Deck Profile: John Fox's Ultimate Challenge Deck

Jason Grabher-Meyer

8/21/2012 10:20:00 AM

Though the new F&L list for the Advanced Format appears to have leaked in Japan, we're still more than a week away from September 1st. Without confirmation of the list for the TCG, it seems like a good idea to spend the next few days looking beyond Advanced Format competition here on TCGplayer. This is that time of the year where it's suddenly prudent to focus on topics that'll remain relevant through the end of the month. And you know what format isn't going to change? Battle Pack Sealed.

One week after the September 1st format change, YCS Sheffield will be held over in the UK. Sheffield will be the first-ever YCS to use a Limited format – 30 card Battle Pack Sealed – instead of Constructed. That means competitors who show up Saturday morning will have no idea what cards they're going to wind up playing; instead of perfecting a Constructed deck, the key to winning Sheffield will be perfecting your skills in Sealed competition, and learning everything you can about Battle Pack: Epic Dawn.

There aren't a ton of resources around to help you hone your Sealed talents. That's a shame, because 30 card Sealed is a far cry from 40 card Sealed. Both formats start you off with ten Battle Packs (50 cards total), but the deck building process is totally different. In 40 card Sealed, all you have to do is chuck your Xyz Monsters into your Extra Deck and drop a few cards from your Main. If you crack between three and five Xyz, and all you have to do is pick five to seven of your least useful cards and kick them to your Side Deck. Ta-da! Your Main Deck is finished. But 30 card Sealed ups the challenge factor, because you have to forgo as many as three times the number of cards. When you have to start cutting stuff that actually has serious play value, things get far more complicated.

Which Makes This All Uncharted Territory
Unfortunately there aren't any big 30 card Sealed events to study up on: Sheffield is the first tournament with official event coverage to use this format. You can read up on the Sealed Public Events at the North American and European World Championship Qualifiers, and you should, but I don't believe any of them were 30 card Sealed.

If you want to go deeper, I think your best place to look is the winning deck lists from the Ultimate Challenge tournaments. Offering big-time prizes that dwarfed those of the smaller Public Events, Ultimate Challenges were just bigger Battle Pack Sealed tournaments, and two of them were held last month: one at the European WCQ, and one at the US WCQ. Both were prime examples of Battle Pack Sealed play, and both ended at a Finals table with Duelists who practiced the format and knew Epic Dawn really well. These tournaments were held in the 40 card format, but I think there's still alot to learn from them. Today, I want to take a look at the deck that won the US Ultimate Challenge. John Fox played an incredible strategy to compensate for some big deficiencies in his Sealed pool, and the result was this deck:

    Ultimate Challenge Deck John Fox    
Main Deck
Side Deck
1 Blue Thunder T-45
1 Botanical Lion
1 Breaker the Magical Warrior
1 Chaos Necromancer
1 Cyber Valley
1 Cybernetic Magician
1 Dark Ruler Ha Des
1 Dekoichi the Battlechanted Locomotive
1 Des Mosquito
1 Drillroid
1 Gorz the Emissary of Darkness
1 Hedge Guard
1 Jinzo
1 Luster Dragon
1 Machina Fortress
1 Mad Dog of Darkness
1 Muka Muka
1 Mysterious Guard
1 Power Giant
1 Ryko, Lightsworn Hunter
1 Shield Warrior
1 Tanngrisnir of the Nordic Beasts
1 The Calculator
1 Voltic Kong
Monsters [24]
1 Creature Swap
2 Fissure
1 Pot of Duality
1 Pot of Greed
1 Premature Burial
1 Raigeki
1 United We Stand
Spells [8]
1 Blast with Chain
1 Damage Gate
1 Divine Wrath
1 Dust Tornado
1 Kunai with Chain
1 Magic Cylinder
1 Magic Drain
1 Spell Shield Type-8
Traps [8]
Deck Total [40]
7 ?
1 Backup Warrior
2 Goblindbergh
1 Gogogo Golem
1 Hardened Armed Dragon
1 Level Eater
1 Theban Nightmare
1 Vampire Lord
Side Deck [15]


1 Gachi Gachi Gantetsu
1 Wind-Up Zenmaister
Extra Deck [2]

I've known John for longer than I can remember: he's been a prominent member of the Judge program for years, but this was the first time I really got to see him flex his competitive muscle. At first glance, his deck looks pretty average as far as Battle Pack goes. He had a decent mix of monsters: there weren't any marquee game-enders like Obelisk the Tormentor or Dark Magician of Chaos, and he only opened four or five real beatsticks, but he still had a good variety of options. He wielded a great lineup of spell cards, scoring Raigeki; Pot of Greed; Pot of Duality; Premature Burial; and some strong removal in the form of two Fissure. I'd say his traps were on the lower end of decent: no power cards like Mirror Force, Torrential Tribute, or Prideful Roar, but Fox nabbed a couple decent battle tricks and some spell negation.

Scroll a little further down, though, and Fox's biggest challenge sticks out like a sore thumb: “After we swapped decks and I saw I only had two Xyz Monsters, I was worried,” he explained to me. “I've played in more than enough Battle Pack events to realize that Xyz win you games.” Not only did Fox open only two Xyz Monsters, but the ones he cracked were sub-par: Wind-Up Zenmaister and Gachi Gachi Gantetsu. While both can be valuable in the right situations, Gachi Gachi is tough to Xyz Summon, and Wind-Up Zenmaister is no Number 39: Utopia or Gem-Knight Pearl. Throughout the entire tournament, we saw competitors make judicious use of their Xyz Summons. The best players used them strictly as problem-solving plays to fight back when their opponent dropped bigger threats. They consolidated two monsters into on Xyz only when they had to, frequently kicking out of tough situations by overlaying two cards that would be useless otherwise. Fox headed into the Ultimate Challenge knowing he wouldn't have the ability to do that. He was going to have to rely on aggressive pacing and smart use of his removal cards to win, because he was deprived of one of the best ways to make comebacks in Sealed.

Of course, there was one silver lining: “It made my deck building easier,” Fox noted. “I no longer had to worry about having a certain amount of specific Levels in my deck, so I could make my decisions about what to play based more on individual monster effects.” At the same time though, Fox wound up having to cut eight cards – not an easy set of decisions, and we'll discuss how he made them later on.

The Saving Grace
Luckily, Fox had one big ace up his sleeve: Machina Fortress. The Fortress became the centerpiece of his strategy, and I believe that along with the on-table skill he demonstrated, it's the reason Fox was able to win the Ultimate Challenge. Fox commented on it when we spoke about his performance after the tournament: “Besides Gorz, I feel the deck benefitted greatly from Jinzo and Machina Fortress. Having six Machine-Types for the recursion effect of Machina Fortress helped.” The Fortress is one of those cards that if you open it in Sealed, you want to build your deck around it as much as possible. With high ATK and two killer effects that punish the opponent for fighting against it, Machina Fortress is also one of the few monsters in Epic Dawn that can be easily Special Summoned... if you have the right cards.

And of course, Fox did. He opened Jinzo, Drillroid, Dekoichi the Battlechanted Locomotive, Blue Thunder T-45, and Cyber Valley: an above-average number of Machine-Type monsters. Combined with Pot of Greed and Pot of Duality letting him see more cards, Fox had a solid range of Machines that he could leverage into a strategy built around Fortress. Since he had the experience to know just how fast, tough, and disruptive Machina Fortress can be in Sealed, he assembled his deck to take advantage of it as much as he could. Check out his Feature Matches to see how well Fortress worked.

A few cards performed better than novice Sealed Duelists might expect, too. “The two most underrated cards I played were Hedge Guard and Shield Warrior. They kept my monsters alive for Tribute Summons.” Machina Fortress wasn't Fox's only heavy-hitter: Jinzo, Dark Ruler Ha Des, and Cybernetic Magician can all be devastating if you know how to play them, and by keeping smaller monsters alive Fox was able to compensate for his lack of simple Level 4 beaters. He had a substantial list of monsters that could generate card advantage if they were protected properly: think Breaker the Magical Warrior; Ryko, Lightsworn Hunter; Blue Thunder T-45; Dekoichi; and Mysterious Guard. Their effects let him maintain card presence so he could use them for Tributes.

“Drillroid was also a work horse. With so many high-Level defensive monsters in Epic Dawn, Drillroid helped me get over them.” Drillroid was a great card for Fox, because it played so many different roles. With 1600 ATK it's a solid attacker, getting in for damage or trading off with Pitch-Black Warwolf or a spent Breaker. As a form of removal against Defense Position monsters, it saved him from sacrificing tempo and aggression, and allowed him to keep cards like Fissure to deal with bigger threats. It would also let him keep his opponents from regrouping with Tribute or Xyz Summons, keeping them from establishing a field. But beyond all that, Drillroid was also a Level 4 Machine-Type, which meant it contributed to the Machina Fortress strategy. Even in just two Feature Matches at the Ultimate Challenge, we saw Fox get serious mileage out of this card.

 Ryko, Lightsworn Hunter
Ryko, Lightsworn Hunter26716
Set Light of Destruction
Number LODT-EN022
Type Beast / Effect
Attribute Light 
A / D 200 / 100
Rarity Super Rare
Card Text

FLIP: You can destroy 1 card on the field. Send the top 3 cards of your Deck to the Graveyard.

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So That's The Good – How About The Bad?
Like we've said before, the toughest part about any Battle Pack Sealed competition might be deciding how to pare down your Main Deck. Since Fox only opened two Xyz Monsters, he had his work cut out for him in finding eight cards to set aside. Asking him about how he decided what NOT to play was actually my favorite part of the post-tournament interview; I was really curious to see the logic behind his decisions.

Fox started his explanation with the most obvious pick: “Hardened Armed Dragon was an easy cut. I simply had no Level 7 or higher monster to tribute for, to maximize his effect.” With fairly low stats and an effect that wasn't relevant, Fox's first cut was easy.

The next one was more interesting, because it involved a card that most Duelists would be happy to play. “Goblindbergh is a sensational pull in this format,” remarked Fox. “To have two of them blew my mind! He's almost always a guaranteed Rank 4 Xyz.” Goblindbergh's effect lets you Special Summon a Level 4 or lower monster from your hand when it's Normal Summoned. For most Sealed Duelists, that means an easy comeback by Xyz Summoning a Rank 4. But since Fox's Sealed pool was Xyz-deficient, Goblindbergh took on a different context. “Sadly, as I only had a single Rank 4 Xyz, I felt Goblindbergh didn't belong in the deck.”

Fox continued his musings: “Though had he been a Machiiiine...”

The decision not to run Goblindbergh served to make Fox's next deck building choice for him. “Gogogo Golem wasn't included because I didn't play the Goblindberghs. Those two cards combo well together for survivability and easy Xyz Materials.” But again, the lack of Rank 4's in Fox's pool just made Gogogo Golem a bad fit.

Recognizing the pace of play he'd have to commit to helped Fox make his next decision: “Backup Warrior's initial Summoning condition was responsible for it missing the cut. Field control is the key to success in this format, and I felt I didn't have many high-DEF cards to keep in Defense Position to Summon him. I had lots of low DEF monsters, but I had good effects to keep me alive.” Fox's deck wasn't low on defense, but he wasn't packing the right kind of defense to really get the most out of Backup Warrior. Again, being able to recognize the unique context that his cards were subject to helped Fox make a strong deck building decision.

“Level Eater is easy Tribute fodder, but my Tributes were few and I didn't feel right including it,” continued Fox. Though he opened seven high-Level monsters, he opted not to play Vampire Lord, cutting that total down to six (Fox brushed off Vampire Lord as a weak one-Tribute). Three of those high-Level monsters were Machina Fortress, Power Giant, and Gorz the Emissary of Darkness, all of which can be Special Summoned, so Fox really only ran three monsters he had to worry about Tributing for. While Level Eater can be a valuable chump Blocker, and it might have combo'd well with Creature Swap, it's also cannon fodder against stuff like Blue Thunder T-45. Since Fox knew he'd have to be aggressive to win, dropping Level Eater was the right decision.

“Theban Nightmare was my final cut. This guy can single-handedly win you games, but after I reached my final build I felt I ran too many back row cards and removal spells that I'd want to hold in the hand until a great threat was looming. Dropping Nightmare wasn't an easy cut, but I needed to get to 40 cards.” Remember: sticking to the 40 card minimum lets you draw your most powerful stuff more frequently. That's key in any format, but it may be even more important here, when you're always one draw away from something like Pot of Greed or Snatch Steal.

Closing Thoughts From An Ultimate Champion
When I watched John Fox duke it out with Pasquale Crociata in the Finals of the Ultimate Challenge, it was clear that I was watching two competitors who'd put in the time and were now reaping the rewards. I've said repeatedly that experience is everything in Battle Pack Sealed, and Fox confirmed that in his post-tournament comments: “I've played in many Sealed events since the release of Epic Dawn, and I find the experience I got from playing in previous Battle Pack tournaments can give you an edge. It takes a few tournaments to understand the nuances of card interactions. Some newer players may not understand fully how Makyura works, or know that Dark Ruler Ha Des' negation is permanent.” The bottom line? “Knowing the mechanics of the cards you end up playing is more beneficial than just opening good packs.”

Fox continued: “This format is, by far, my favorite format in which to play Yu-Gi-Oh. It takes some creativity and critical thinking to win and everyone starts on the same level playing field; it's not about who can afford what cards. Sealed showcases a player's ability to play out of difficult situations. After a win here, you feel like you accomplished something bigger.

“The players are more relaxed, too. The nostalgia factor plays a key role; when was the last time you played Pot of Greed or Raigeki?!” Despite his positive experiences, Fox voiced his concern for the future of Sealed: “I'm afraid that most of the Yugiverse will continue to shun what they don't understand. They, like most people, are afraid of what they don't understand.” His message? “Give this format a try, world! It's nothing but fun and excitement! I only wish I had the time and funds to go to YCS Sheffield. I can only hope a sealed YCS will come to a country near me.”

For those of you going to YCS Sheffield, hopefully Fox's experience can benefit you as a Sealed competitor. For the rest of you, well, get ready... because I really doubt this YCS will be the last big Battle Pack tournament. Sheffield's the first of its breed, and it represents another big step towards establishing Limited play as a true counterpart to the Advanced format.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer

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