Competitive Corner: Hanko Chow On Igknight Zexal Lock

Jason Grabher-Meyer

1/20/2017 11:02:00 AM

Some really cool decks topped Regionals near the end of 2016.

Stuff like Awesome Spellcasters and Awesome Zombie Lightsworn were largely original strategies. Yang Zing Metalfoes, Abyss Actor Metalfoes, Kaiju BEWD, Burning Abyss Infernoids, and Ninja Paleozoic Frogs, innovated existing successes, while Fire King Kozmos, Satellarknights, and Domain Monarchs came roaring back from past eras to explode into modern Top 8's.

The catch? Most of those decks were one-hit wonders. They topped once – impressively so! – and disappeared as suddenly as they emerged.

…Which made one deck all the more interesting: Hanko Chow's Igknight Zexal Lock. Topping last year's Montreal Regional out of nowhere, the strategy impressed with its unique mix of cards and daunting win condition: it used Igknights to push multiple Xyz Summons to the field, then leveraged them into a combo that would unleash Number S0: Utopic ZEXAL. Going first with Zexal on the field means your opponent can't really do anything: its last effect lets you detach an Xyz Material from it on your opponent's turn, and if you do, your opponent can't activated cards and effects.

Your opponent can still set stuff, and they can Summon stuff, but Zexal's effect doesn't leave them with many options. Instead, it would leave Hanko Chow to figure out the best way to disassemble whatever his opponent fielded, and the best way to win from there. In an era where trap cards were unpopular and every deck needed to make combos to win, it was a powerful strategy.

The advent of Paleozoic Frogs and it wealth of trap decks knocked Igknight Zexal Lock off the competitive radar almost as soon as it materialized, but two weeks into the new year, Chow did something no one expected: he played the deck again, this time hedging his bets against trap-heavy decks by skipping on Armageddon Knight, Summoner's Monk, and Xyz Change Tactics, making room for triple Denko Sekka. And then he played it to an undefeated 9-0 record at the latest Regional Qualifier in Toronto.

Here's what it looked like.

    Igknight Zexal Lock Hanko Chow    
  Location:  Regional - 2017-01-14 Toronto Canada - 5th - 8th Place
Main Deck
Side Deck
3 Denko Sekka
3 Destiny HERO - Malicious
3 Igknight Gallant
3 Igknight Paladin
3 Igknight Templar
3 Igknight Veteran
1 Majespecter Unicorn - Kirin
3 Royal Magical Library
Monsters [22]
2 Ignition Phoenix
3 Instant Fusion
2 Painful Decision
3 Pot of Desires
2 Rank-Up-Magic Argent Chaos Force
1 Reinforcement of the Army
3 Summoner's Art
1 Upstart Goblin
Spells [17]
1 Vanity's Emptiness
Traps [1]
Deck Total [40]
2 Dark Hole
2 Dodger Dragon
2 Jinzo
2 Maxx "C"
3 Psi-Blocker
1 Raigeki
3 Trap Eater
Side Deck [15]


1 Beatrice, Lady of the Eternal
1 Constellar Ptolemy M7
1 Diamond Dire Wolf
1 Elder Entity Norden
1 Gagaga Samurai
1 Gaia Dragon, the Thunder Charger
2 Number 39: Utopia
1 Number 39: Utopia Beyond
1 Number C39: Utopia Ray
2 Number S0: Utopic ZEXAL
1 Number S39: Utopia Prime
1 Number S39: Utopia the Lightning
1 Rare Fish
Extra Deck [15]

Hanko Chow made his name with a string of tournament showings that have firmly grounded his reputation as a Toronto duelist, but he's actually from Barrie – a city over an hour north. “I've been living up here for the past five years and started playing competitively in 2014.” In that short period of time he's scored four Regional Top 8's and 2 YCS Top Cut finishes; a heckuva track record in any context, but a set of achievements made more impressive given the decks he's piloted.

Chow took his first Regional Top 8 in the Traptrix Hand Artifact format, but he got that first top with Evols – basically a competitive non-factor in one of the most competitive formats of the past decade. He got 1st place with an X-1 record, winning out on tiebreakers. “I lost to my friend Jason who was playing Lightsworns that day – this was before the Lightsworn Structure deck. He was probably the real winner that day,” Chow explained, “because he was undefeated til' the last round of Swiss. Because he lost, the tiebreakers somehow ended up favoring me and putting me in 1st Place.” Chow laughed as he recalled the story. “People say I got first, but really I think got Top 4.”

Three months later he'd top YCS Toronto with Satellarknights, and he proceeded to spend 2015 committed to that very deck. “2015 was a really bad year for me [as a result],” he explained. “And then in 2016 I made a New Year's resolution to try and play only combo decks for a whole year, and I went from Water, to Pendulums, and then I got 3rd Place at a Toronto Regional with my Extra Deck Monarchs variant.” That Regional saw Chow tap into a then-virtually-unused suite of cards that would later become recognized as some of the most broken support cards ever: Speedroids.

“I think I was one of the first players to try out the Speedroid engine in the TCG,” noted Chow, accurately. By that point Speedroids had seen successful use in the OCG, but were wholly underplayed stateside. Chow's performance at that Toronto Regional would change how Monarchs were played, and had a huge influence on the summer Championship season. He'd go on to play a revamped version of the strategy to a Top Cut finish four months later at YCS Toronto, replacing the Speedroids with Brilliant Fusion, Galaxy Soldier, and Metaphys Armed Dragon.

“After YCS Toronto I really laid back a lot and tried not to play too much. But then the Montreal Regional was coming up and I saw so much variety in the format, with Blue-Eyes a great deck, but still beatable, along with Majespecters, Metalfoes, and Demise Stun decks. Like, there was so much variety, but [all of the biggest decks had weaknesses or flaws to them.]” With the expected field largely locked, Chow set to practicing and eventually settled on his earlier version of the Igknight Zexal Lock deck, topping the Montreal Regional.

 Denko Sekka
Denko Sekka94557
Set The New Challengers
Number NECH-EN041
Level 4
Type Effect Monster
Monster Thunder
Attribute LIGHT 
A / D 1700 / 1000
Rarity Ultra Rare
Card Text

Cannot be Special Summoned. While you control no Set Spell/Trap Cards, neither player can Set Spell/Trap Cards nor activate Spell/Trap Cards that are Set on the field.

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He shelved the deck for a while, but brought it out of retirement when he saw a pattern emerge in trap usage. Facing a newer field of Paleozoic Frog decks and a spread of strategies now packing Dimensional Barrier, he switched things up a bit. “I just decided to Main Deck Denko Sekka, since it usually blows people out [in trap-heavy matchups.] I still can't believe how much success I [had at the Toronto Regional.]” Going undefeated in a whopping nine rounds of play in one of the most competitive metagames in North America was a surprise even to Chow.

The Origins of Igknight Zexal Lock
As we spiraled closer to the inner workings of the strategy, I asked Chow if he could explain how the deck first came to be. I wanted to know in his words why he decided to play it in Montreal, and why he decided to play it again in Toronto.

Chow was quick to give a disclaimer, noting that he was in no way taking credit for “creating” the deck. “This is Hanko's story from his perspective,” he qualified.

Chow first saw the Zexal Lock combo in one of his newsfeeds. “I tend to try and keep up to date with the game, so if I see something that catches my eye, I keep a note of it and see if I can make it better.” The combo that captured Chow's attention was a Dark Synchro variant that used Red Resonator to Special Summon Armageddon Knight from your hand, activating its effect to send Destiny HERO – Malicious to your graveyard. From there you'd banish Malicious to Special Summon another, Tune Red Resonator to Armageddon Knight for Stardust Charge Warrior, and overlay the Level 6's for Beatrice, Lady of the Eternal.”

From there you'd Beatrice Rank-Up-Magic Argent Chaos Force to the graveyard, retrieve it by Xyz Summoning Gaia Dragon, the Thunder Charger over Beatrice, and Instant Fusion making Number 39: Utopia with Elder Entity Norden and Armageddon Knight. From there you could pitch Argent Chaos Force to Rank-Up into Number S0: Utopic ZEXAL.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” Chow remarked, “but it all just didn't feel right. Drawing multiple copies of Red Resonator, Armageddon Knight, or Instant Fusion just isn't good. I thought the combo was gimmicky and inconsistent, but when you really look at it, it's really just Beatrice and a Rank 4 play.” Or two Level 6's and two Level 4's to break it down further.

 Beatrice, Lady of the Eternal
Beatrice, Lady of the Eternal115805
Set Premium Gold: Infinite Gold
Number PGL3-EN021
Level 6
Type Xyz/Effect Monster
Monster Fairy
Attribute LIGHT 
A / D 2500 / 2800
Rarity Gold Secret Rare
Card Text

2 Level 6 monsters
You can also Xyz Summon this card by sending 1 "Burning Abyss" monster from your hand to the Graveyard, then using 1 "Dante" monster you control as the Xyz Material. (Xyz Materials attached to that monster also become Xyz Materials on this card.) If Summoned this way, the following effect cannot be activated this turn. Once per turn, during either player's turn: You can detach 1 Xyz Material from this card; send 1 card from your Deck to the Graveyard. If this card in your possession is destroyed by your opponent's card (by battle or card effect) and sent to your Graveyard: You can Special Summon 1 "Burning Abyss" monster from your Extra Deck, ignoring its Summoning conditions.

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And that's when Chow had his lightbulb moment: “I remembered Igknights; I'd played them before, in 2015. They all search each other, and Blaze Fenix FTK was so good because the combo was just about making two Extra Deck monsters that led into more Extra Deck monsters. I thought the combo and synergies were perfect.” So Chow built it out. “I playtested it for weeks, and in that time I saw Niko Smith's deck that topped his Regionals, but I really didn't like his card choices of Performapals, Xyz Change Tactics and so on.” At the same time, Chow felt it was good to know that there was some corroborating history to the idea. “Sometimes I just thought it was still way too gimmicky; that I can't win unless I'm guaranteed to go first. But realistically, I always have a chance to go first in one of my three games. And in doing so, all I had to do was build a Side Deck to go second and I figured I MIGHT have a chance to win.”

Chow still had major qualms about the deck's ability going second. “I was very close to just playing PYS-Frames instead, a deck that can go first or second in any metagame.” Chow even had some tech picks in mind for the strategy. “But then I kept losing with that deck to Number S39: Utopia the Lightning, Solemn Strike, the Majespecter matchup,” Chow groaned at that one in particular, “and just the rules of the game – time limits.” So he returned to the Igknight Zexal Lock concept and in the transition, accepted the nature of the game: “I just said, you know what: playing cards is a game of chance so I might as well take the chance that I'll lose, and know exactly why I lost.”

The deck he'd created was so consistent going first that he felt entirely confident he'd have virtually no chance of opening with a brick hand going first, and he knew that if had the combo, nothing but a trap-heavy deck, or a hard answer like Forbidden Chalice or Kaijus could really stop him. “And you know what, after some time I realized that even if I go second, not all decks in the game were as consistent as mine. [My opponent] also has a chance of bricking when they go first, or they may not open with enough cards to stop me even if they can get through the lock. So I took the chance, made an expensive trip to Montreal for this great format, and the rest of that is history.”

Between his success at Montreal and his encore performance in Toronto, Chow competed in the London Ontario Regional Qualifier where he'd planned to play a Frog Mermail deck – no Atlanteans. “But sadly my friend didn't show up to lend me certain cards I needed, so I ended up playing my secondary deck I brought along, Volcanic Paleozoic Frogs.” Up against a field of Paleozoic Frog mirrors where his Volcanic Scattershots were effectively useless, he was constantly at a disadvantage. “After that Regional, the [metagame] for Toronto was basically the same.”

Chow was seeing more and more Paleozoics and Metalfoes, making the field more predictable and easier to exploit. “So I decided that since I probably won't be playing this deck anymore once Zoodiacs come out, that I'd give it one last shot, and while I was at it I'd Main Deck Denko Sekka, which of course did wonders for me in the Paleozoic matchup.” It vastly improved that critical matchup, where his Utopic Zexal was at its weakest.

Piloting such a unique an groundbreaking strategy, I wanted to know how long it took to really get to know how to play the strategy. What does it take to innovate on such a distinct level.

“I can't remember exactly,” Chow replied, “but probably less than two weeks before Montreal Regionals. I only playtested at night after work, so about four to six hours a night of just testing countless matchups online, and also just solitairing the deck. Finalizing card choices was really hard, but I just had to take a deep breath and hope I'd guessed correctly.” Chow laughed. “And during those two weeks I was back and forth on this and PSY-frames, too. And I was playing other mainstream decks [so I could] know their ins and outs.”

 Number S0: Utopic ZEXAL
Number S0: Utopic ZEXAL122285
Set Shonen Jump Magazine Promos
Number JUMP-EN077
Type Xyz/Effect Monster
Monster Warrior
Attribute LIGHT 
Rarity Ultra Rare
Card Text

3 "Number" Xyz Monsters with the same Rank
(This card's original Rank is always treated as 1.) You can also Xyz Summon this card by discarding 1 "Rank-Up-Magic" Normal Spell Card, then using a "Utopia" Monster you control as the Xyz Material. (Xyz Materials attached to that monster also become Xyz Materials on this card.) This card's Xyz Summon cannot be negated. When Xyz Summoned, your opponent's cards and effects cannot be activated. This card gains 1000 ATK and DEF for each Xyz Material attached to it. Once per turn, during your opponent's turn: You can detach 1 Xyz Material from this card; your opponent's cards and effects cannot be activated this turn (this is a Quick Effect).

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Okay, so with the history written, let's get down to the nitty gritty. While the deck's been broken down in Youtube videos before, I wanted the man himself to explain his win condition. I'm sure there's a ton of readers who still don't quite get how this deck does what it does. While there are lots of iterations of the core combo in this strategy, I asked Chow to outline an example play sequence.

“Well, the combo's very simple,” Chow began, unintentionally lying, because there's really nothing simple about this, but okay. “If you did not draw Rank-Up-Magic Argent Chaos Force, you search for it with Beatrice, Lady of the Eternal and Gaia Dragon, the Thunder Charger. There are a lof of "if" statements for certain situations – the play sequence can change it you have Pot of Desires, Royal Magical Library, or if you only draw three Igknights – but for now, I'll explain the most simple [iteration].”

You want to open with any four Igknight monsters, with at least one of them being a different Level from the rest. You play Igknights by activating two of them as Pendulum Scales, and using one of their effects to destroy them and search another Igknight from your deck or graveyard. “Whatever you put into your Pendulum Scale goes into your Extra Deck face-up,” explained Chow, “which means that those are the cards you'll be Pendulum Summoning later.” With that in mind, the goal is to set up 2 Level 4 Igknights and 2 Level 6's.

“Xyz Summon Beatrice, Lady of the Eternal with the two Level 6's, and use her effect to send Rank-Up-Magic Argent Chaos Force from your deck to the graveyard. Then you Xyz Summon Gaia Dragon, the Thunder Charger and because you Summoned a Rank 5 or higher monster, you can trigger the Rank-Up-Magic spell to add it back to your hand.” From there all you need is Utopia, so you overlay your Level 4's. “You could just pitch Rank-Up-Magic Argent Chaos Force then and there to Summon Number S0: Utopic ZEXAL, but Zexal will only have 3000 ATK.”

When you use its effect under those conditions, Utopic Zexal would go into your next turn with just 2000 ATK, making a game-finishing followup that much tougher. “Sooo, because Zexal just requires any ‘Utopia' Xyz Monster, you can actually Xyz Summon on top of the regular Utopia.” Number C39: Utopia Ray or Number S39: Utopia Prime will buff Zexal to 4000 ATK, falling to 3000 ATK on the followup. “And that is the Igknight Zexal Lock combo.”

But while Utopic Zexal gets all the credit, it's really only half the equation. Once Chow locks his opponent out of their first turn, he needs to finish them off on his second turn before they can fight back. That can mean a clean sweep against an empty field, or a near uphill battle pressing through monsters and a filled backrow.

So what's the most common followup that gets you to that Turn 2 win?

Chow started in on a question that I was starting to appreciate the complexity of as the interview was developing. “Whatever you've placed in the Scales, they're going to be the cards that you'll Pendulum Summon. So the Igknights in the Scale now will be your NEXT turn's Pendulum Summon. And this is the part where sometimes, you don't have control over it.” He proceeded to discuss a few different possibilities. Assuming a basic set-up of Gaia Dragon, the Thunder Charger and a 3000 ATK Utopic Zexal for 5600 damage…

“If you have two Level 6's as your next Pendulum Summon, you can either make Constellar Ptolemy M7 to bounce your opponent's monster and go for an attack that way, OR if you've detached Number 39: Utopia with Utopic Zexal's effect, you can make Number 39: Utopia Beyond for more damage.” Utopia Beyond's a great closer for multiple reasons: it squashes all opposing monsters' ATK to 0, and its Quick Effect can banish one of your Xyz Monsters to bring back a Utopia monster from the graveyard. “That means Beyond can go in for 3000 attack and get you a 2500 ATK attacker as well.”

“If you have two Level 4's then you can make Diamond Dire Wolf to destroy their monster, a trap, or you can make Gagaga Samurai to really put the pressure on. You need to do that so that if they do have a Solemn Strike or a Dimensional Barrier, you'd rather force them to use it on our turn rather than on their turn to negate Utopic Zexal's effect. But if they have multiples, there's not much you can do.” Gagaga Samurai hits the field with 1900 ATK and attacks twice, taking out nearly half your opponent's Life Points on its own.

Chow noted that sometimes he'd even go for a second Utopia Rank 4 into Number S39: Utopia the Lightning to attack a defense mode monster and deprive it of its effect, too. His goal for Turn 2 is to do everything possible to put as much pressure as possible on his opponent, and force them to use their defensive traps so that he can keep them locked down on the following turn with Number S0: Utopic ZEXAL. “If I do enough damage and get them down below 1500 LP, then they can't use Solemn Strike,” Chow added.

That was a TON of insight, but join us again later this afternoon where we'll continue the discussion with Hanko Chow. We'll talk about why Chow runs not one, but two Utopic Zexals; what match-ups DON'T call for a Turn 1 Utopic Zexal; and what he does when he's going second. All that and more in Part 2.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer

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