Sleeper Picks In Battle Back Sealed - Part 1

Jason Grabher-Meyer

7/19/2012 11:30:00 AM

I had the pleasure of spending a great deal of time covering the Battle Pack Sealed events at the North American WCQ a little while ago, and it was a real eye-opener for me. I've played quite a bit of Battle Pack at this point, but the sheer volume of 8-man pick-up tournaments at the WCQ (as well as the high-competition environment of the Ultimate Challenge event), let me see how Duelists from all over the continent were approaching Battle Pack Sealed and Draft. It was really cool to see players exploring an all-new format, especially one filled with so many cards that we all know, but have never really had any reason to get familiar with before.

I learned alot.

I was really impressed by the Ultimate Challenge in particular. Frankly, it worked out the way I'd hoped it would: I watched a number of Duelists open absolutely broken Sealed pools, but lack of experience held them back, largely keeping them out of the Top 8. Now, when I say, �lack of experience,� I want to be clear: in alot of cases I'm talking about Duelists who've been traveling to events for years. They weren't new to the game of Yu-Gi-Oh. But they were new to this game, and one of the biggest lessons to me and plenty of other Duelists at the WCQ, was that Battle Pack Sealed truly is a different game from regular, constructed Yu-Gi-Oh. As we got deeper and deeper into the Swiss Rounds of the Ultimate Challenge, the Feature Matches kept taking on more and more of a developed tone. Michael Green got alot of coverage over the weekend, and it was kind of amazing to watch him take a frankly sub-par sealed pool all the way to the Top 4. Green was stuck playing stuff like double Needle Ceiling and 1700 ATK beatsticks, and he didn't crack a great set of Xyz Monsters. He compensated for the deficiencies of his pool by playing aggressively; refusing to consolidate into Xyz or Tribute monsters unless he had to; and just straight-up knowing the format more than his opponents. Green got to where he finished on grit, determination, and skill. The guy was nothing short of inspiring.

When John Fox and Pasquale Crociata went head-to-head in the Finals, it was another level even beyond that. They bantered about how good cards like Blue Thunder T-45 were, and they were both critically aware of the unique strengths of the decks they were up against: Crociata knew Fox had a strong Machine line-up backed by multiple monster removal cards, while Fox knew Crociata had deadly Monarch monsters that could build unbreakable momentum if he got rolling. Both had a ton of experience playing Battle Pack Sealed before, and knew the possibilities their opponents could throw at them going into the tournament. There was really no luck involved in their paths to the Finals table: they were both just stood decidedly head and shoulders above 95% of the field in the Ultimate Challenge.

That's really awesome, because the Ultimate Challenge was really the first time for Battle Pack Sealed to be tested and proven in a truly competitive environment. And as strong as the concept looked; as skill-testing as it had been in my experiences; this was finally confirmation that yes, if you throw BP Sealed out into the wild, it does what it's supposed to do. Think what you want about YCS Sheffield, but I guarantee the Top 16 at that tournament is going to be a bunch of guys who put in the work to study the format.

With that said, the weekend demonstrated the strength of alot of awesome cards that were kind of underrated going in. There are some real sleeper hits in this set; cards that are amazing powerhouses on the table, but are easily overlooked (or at least underrated), if you don't have the right amount of play experience. Today and tomorrow, I want to talk about fifteen cards that surprised me, in order to give you a leg up in Battle Pack Sealed competition. Understanding why Raigeki, Mirror Force, and Tour Guide are good isn't exactly difficult. But the ability to look beyond the obvious is what separates the winners from the losers; let's take some time to focus on that.

Blue Thunder T-45:
We'll start our countdown with one of the key cards in John Fox's deck, and a monster that we saw both him and Pasquale Crociata play. The power level of Blue Thunder T-45 is easy to miss, because at first glance it's just a beatstick with 1700 ATK and a decent effect. It's not the most resilient card: it's easily trumped by an 1800 ATK or 1900 ATK attacker, and against a big, consolidated Xyz or Tribute monster, it's effectively a dead draw. It's just not that big.

But one of the things I learned this weekend is that some of the best cards in this format are monsters that lack size, but more than make up for that fault with cool effects and subtle advantages. Blue Thunder's ability to place a 1500 ATK Thunder Option Token on the field is awesome. It's way easier to claim that effect than you might suspect, running over 1600 ATK monsters like Card Guard or Breaker the Magical Warrior, or taking down small effect-driven dudes. That 1500 ATK Token then builds momentum with direct attacks, or swinging on smaller monsters. It even helps you dictate tempo, because it can draw out an attacker from your opponent when they try to equalize the field and keep you in check. That speeds up the pace of play, and often leads to another successful attack over their newly-Summoned attacker.

At the same time, Blue Thunder also commands a range of more subtle assets. As a Level 4, you can Summon it; attack to get a Thunder Option Token; and then stack it for a Rank 4. Since you got a free plus with its Token effect, you wind up making a 1-for-1 Xyz Summon instead of taking a minus. In addition, Blue Thunder T-45 is a Machine-Type monster. And that's really good news for this guy...

Machina Fortress:
After seeing it really put through its paces, I feel like Machina Fortress is one of the best high-level monsters in Battle Pack. It may even rival Obelisk the Tormentor as the number one big hitter in Epic Dawn. Why? Good Question. The answer lies in the fact that there are so many answers.

First up, the Fortress is big, and it's easy to Summon thanks to its Special Summon effect. Clocking in at Level 7, you may not be Tribute Summoning it all that often, but it's definitely possible to do so thanks to cards like Gilasaurus, Soul Exchange, and Fiend's Sanctuary, as well as high-impact cards like Snatch Steal and Change of Heart. But more than that, the ability to discard Fortress alongside any other Machine-Type monster and then Special Summon it to the field, makes it really easy to Summon provided you open a decent number of Machines. Being able to drop a 2500 ATK monster without warning, from a cleared field, is extremely powerful. In addition, that Special Summon can accompany a regular Normal Summon too, so it can mean big damage when your opponent doesn't expect it. That's the kind of speed that's rarely seen in BP Sealed, so it's a big deal.

And it comes back! The real strength of Machina Fortress isn't just that it hits the field easily; it's that with the right cards, and conservative use of your Machine-Types as you draw them, it can keep Returning to the field. In this format, getting a big beatstick onto the table once is relatively easy. But being able to do it multiple times, well, that's usually a great way to win games, because whoever runs out of big attackers first tends to lose. It takes the right mindset and careful prioritization to ensure that you hold back with your Machines enough to make repeated Fortress Summons, but if you can do that, you unlock a whole world of hurt.

Aside from size, speed, and ease of play, Machina Fortress also commands two really excellent effects. Its first ability makes it really tough to take down in battle, because if it gets run over, it's just going to take your opponent's biggest monster with it. That leaves them good and soft for a followup attack next turn. At the same time, monsters like Ryko, Lightsworn Hunter, Zaborg the Thunder Monarch, and Snowman Eater (which would normally serve as solutions to big attackers), suddenly force their controller to discard a card or preemptively try and play out all their cards to avoid the Fortress' hand disruption ability. This thing's just really, really tough to get rid of.

Also? This is one of the few cards that takes on a different context in 30-card Sealed. If you haven't been around the Battle Pack block yet, there are two major flavors of basic Sealed play: the first, approachable version where you build a 40-card main deck, and the more skill-intensive version where you play a 30-card main deck. One of the cool things about Machina Fortress is that if you crack five or six Machines to play with it, you're going to see both the Fortress and the accompanying Machine-Types more frequently in 30-card Sealed than you will in 40-card Sealed. That means that you're going to be able to Summon it � and more importantly re-Summon it � more often in the more skill-intensive format. That's huge. If YCS Sheffield is played with 30-card deck minimums, expect to see Fortress as one of the number one cards defining the weekend.

 Dark Ruler Ha Des
Dark Ruler Ha Des21880
Set Legacy of Darkness
Number LOD-001
Level 6
Type Effect Monster
Monster Fiend
Attribute DARK 
A / D 2450 / 1600
Rarity Ultra Rare
Card Text

As long as this card remains face-up on the field, negate the effects of Effect Monsters destroyed by Fiend-Type monsters on your side of the field in battle. This card cannot be Special Summoned from the Graveyard.

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Dark Ruler Ha Des:
The fact that Machina Fortress shuts down so many of your opponent's moves thanks to its two effects makes it a deadly pick. Dark Ruler Ha Des is actually very similar in that respect: its effect is different and it doesn't have a Special Summon ability, but on a wide-angle level it's got alot in common with the Fortress. When Ha Des is on the field, it restricts your opponent's options and stops them from making a wide array of moves that tend to be really important. Like Fortress, Ha Des wrecks alot of monsters with field-manipulating effects, swinging through cards like Ryko, Lightsworn Hunter, Old Vindictive Magician, and Penguin Soldier, negating their effects. It also shuts down search and draw effects like those of Witch of the Black Forest and Card Trooper, and renders game-shaping Flip Effects like Cyber Jar and Morphing Jar totally powerless. Gravitic Orb, Deep Diver, Treeborn Frog... Ha Des wrecks a surprising number of cards.

Another quality Ha Des shares with Machina Fortress is that it makes an entire monster Type just better, in this case Fiends. While Ha Des is a Fiend-Type himself, and thus wields his own effect with a mighty 2450 ATK, he also lends that effect to guys like Slate Warrior, Gorz the Emissary of Darkness, and Goblin Elite Attack Force. That gives you the ability to take out multiple monsters in one turn that might be difficult to approach otherwise, or the opportunity to send a smaller attacker after an effect monster, and make a direct swing with Ha Des.

Amazoness Sage:
Just as there was a comparison to be made between Machina Fortress and Dark Ruler Ha Des, there's another parallel between Blue Thunder T-45 and Amazoness Sage. Again, the Sage doesn't look like much in terms of raw attack power: at 1400 ATK, it's considerably weaker than even Blue Thunder's 1700 attack points. In fact, you'll sometimes see Blue Thunder Summoned as a counter to the Sage, allowing for the Special Summon of a Thunder Option Token. But the Sage's effect is a real winner, allowing you to destroy a back row card when she makes an attack and manages to survive doing so.

As a direct attacker, the Sage is effectively a renewable Breaker the Magical Warrior. She can swing in, and then pop any card your opponent set as a bluff, or take out a stranded ATK buff like Ego Boost or Prideful Roar. She can also devastate control cards like Magic Drain or Spell Shield Type-8, and force the opponent to activate Mirror Force, Magic Cylinder, or Torrential Tribute. Since her effect works so long as she makes an attack and lives through it, cards that will let her persevere despite losing on her own attack effectively become Mystical Space Typhoons: she makes Hedge Guard into 1-for-1 spell and trap removal. And since she's a Warrior, she benefits from searchability with Freed the Matchless General. The Sage makes all of your ATK pumps into potential spell and trap destruction, and that leads us to the last card we'll discuss today.

Darkworld Shackles:
There are lots of great cards that let your monsters swing over your opponents'. Stuff like Ego Boost, Forbidden Lance, and Kunai with Chain provide advantages in battle at Spell Speed 2, allowing you to outplay your opponent's defenses and expectations. Each holds the potential to turn the tide of a Duel and bring domination over your opponent.

Darkworld Shackles is a narrower card, because as an Equip Spell it has to be activated on your turn and during one of your Main Phases. It makes up for this deficiency in a few different ways: it deals damage; it paralyzes the opposing monster to keep it from attacking; and most important of all, it's an absolute answer no matter the size of its target. While most ATK tricks are going to boost or reduce relevant numbers by a static amount, Darkworld Shackles just reduces any monster's ATK and DEF, regardless of how high they were to start, to 100 points. That means almost any of your monsters can suddenly take out almost any of your opponent's monsters, and that makes it flexible and powerful.

More than that, the Shackles are a perfect combo with Blue Thunder T-45 and Amazoness Sage. Equip the Shackles to an opposing monster and attack over it with something run-of-the-mill, and you make a 1-for-1 trade: you lose Shackles, while your opponent loses their monster. But throw Blue Thunder or Amazoness Sage in the mix, and suddenly you get a quick plus by triggering your monster's effect. Shackles is a great battle trick on its own, but it also makes a number of cards that were already really strong, even more deadly. With the right combo it doesn't just shut down an opposing push; it also generates a sudden burst of momentum that if managed correctly, will come as a total surprise to your opponent. I saw it played alot in that fashion at the WCQ, and it was devastating every time, because it turned the tables so suddenly.

We've looked at five sleeper picks so far today, but come back for Part 2 tomorrow, because we're going to round out the list by looking at ten more powerful cards that could easily fly under your radar. For now, consider the cards we discussed, and think about what cards would be on your list of sleeper hits for Battle Pack Sealed. Check out the set list; read a few cards you aren't familiar with; and see if you can find some hidden gems! The ability to seek out those tricks and tactics others don't see is integral to your success in this format, so go ahead and spend some time honing that ability.

See you in Part 2!

-Jason Grabher-Meyer

Hey, I'm launching a new weekly column here on TCGplayer! Want to get a deck fix from yours truly, and see your deck featured in a front-page article here on TCGPlayer? Just send the following to FixMyDeckJasonATgmailDOTcom to be considered:

-Your Main and Extra Deck list. (No Side Deck needed!)
-Your name and city.
-A paragraph or two describing your deck: what it does, why you're playing it, and its strengths and weaknesses.

Remember, the cooler your deck is the more I'll want to fix it, so don't be afraid to get creative! -JDG

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