Competitive Corner: Thomas Rose’s 1st Place Burning Phantom Knights

Jason Grabher-Meyer

11/4/2016 11:00:00 AM

ABC-Dragon Buster dominated in its first Regional Qualifier showings, and ever since, the biggest priority for competitive duelists has been finding ways to beat it. While ABC's instantly became the new deck-to-beat, we're clearly not in a one-deck format; frankly I was surprised at how well other strategies kept up with the ceiling-shattering powerhouse.

But those first Regional Qualifiers showed off a lot of great tech ideas, and players were clearly working overtime; we saw numerous strategies that weren't just aiming to survive the ABC onslaught, but take advantage of it and abuse its weaknesses. Special Summon-stopping cards like Barrier Statues, Vanity's Fiend, and Artifact Scythe were everywhere the past few weeks. Players interacted with ABC-Dragon Buster's banishing mechanic to keep it under control, limiting options with cards like Imperial Iron Wall and Ally of Justice Cycle Reader. Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries became a Main Deck pick for some, countering both ABC's and Burning Phantom Knights.

We even saw Dark Synchro top a YCS, countering ABC-Dragon Buster's removal ability with triple D.D.R. - Different Dimension Reincarnation. How cool is that?

Handsdown, the most successful duelists at YCS Liverpool were the ones that were best prepared for the ABC matchup. While ABC-Dragon Buster didn't make the finals, you only have to look as far as the Top 4 to see that statement in action: Niccolo Mazzoleni made it to the Top 4 with ABC's, strictly by running Artifacts to get an edge in the mirror.

But the biggest success of the weekend is also the biggest example of that beat-the-deck-to-beat mentality: Thomas Rose did everything in his power to position his Main Deck to tackle ABC-Dragon Buster head-on, and as a result, the weekend went to Burning Phantom Knights instead of ABC's.

A lot of the wrinkles of the ABC-Dragon Buster matchup are going to change over the weekend with the introduction of Invasion: Vengeance, bringing us new cards like Dimension Barrier and Pot of Acquisitiveness. But regardless, I think there's a ton of value in examining Thomas Rose's deck and seeing what beat the biggest, most anticipated deck of the year.

Here's how he did it.

    Burning Phantom Knights Thomas Rose    
  Location:  YCS - 2016-10-30 Liverpool England - 1st Place
Main Deck
Side Deck
1 Alich, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss
1 Barbar, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss
1 Calcab, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss
3 Chaos Hunter
1 Cir, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss
3 Farfa, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss
2 Fiendish Rhino Warrior
3 Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries
1 Graff, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss
1 Libic, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss
3 Scarm, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss
1 Speedroid Taketomborg
3 Speedroid Terrortop
2 The Phantom Knights of Ancient Cloak
1 The Phantom Knights of Ragged Gloves
3 The Phantom Knights of Silent Boots
1 Tour Guide From the Underworld
1 Vanity's Fiend
Monsters [32]
3 Allure of Darkness
1 Foolish Burial
3 Mask Change II
3 Pot of Desires
1 Reinforcement of the Army
1 Soul Charge
3 Twin Twisters
Spells [15]
2 Phantom Knights' Fog Blade
1 Phantom Knights' Sword
Traps [3]
Deck Total [50]
3 Anti-Spell Fragrance
2 Maxx "C"
3 Radian, the Multidimensional Kaiju
1 Shaddoll Dragon
3 System Down
3 Typhoon
Side Deck [15]


1 ABC-Dragon Buster
1 Beatrice, Lady of the Eternal
1 Blue-Eyes Spirit Dragon
2 Dante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss
1 Dark Rebellion Xyz Dragon
2 Leviair the Sea Dragon
1 Masked HERO Dark Law
1 Number 80: Rhapsody in Berserk
1 Number F0: Utopic Future
1 Super Quantal Mech Beast Grampulse
2 The Phantom Knights of Break Sword
1 Virgil, Rock Star of the Burning Abyss
Extra Deck [15]

Thomas Rose had a lot going for him with this deck list, but we can divide the specific measures he took to beat ABC-Dragon Buster into two categories: specific cards he played, and specific tactics he adapted from more conventional cards. This wasn't just a teched out Burning Phantom Knight deck with Side Deck cards mained. Sure, there's elements of that approach here. But this was a pincer attack with two different approaches working simultaneously, and the adaptation of several cards any Burning Phantom Knight deck would use anyways was key to Rose's success.

We'll talk about those tactics in a bit, but for now let's look at the individual cards Rose played to beat ABC's. There's a ton of tech here, so it's worth it to just go card by card and talk about each individually; we can establish a baseline and then build a bit of a deeper dialogue on top of that.

Three Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries are the first immediate standout in this list. Eliminating your opponent's ABC-Dragon Buster is huge, and at YCS Liverpool, lots of ABC players wouldn't have been expecting it in Game 1. It's seen a ton of play in the run-up to Liverpool and was huge at the YCS, but its context changes this weekend with the release of Pot of Acquisitiveness. The ability to recover those Reapered cards is huge for the ABC duelist, and it's almost guaranteed to see play since it has utility even if Reaper's not in the picture. In the grand scheme of things, Ghost Reaper may be the least relevant of Rose's tech choices moving forward.

Chaos Hunter's another story. Rose's second three-of tech pick, Chaos Hunter's a stellar mix of power and timing: dropping when his opponents went for a play like Bujintei Tsukuyomi, it's got a 2500 ATK body that Tsukuyomi can't get over. And while the ABC-Dragon Buster player will still get their draws and their setup with Bujintei Tsukuyomi's effect, there's no longer any payoff to it, since they'd need a rare out like Raigeki to clear the Chaos Hunter. It bought Rose the time he would've need to go off, and put a potential 2500 damage on the table to help him close the trap next turn.

 Chaos Hunter
Chaos Hunter39235
Set Storm of Ragnarok
Number STOR-EN085
Level 7
Type Effect Monster
Monster Fiend
Attribute DARK 
A / D 2500 / 1600
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

When your opponent Special Summons a monster, you can discard 1 card to Special Summon this card from your hand. Your opponent cannot remove cards from play.

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While Chaos Hunter's seen a ton of Side Deck play since the release of ABC-Dragon Buster, Rose's decision to Main Deck three instead set him apart from the pack. The discard cost is no problem, since it could easily trigger a Burning Abyss effect that could just advance Rose's position further, or set up a Phantom Knight for next turn – if you're unfamiliar, note that Chaos Hunter only stops your opponent from banishing cards. It's an entirely one-sided floodgate, made even better in this deck given how easy it is to pay for.

Speaking of one-sided floodgates, Masked HERO Dark Law was very similar. Like Chaos Hunter, Rose would have an easier time than usual putting Dark Law into play with Mask Change II, since whatever he'd send to the graveyard for the Special Summon would usually offer a valuable effect in return; he'd again offset the minus of card economy.

With Dark Law in play, the typical ABC gameplan of charging through Rank 4 plays and Bujintei Tsukuyomi to load the graveyard would be impossible, since those cards would all be banished instead of yarded. Search effects like Union Hangar and Reinforcement of the Army would be massively impeded too, and again, his opponents would often need an effect-driven out they just wouldn't have. And like Chaos Hunter, Dark Law's effects only apply to the opponent… not to Rose.

On the almost-more-reasonable side of things, the one copy of Vanity's Fiend would at least impact both players. But again, ease of play was a big factor: Rose could throw down easy and free Tribute fodder with the Special Summon of something like a Malebranche or Speedroid Terrortop, and still make out like a bandit on the exchange.

With so many control-oriented monsters that could each shut down ABC-Dragon Buster singlehandedly, Rose backed them all up with more than just redundancy: he played a single Phantom Knights' Sword too, giving him a searchable layer of protection to get his biggest monsters even further out of reach of his opponent's monsters, and ward off those errant destruction effects at the same time. It cost him virtually nothing, just taking one slot that would normally be reserved for a third Phantom Knights' Fog Blade, but offering more range and resilience that would've just been heartbreaking to try and fight through in Game 1.

Rose played a few specialized cards in his Extra Deck too, none of which are surprising: his own copy of ABC-Dragon Buster fueled Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries, he needed that one Masked HERO Dark Law for Mask Change II, and his favored Rank 4 off The Phantom Knights of Break Sword was Number 80: Rhapsody in Berserk.

That last one's a big deal because it's basically a must-run now anywhere you can make it – effectively any Rank 4 deck – as well as anything with The Phantom Knights of Break Sword. Expect Break Sword to become more important in the coming weeks as a result. By the same Token, Cairngorgon, Antiluminescent Knight is bound to see more play as well, though it wasn't the right fit for Rose.

And All That's Kind Of Obvious
Those cards we just called out are highly effective, but you also probably, ya know, read them when you looked at the deck list. To me, the really interesting part about this strategy is how Rose adapted cards Burning Phantom Knight duelists were already playing, to get more leverage against ABC-Dragon Buster. What am I talking about? Chiefly Farfa, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss.

Rose commented post-event that Farfa was integral to a number of his plays, creating independent answers to common ABC-Dragon Buster play patterns, or making existing answers even more brutal. Case in point: he specifically called out the opportunity to pitch Farfa for Chaos Hunter in response to his opponent's Xyz Summon of Bujintei Tsukuyomi. In that case, not only would they lose their forward momentum due to their inability to banish for ABC-Dragon Buster, they'd also temporarily lose their Tsukuyomi, missing the draws as well.

Meanwhile he ran three copies of Farfa and a Graff to search it, along with lots of conflicting monsters that could conveniently kick Graff or Farfa to the graveyard to trigger its effect. Beatrice and Foolish Burial could do the same thing, with triple Twin Twisters and triple Mask Change II creating similar opportunities. He even ran two Fiendish Rhino Warriors, an uncommon pick for Burning Phantom Knights but great here to give him more access to Farfa. When Farfa wasn't available or wouldn't suffice, Alich, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss could keep Bujintei Tsukuyomi from drawing cards as well.

 Bujintei Tsukuyomi (UTR)
Bujintei Tsukuyomi (UTR)79071
Set Legacy of the Valiant
Number LVAL-EN054
Level 4
Type Xyz/Effect Monster
Monster Beast-Warrior
Attribute LIGHT 
A / D 1800 / 2300
Rarity Ultimate Rare
Card Text

2 Level 4 LIGHT monsters
Once per turn: You can detach 1 Xyz Material from this card; send all the cards in your hand to the Graveyard (min. 1), then draw 2 cards. When this card with Xyz Material leaves the field because of an opponent's card effect: You can target a number of Level 4 "Bujin" Beast-Warrior-Type monsters in your Graveyard, up to the number of Xyz Materials that were attached to this card; Special Summon those targets. You can only control 1 "Bujintei Tsukuyomi".

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Clocking in at fifty cards total, there's a lot of finesse and subtle interactions going on here; Rose was no doubt fully aware of all of them. Everything played to stop ABC-Dragon Buster served other purposes as well, including a ton of overlap to dominate the mirror match.

Chaos Hunter, Ghost Reaper, Dark Law, and Vanity's Fiend would all range from annoying to game-ending against other Burning Abyss and Phantom Knight players. While ABC's were the most common deck in the Top 32, Burning Phantom Knights tied for the second most-represented strategy in the playoff rounds, matched only by Lightsworn… another deck that stumbles against Masked HERO Dark Law and Vanity's Fiend.

Thomas Rose threw everything but the kitchen sink at ABC-Dragon Buster, and managed to hit pretty much every other big deck in the Top 32 in doing so. With just two Metalfoes and seemingly no Majespecters in the Top Cut, he was perfectly positioned to beat the metagame at YCS Liverpool, and the decisions he made prepping for the tournament won him a well-deserved Championship.

Some of his methods might not carry forward through the release of Invasion: Vengeance, but a number of them well, and his success is also valuable as testament to the fact that ABC-Dragon Buster can be beaten with commitment, and relatively simple tactics. At least for now.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer

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