Side Deck Theory: Winter Format Overview

Kelly Locke

12/6/2016 11:00:00 AM

Another YCS wrapped up late last month following the release of both Invasion: Vengeance and Destiny Soldiers. The last time I reviewed a YCS preceeded those sets, right after YCS Minneapolis. The format has changed a lot since, especially with Dimensional Barrier and Toadally Awesome appearing in over half of the Top 32 at YCS Anaheim. This week we'll be reevaluating the state of the competitive environment using the results from Anaheim and recent Regionals.

YCS Anaheim was a massive event with 1,769 players competing for a spot in the Top 32. There was a reasonably diverse lineup in the Top 32: ABC's, Metalfoes, Paleozoics, Mermails, Heroes, Yang Zings, Dark Lords, and Blue-Eyes all made a Top Cut showing. As expected, ABC's remained the deck to beat, claiming nine spots in the Top 32. Elvis Vu won the event with that straetgy and further cemented its place at the top of the format.

Here's how that Top 32 broke down:

9 ABCs
7 Metalfoes
5 Paleozoics
3 Heroes
3 Mermails
2 Darklords
2 Yang Zing Metalfoes
1 Blue-Eyes White Dragon

Anaheim was an interesting tournament not just because of its size and location, but also because it was the first YCS stateside since the release of Invasion: Vengeance. The new Metalfoes and Paleozoic cards had a huge impact on how those decks performed and helped them claim multiple spots in the Top 32. Toadally Awesome made Paleozoics frighteningly competitive, and gave Heroes and Mermails a serious competitive boost.

Yang Zings made a rare YCS top after a string of Regional Top 8's. Support from Invasion: Vengeance helped the deck rise up from the status of the forgotten theme of Duelist Alliance to make it a powerful competitive strategy. Lastly, Dimensional Barrier saw play everywhere at Anaheim. It was easily the most popular trap at the event next to Solemn Strike. Dimensional Barrier is a game-changing card, and certainly influenced the kinds of decks and themes that were successful over the weekend.

Destiny Soldiers was also newly legal for YCS Anaheim. Darklords were a strong contender in the OCG upon release, and after several Regional tops and two YCS tops it's clear that the deck is highly competitive here. That's a good sign for the deck going forward, and we can probably expect to see the deck showing up at Regionals consistently through the end of the format.

Paleozoic Threat
Paleozoic Frogs made a showing in the OCG despite Harpie's Feather Duster, so it was no surprise that it was a hit here in the TCG. Michael State was one win away from making Paleozoics an even bigger story over the weekend, but I think placing 2nd sends a strong enough message. That message is simple: Paleozoics are incredibly strong, hugely popular, and well worth siding for.

Trap-heavy strategies haven't been terribly successful this year. Paleozoics are an exception to a field of aggressive strategies, but this deck still relies on a win condition that many other themes share: Toadally Awesome. It's very much at home in Paleozoics with plenty of Frogs to feed its effect and upwards of fifteen traps that double as Xyz Materials. It's a wonder how Paleozoic players ever lose when they can Summon Toadally Awesome on Turn 1.

I talked about Toadally Awesome two weeks ago and discussed how to side against it. The success of Paleozoics and Awesome Heroes at Anaheim emphasizes how important it is to have outs to Toadally Awesome, but the bigger story here might be that Paleozoics and Heroes demand dedicated Side Deck cards if those match-ups are challenging for you. Side Deck space is already limited this format with so many different decks being played, which is why I emphasized siding cards for Toadally Awesome that had as much match-up utility as possible. That's still the ideal plan going forward, but it might not be enough.

We saw Wiretap return to YCS-topping Side Decks in response to Paleozoics, plus other anti-backrow cards like Denko Sekka and Cosmic Cyclone. Twin Twisters remained a popular pick despite falling short against Dimensional Barrier, and YCS winner Elvis Vu later mentioned that he wished he had played another copy of Twisters in his Main Deck to help push through Paleozoic backrows.

 Toadally Awesome
Toadally Awesome124750
Set Invasion: Vengeance
Number INOV-EN052
Level 2
Type Xyz/Effect Monster
Monster Aqua
Attribute WATER 
A / D 2200 / 0
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

2 Level 2 Aqua-Type monsters
Once per turn, during the Standby Phase: You can detach 1 Xyz Material from this card; Special Summon 1 "Frog" monster from your Deck. Once per turn, during either player's turn, when your opponent activates a Spell/Trap Card, or monster effect: You can send 1 Aqua-Type monster from your hand or face-up from your field to the Graveyard; negate the activation, and if you do, destroy that card, then you can Set it to your field. If this card is sent to the Graveyard: You can target 1 WATER monster in your Graveyard; add it to your hand.

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Making decisions based on the expected level of backrow in your match-ups can be tough, especially when one of the most popular traps in the game is chainable to removal. It's been a while since we've had to make hard decisions about Main Deck backrow removal, but those choices are back thanks to Paleozoics. Complicating matters further are Artifact ABC builds; two players topped YCS Anaheim with full Artifact engines.

Besides the fact that Artifact Lancea, Artifact Scythe, and Artifact Moralltach are strong against today's decks and monsters, the Artifact engine also discourages blind backrow removal. Nobody wants to hit an Artifact card or two with Twin Twisters, and the engine itself supports more removal by way of Artifact Ignition. It's a great solution to many of the challenges in the format, and lets ABC players hide ‘real' backrows like Floodgate Trap Hole and Solemn Strike among their Artifacts.

Regional Performances
YCS Top 32's only tell part of the story; going by that information alone would omit the surge of Lightsworn players across Regional events. Awesome Lightsworns are an oddity that's difficult to discuss without noting that the deck's vastly more competitive with a YCS prize card. Minerva, the Exalted Lightsworn hasn't been mass released yet, but could be on its way next year in a Gold Series release. Number 106: Giant Hand and Digvorzhak, King of Heavy Industry were reprinted in last year's Gold Series, but those cards had been out of circulation for much longer than Minerva.

Is Minerva absolutely necessary? There's at least one list from a Barcelona Regional without Minerva in it, and another variant from Omaha Nebraska. Those builds demonstrate that no, Minerva isn't necessary. That said, it definitely helps. I don't think either player would have passed up a Minerva if it was available.

David Ramirez and James Sledd are just two Lightsworn duelists running the deck without Minervas. At this point it's a relatively common match-up, and not one I'd advise ignoring. Fairy Tail – Snow's a powerful card, and the deck's ability to play around backrow is uncanny. Just when you think you've blocked their last Summon your opponent will play an Instant Fusion, Brilliant Fusion, or Pot of Acquisitiveness that puts them back in the game.

Lightsworns, Paleozoics, and Heroes are clearly trending up, but the jury is still out on Blue-Eyes. It's hard to tell exactly what the deck is doing right now. Ryan Murakami made the Top 16 of YCS Anaheim the deck, but he was the only Blue-Eyes player in the Top 32. It's still making Regional Top 8's though, so it's by no means a dead strategy. What we're likely seeing is the last vestiges of dedicated players taking it to events where they feel they have strong match-ups against known local metagames.

 Brilliant Fusion
Brilliant Fusion122379
Set 2016 Mega-Tins Mega Pack
Number MP16-EN082
Type Spell Card
Attribute SPELL 
Rarity Super Rare
Card Text

When this card is activated: Fusion Summon 1 "Gem-Knight" Fusion Monster from your Extra Deck, using monsters from your Deck as Fusion Materials, but change its ATK and DEF to 0. If this card leaves the field, destroy that monster. Once per turn: You can discard 1 Spell Card; the monster Special Summoned by this card's effect gains ATK and DEF equal to its original ATK and DEF, until the end of your opponent's turn. You can only activate 1 "Brilliant Fusion" per turn.

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The waning strength of Blue-Eyes Spirit Dragon is concerning. It's no longer the powerhouse it once was, especially with only two major Pendulum match-ups still seeing play. ABC-Dragon Buster can easily dispatch Spirit Dragon unless it's protected by another card, and those kinds of set-ups are rare. Blue-Eyes can take out a ton of cards in a short period of time and build up card advantage through Number 95: Galaxy-Eyes Dark Matter Dragon, but that can be impossible if your opponent has a Dimensional Barrier in the early game.

Consistency is also a factor here. ABC's regularly outperform Blue-Eyes and build their fields more consistently. ABC-Dragon Buster's usually a more dangerous card than Blue-Eyes Spirit Dragon and it's far easier to Summon. A strong Metalfoes match-up is one of the only things keeping Blue-Eyes competitive this format, though it demolishes plenty of rogue decks.

As a result, I think we're already seeing players drop most of the cards they side for the Blue-Eyes match-up. The cards that are sticking around have huge match-up utility and validate their space in other ways. Anti-Light tech like Light-Imprisoning Mirror has utility against ABC's; monster removal deals with ABC-Buster Dragon, Toadally Awesome, Masked HERO Dark Law, and Vanity's Fiend; and Anti-Spell Fragrance remains a top pick against Metalfoes and other Pendulum decks. One of the advantages of playing a rogue strategy is that most players aren't siding for your deck specifically. Blue-Eyes suffer from too much cross coverage to benefit from that just yet, and that's assuming they drop in popularity enough to escape notice in the first place.

Burning Abyss and Phantom Knights are also seemingly on their way out. The deck's match-up against ABC's is difficult to win and full of blowouts for the ABC player. A chainable banish effect on a 3000 ATK monster that can dodge Farfa, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss is a nightmare for players who don't have plenty of backrow waiting to negate ABC-Dragon Buster or Bujintei Tsukiyomi.

This might indicate a breaking point for the Burning Abyss engine. Repeat hits on the Forbidden & Limited List have taken their Toll, and freshly Unlimited strategies just perform better. That said, there's no sign that any of these themes – Blue-Eyes, Burning Abyss, Phantom Knights – are dying out completely. They're still at Regionals and YCS events, but I think their popularity might be declining. As always, keep in mind that results reporting for Regionals isn't perfect. We're at the mercy of people who get deck profiles, and if those reporters aren't interested in these decks then we'll naturally see fewer of them on our deck archive database.

Until next time then


Kelly​ ​Locke​ ​is​ ​a​ ​West​ ​Michigan​ ​gamer,​ ​writer,​ ​and​ ​college​ ​student.​ ​​ ​In​ ​addition​ ​to​ ​writing​ ​on TCGplayer,​ ​Kelly​ ​writes​ ​​personal​ ​blog​​ ​covering​ ​Yugioh,​ ​Destiny,​ ​and​ ​other​ ​hobbies.​ ​You​ ​can follow​ ​him​ ​on​ ​​Twitter​​ ​and​ ​check​ ​out​ ​his​ ​​Youtube​ ​channel​.​ ​​ ​He​ ​is​ ​currently​ ​studying​ ​marketing​ ​at Western​ ​Michigan​ ​University,​ ​and​ ​hopes​ ​to​ ​graduate​ ​before​ ​​Dragon​ ​Ravine​​ ​is​ ​Unlimited.

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