Side Deck Theory: Zoodiac Crisis at YCS Pittsburgh

Kelly Locke

5/23/2017 11:00:00 AM
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Expectations were shattered last week at the first North American YCS of the Maximum Crisis season. Going into the event, players expected Zoodiacs to face strong competition from Dinosaurs and True Dracos. Neither deck made it into the Top 32. Instead, the Top Cut consisted entirely of Zoodiacs and Zoo hybrids.

I think it was a case of mismatched expectations. True King Dinosaurs were likely overhyped after some excellent early performance before MACR's release, but Zoodiacs have been greatly outperforming them at the Regional level. True Dracos are in a similar position.

There are two big takeaways from YCS Pittsburgh: Zoodiacs are the deck to beat by a wide margin, and the Fusion Substitute combo is the defining play of the format. Answering the Zoodiac match-up is paramount, but not all match-ups are the same; each hybrid brings something unique to the table. Our current competitive environment is strikingly close to the OCG format prior to their most recent Forbidden & Limited List and the introduction of the Link Mechanic.

Speaking of F&L Lists, ours is still a ways out. The June 2017 List was announced surprisingly far in advance, and if you're going to a Regional in the next three weeks you'll be stuck playing under the current List. Unfortunately this is the last chance for many of us to score invites to a WCQ, and those WCQ's will be played under the new format instead of the current one.

Normally I'd transition from discussing the aftermath of an event to figuring out how players will adjust from one format to the next. This time around the current format will remain relevant extremely relevant for quite a while.

There's still plenty to talk about from Pittsburgh.

Zoodiacs Take Center Stage
The Top 32 at YCS Pittsburgh was a tremendous success for anyone who bet long-term on Zoodiacs. It's the final proof of what everyone predicted back when Raging Tempest launched: that Zoodiacs were on the same level as Performage Performapals and Nekroz relative to the rest of the competition. For a while Paleozoics, Infernoids, and even Dinosaurs gave them a run for their money, and to be totally fair they still do at the Regional level. Now, after an outstanding showing at the first YCS after MACR, the results are in: not only are Zoodiacs the deck to beat, but their variants are clearly a full step above the competition.

So what makes Zoodiacs so successful? Besides simple things like consistency and excellent card effects, part of their winning strategy is based on hand traps. The astonishingly small footprint of the Zoodiac engine has let players load up on cards like Maxx C, Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit, Flying C, Droll & Lock Bird, and the newly-released Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring. Ash Blossom is absurdly powerful this format, so any deck that can get away with a full playset Main Decked will have a serious advantage.

Check out some of the Pure Zoodiac lists from the event. 2nd Place finisher Peter Xiang played thirteen hand traps in his Main Deck while siding another three. The last time we saw decks playing that many hand traps was actually the last time Droll & Lock Bird was relevant: all the way back in the 2013 Dragon Ruler and Spellbook format. Dragon Rulers played high hand trap counts because their engine was robust enough to support close to a dozen monster dedicated to disruption. Zoodiacs can do the same, and that fact alone speaks volumes about their card design.

 Droll & Lock Bird
$11.75
$10.00
$8.75
Droll & Lock Bird115956
Set OTS Tournament Pack 1
Number OP01-EN004
Level 1
Type Effect Monster
Monster Spellcaster
Attribute WIND 
Rarity Super Rare
Card Text

During either player's turn, if your opponent adds a card(s) from their Deck to their hand (except during the Draw Phase): You can send this card from your hand to the Graveyard; for the rest of this turn, neither player can add a card(s) from their Deck to their hand.


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By any objective measure Zoodiacs reward their pilots with far too much card advantage for almost no investment. The now-infamous Fusion Substitute loop is defining the format, letting a Zoodiac player score a +5 in card advantage with no set-up. There are very few decks that can compete against it outside of those fueled by That Grass Looks Greener. Even then, a single Ash Blossom seals the match-up in the favor of the Zoodiac player.

Disrupting the Fusion Substitute combo is a requirement for success this format. Hand traps are vital here, but you don't necessarily need to play Ash Blossom: D.D. Crow, Maxx C, and Flying C are enough to end the combo if you're looking for more budget options. Banishing Elder Entity Norden or its target will usually stop your opponent in their tracks. It won't win you the duel though, so you'll still need a proactive follow-up.

You need two things to win the Zoodiac match-up: disruption and a follow-up board-breaking play. That no small feat, and most decks can't run enough hand traps before crippling their consistency. There's at least one strategy that masterfully blends disruption with offensive plays. Unfortunately that strategy happens to be Zoodiacs, and it's this dilemma that's primarily responsible for their overwhelming competitive success.

Dracos And Dinos Miss The Mark
True Dracos appeared as tech options for Zoodiacs, but the dedicated deck itself never made it to the Top 32. It has a proven record already as a Card of Demise-fueled strategy, topping Regionals at least three times already. True King Dinosaurs have a similar track record since MACR, topping three Regionals yet missing the Top 32.

There's solid evidence that True Dracos and Dinosaurs can compete. It's not as if it's impossible for non-Zoodiac decks to top Regionals, and as always I'd like to caution against a taking the Top 32 as gospel. We don't have entry number from Pittsburgh, so True Dracos and Dinosaurs may have simply been under-represented. However, both decks have clear disadvantages against Zoodiacs. They're slower, less explosive, have a harder time playing hand traps, and are generally less consistent.

Zoodiacs outclass every other deck in flexibility; the sheer number of variants keeps opponent's guessing. Other match-ups feature more known and established line-ups, but it's difficult to know exactly which cards your opponent is will have available in Game 1. Running into a surprise in Game 1 is a quick way to move to Game 2 early, and from there your opponent only needs one more win to seal the duel.

If they go first in Game 3 and open into an uninterrupted Fusion Substitute combo you're almost certain to lose. I can't overstate the advantage of playing what's arguably the best deck in the game while still being able to circumvent Main Deck tech choices and surprise your opponent. It's an amazing advantage that puts Zoodiacs well over the top.

Although both True Dracos and Dinosaurs have potential, much of it is locked away in a future format where Link Summoning and additional restrictions on Zoodiac cards have evened out the playing field. I'd be very hesitant to write off either deck so soon, but we also have to be honest about their performance at this YCS. Entry numbers might have played a roll, so unless we see more Regional tops from these strategies I'd expect players to drop them rather than pick them up.

One More Competitive Flop
Set Rotation was noticeably absent from the Top 32. Most Zoodiac players weren't running Field Spells to begin with, and even those playing Dragonic Diagram passed on the card. I was convinced that Set Rotation would see play as a Side Deck pick and counter side against True Dracos and True King Dinosaurs, but since neither of those decks made the Top 32 it's unsurprising that nobody sided it.

There was some chance that True Draco Zoodiac players would side Set Rotation against other Field Spell-heavy strategies. That didn't happen, and instead we saw Zombie World, Imperial Order, and Unending Nightmare in two of the top True Draco Zoodiac decks. Mike Albanese sided Zombie World to block his opponent's Tribute Summons, which prevented Master Peace or other True Dracos from entering the field with their effects. Twin Twisters, Imperial Order, and Anti-Spell Fragrance gave him more than enough outs to Field Spells, so Set Rotation was unnecessary.

 Cosmic Cyclone
$49.95
$13.80
$9.49
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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Richard Wattle also sided Imperial Order and traded Twin Twisters for Cosmic Cyclones. He sided Unending Nightmare too, which gave him complete control over all of the Continuous Spell and Trap Cards on the field. In both of these decks Set Rotation only gets in the way and doesn't offer utility that isn't already covered by other cards. The hype around Set Rotation might be overblown judging from the results at Pittsburgh, but this is only one event. Set Rotation is still seeing regular play at the Regional level.

YCS Pittsburgh sets the stage for the remainder of the WCQ season. As the new format slowly approaches we'll see the game's best innovators either attempt to beat Zoodiacs with an outside strategy, or build the game's best Zoodiac variant yet. Meanwhile the clock is ticking on That Grass Looks Greener decks, and the countdown to the end of the Fusion Substitute combo continues with many players, myself included, eagerly looking forward to it.

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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