Side Deck Theory: Siding For A Diverse Format

Kelly Locke

10/4/2016 11:02:00 AM
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Have you checked out TCGplayer's deck archive recently? Hopefully you have – it's an invaluable resource for scoping out trends, inspecting winning builds, and discovering new tech choices. It also gives you a bit of insight into what's currently topping, and that information's invaluable for Side Deck construction. It's particularly useful if you can narrow down your potential match-ups to just two or three strategies. That's been the case in the recent past. But current Regional and YCS tops tell a different story:

This format is by far one of the most diverse we've seen in years.

There are so many competitive strategies right now. Mainstream themes like Kozmos and Burning Abyss are still popular, but they're nowhere near as dominant as they have been in past formats. Metalfoes, Majespecters, Performapals, Pendulum Magicians, Qliphorts, Infernoids, D/Ds, Blue-Eyes, Trains, PSY-Frames, Star Seraph Rituals, and Mermails all made Regional appearances over the last month. Regionals have always been slightly more diverse than Championship-level events. Still, that doesn't fully account for what we're seeing. The format is more balanced than it's been in a while, and that's mostly thanks to a Forbidden & Limited List that seems to be working in the favor of diversity.

Diversity encourages players to try new decks, test new strategies, and explore beyond whatever theme happens to have the most tops at the time. You're less likely to feel ‘forced' to play a certain way and you can leverage your deck building skills to develop builds that are both competitive and unexpected. On the other hand, diversity complicates the process of constructing your Side Deck. It's not enough to side for two or three particular match-ups. You can get away with that in less diverse formats, but doing that now is too risky.

You're going to get the best value out of your Side Deck by prioritizing match-up utility. You want to cover as many match-ups with as few cards as possible. Let's briefly talk numbers: you have fifteen cards in your Side Deck, but siding just one card for a match-up is usually ineffective. If it's worth siding for, it's probably worth siding at least three for. So assuming your Side Deck cards have the least amount of match-up utility possible, you'll be able to side for five match-ups in total. That's nearly perfect for formats where there are three decks to beat and a couple of rogue match-ups running around.

 Anti-Spell Fragrance
$16.00
$11.35
$9.43
Anti-Spell Fragrance115963
Set OTS Tournament Pack 1
Number OP01-EN011
Type Trap Card
Attribute TRAP 
Rarity Super Rare
Card Text

Both players must Set Spell Cards before activating them, and cannot activate them until their next turn.


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Glance back at that list of viable competitive strategies. If you sided three cards for five strategies you'd end up leaving out a heap of potential match-ups. That's if you're only siding three cards at most. Imagine if you sided four of five cards; you can see how quickly you'd run out of space.

Again, this is a rather extreme situation where you're siding cards with no match-up utility. In fact, it's rather unrealistic. Each of the Pendulum strategies can be answered by Anti-Spell Fragrance. Light themes like Blue-Eyes and Cyber Angels get shut out by Ally of Justice Quarantine and Koa'ki Meiru Drago. Decks reliant on the graveyard are vulnerable to Imperial Iron Wall and D.D. Crow. Finally, the popularity of self-replacing, untargetable monsters has made Kaijus some of the most-sided cards in the game.

This week I want to discuss a few of the most recent Side Deck trends with a mind for maximizing match-up utility.

Quarantine Zone
I wrote about Koa'ki Meiru Drago back in July when Blue-Eyes were just beginning to see serious competitive play. Drago's showing up right now in Side Decks everywhere, especially in Dragon-heavy themes where it's easiest to pay its maintenance cost. There's another, more generic option to block the Special Summons of Light monsters: Ally of Justice Quarantine. Quarantine's been showing up in Side Decks recently to cover Blue-Eyes and Rituals. It has a few advantages over Draco: it's a bit easier to play, doesn't require Dragons, and plays well with Dark themes.

Quarantine also happens to be a Dark Machine. It's searchable through Gear Gigant X, fodder for Allure of Darkness, and packs just enough ATK to avoid most Normal Summoned threats. That includes Manju of the Ten Thousand Hands and basically everything in Blue-Eyes deck. The trade-off is that Quarantine doesn't stop Darks from being Special Summon, so it's much less useful against Kozmos and Burning Abyss. It's almost impossible to recommend Quarantine against Kozmos or Burning Abyss. Meanwhile, Koa'ki Meiru Drago remains excellent against both match-ups.

 Ally of Justice Quarantine
$4.00
$0.79
$0.07
Ally of Justice Quarantine38743
Set Hidden Arsenal 3
Number HA03-EN051
Level 4
Type Effect Monster
Monster Machine
Attribute DARK 
A / D 1700 / 1200
Rarity Super Rare
Card Text

Neither player can Special Summon LIGHT monsters.


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Answering two match-ups isn't that exciting. We're talking about maximizing match-up utility, right? So where's the huge utility of Ally of Justice Quarantine? It's actually in rogue match-ups. PSY-Frames, Lightsworns (yes, really), Satellarknights, and just about any deck spamming PSY-Frame Omega will run into problems with Quarantine. A protected Quarantine can put in some work against Burning Abyss, but I wouldn't count on it. Otherwise, it's a great card for filling in during unexpected match-ups.

At the Regional Level you need all the help you can get on that front.

Best Problem Solvers Around
Kaijus were just released in the OCG and were promptly played in each and every Side Deck there. Swords of Concealing Light was a very popular pick to flip floodgate monsters and untargetable monsters face-down. But now OCG players can take out problem monsters without giving their opponent an opportunity to respond.

That play has been firmly planted in the minds of TCG duelists since last year, and in general Kaijus have become the go-to solution for problem monsters like Kozmo Dark Destroyer, Raid Raptor - Ultimate Falcon, Odd-Eyes Vortex Dragon, and Herald of Perfection.

 Gameciel, the Sea Turtle Kaiju
$10.94
Gameciel, the Sea Turtle Kaiju107725
Set Dimension of Chaos
Number DOCS-EN088
Level 8
Type Effect Monster
Monster Aqua
Attribute WATER 
A / D 2200 / 3000
Rarity Rare
Card Text

You can Special Summon this card (from your hand) to your opponent's side of the field in Attack Position, by Tributing 1 monster they control. If your opponent controls a "Kaiju" monster, you can Special Summon this card (from your hand) in Attack Position. You can only control 1 "Kaiju" monster. During either player's turn, when your opponent activates a card or effect, except "Gameciel, the Sea Turtle Kaiju": You can remove 2 Kaiju Counters from anywhere on the field; negate the activation, and if you do, banish that card.


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You can play Kaijus everywhere and against everything. Blue-Eyes, Burning Abyss, Kozmos, Pendulums, and Rituals all have something to lose to a Kaiju. Among the many options this format you'll be hard-pressed to find better problem solvers. They're simply a specialized form of monster removal so they're easy to side and extremely flexible.

It's hard to go wrong with siding Gameciel, the Sea Turtle Kaiju, and that's a big reason why it's one of the most popular Side Deck cards in the game right now.

Anti-Spell's Still Anti-Everything
Metalfoes, Majespecters, Performapals, and Pendulum Magicians are all vulnerable to the same floodgate: Anti-Spell Fragrance. I'm not going to spend any time talking about how effective Fragrance is – we all know what it does – but I do want to point out how its utility is affecting alternatives to Pendulum themes.

Have you noticed how Unwavering Bonds and Pendulum Hole have mostly vanished from Side Decks? Part of the reason why is because we already have two great answers to Pendulum themes. Solemn Strike and Fragrance are all you really need.

What's more, Fragrance and Strike are already excellent against...Pretty much everything. You could almost get away with maining Fragrance if Kozmos and Burning Abyss weren't around. One of the most interesting aspects of this format is Fragrance's utility against Blue-Eyes. Playing one floodgate that knocks out half of your match-ups is amazing, but imagine if Blue-Eyes wasn't so spell heavy. You'd probably see more players resorting to Counter Traps, Solemns, and dedicated anti-Pendulum effects. As big as Pendulums are this format Blue-Eyes are definitely a major reason why Fragrance continues to see near-universal play.

D.D. Crow Over Cycle Reader
D.D. Crow was a big pick at many Local Legend Duelist Series events in Europe. For a long time D.D. Crow was the image of a flexible Side Deck card: playable in everything, and against everything. You don't have to look far to see which match-up Crow is best in. Blue-Eyes, Burning Abyss, Infernoids, and D/D would really prefer to not to see this card. However, Blue-Eyes players actually prefer D.D. Crow to Ally of Justice Cycle Reader. Cycle Reader's definitely seeing its fair share of play, but it's not ubiquitous. There's a clear demand for generic graveyard control over more narrow options.

It's choices like this that are defining Side Deck construction this format. It's a delicate balancing act deciding between extremely effective single match-up picks and more generic options. Luckily the Pendulum mechanic's easily exploited, and another key match-up also gets hit hard by the same cards. Two prominent Light match-ups, two half-Light and half-Dark match-ups, and a whole lot of monster-based floodgates have made numerous cards must-plays this format.

 D.D. Crow
$6.39
$4.47
$3.80
D.D. Crow81334
Set Duel Terminal 5
Number DT05-EN003
Type Effect Monster
Monster Winged Beast/Effect
Attribute DARK 
A / D 100 / 100
Rarity Common
Card Text

During either player's turn, you can discard this card to the Graveyard to remove from play 1 card from your opponent's Graveyard.


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Where does this all lead? Well, if you have a basic idea of the high-utility cards your opponent's siding then there's a good chance you'll be able to build around those cards yourself. That means making Main Deck picks and counter sides to knock out obvious Side Deck cards. Effectiveness tends to be the trade-off for match-up utility, but it's also true that these cards are often less resilient in the face of on-theme counters. Ally of Justice Quarantine's weaker than Koa'ki Meiru Drago, Kaijus lose to Vanity's Fiend and Vanity's Emptiness, and D.D. Crow can be baited and played around.

I've omitted the most obvious set of high-utility Side Deck cards up until this point. Backrow removal is a no-brainer here, but it mostly comes in handy for freeing up the rest of your Side Deck to focus narrowly on specific match-ups. If you're confident with most rogue match-ups you'll likely find that a set of Mystical Space Typhoon, Twin Twisters, or Cosmic Cyclone will answer any rogue strategy that tries to beat you with floodgates.

As for monsters? Kaiju or Book of Eclipse are pretty great there. Those cards could eat up about a third of your Side Deck, but it leaves the rest of it for your three or four most important match-ups. You don't have to play an entire Side Deck of high-utility cards; just enough to keep you in the game against fringe strategies.

Until next time then

-Kelly


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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