. We'll touch on the ramifications of that a bit later.

The Summon Stopper
I'm pretty convinced that the price tag was what was keeping people from running Fossil Dyna Pachycephalo for the past many months. Folks who were able to toss away 120-150 bucks for a playset of this card at its secondary market peak were simply more likely to invest their money in cards and strategies that were competitively proven. And people who weren't willing to drop that kind of dough simply didn't have access to the card to experiment with it. It was a catch-22 that resulted in nobody running Fossil Dyna. Now, with the classic Rock-type reprinted in the latest Collector's Tins, everybody has access. And that's great, because not only is it a really strong card right now, but it's going to get even stronger with upcoming metagame Shifts.

Fossil Dyna Pachycephalo's cool because it can be played in two very different ways. First, you can Summon it face-up for its continuous effect, which stops both players from Special Summoning. Protect it, and your opponent can't Synchro Summon, Xyz Summon, or drop big guys like Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning or Master Hyperion. It's a crushing card against Dark World, Agents, and especially our number one target, Plant Synchro. In addition, it can be Set and then flipped (either by Flip Summon or via battle) to destroy all Special Summoned monsters on the table. There are several ways a Plant Synchro Duelist can play around Fossil Dyna: Enemy Controller can steal it, so it can be Tributed; Book of Moon can turn it face-down; or Thunder King Rai-Oh can run it over. Dark Hole and general monster removal get the job done as well, obviously. But a solid defensive lineup combined with double Call Of The Haunted can make it surprisingly vicious, and when it's joined by disruptive attackers like Thunder King Rai-Oh it's an absolute terror to deal with. Overall, this is likely the narrowest of the three cards we're discussing, but its sheer ease of use earns it a place on this list over similar - but more complicated - contemporaries like Dark Highlander and Vanity's Fiend.

Alright, so we've identified three high-impact cards that can be played in a variety of decks to silver bullet Plant Synchro. Let's talk about where they can go.

Okay, okay! Maybe starting this list with a deck that's already part of what I would consider to be the Top 5 of the format is cheating. Anthony Alvarado and Dale Bellido topped with Karakuris at YCS Toronto, and Jeff Jones topped with it at YCS Columbus. Cute side story? The morning of Columbus I posted on the TCGPlayer facebook asking people what deck they thought would win - Jeff was one of the few who voted for Karakuri, since he was playing it. The most recent build, piloted by Jones, is extremely well-constructed, and it continued to help the archetype grow in popularity. The number of options it presents on a turn-by-turn basis is trumped only by Plant Synchro, but in return, you get a deck that has more devastating openings and a bunch of monsters the average opponent STILL doesn't know how to play against.

Number of nickels I would have if I got a nickel every time an opponent ran into one of my Karakuris, not realizing it was going to defense position? EIGHTY BILLION NICKELS.

However, if you really want to go hard and play for that Naturia Beast opening, optimizing the build for Plant Synchro and Dark World, you can tweak the established deck to do just that. For the uninitiated, the big play is to Summon Karakuri Komachi mdl 224 “Ninishi” first turn, then use her effect to Normal Summon Karakuri Merchant mdl 177 "Inashichi". Inashichi is a Stratos for Karakuris, getting you a Karakuri card (even a spell or trap) straight from your Deck when it's Normal Summoned. So you drop Ninishi and Inashichi; get a free search; and then go straight into Naturia Beast as a 1-for-1. Since this is a two-card combo requiring cards you run in threes, the odds of doing this on turn 1 are about 14%. But if you could double the number of Inashichis you run, you could get that number up to a spine-crushing 24% - one Naturia Beast opening in every four games.

 Naturia Beast
Naturia Beast35709
Set Hidden Arsenal 2
Number HA02-EN026
Level 5
Type Synchro/Effect Monster
Monster Beast
Attribute EARTH 
A / D 2200 / 1700
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

1 EARTH Tuner + 1 or more non-Tuner EARTH monsters // While this card is face-up on the field, you can send the top 2 cards of your Deck to the Graveyard to negate the activation of a Spell Card and destroy it.

Store Condition Qty Avail Price  
First Strike Games Near Mint Unlimited 1 $4.08
Game On BD Near Mint 1st Edition 1 $4.20
OblivionGamesTampa Lightly Played 1st Edition 1 $4.20
Game On BD Near Mint 1st Edition 1 $4.20
Arizona Trading Lightly Played 1st Edition 1 $4.21
MTG CardsandGames Near Mint 1st Edition 1 $4.22
The card stand Near Mint 1st Edition 1 $4.22
Popeyes Near Mint 1st Edition 1 $4.22
Gamers N Geeks Lightly Played Unlimited 1 $4.34
NeutronBlastGaming Near Mint 1st Edition 1 $4.38

And Karakuris can do it, thanks to Karakuri Cash Cache. Summon Ninishi, and if you don't have Inashichi in-hand you can go and get it with Cash Cache. There's your 24% Naturia Beast opener. Up against a different matchup? You could also use Cashe Cache to search out a Level 3 or Level 4 to make Naturia Barkion or Naturia Landoise, or use the same play for Catastor. We'll talk more about this deck in a followup article later this week, including a full deck list. We'll also discuss why Karakuris have an edge against Rabbit Laggia, too.

Gladiator Beasts:
When it comes to strategies teching Dimensional Fissure, this one's the grand-pappy of them all! Gladiator Beasts have been running Dimensional Fissure for years, either maining or siding it to get big advantages over everything from TeleDAD to Twilight. Lately though, Gladiator Beasts have fallen out of favor, and the builds we have been seeing seek to take advantage of the speed and consistency granted by A Hero Lives. Since that strategy requires the use of its graveyard for Elemental Hero Prisma and Gladiator Beast Bestiari combos, Dimensional Fissure was swept right off the map.

Which is unfortunate, because this deck is extremely well-equipped to run it. Gladiators are prepared to counter all the traditional threats that can get Fissure off the table: they already play Starlight Road to protect their heavy back row, so they're ready to counter Heavy Storm. Simple removal like Mystical Space Typhoon can blow Fissure away, but every Typhoon that targets Dimensional Fissure is one less Typhoon to stop Gladiator Beast War Chariot, and one less preempted removal card. Each Typhoon also serves as a simplifying force, which plays into the Gladiator Beast strategy's ability to thrive on a string of 1-for-1's. Gladiator Beast Heraklinos can also provide additional protection. At the same time, the benefits of Dimensional Fissure don't just stop at specific matchup advantages. Since Fissure prevents the opponent from activating Effect Veiler's ability, it ensures that one of the biggest stopping blocks to your strategy is dead in the water.

Heavy monster removal coupled with the negation power of Gladiator Beast War Chariot could give Gladiator Beasts a favorable matchup with Rabbit Laggia. With Dimensional Fissure giving them a silver bullet against Plant Synchro, we could see impressive showings from this classic deck in the near future.

Six Samurai:
The Six Samurai haven't been talked about much over the past several months. The deck can definitely win games, but it's largely viewed as a synergy-dependent lucksack strategy that lacks consistency and can easily find itself with poor hands (or shattered infrastructure in the wake of one big move from the opponent). It can definitely be that, don't get me wrong. But I also think that in light of the silver bullet concept, it can be far more as well.

Samurai decks occupy an interesting place on this list, because they can make consistent Naturia Beast plays, and run Dimensional Fissure. You might remember a handful of notable showings from Fissure Samurai Duelists in YCS competition over the past year, such as Alexander Thomas' Top 32 finish at YCS Anaheim. In that tournament, Dimensional Fissure gave Thomas an advantage against Plant Synchro, X-Sabers, and Gravekeepers. Frankly, the advantages Thomas got in those matchups were nothing compared to those granted by Dimensional Fissure today, and it was still enough to take him to the Top 32. It's interesting to note that Thomas was able to run Dimensional Fissure in tandem with his own Graveyard-dependent cards, including two Double-Edged Sword Technique and even the under-appreciated Legendary Six Samurai - Enishi. His ability to make consistent Synchro Summons on turn 1, before playing Dimensional Fissure, let Thomas establish the Graveyard presence he'd need to make all his cards live.

The sickest part? Thomas did it without Asceticism of the Six Samurai, arguably the fastest and most consistent card for ensuring turn 1 Synchros in Samurais. While Asceticism was available, the card that makes it worth running - Elder of the Six Samurai - wouldn't be released until one month after YCS Anaheim. Thomas's strategy could have been even more devastating if the tournament was held just a few weeks later. Regardless, his efforts were successful, and they serve as proof for the notion that a Dimensional Fissure build of Samurais could be successful in today's field.

The addition of Asceticism of the Six Samurai doesn't just make Samurais better at Summoning Legendary Six Samurai - Shi En. The same Kagemusha of the Six Samurai + Elder of the Six Samurai combo that leads into Shi En, also leads into Naturia Beast, since both Elder and Kagemusha are EARTH monsters. The kicker is that even a conservative Samurai build is even more consistent at dropping Naturia Beast first turn than Karakuris. Assuming you run Elder, Kagemusha, and Asceticism in threes, and make the obvious choice to play Reinforcement of the Army and Shien's Smoke Signal, you have a 28% chance of hitting Naturia Beast first turn, going first. That percentage goes up to 32% if you also play triple Upstart Goblin, and if you're stuck going second, Elder's Special Summon ability gives you more ways of making the combo and gets you up to about a 50% chance. And that's not figuring in factors like Shien's Dojo if you choose to play it, or the possibility of making a first turn Six Samurai United rip that draws you into an Asceticism.

I think if you're looking in the right directions, it's easy to see that there's a deck here. The Samurai strategies of old are over and done with, but for those willing to explore new possibilities, the Six Samurai seem to have a ton of promise.

Rock Stun:
While Rock Stun received a fair bit of hype every time it got a new Koa'ki Meiru Rock-type to add to its ranks, the deck never really panned out as a tournament-winning force. At the time, simpler anti-meta beatdown strategies proved more consistent, and the unique advantages afforded by the Rock variants simply weren't a good fit for the format as it stood. Since most versions were incapable of Special Summoning, victory against Rock Stun was often as simple as setting a first turn Solemn Warning and using it to keep the Rock Stun Duelist from establishing a foothold in the early game. A lack of strong spell and trap removal left the strategy at the whim of fate, hoping that the opponent just wouldn't draw Warning.

Looking at it objectively, things have changed quite a bit. Precise spell and monster effect negation, like that offered by Koa'ki Meiru Wall and Koa'ki Meiru Guardian, are more powerful. The trap-based monster removal that kept Rock Stun from setting up isn't as common now, since more Duelists are favoring spells over traps in vast ratios, while the threat of Heavy Storm makes double or triple backrow sets in the early game a rarer sight. Double Call Of The Haunted helps the deck keep field presence and reverse toolbox, too. The deck certainly has more factors playing into its favor now, than it did in previous formats.

Which all adds up to a favorable strategy in which to include Fossil Dyna Pachycephalo. Like Gladiator Beasts, Rock Stun is dependent on a heavy back row for simplification and field clearing, so it already plays Starlight Road and the defensive cards needed to protect Fossil Dyna. Since it rarely Special Summons, Rock Stun can play triple Pot of Duality to help draw into the Dyna as quickly as possible, and double Call Of The Haunted means that when Fossil Dyna is destroyed, it can be Special Summoned right back to the field. I think that out of the decks we're discussing today, this is the riskiest. But I still think it could prove to be a viable strategy, and since you can build it on a budget, it's a great choice for casual and less affluent Duelists who want to make a go at being more competitive.

Rescue Rabbit / Evolzar Laggia:
...Which is good, because while most of the decks on this list are pretty affordable, this last one isn't! As Frazier Smith stated last week, the Rabbit Laggia threat is very real: this strategy completely lives up to the hype, delivering fast, high-impact wins achieved through an incredibly strong early game. A first-turn Rabbit combo into Laggia, followed by a second Rabbit on the following turn (or a Tour Guide From the Underworld / Leviair the Sea Dragon combo to reuse the first Rabbit), can be devastating. The most terrifying thing about this deck is that it takes very little experience to play: unlike Plant Synchro, which is all about outmaneuvering the opponent with a vast array of options that require a lot of knowledge and careful planning, this deck is just a wrecking ball. It's extremely linear, but the sheer brute force it commands is often enough to win Duels.

With that said, the deck does have some challenges, not the least of which is that it's essentially a two-move strategy. Since Rescue Rabbit can only Special Summon monsters with the same name, you'll only get two Rabbit activations despite your running six Normal Monsters. If you can't get the job done in two Xyz Summons, you're left trying to put together a mid-game with Jurrac Guaiba, Tour Guide, and a couple loose card slots often used for stuff like Thunder King Rai-Oh. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. In addition, while this deck is extremely powerful, basic versions don't have a silver bullet to give a specific advantage against Plant Synchro.

That's where Dimensional Fissure comes in. Since the Rabbit Laggia deck doesn't need Pot of Avarice due to its speed, and can arguably be played even without Monster Reborn, there's no downside to playing Fissure. With Laggia to protect your back row, an early Dimensional Fissure can stick to the field long enough to afford you the brief moments this deck needs to achieve victory. And while this strategy is already largely unaffected by Maxx “C”, Fissure will ensure that your Tour Guide plays aren't stopped by Effect Veiler. After playtesting the deck with Dimensional Fissure and without, I think the Fissure version could prove to be a serious contender in upcoming tournaments.

So there you have it: five decks that can be taken in new directions to beat the most dominant deck of the format. Later this week I'm going to go in-depth with complete, tested builds of two of these strategies, including deck lists you can test yourself. Until then, consider the three cards we addressed, as well as other possibilities that could give your favorite decks an edge. You don't have to play Plant Synchro to be competitive this format - but you do have to be playing to beat it.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer

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