Side Deck Theory: Key Match-Ups Of The New Format

Kelly Locke

10/4/2017 11:00:00 AM

The latest Forbidden & Limited List launched nearly three weeks ago and the Regionals and Ultimate Duelist Series Summer Invitational since have given us a good idea of how the rest of the format -Circuit Break format will likely continue. The top decks have shifted around quite a bit, and the absence of Zoodiacs and Dinosaurs is a stark change from last format. The rise of Pendulum Magicians, the return of Paleozoics and ABCs, and the emergence of new True Draco hybrids are now the defining forces of the competitive scene.

Not everyone jumps to a new deck immediately, and you can probably imagine at least a few reasons why. Switching decks might not be possible right away if you're building from scratch, and if your investments were knocked down by the F&L List it could be difficult to leverage your cards in trades for the next big competitive strategy.

I think that explains, in part, why so many players are clinging to True Dracos at the moment. It's still a great deck, thanks mostly to Master Peace, the True Dracoslaying King, but there's something to be said for the volume of players who would rather add the Invoked engine to their existing deck than transition to something totally different.

We have holdovers, variations of last format's best strategies, returning favorites from earlier this year and even last year, and a handful of newer themes from Code of the Duelist competing on a much more even playing field now that Zoodiacs, True Dracos, and Dinosaurs have been taken down a notch. So this week I want to dive into the various match-ups that have emerged and attempt to answer that all-important question: what is the deck to beat?

Pendulums Are Back, And They Have True Dracos To Thank
Pendulum Magicians took five spots in the Top 8 at the UDS Summer Invitational , surging back into the competitive spotlight and making additional Top 8 appearances at multiple Regionals. It wasn't exactly a surprise to players, many of whom had noticed the deck's success just prior to the North American World Championship Qualifier. Combined with new support from Pendulum Evolution, the June F&L List pushed Pendulums up to a highly competitive level, but their tournament success still paled in comparison to Zoodiacs and True Dracos. Although some players ignored them entirely there were plenty of us who recognized their potential.

It wasn't hard to see their future potential, and discussion immediately after the F&L List quickly revealed just how many players had been sitting on Pendulum Magicians until something was done about Zoodiacs, True Draco, and Dinosaurs. The Zoodiac engine was actually used in Pendulum Magicians, but taking it out of the game ultimately helped propel the deck to a top spot in the format. The threat of that match-up and concerns about Zoodiac Drident are gone, and two other key match-ups took a hit. Pendulum Magicians were right at the precipice of success just a handful of months ago, and now they're easily among the best decks in the game.

It's not just a shift in match-ups that's helping Pendulum Magicians find success. In fact, it's not even Wavering Eyes. It's a solid card, but it's not nearly as powerful as it once was. Under Link rules you're mostly limited to one Extra Deck Pendulum Summon per turn anyways, so loading up your Extra Deck isn't as valuable as it once was. Even triggering your own Magicians doesn't make Wavering Eyes a must-play, though you'll still be forced to play it in response to the popular mirror match.

 Dimensional Barrier
Dimensional Barrier141659
Set 2017 Mega-Tins Mega Pack
Number MP17-EN163
Type Normal Trap Card
Attribute TRAP 
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

Declare 1 monster card type (Ritual, Fusion, Synchro, Xyz, or Pendulum); for the rest of this turn, neither player can Special Summon monsters of the declared type, also negate the effects of all monsters of that type while they are on the field. You can only activate 1 "Dimensional Barrier" per turn.

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Instead, it's the presence of True Dracos that's keeping Pendulum Magicians in the game. Odd, I know, but consider that Dimensional Barrier's still in competition; Pendulums are incredibly vulnerable to Dimensional Barrier because it affects both their Special Summons and their Pendulums on the field. It's a one-card solution to monster effects and the Pendulum Summon of Pendulum Monsters from the hand or Extra Deck. It's absolutely devastating, but it isn't seeing much Main Deck play despite its incredible match-up utility.

Unfortunately Dimensional Barrier's mostly useless against True Draco. It's fine when you're paired up against an Invoked hybrid, but you're better off playing nearly any other trap when you go into Game 1 against an unknown True Draco build. Dimensional Barrier isn't seeing Main Deck play chiefly because True Dracos are so popular and effective right now. Pendulum Magicians have a much easier Game 1 with Barrier committed to the Side Deck. That's a major advantage for a deck that would otherwise be staring down Main Deck tech choices that specifically counter it.

True Dracos have done an excellent job of depressing Dimensional Barrier's play. If True Dracos fall off in play we'll likely see Dimensional Barrier return to Main Decks as a staple trap, but that's contingent on Link-heavy themes remaining fringe strategies.

True Dracos Are The New Zoodiacs
True Dracos themselves have latched onto various engines as a way to remain competitive in this format. You can play the deck in a variety of ways now: Invoked hybrids use Fusion Summons to supplement Master Peace, Timelords are are an amazing addition thanks to Zaphion, the Timelord, and True Dacos with the Spellbook engine and another with Monarch support have had Top 8 Regional success.

I think it's too early to settle on one particular variant or build as the best of the bunch. Like Zoodiacs there are still plenty of ways to play the deck thanks to its relatively flexible engine, small footprint, and powerful self-contained boss monster. Master Peace is among the best cards in the game, and it doesn't need a full True Draco engine to support it. We'll keep seeing this deck show up as long as Master Peace remains unrestricted or even Semi-Limited, alongside Draconic Diagram.

Master Peace is still the star of each True Draco hybrid regardless of what cards are there to supplement it. The Invoked engine adds several Fusion monsters to keep Master Peace safe, like Invoked Raidjin's Book of Moon-style effect and Invoked Mechaba's negation. It's another draw-heavy and mostly self-contained engine that uses a second Field Spell in a way that doesn't conflict with Dragonic Diagram.

 Master Peace, the True Dracoslaying King
Master Peace, the True Dracoslaying King131141
Set Maximum Crisis
Number MACR-EN024
Level 8
Type Effect Monster
Monster Wyrm
Attribute LIGHT 
A / D 2950 / 2950
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

To Tribute Summon this card face-up, you can Tribute Continuous Spell/Trap Card(s) you control, as well as monsters. Unaffected by the effects of cards with the same card type (Monster, Spell, and/or Trap) as the original card type of the cards Tributed for its Tribute Summon. Once per turn, during either player's turn, if you control this Tribute Summoned monster: You can banish 1 Continuous Spell/Trap Card from your Graveyard, then target 1 other card on the field; destroy it.

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Like the Zoodiac True Draco variants of last format your opponent can put two disruptive monsters on the field at a time without Link Summoning. You'll need outs to Master Peace that aren't instantly defeated by Invoked Fusion, plus a way to deal with the Fusion monsters themselves.

True Dracos are definitely weaker this format and the grind game isn't nearly as much in their favor now. Resolving enough draw spells and Summoning Master Peace is still effective, but it's harder to recover from losing your field. That said, True Dracos are still among the most consistent and powerful strategies in the game thanks to their ability to play numerous draw and search effects. Their place at the top of the format hasn't budged much, and they have Link rules to thank for that.

The Monarch cards help address an important weakness in True Dracos now that Zoodaic Whiptail isn't around: Beelze of the Diabolic Dragons. Pendulum Magicians can easily Synchro Summon Beelze and sit on it, and without some way to flip it face-down or negate its effect True Draco players can struggle to remove it. The Monarchs Stormforth and The Monarchs Erupt solve the problem, as does Invoked Raidjin in Invoked builds.

Trickstars Hold Out And Paleozoics Make Their Return
Trickstars climbed the ladder late last format when players discovered they could easily steal games with quick OTK's and consistent combos to rob their opponent of their hand. Unsurprisingly the deck is even more popular now that its biggest competitors are out of the running. But Trickstars have notoriously low player interaction, much like Chain Burn and other OTK strategies. They're essentially built around an alternative win condition, so the comparative power of competing decks usually doesn't affect them.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, with Zoodiac Drident and Denglong, First of the Yang Zing out of the game there are fewer Turn 1 interruptions to worry about. Pendulum Magicians are unbelievably search-heavy now and prime marks for Droll & Lock Bird. The downside? Both Droll & Lock Bird and Ash Blossom & Joyus Spring are seeing Main Deck play. There are too many search and draw effects in the game to not play them. Both hand traps hinder Trickstars too, and if the deck becomes any more popular I think we'll see even more widespread adoption of burn-hating hand traps like Hanewata.

Speaking of search effects, Paleozoics are back and packing Main Deck copies of Mistake. Mistar Boy gets the credit here: its stat boosting, Link Arrows, and self-replacing effect make it an awesome addition to Paleozoics in the Link era. Just after its release, Nelson Ching topped the Springfield Massachusetts Regional with his Paleozoic Frogs maining Mistake, and Patrick Guilfoyle topped in St. Louis using a Spellbook engine and Scapegoat to make Link-4 monsters. Firewall Dragon's insane in this strategy, and Guilfoyle could Summon it simply by protecting Scapegoat with his powerful trap line-up.

 Firewall Dragon
Firewall Dragon139207
Set Code of the Duelist
Number COTD-EN043
Type Link/Effect Monster
Monster Cyberse
Attribute LIGHT 
A / D 2500 /
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

2+ monsters
Once while face-up on the field (Quick Effect): You can target monsters on the field and/or GY up to the number of monsters co-linked to this card; return them to the hand. If a monster this card points to is destroyed by battle or sent to the GY: You can Special Summon 1 monster from your hand.

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Paleozoics are a serious match-up this format that may or may not survive Circuit Break. It's hard to tell right now, but we have more tools to deal with heavy backrow strategies than we did in March. Zaphion, the Timelord and Heavy Storm Duster help push the match-up in favor of more aggressive strategies like Pendulum Magicians and True Dracos. Toadally Awesome's phenomenal, but a trap and monster-immune Master Peace is perhaps a bigger threat if the True Draco player can end the game relatively quickly.

ABC's are still waiting on a new Tuner arriving in Circuit Break, but a handful of players have taken ABC-Dragon Buster to the top tables. When Destrudo, the Dead Drake of Dread finally arrives later this month we'll almost certainly see the deck spike in play. That might be enough to push Dimensional Barrier back into Main Decks regardless of the True Draco match-up. There are some great fringe strategies worth pointing out in the meantime: Blue-Eyes, Lightsworn Infernoids, and Kaiju World Chalice had Regional success the first weekend out in the new format. Pure Lightsworn was noticeably absent from Top 8 lists despite the hype surrounding it.

There have been plenty of great experiments over the last few weeks. We're only seeing the start of Paleozoic tops, and ABC's are making showings despite Destrudo being weeks away. Pendulum Magicians and True Dracos are clearly the decks to beat, but Dimensional Barrier and other trap trends could change that. Finally, if players put down True Dracos and pick up other decks we'll most likely see a shift towards Pendulum Magicians and Paleozoics with Main Deck Dimensional Barrier.

Seriously, keep an eye on Paleozoics. It may be the most underrated deck in the game right now.

Until next time then


Kelly​​​ ​​​Locke​​​ ​​​is​​​ ​​​a​​​ ​​​West​​​ ​​​Michigan​​​ ​​​gamer and writer. ​​In​​​ ​​​addition​​​ ​​​to​​​ ​​​writing​​​ ​​​on TCGplayer,​​​ ​​​Kelly​​​ ​​​writes​​​ a ​​​​​​ personal​​​ ​​​blog​​​ ​​​ ​​​covering​​​ ​​​Yugioh,​​​ ​​​Destiny,​​​ ​​​and​​​ ​​​other​​​ ​​​hobbies. You​​​ ​​​can follow​​​ ​​​him​​​ ​​​on​​​ ​​​​​​ Twitter​​​ ​​​ ​​​and​​​ ​​​check​​​ ​​​out​​​ ​​​his​​​ ​​​​​​ Youtube​​​ ​​​channel​​​ . He​​​ ​​​also studied marketing at Western Michigan University.

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