Side Deck Theory: Planning For Going Second

Kelly Locke

9/6/2016 11:00:00 AM

Years ago there was a consensus about choosing to go first or second: if given the choice you almost always wanted to play first. That decision became much more complicated when the Draw Phase rule change started costing you an extra card in exchange for setting up ahead of your opponent. Suddenly aggressive OTK strategies preferred going second, while control strategies with lots of traps or combos ending with entrenched fields would opt to go first.

The new format seems to be saturated with strategies that prioritize Turn 1 set-ups. My local metagame is filled with Blue-Eyes, Burning Abyss, Phantom Knights, Yang Zing Metalfoes, Cyber Angels, and Kozmos five decks that can build controlling fields on Turn 1. That's anecdotal, I know, but I think it's largely how the format will play out. Decks built around Card of Demise want to play first. Combo strategies that want unbreakable boards do too Slow or fast, it doesn't matter; going first is ideal for the majority of competitive strategies.

There are plenty of Side Deck cards, and just cards in general, with sliding performance depending on whether you play them on the first turn. Anti-Spell Fragrance is a great example: it's awesome at the start of the duel, but often useless against an established set-up. That's the case with most traps this format: if you draw them after Turn 1 there's a good chance you'll never get to use them. The ability to see more of your traps earlier on is why Guiding Ariadne, Pot of Desires, and Card of Demise are so popular.

If you can plan for the games where you'll have to go second a scenario that's likely to happen these days with everyone's gunning to go first you can build a strong siding strategy to help you break set-ups and push the duel back in your favor. Let's talk about that.

Identifying Threats
Defensive set-ups can exert varying amounts of pressure on your opponent. Not all set-ups need to be broken immediately, and playing defensively is worthless if you can't deal damage and win the duel. Stalling indefinitely isn't a viable strategy, but as the saying goes: the best defense is a good offense.

Within every defensive set-up is the capacity to leverage the staying power of negation bodies and protection effects into a powerful aggressive force. At the very least most set-ups have the capacity to endlessly accrue card advantage so long as your opponent sticks to passive play.

In other words: if you don't break your opponent's Turn 1 set-up you're probably going to lose within the next few turns.

 Crystal Wing Synchro Dragon
Crystal Wing Synchro Dragon117941
Set Shining Victories
Number SHVI-EN049
Level 8
Type Synchro/Effect Monster
Monster Dragon
Attribute WIND 
A / D 3000 / 2500
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

1 Tuner + 1 or more non-Tuner Synchro Monsters
Once per turn, during either player's turn, when another monster's effect is activated: You can negate the activation, and if you do, destroy that monster, and if you do that, this card gains ATK equal to the destroyed monster's original ATK until the end of this turn. If this card battles a Level 5 or higher monster your opponent controls, during damage calculation: This card gains ATK equal to the current ATK of the opponent's monster it is battling during that damage calculation only.

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All of that should be obvious, but it's super relevant if you're about to go second. If you leave your opponent to do what they want, they'll quickly grind out a ridiculous level of card advantage. Unless you're playing Burning Phantom Knights or Kozmos and can out-grind your opponent you'll probably need instant answers to problem cards.

Stuff like Crystal Wing Synchro Dragon, Blue-Eyes Spirit Dragon, Azure-Eyes Silver Dragon, Cyber Dragon Infinity, Beatrice, Lady of the Eternal, and Number 38: Hope Harbinger Titanic Galaxy can't be left alone for long. Sided cards like Vanity's Fiend, Majesty's Fiend, Chaos Hunter, Amorphages, Anti-Spell Fragrance, and numerous other floodgates need to be addressed before you can even begin to play the game. Finally, there's the threat of losing against the massive trap line-ups of Demise-fueled strategies.

Solving Boards
There are two ways to stay in the game despite a strong opening play from your opponent: you can disrupt them on their first turn by playing hand traps, or load up on proactive removal for Turn 2. Let's check out an example of a list that does both.

Alberto Conti won YCS Rimini with a Side Deck designed to aid his first or second turns specifically. Dark Hole and Raigeki wiped out established floodgate or negation monsters, Kozmo Goodwitch flipped monsters like Vanity's Fiend face-down, and Twin Twisters helped him push past backrow-heavy strategies. Those are all Turn 2 cards; they're proactive removal options that help him push through established boards.

Effect Veiler and his Main Deck copies of Max C acted as disruption on his opponent's first turn. Both cards would stop his opponent's plays and leave them open to an OTK next turn, but most importantly they'd keep most boss monsters and negation bodies off the field. Since Conti's deck was already designed to play first, he ended up siding just one Turn 1 floodgate: Anti-Spell Fragrance.

Conti's first-or-second focus paid off; his duels were largely decided in the first two turns thanks to the explosive, glass-cannon nature of Fire King Kozmos. Not every deck will benefit in the same way from that perspective on Side Decking, but it's generally an effective way to plan your strategy. So what are the best options for coming out ahead by the end of Turn 2? Conti played a few, but there are plenty more where those came from.

Maxx C is the ideal starting card when you're going second. It's at its absolute best on Turn 1 where your opponent can't push through its effect to end the game. Ideally you'll either discourage your opponent from building their Turn 1 set-up, or draw enough cards to play through their field during the next turn. Simple stuff really. We've had Maxx "C" since 2011 and by now everyone is well aware of how it's played.

 Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries
Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries117933
Set Shining Victories
Number SHVI-EN040
Level 3
Type Tuner/Effect Monster
Monster Zombie
Attribute DARK 
A / D 0 / 1800
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

During either player's turn, if your opponent controls more monsters than you do: You can discard this card; reveal 1 card in your Extra Deck, then look at your opponent's Extra Deck, also banish all cards in their Extra Deck with the same name as that revealed card. You can only use this effect of "Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries" once per turn.

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Still, this is the first time Maxx C has been Semi-Limited. I think it's a factor in the recent trend towards aggressive, Special Summon-heavy strategies and crazy Turn 1 set-ups. To be fair, Maxx C was already being played at two in a number of strategies. However, with Monarchs out of the picture I would have expected to see it jump to three in nearly everything again. Conti's build played three, and I imagine he would have preferred to continue playing three.

Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries is a phenomenal card when you're going second. It's another hand trap that's relevant on Turn 1, and its effect can bring your opponent's plays to a full halt. The usual targets are stuff like Dante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss, The Phantom Knights of Break Sword, and Blue-Eyes Spirit Dragon. In those match-ups Ghost Reaper is a devastating blow to your opponent's strategy and leaves them crippled for the remainder of the match.

Effect Veiler and Maxx C have traded off in popularity over the last few years. Maxx C has been a more reliable card for roughly two years now and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Effect Veiler was best against Monarchs, but now Synchro strategies are trending back up. Veiler looks like it's going to continue being a popular choice for now.

Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit, D.D. Crow, Ally of Justice Cycle Reader, Typhoon, and all other hand traps have been affected by the Semi-Limit on Maxx C. Opening with Maxx C and drawing into another hand trap off it is much less reliable now. Unfortunately hand traps are lacking in one key area: they're mostly useless for advancing your own strategy. Proactive removal, on the other hand, immediately clears the way for your best plays and can put you well ahead in card advantage.

Raigeki and Dark Hole are seriously overlooked right now. Crystal Wing Synchro Dragon is unnecessarily terrifying if your only outs to monsters are monster effects. There's a common theme online to hate on mass removal for whatever reason, but why wouldn't you play these cards if your deck loses to monsters that are vulnerable to destruction effects?

Granted, plenty of cards are destruction-proof. That's where Kaijus come in. Gameciel, the Sea Turtle Kaiju is an answer to Raid Raptor Ultimate Falcon, Herald of Perfection, and self-replacing Kozmos. It's invaluable when going second against a strong set-up despite being a -1 in terms of card economy. Book of Eclipse and Swords of Concealing Light disable continuous effects in a different way, but you'll often get similar results. The downside is that these two cards affect' monsters, activate, and need to resolve. Monsters with immunities or negation effects will usually not care.

Stamping out backrow is incredibly important so long as Solemn Strike remains Unlimited. When going second against Card of Demise strategies, or even those just playing Pot of Desires, you're likely to be staring down two or more copies of Solemn Strike, Solemn Warning, and floodgate traps like Anti-Spell Fragrance and Rivalry of Warlords. Twin Twisters is a popular pick, and I'm also a big fan of Storm for Pendulum themes.

 Card of Demise
Card of Demise116962
Set Millennium Pack
Number MIL1-EN014
Type Spell Card
Attribute SPELL 
Rarity Ultra Rare
Card Text

Draw until you have 3 cards in your hand, also for the rest of this turn after this card resolves, your opponent takes no damage. During the End Phase, send your entire hand to the Graveyard. You can only activate 1 'Card of Demise' per turn. You cannot Special Summon during the turn you activate this card.

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The biggest challenge in going second is overcoming your opponent's card advantage. They'll be up cards thanks to Pot of Desires and Card of Demise, which effectively allows them to overcome their missing Draw Phase. A negation effect might cost you a card or two if it doesn't outright end your turn, and PSY-Framelord Omega could rip away another card from your hand.

It's overwhelmingly the case that going second is a disadvantage. The dice roll is incredibly important right now as it has been for a while. Gearing your Side Deck for going first or second will help you stay competitive even if you're unlucky when it comes to rolling the die. Side disruptive and reactive cards if your deck is a bit slower or takes time to get up to full speed, or proactive removal if you can sprint out of the gate and immediately attempt an OTK. This format might mark the return of Raigeki to Main Decks, an even larger number of hand traps, and many, many more Kaijus.

Until next time then


Kelly Locke is a West Michigan gamer, writer, and college student with too much free time on his hands. Besides playing Yugioh, Kelly posts Let's Play videos of Minecraft on his Youtube channel and plays a possibly unhealthy amount of Destiny. He is currently studying marketing at Western Michigan University, and hopes to graduate before Dragon Ravine is Unlimited.

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