Competitive Corner: Regional Top 8 Anti-Meta Decks

Jason Grabher-Meyer

10/14/2016 11:02:00 AM

Aww, man. When was the last time we saw anti-meta decks topping tournaments!?

The anti-meta strategy's a rare breed dating back over a decade in the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG. “Anti-Meta” isn't really a theme or a specific type of deck: it's more of a label like “Beatdown” or “Control” – a strategy that looks to win entirely by countering the top decks in a given format, often by keeping them from making plays. Actual win conditions are often an afterthought: as long as you can counter your opponent's moves and stay just a card or two ahead, the theory is that you can win the game with any simple attacker.

What the deck actually looks like and what cards it plays is entirely determined by what you're trying to beat. Anti-meta decks have existed for ages, but they never look the same from one year to the next.

The anti-meta label is effectively an extreme, narrowly focused type of control strategy. It makes two risky Gambles: it bets that you can beat the top decks consistently, and it bets that you'll see those top decks enough to balance out any auto-losses you might find in other match-ups. Since an anti-meta deck is built very carefully to counter an expected handful of strategies, they're often totally mismatched with rogue decks. The wrong match-ups can kill your chances entirely.

Any discussion of anti-meta concepts generally go hand in hand with another piece of terminology: “stun”. The term “Stun Deck” goes back to the glory days of Thunder King Rai-Oh and Banisher of the Radiance, and if anti-meta's a subdivision of control, then stun is a subdivision of anti-meta. The stun deck revolves around the idea of “stunning” your opponent to keep them from making moves, and if that sounds like the modern use of floodgates to keep your opponent from playing Yu-Gi-Oh, you're absolutely right.

There was a time when cards like Vanity's Emptiness, Rivalry of Warlords, Gozen Match, and Anti-Spell Fragrance weren't very relevant, or in some cases weren't even printed. Before every deck started adopting that type of play philosophy, decks that leaned in that direction were considered unique.

Today, with virtually every big deck in competition being a stun deck to some degree, and with all conceivable anti-meta strategies relying on some number of floodgates, the line between anti-meta and stun is blurred. The term “stun” simply may not be useful in this day and age, but understanding the history of that strategy and the cards that once defined it – cards like Thunder King, Banisher, Fossil Dyna Pachycephalo, Macro Cosmos, and Doomcaliber Knight – can definitely be valuable even today.

Nowhere is that more apparent than when we look at the recent anti-meta build that Steven Cardona's piloted to a Top 8 finish at the the San Antonio Regional Qualifier: a Demise Anti-Meta deck. While the era of the classic stun deck may be long gone, Cardona's take on the strategy carried many of the traditional hallmarks, leveraging them to tackle a field of Blue-Eyes White Dragon, Burning Phantom Knights, and Pendulums. Check it out.

    Demise Anti-Meta Steven Cardona    
  Location:  Regional 2016-10-08 San Antonio Texas - 5th - 8th Place
Main Deck
Side Deck
3 Banisher of the Radiance
1 Barrier Statue of the Drought
2 Fossil Dyna Pachycephalo
2 Guiding Ariadne
2 Thunder King Rai-Oh
Monsters [10]
3 Card of Demise
1 Dimensional Fissure
2 Mystical Space Typhoon
1 Necrovalley
2 Pot of Desires
3 Pot of Duality
1 Raigeki
1 Terraforming
1 The Seal of Orichalcos
Spells [15]
2 Anti-Spell Fragrance
1 Bottomless Trap Hole
1 Compulsory Evacuation Device
1 Macro Cosmos
1 Quaking Mirror Force
3 Solemn Strike
1 Solemn Warning
1 Starlight Road
2 Storming Mirror Force
1 Torrential Tribute
1 Vanity's Emptiness
Traps [15]
Deck Total [40]



Cardona's Side and Extra Decks are currently unknown.

Cardona's build effectively takes a two-layer approach in its attempt to beat the top strategies. On one hand, it looks to lock out Special Summons across the board; without Special Summoning, big decks like Blue-Eyes, Burning PK, and all the Pendulum variants just can't do anything. If you can stick Fossil Dyna Pachycephalo or Barrier Statue of the Drought, its effectively as good as Vanity's Emptiness on legs. Your opponent just gets to stand there, running Normal Summons into your traps as you peck them to death.

In addition, banishing effects that keep cards out of the graveyard can preempt or punish those strategies to varying degrees. Banisher of the Radiance, Macro Cosmos, and Dimensional Fissure create situations where cards like The White Stone of Ancients and The White Stone of Legend can't be triggered, while Sage with Eyes of Blue has nothing to retrieve and can't be sent to the graveyard. Burning Abyss and Phantom Knight monsters can't use their graveyard effects, and Pendulum Monsters get banished when they're destroyed, Tributed, or Fused, instead of being recycled back to the Extra Deck.

At the same time, a series of floodgate-type effects cover some, though often not all of those big match-ups. Thunder King Rai-Oh can stop single Special Summons, best applied to big Xyz and Synchros. Necrovalley's more graveyard hate, but can impact cards already in the graveyard, while alienating a narrower range of cards than the wholesale banish effects. Anti-Spell Fragrance is great against Blue-Eyes and Pendulums, but less useful against Burning Abyss and Phantom Knights. Starlight Road's awesome if your opponent's playing Twin Twisters or Raigeki – the latter newly popularized by Jowgen the Spiritualist – but less than awesome if your opponent isn't.

From there the rest of the deck is a pile of simple removal like Mystical Space Typhoon and Raigeki, as well as a bunch of controlling trap cards to keep the game in your grip: Bottomless Trap Hole, Compulsory Evacuation Device, and Torrential Tribute meet with more niche stuff like Storming Mirror Force and Quaking Mirror Force.

 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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What's interesting is that while a lot of this deck's very similar to builds from almost a decade ago, Thomas leveraged a range of newer cards to strengthen the old techniques. Card of Demise is any anti-meta deck's best friend if you're looking to hate on Special Summons, instead of making them yourself. Pot of Duality smooths draws and again, costs nothing due to the lack of Special Summons.

The Seal of Orichalcos makes it tougher to approach your monsters and gives you another option with Terraforming when you don't need Necrovalley. Thomas even ran double Guiding Ariadne, giving him a flexible beatstick that could pressure his opponent with no downside whatsoever. If Ariadne was destroyed Cardona would just get Solemn Strike or Solemn Warning and press on.

It's a very traditional approach bolstered by modern support cards, and it worked well enough to launch Cardona to a Top 8 finish. But what was even more surprising was that Cardona wasn't the only successful anti-meta player from the weekend. Shane Barbosa played a very different set of cards and relied on a different kind of playstyle to accomplish effectively the same thing, turning heads at the Regional Qualifier in South Portland.

    Barrier Statue Anti-Meta Shayne Barbosa    
  Location:  Regional 2016-10-08 South Portland Maine - 5th - 8th Place
Main Deck
Side Deck
3 Barrier Statue of the Drought
2 Barrier Statue of the Stormwinds
3 Fossil Dyna Pachycephalo
Monsters [8]
3 Card of Demise
2 Cosmic Cyclone
3 Forbidden Lance
1 Necrovalley
3 Pot of Desires
3 Pot of Duality
3 Terraforming
1 The Seal of Orichalcos
Spells [19]
3 Dark Bribe
3 Phantom Knights' Sword
3 Phantom Knights' Wing
3 Solemn Strike
1 Solemn Warning
Traps [13]
Deck Total [40]
3 Anti-Spell Fragrance
3 Banisher of the Radiance
2 Dark Hole
1 Ring of Destruction
3 Swords of Concealing Light
3 System Down
Side Deck [15]


1 Castel, the Skyblaster Musketeer
1 Clear Wing Synchro Dragon
1 Coral Dragon
1 Crimson Blader
1 Crystal Wing Synchro Dragon
1 D/D/D Duo-Dawn King Kali Yuga
2 D/D/D Flame King Genghis
1 D/D/D Gust King Alexander
1 D/D/D Oracle King d'Arc
1 Gagaga Cowboy
1 Masked HERO Dark Law
1 Naturia Barkion
1 Number 38: Hope Harbinger Dragon Titanic Galaxy
1 Red-Eyes Flare Metal Dragon
Extra Deck [15]

Big congrats, and thanks to Shayne Barbosa for sending his deck list via the Yugioh.tcgplayer facebook!

Looking at Shane Barbosa's build, there are a lot of similar cards and then a big departure in the way he plans to approach his games. Let's run through the similarities first.

New age support for decks that don't want to Special Summon? Checkmark: Barbosa doesn't run the Guiding Ariadnes, but he's got Card of Demise and Pot of Duality to get him to the cards he needs. He was leveraging that same backend support Cardona used to make his deck faster and more consistent.

Barbosa also played the same Field Spells, Necrovalley and The Seal of Orichalcos, for all the same reasons as Cardona, albeit he opted for a full three Terraformings to get to them more reliably. That makes sense, because his monster lineup let him make better use of The Seal. He also played some basic backrow control in the form of double Cosmic Cyclone, which seem better than Cardona's double Mystical Space Typhoon. Barbosa could afford the Life Point payments for Cyclone because he only ran Solemn Warning, while Cardona was playing triple Solemn Strikes as well, and was seeing them more often thanks to Guiding Ariadne.

From there the concept changes. While Cardona ran two Fossil Dyna Pachycephalo and one Barrier Statue, opting to play for heavy graveyard hate via triple Banisher of the Radiance, Dimensional Fissure, and Macro Cosmos, Barbosa went heavier into stopping Special Summons. He ran triple Fossil Dyna and a whopping five Barrier Statues, giving him a much better chance of fielding two monsters at once to stop attacks with The Seal of Orichalcos.

His entire plan hinged on this sort of all-or-nothing gambit, and you can certainly see the Reasoning: banishing cards on their way to the graveyard can meet with varied results in different match-ups, but everything needs to Special Summon. There are simply fewer ways to work around a Fossil Dyna or Barrier Statue in a vacuum, so Barbosa maxed out on the Summon-stoppers and then played a nutty lineup of cards to protect them: triple Forbidden Lance, triple Phantom Knights' Sword, and triple Phantom Knights' Wing, each protected by three Dark Bribes.

 Cosmic Cyclone
Cosmic Cyclone121322
Set The Dark Illusion
Number TDIL-EN065
Type Spell Card
Attribute SPELL 
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

Pay 1000 LP, then target 1 Spell/Trap Card on the field; banish it.

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You don't often see a “king of the hill” type strategy like that in Yu-Gi-Oh, ever, let alone in modern competition, but the Phantom Knight trap cards really elevate this approach. And it paid off; Barbosa managed to use those nine cards in conjunction with The Seal of Orichalcos to lock down game after game, and his wins are even more impressive when you sit back and realize he had no real win conditions.

It takes seven turns to win the game with one Fossil Dyna Pachycephalo, eight with a single Barrier Statue, and even doubling down with two monsters miraculously making direct attacks means a four-turn clock. That's the kind of thing that's possible when both Raigeki and trap cards are seeing minimal play in the top decks.

Both of these competitors scored massive accomplishments reviving the anti-meta playstyle last weekend. For decks like these to work, it's not enough for the right stars to align; everything needs to come together to create the opportunity, sure, but then you have to have the guts and the wisdom to see that opening and commit to it. Steven Cardona and Shayne Barbosa both managed to make that call, and their reward was a seat in next year's World Championship Qualifier… and a heckuva lotta respect.

Watch out for anti-meta strategies in your tournaments the next few weeks, and try to have a plan for the amorphous match-up. Not an easy feat, but at the very least, don't let these strategies surprise you.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer

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