Side Deck Theory: Dragon Rulers

Kelly Locke

6/18/2013 1:10:00 PM

With less than a month left before the North American World Qualifier, Dragon Rulers have clearly cemented themselves as the 'deck to beat'. Other archetypes introduced in Hidden Arsenal 7 and Lord of the Tachyon Galaxy have been artificially moved to lower levels of competition as a result of the sheer power of Dragon Rulers. Evilswarm, Constellar, Battlin' Boxers, Harpies, and Mecha Phantom Beasts, are all solid strategies in a format without Dragons.

Remember when players were excited for Harpie's Channeler because it gave the deck access to Rank 7 Xyz? Dragon Rulers quickly proved that getting to Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossack and Number 11: Big Eye was meaningless on its own. Instead, decks have to be able to Summon these cards at almost no cost in order to compete on the same level. In a classic example of the power creep associated with trading card games, Tachyon Galaxy has raised the bar for potential Championship-level strategies.

 Blaster, Dragon Ruler of Infernos
Blaster, Dragon Ruler of Infernos68118
Set Lord of the Tachyon Galaxy
Number LTGY-EN040
Level 7
Type Effect Monster
Monster Dragon
Attribute FIRE 
A / D 2800 / 1800
Rarity Rare
Card Text

If this card is in your hand or Graveyard: You can banish a total of 2 FIRE and/or Dragon-Type monsters from your hand and/or Graveyard, except this card; Special Summon this card. During your opponent's End Phase, if this card was Special Summoned: Return it to the hand. You can discard this card and 1 FIRE monster to the Graveyard, then target 1 card on the field: destroy that target. If this card is banished: You can add 1 FIRE Dragon-Type monster from your Deck to your hand. You can only use 1 "Blaster, Dragon Ruler of Infernos" effect per turn, and only once that turn.

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Prophecy decks are trending down despite having solid match-ups against the majority of the field. Despite the added power of Spellbook of Judgment, players are finding themselves defenseless against Eradicator Epidemic Virus. Evilswarm and Dragon Ruler strategies play a number of Extra Deck monsters that are excellent targets for EEV. Resolving the trap will frequently win you the game by stripping your opponent's hand of most, if not all, of their cards. What makes Dragon Rulers especially frightening this format is their ability to counter side most of the cards being run against them. There are a handful of traps that will shut down the Dragon strategy and leave it defenseless, but those cards are as easy to predict as they are to destroy. Exploring alternatives besides the obvious picks will definitely give you an edge - it's just a matter of knowing what's available.

True To Their Name
The Dragon Ruler deck is fairly straightforward even if it appears to have a lot of moving pieces at first glance. The actual monsters themselves are more confusing than the strategy as a whole. Because each of the Level 7 Dragon Rulers can Summon themselves from the hand or graveyard, you can play in a way that's very different from conventional play styles. Dragons have a lateral aspect to them: they're useful from nearly every card zone and move between those different areas frequently. the deck searching effects of the level 7 Rulers tie everything together, as do the Special Summoning abilities of the smaller Dragons. The end result is a deck that Monster Mash tried and failed to be: an extremely competitive monster-dominated strategy that's entirely self-sufficient.

Cards like Gold Sarcophagus and Sacred Sword of Seven Stars add even more consistency to the Dragon Ruler deck by triggering the effects of the Level 7's. Sarcophagus puts you one card away from any of the Dragons in your deck, plus you're able to reclaim the banished target in two turns. Nabbing extra cards is important when a miniature Dragon Ruler's effects force you to take a minus. But because you're constantly banishing monsters to Summon your Dragons, you'll constantly be adding new monsters to your hand. It's common to drop several monsters to the field without losing much card presence, if you lose any at all. This mechanic by itself is very powerful, but Super Rejuvenation takes it to the extreme. Like Spellbook of Judgment, Rejuvenation makes it possible to replenish your entire hand and then some, after activating a ton of effects. Letting your opponent's Rejuvenation resolve will often put you so far behind in the duel that making a comeback is nearly impossible. Dragons win most of their games by simply out-resourcing their opponents.

No competitive deck is complete these days without on-theme card removal. Blaster, Dragon Ruler of Infernos is the Dragon Ruler version of Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Bear and Gorilla, or Atlantean Marksman plus Heavy Infantry. At 2800 ATK it's the deck's best problem solver, and as we've already discussed it's extremely easy to search out. The other Dragons' effects are fairly useful as well, but they do have a minor balancing that keeps them from being completely absurd: each Dragon can only use its effect(s) once per turn. A player can't activate two Blasters or two Tempests in a single turn, and that creates a small vulnerability that we can exploit. That said, it's a minor weakness in a deck that has some incredible strengths.

Extra Deck access in Dragon Rulers is important due to the 'return to hand' effects that the Level 7's carry. Consolidating Dragons into Rank 7's lets you maintain field presence, and that usually comes in the form of Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossack. The boss monster of the Mecha Phantom Beast archetype, Dracossack has become the most desired card in Tachyon. However, its value is mostly the result of its widespread use in Dragon Ruler decks. Built-in protection, versatile card removal, and readily-met summoning conditions make Dracossack one of the best cards in the format. Add in the potential to set up a Light and Darkness Dragon Summon, and you can see why this airplane is so valued. Oh, and there's Number 11: Big Eye too. That thing has been getting a ton of play over the last two formats so it's not as surprising to see it trending in a deck that prioritizes Rank 7's.

Usurping The Rulers
Effective Side Deck options against Dragons aren't too difficult to find. What is difficult is finding cards that aren't a Mystical Space Typhoon-away from being taken out. Between Blaster and Dracossack, Dragons have a fair amount of removal in Game 1 and their post-Game 1 strategy usually involves bringing in counters to commonly sided cards. Counter siding is extremely important for the Dragon Ruler duelist, and as a result our choices for the Side Deck need to reflect that fact. Despite the lack of Typhoons in the Dragon Ruler Main Deck, you'll usually find them siding full set plus Royal Decree. Rarer side choices include Ryko, Lightsworn Hunter and Tsukuyomi which serve roughly the same purpose: dealing with threatening sided cards.

Imperial Iron Wall has definitely been gaining steam as an out to Dragons and Prophecy. If they can't banish cards, Dragon Rulers can only Summon themselves through the effects of the mini-Dragons or Redox, Dragon Ruler of Boulders. Gold Sarcophagus, Sacred Sword of Seven Stars, and Breakthrough Skill's graveyard effect are completely unusable while Iron Wall's active. That's devastating to the Dragon Ruler strategy and forces them to rely on their smaller Dragons to make any plays. In the meantime, their ability to search their deck and recoup lost cards falls entirely to Super Rejuvenation. That deprives your opponent of resources and keeps them from getting anywhere near the late game. The downside is that Iron Wall leaves cards available for later use. If Dracossack or a sided Typhoon takes the Wall out, a torrent of monsters is likely to flood through the breach.

For me, Macro Cosmos is the superior choice...assuming it doesn't mess with your own strategy, of course. Macro can't be destroyed by Blaster and punishes the Dragon Ruler player for trying to summon Dracossack by banishing their discards. The immediate stopping power of Imperial Iron Wall is exchanged for the long-term resource draining and better survivability of Macro Cosmos. It doesn't stop Sacred Sword or Gold Sarcophagus, but it does impact Breakthrough Skill in a similar way. Alternatively you could give Dimensional Fissure a shot, especially if you expect Royal Decree to be popular in your area. Macro has greater match-up utility though, so there's yet another trade-off you'll have to consider.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Mind Drain and its applications for this format. With Dragon decks running so many cards that activate in the hand, it's an obvious pick for decks that can support it. Mind Drain also shuts down hand traps and drastically reduces the ability of Dragon players to respond to plays. Dragon Ruler decks are running almost entirely hand traps for defense, and without them they're extremely vulnerable. Soul Drainfunctions well for decks that can't make use of Mind Drain, and while it doesn't protect itself from Blaster like Mind Drain does, it's great at locking up the deck's ability to recruit additional monsters. You can even chain it when Dragons are banished for the cost of another card, or in response to Gold Sarcophagus. While it's a little weaker than Mind Drain and doesn't throw quite as large a wrench into the Dragon strategy, it's still a solid option with some great utility.

Next up are some more continuous spells and traps: Gozen Match and Deck Lockdown. Gozen has been sitting on the wayside since mono-Attribute decks became popular. This was largely the result of how recent booster sets were designed. Dragon Rulers as a 'pure' deck are forced to play four attributes in roughly equal numbers, and while it's still possible to make Draccossack under those conditions it's somewhat unlikely. Deck Lockdown is interesting because of how it affects some of the key plays in the Dragon deck. Its first effect is very similar to Thunder King Rai-Oh's ability, but with the added benefit of shutting down the mini-Dragons for two turns. It's definitely interesting and can fit easily into a number of decks to simply buy time. Because of how difficult Prohibition is to use against this deck, I would recommend Deck Lockdown in its stead.

 Deck Lockdown
Deck Lockdown26754
Set Light of Destruction
Number LODT-EN060
Type Spell
Attribute SPELL 
Rarity Rare
Card Text

Neither player can add cards to their hand except by drawing them, and cannot Special Summon monsters from the Deck. Destroy this card during your 2nd Standby Phase after activation.

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A lot of these cards lose out to sided Typhoons and Royal Decree, so mixing things up with some solid monsters can go a long way towards diversifying your counters. Effect Veiler and Maxx "C" are both great, and even Droll & Lock Bird can come in against this match-up. Hand traps are strong this format and few decks have answers to them. Negating Big Eye or Dracossack with Veiler is a huge play by itself. Drawing into that Veiler thanks to a Maxx "C" is even better. There's a reason why Dragon Ruler builds are so fond of hand traps: they're amazing in the mirror match. Discarding from the hand instead of activating traps also lets you keep Vanity's Emptiness on the field. It's seeing more play in Dragon Rulers than anywhere else, but it's trending upwards with a steady progression.

So how about Light and Darkness Dragon? Players aren't running this as much as they are the pure build, but it pays to have some outs to that card as well. I'm a big fan of Lava Golem these days as a means of taking out both Dracossack and LADD in one shot. With many decks running a full set of Compulsory Evacuation Device to counter Xyz Monsters, Lava Golem becomes even more playable. If you kick it back to your hand before it starts taking out chunks of your Life Points, you might scare your opponent into a more conservative play style. The threat of losing another pair of monsters to Golem is often enough to keep your opponent from committing cards to the field unless they're pushing for game. At that point, a Swift Scarecrow would seriously ruin their day.

Closing Thoughts
There are a few cards that can greatly disrupt Dragon Rulers, but these options are predictable and easily counter sided against. Looking at other cards like Lava Golem and Deck Lockdown will give you the element of surprise. Picking up trending Side Deck tech is fine, but you should expect it to deliver worse results in practice than you'd expect in theory against any opponent who's paying attention. Dragons Rulers are tough and they feature a style of play that's almost evolutionary. It's as if we're getting a glimpse into the next stage of this game, where resources are acquired more easily and tempo isn't as much a function of the deck as it is a conscious choice by the player. While by no means unstoppable, Dragons are frighteningly consistent and certainly the deck you'll want to be siding hardest against.

Until next time then.

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