Side Deck Theory: YCS Atlanta’s Paleozoic Problem

Kelly Locke

3/14/2017 11:00:00 AM
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Competitors at YCS Atlanta remarked post-event that there were very few players running Denko Sekka at the latest Championship: a killer Side Deck card against Paleozoics. The coverage team had mentioned Denko Sekka earlier in the event livestream and noted that it wasn't seeing play due to Zoodiac Drident. Instead, players sided less effective answers to Paleozoics with more utility across a wider spread of match-ups.

You can grade a Side Deck on a number of factors: how well does it account for the most popular match-up? What is the balance of match-up utility and match-up effectiveness? Can it handle rogue match-ups? While it's important to consider the theory behind your build before you head into an event, it's just as important to analyze how your Side Deck actually performed after you've finished playing. How many cards were never sided? Which match-ups were your Side Decked cards ineffective against?

Any postmortem on YCS Atlanta has to include a discussion about Denko Sekka's lack of play, how Paleozoic player exploited that fact, and what that means going forward for the next YCS. Atlanta was full of new and interesting Side Deck trends, but I think the biggest story isn't what saw mass play for the first time.

Instead, it's what battle-proven picks didn't show up.

How Paleozoics Won YCS Atlanta
Paleozoics have a strong match-up against Zoodiacs largely because the deck plays so much backrow. Zoodiac Drident can't destroy set cards, and most Zoodiac monsters have a tough time attacking over Toadally Awesome, Ronintoadin, and Dupe Frog. Paleozoics are better at grinding out card advantage in the late game, which plays into the short fuse of Zoodiac strategies. It doesn't take long for Zoodiac players to start running out of cards, especially if their opening play or Daigusto Emeral is disrupted.

Heading into YCS Atlanta, players had three Paleozoic match-ups to worry about: standard Paleozoic Frogs, Zoodiac Paleozoics, and 60-card builds with That Grass Looks Greener. Aaron Levy made the Top 32 with a 60-card version, while Corey Roca and Ryan Pasnik topped with non-Zodiac builds. Overall the Top 32 was heavily loaded with Zoodiacs, so players appropriately prioritized answers to Xyz-heavy fields defended by Zoodiac Drident. Toadally Awesome and company didn't slip by unnoticed, but siding low-utility cards for the match-up was out of the question. Was that a Mistake?

I've talked about the limitations of top cut analysis in the past, and it's especially relevant here. I don't know everyone's match-ups from start to finish, but after watching several of Roca's matches on the stream it was clear that his opponents were not prepared to deal with his deck in Games 2 and 3. Take a look through the YCS Atlanta Top 32 deck lists and pay particular attention to their Side Decks. The lack of Denko Sekka's noteworthy, but what exactly replaced it? Twin Twisters is a decent choice at best, and Roca shrugged it off in his interview. It's not nearly as effective as a dedicated answer to traps.

 Cosmic Cyclone
$29.99
$12.94
$9.45
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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Another popular pick against Paleozoics is Cosmic Cyclone. It's a slightly better Mystical Space Typhoon that banishes a targeted Paleozoic trap, but like Twin Twisters and Mystical Space Typhoon it only simplifies the duel with a 1-for-1 trade. That's great if you're in the lead with an established Zoodiac board, but possibly useless when you're trying to push through a field of set traps.

Chain Disappearance can answer the entire Frog line-up and most of the Zoodiac engine. It's a one-card play-stopping machine that also happens to be a Normal Trap. Losing a Frog to it is a serious blow, but again it's not a game-ender. Your opponent can chain their Paleozoics to its activation and continue towards an Xyz Summon.

Xyz hate like Flying “C” and Forbidden Apocrypha saw action at the Top 32 as players sought out one-card solutions to Zoodiacs. Flying “C” will delay your opponent's Xyz Summons, but few decks can stall better than Paleozoics. Forbidden Apocrypha's dangerously ineffective against Toadally Awesome as your opponent will most likely tribute their monster for a negation every turn. Paleozoics have too many chainable traps for Forbidden Apocrypha to resolve consistently, and it will trigger Toadally Awesome's graveyard effect anyways.

Different Dimension Ground has picked up in play to counter That Grass Looks Greener, and it can be an effective Side Deck card against Paleozoics too. Unfortunately it's mediocre against builds that aren't running That Grass Looks Greener, and the majority of Paleozoics in the Top 32 weren't. Nearly everyone was siding heavily for Zoodiacs and Green strategies, but they rarely had strong answers to those few decks without them.

The lack of Side Deck cards targeting Paleozoics specifically gave Roca and others a huge advantage going into the event. It's easy to overcompensate for Zoodiacs: it's the most popular and most effective strategy out there. But Zoodiacs aren't the only match-up in the game, and they're certainly not far gone enough to simply ignore everything else.

Overcorrecting Is A Problem Too
A Paleozoic win at a major event is a reminder that Zoodiacs, Kaijus, and Infernoids aren't the only game in town. There's been a shocking amount of rogue success at Regionals lately, and I'd be remiss to suggest that you try to side for every match-up. Paleozoics will likely see a bit more play, but they'll also receive more Side Deck hate. That's the way of the game: once players see a deck as a threat, its success tends to go down simply because of Side Deck tech.

Yes, you should probably side more effective cards for Paleozoics if your deck has a bad match-up against it. No, you shouldn't drop everything and dedicate half your Side Deck to one match-up, including Zoodiacs. Overcorrecting for any emerging deck is just as bad as loading up on way too many cards for a couple of match-ups. Making the most of match-up utility and effectiveness should still be a priority even while Zoodiacs are in every other match-up.

Constantly refining and re-evalutating your Side Deck choices for Zoodiacs helps to maintain a smaller and more efficient card count. Otherwise you'll end up with a third or more of your Side Deck dedicated to a single match-up. That's not a lot of room left to hit your worst match-ups, major rogue match-ups, or even the second or third-most popular match-ups.

Locking into a handful of cards for one or two match-ups is something we see often see towards the end of formats, or whenever there's a single dominant deck. It's also surprisingly a great time for players to win with completely unexpected strategies, like T.G.s. It doesn't happen often, but when a player comes out of nowhere with a rogue strategy to secure a win there's a good chance that deck wasn't being heavily sided for, even on accident.

 Denko Sekka
$33.98
$4.84
$2.99
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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The answer to YCS Atlanta's Paleozoic problem isn't to side more cards against Paleozics. Instead, the best way to address those gaps in Side Deck coverage is to continue testing against Zoodiacs and Infernoids. Those two match-ups alone are occupying a ton of Side Deck space right now. There are several Top 32 Side Decks with a mixture of Artifact Lancea, Imperial Iron Wall, and Different Dimension Ground. That might have been overkill, although we can't necessarily know for sure.

There's a world of difference between how a Side Deck, or Main Deck for that matter, is designed to work versus how it actually performs. Match-ups and tech choices can throw a wrench in your plans or give you an unexpected advantage. A lot of it comes down to luck. Part of the challenge of Yu-Gi-Oh! is fighting back against random chance by introducing as much consistency to our strategies as possible. When planning out a Side Deck, that consistency appears in the form of utility and plenty of research.

Takeaway From Atlanta
The YCS Atlanta finals was a painful example of what happens when your Side Deck picks just aren't doing the job. Chase Cunningham's Zoodiacs were missing the sided cards he needed to win his final match of the day, which left him relying on Forbidden Apocrypha to get the job done. It didn't. Still, arguing that he might have won with sided copies of Denko Sekka, Royal Decree, Jinzo, or some other card ignores every match-up where he sided in other cards in his Side Deck. The trade-off of more effective sided cards versus Paleozoics is lower match-up utility, and that would have affected him over the course of the entire weekend.

The takeaway from YCS Atlanta isn't that players sided poorly. None of these Top 32 builds are anything short of excellent, and that's without complementing the player skill required to top a highly competitive championship-level event. Instead, it's a roadmap for rogue strategies this format. With everyone zeroing in on Zoodiacs there's never been a better time to compete with a deck that avoids all of the most popular Side Deck picks. Paleozoics just so happened to be that deck for YCS Atlanta. What other decks are similarly positioned for success?

Wins like these are rare and fleeting. As players adjust their Side Decks new vulnerabilities will open up in specific metagames. I wouldn't expect the same builds to show up at YCS Seattle next month. For now there are plenty of Regionals to take non-Zoodiac strategies to, and I think we'll continue to see decks like Fluffals, Yang Zings, and even Cubics top those events.

Until next time then

-Kelly

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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