Competitive Corner: Regional Top 8 Skull Servants?!

Jason Grabher-Meyer

3/17/2017 11:02:00 AM
 Comments

So Skull Servants are topping Regionals.

Note the ‘s' there. That's “Regionals,” plural.

This has happened more than once.

With Zoodiacs shaping the competitive landscape in both dedicated forms – pure Zoodiacs and Kaiju Zoodiacs – as well as splashable engines, played in decks like Infernoids, Metalfoes, and Burning Abyss, players are getting creative to try and fend off the Zoodiac juggernaut.

As time wears on more players pick up Zoodiacs, and that means effective counters to those cards gain utility over the course of an entire tournament. Conformity breeds opportunity, and we saw that pay off at YCS Atlanta where Paleozoic Frogs won the day for two reasons: a strong Game 1 matchup against the core Zoodiac strategy, and an even stronger Games 2 and 3 in the absence of Denko Sekka, which dropped off the Side Deck radar just long enough for Paleozoics to win.

That YCS-winning deck wasn't exactly a budget player's dream. It ran three copies each of Pot of Desires, Dimensional Barrier, Solemn Strike, Toadally Awesome, and even teched its own single Zoodiac Drident. But elsewhere in the world, players have been leveraging the Zoodiac suite's inherent weaknesses into big wins on a totally different scale. When Thomas Rose first topped a small Regional in Worcester England with Chain Burn, it seemed like a fluke. The most notable thing about it was GlasgowYGO dropping an early candidate for Deck Profile Of The Year.

(“He told me that his Side Deck and Extra Deck was – and I quote – ‘memes.' So, take that how you will…Just put memes in your Side Deck.”)

But two weeks later Chain Burn topped again. In fact, it topped not once but twice, at both an OTS in Canada and a Regional Qualifier in Sweden. Neither were tremendously notable tournaments, but Chain Burn topped again two weeks later, finally making its way into the Top 8 at a big US Regional. Absolute King Back Jack became one of the bestselling cards of the week, with three copies played in both the Swedish and American builds.

Blocking attackers with Waboku, Threatening Roar, Blazing Mirror Force, and Ojama Trio of all things, is apparently enough to keep a workable percentage of Zoodiac players from killing you immediately. Combined with cards like Balance of Power, Ceasefire, Secret Barrel, Secret Blast, and Just Desserts, Chain Burn players were able to survive a Zoodiac onslaught, and then turn the sheer card advantage the theme generates against its user.

And minus the one build that ran Zoodiacs itself, the builds were really affordable. Conformity had bred opportunity, and meme-side or not, players were beating the expected field to the tune of Top Cut finishes. And while that's perhaps the best example of creativity and sideways thinking playing against the grain this format, it's not my favorite. Because that honor belongs to today's subject: Skull Servants.

Like Chain Burn, the success of the Skull Servant strategy is one part new cards, and two parts opportunity. Here's our first example.

    60-Card Brilliant Skull Servants Duelist Unknown    
  Location:  Regional - 2017-02-18 London England - 5th - 8th Place
Main Deck
Side Deck
2 Fairy Tail - Snow
2 Gem-Knight Garnet
2 Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit
3 King of the Skull Servants
2 Lumina, Lightsworn Summoner
3 Mezuki
1 Performage Trick Clown
3 Raiden, Hand of the Lightsworn
2 Shiranui Solitaire
1 Shiranui Spiritmaster
2 Skull Servant
2 The Lady in Wight
2 Uni-Zombie
3 Wightmare
2 Wightprince
2 Wightprincess
3 Wulf, Lightsworn Beast
Monsters [37]
1 Book of Life
3 Brilliant Fusion
1 Burial from a Different Dimension
2 Charge of the Light Brigade
1 Foolish Burial
3 Instant Fusion
3 Left Arm Offering
3 Solar Recharge
3 That Grass Looks Greener
3 Twin Twisters
Spells [23]
Deck Total [60]
2 Chaos Hunter
1 Ehren, Lightsworn Monk
2 Gadarla, the Mystery Dust Kaiju
2 Garoth, Lightsworn Warrior
1 Jain, Lightsworn Paladin
1 Kumongous, the Sticky String Kaiju
3 Ties of the Brethren
3 Zombie World
Side Deck [15]

EXTRA DECK

1 Abyss Dweller
2 Black Rose Dragon
1 Bujinki Amaterasu
1 Bujintei Kagutsuchi
1 Bujintei Tsukuyomi
1 Castel, the Skyblaster Musketeer
1 Clear Wing Synchro Dragon
1 Dante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss
1 Elder Entity Norden
1 Gem-Knight Seraphinite
1 Michael, the Arch-Lightsworn
1 Scarlight Red Dragon Archfiend
1 Shiranui Samuraisaga
1 Shiranui Shogunsaga
Extra Deck [15]
Notes:


This build topped about a month ago in London, and to understand how that happened we need to evaluate it from two angles: use of new cards that helped modernize Skull Servants, and the trends the deck managed to exploit.

On the “new cards” front there are two big additions: Wightprincess and That Grass Looks Greener. The Skull Servant strategy's all about burying as many Skull Servants as possible in your graveyard, using them to power up a giant Skull Servants' rel="/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=King of the Skull Servants">King of the Skull Servants, and then protecting it with on-theme effects. The Lady in Wight and Wightmare both count as Skull Servants when they're in the graveyard, helping fuel Skull Servants' rel="/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=King of the Skull Servants">King of the Skull Servants.

Wightprince counts as a Skull Servant too, and it's got a trigger effect that kicks in when it's sent to the graveyard, giving you the option to send a Skull Servant and a Lady in Wight from your deck to the yard. Combined with regular ol' Skull Servant, as well as Uni-Zombie and Foolish Burial, and you've got phase one of the plan handled: load up on Skull Servants as ammo.

When Wightprince's in the graveyard you can banish it along with two “Skull Servants” to Special Summon Skull Servants' rel="/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=King of the Skull Servants">King of the Skull Servants from your deck. If you can Uni-Zombie or Foolish Burial the King instead, Mezuki can revive that as well. The London duelist even ran Book of Life.

Once Skull Servants' rel="/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=King of the Skull Servants">King of the Skull Servants is on the table, The Lady in Wight adds a layer of security by protecting it from battle, as well as the effects of spell and trap cards. It helps you cleave through your opponent's defenses. Wightmare can bring back a banished Lady or King, too, giving you even more resiliency. It's currently $12 in the TCGplayer Marketplace. Take a second to wrap your head around that, and then we'll move on.

 Wightmare
$19.01
$11.47
$8.00
Wightmare38569
Set Starstrike Blast
Number STBL-EN035
Level 1
Type Effect Monster
Monster Zombie
Attribute DARK 
A / D 300 / 200
Rarity Common
Card Text

This card's name is treated as Skull Servant while it is in the Graveyard. You can discard this card to activate one of these effects: * Select 1 of your removed from play Skull Servant or Wightmare, and place it in your Graveyard. * Select and Special Summon 1 of your removed from play The Lady in Wight or King of the Skull Servants.


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So you get the basic strategy: it's a three-phase plan for beating your opponent in the face with Skull Servants' rel="/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=King of the Skull Servants">King of the Skull Servants, and while that card languished in bulk boxes for years, new support just kept sneaking into releases. And now we're here, paying twelve bucks for Wightmares.

The first big new card is Wightprincess. With a notable 1600 ATK, you can Normal or Special Summon it to send a Wightprince to the graveyard. That triggers Wightprince, kicking a Skull Servant and The Lady in Wight to the yard and giving you everything you need to either Special Summon a Skull Servants' rel="/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=King of the Skull Servants">King of the Skull Servants, or boost its ATK by 3000.

Since you trigger Wightprincess' ability off a Special Summon, you can yard it and revive it with Mezuki or Book of Life and still get its effect. And since it's a Light monster, you can Brilliant Fusion for Gem-Knight Seraphinite and send Wightprincess straight to the graveyard for that kind of play, while getting Synchro Material and a second Normal Summon in the process. Combined with an effect that makes Wightprincess count as “Skull Servant” in the graveyard, and an ability that can stunt opposing monsters and place Wightprincess into the yard straight from your field or hand at Spell Speed 2, you've got a really flexible card that has tremendous synergy.

That Grass Looks Greener is the next big addition. No surprises here: it can send a ton of cards from your deck to the graveyard, loading up fodder for Skull Servants' rel="/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=King of the Skull Servants">King of the Skull Servants' ATK. Milling Mezuki sets up a free Special Summon, milling Wightprince triggers its effect and gives access to its from-the-deck Summon ability, and a number of other cards will combo with Wightprince's banishing cost – Shiranui Spiritmaster, Shiranui Solitaire, and Wightmare all combo with it.

The London duelist opted to play Fairy Tail – Snow and a Lightsworn engine for even more combo potential. Milling Snow or Wulf, Lightsworn Beast gives an immediate payoff, and any Lightsworn monsters in the graveyard become recursion targets with Lumina, Lightsworn Summoner. Playing Lightsworn gives more reward for That Grass Looks Greener, and of course brings Solar Recharge and Charge of the Light Brigade into the strategy for more milling. The sheer number of combos is overwhelming; virtually every card has positive interactions with a fistful of others.

 That Grass Looks Greener
$59.90
$31.49
$23.00
That Grass Looks Greener127321
Set Raging Tempest
Number RATE-EN066
Type Normal Spell Card
Attribute SPELL 
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

If you have more cards in your Deck than your opponent does: Send cards from the top of your Deck to the Graveyard so you have the same number of cards in the Deck as your opponent.


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Left Arm Offering gives more access to That Grass Looks Greener, and its banish effect is curbed by cards like Wightmare and Burial from a Different Dimension. Shiranui Solitaire gets you to Uni-Zombie, making both Synchro plays and setting up Mezuki and Wightprincess, and just about anything else.

Access to Uni-Zombie, combined with Instant Fusion for Elder Entity Norden and Raiden, Hand of the Lightsworn as another Tuner, gives the deck a Synchro toolbox with Clear Wing Synchro Dragon, Michael, the Arch-Lightsworn, Shiranuis, Scarlight Red Dragon Archfiend, and two copies of Black Rose Dragon. But the same cards also help integrate a Rank 4 Toolbox – one that includes Bujinki Amaterasu, Bujintei Tsukuyomi, and Bujintei Kagutsuchi – taking the deck in two more drastically different directions.

So you've got a Synchro strategy, a Rank 4 deck, and this absurd OTK with Skull Servants' rel="/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=King of the Skull Servants">King of the Skull Servants all working in tandem. And that's really the strength here. You can overwhelm opponents with a bunch of lucky mill effects to make big plays from the graveyard, sure, but you can also present a carefully ordered string of threats to leverage that advantage into a United Front that helps you break fields and hit for game with one huge attack.

It plays through trap cards with a mix of sheer force, mass removal, and specialized stuff like The Lady in Wight, while overpowering control-oriented monsters like Zoodiac Drident and then just running them over for damage. And since it's relying on three different kinds of monsters, Dimensional Barrier can't lock you out of the game, and Solemn Strike is just free damage. What looks like a giant heap of memes is actually very similar to the Chaos Dragon deck of old, but this deck mixes brute force with a much wider range of options and combos than Chaos Dragons ever dreamt of commanding.

It's smarter than it looks.

Flash forward three weeks, and a similar strategy with some different support took another Top 8, this time in France.

    60-Card Shaddoll Skull Servants Jean-Philipe Lucas    
  Location:  Regional - 2017-03-05 France - 5th - 8th Place
Main Deck
Side Deck
1 Fairy Tail - Snow
3 King of the Skull Servants
3 Mezuki
1 Plaguespreader Zombie
3 Shaddoll Beast
1 Shaddoll Dragon
1 Shaddoll Falco
2 Shaddoll Hedgehog
2 Shaddoll Squamata
3 Shiranui Solitaire
1 Shiranui Spiritmaster
3 Skull Servant
3 The Lady in Wight
3 Uni-Zombie
2 Wightmare
3 Wightprince
3 Wightprincess
Monsters [38]
3 Allure of Darkness
1 Book of Life
1 Burial from a Different Dimension
1 Foolish Burial
3 Instant Fusion
3 Left Arm Offering
1 Raigeki
3 Shaddoll Fusion
1 Soul Charge
3 That Grass Looks Greener
2 Twin Twisters
Spells [22]
Deck Total [60]
4 ?
1 Book of Moon
1 Compulsory Evacuation Device
2 Dark Hole
3 Gameciel, the Sea Turtle Kaiju
3 My Body as a Shield
1 Twin Twisters
Side Deck [15]

EXTRA DECK

1 Black Rose Dragon
1 Castel, the Skyblaster Musketeer
1 Clear Wing Synchro Dragon
1 Coral Dragon
2 El Shaddoll Shekhinaga
2 El Shaddoll Winda
1 Elder Entity Norden
1 Leviair the Sea Dragon
1 PSY-Framelord Omega
1 Shiranui Shogunsaga
1 Stardust Dragon
1 Trishula, Dragon of the Ice Barrier
1 Void Ogre Dragon
Extra Deck [15]
Notes:


A lot of the cards here are similar, though the numbers are a Little Different: Jean-Philipe Lucas ran more Skull Servant cards in his build, along with the same supporting Zombies – Mezuki, Plaguespreader Zombie, Uni-Zombie, and the Shiranuis. He relied on That Grass Looks Greener as well, and some of the same spell cards are present – stuff like Foolish Burial, Left Arm Offering, and Instant Fusion are core cards to any variant of this strategy.

But instead of running Lightsworn with Charge of the Light Brigade and Solar Recharge, he played a twelve-card Shaddoll engine instead. He passed on Brilliant Fusion to make that happen, and that probably cost him some summoning power compared to the Lightsworn build, arguably weakening his access to Synchros and Xyz. It also meant he had fewer milling cards. But he replaced the Lightsworn spells with Allure of Darkness to keep some acceleration, got a bit more draw power with Shaddoll Beast, and Shaddoll Falco would compensate a bit as well. Meanwhile Shaddoll Dragon gave him more backrow hate.

The big attraction was of course Shaddoll Fusion, which is almost guaranteed to pull cards from your deck in the era of Zoodiacs and Toadally Awesome. Anybody splashing Shaddolls right now is running El Shaddoll Shekhinaga and El Shaddoll Winda, and they both line up really well against the expected field: Shekhinaga negates key monster effects, while Winda blocks Zoodiac and Paleozoic combos, along with just about everything else. And thanks to Attribute-driven Fusion Materials, Shaddoll Fusion acts as a sort of Brilliant Fusion that can set up Mezuki, Skull Servants' rel="/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=King of the Skull Servants">King of the Skull Servants, and lots of other options.

Skull Servants don't just have potential advantages in current competition, they have a lot of flexibility as well. These two decks are fundamentally different in big ways, and each will do better in different environments, but they're both carefully structured to take advantage of current trends. They both offer a shocking range of options that make them surprisingly rewarding for a practiced player, too.

At the end of the day the big problem for both decks is consistency. They can make huge, flexible combos, sure, but they can both brick to a degree that many competitive players might not find acceptable. But with that acknowledged, the modern Skull Servant deck is just in its infancy, and it's already topping smaller Regional Qualifiers abroad. With more refinement it's easy to imagine it topping bigger events in North America.

Bottom line? If you're a lifelong Skull Servant fan, now's the time to brush the dust off your favorite deck. It could totally get you your invite, while totally confusing a lot of onlookers in the process. If you're looking for a budget deck you can actually compete with, while having an awesome time and turning some heads? Look no further. Brilliant Fusion's cheap as dirt these days, That Grass Looks Greener is down to twenty bucks, and the Extra Deck has a lot of wiggle room with no expensive staples.

If you don't dream of topping a Regional with Skull Servants just once in your dueling career, It's possible your priorities are out of line. Live the dream, people.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer


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