First Reactions: Top Cut Players On The F&L List Update

Jason Grabher-Meyer

10/31/2017 11:02:00 AM

The new F&L List that dropped yesterday definitely caught everyone by surprise.

While we were all eyeing the “Good ‘Til At Least November” statement on the last F&L List with a hopeful eye, I don't think anyone expected a new List literally the day after YCS London. Like I said in yesterday's Market Watch , somebody must've been working overtime to make that happen.

On one hand, we never really got a chance to see if players could naturally unhorse SPYRALS as the reigning deck-to-beat. On the other, it was pretty easy to see what that was going to require: hand traps. More hand traps than we've perhaps ever seen before, up to 15 in a single deck. And when the answer to the deck-to-beat occupies a third of your deck list, the answer becomes just as much of a problem as the original problem itself; your range of options are just too limited.

So KDE stepped in with welcome swiftness, Limiting four cards that were all played to varying degrees in SPYRALS: two that were part of the SPYRAL core, SPYRAL Quik-Fix and SPYRAL GEAR – Drone; and two more that were becoming problems both in SPYRALS and beyond, Set Rotation and Blackwing - Gofu the Vague Shadow.

It was a very precise set of changes that made an obvious impact on SPYRALS and the competitive landscape as a whole, but they were four cards in a sea of options. Were they the right choices? That question is just the tip of the iceberg: if SPYRALS are damaged by the List, which they undoubtedly are, is the deck still competitive? With more room for other decks to compete, which will rise to the top? And so on and so on, working our way down to more narrow curiosities like what happens to Destrudo the Lost Dragon's Frisson without Set Rotation. And how did Machine Duplication manage to dodge Forbidden status again?

It was a lot to mull over, and coming off two back-to-back YCS weekends with similar environments and equally similar results, I figured there was a unique opportunity: a chance to go straight to some of the most successful players in the now-soon-to-be-over format, and ask them what they thought of the new List, fresh off their top table finishes.

So I reached out, and managed to get ahold of seven Top Cut finishers from the past two weekends who were all more than happy to share their thoughts: Pro-Play Games' Jesse Kotton, winner of YCS London; Round Table's Jy Sharif, London Top 4; Faisal Khan, Runner-Up from YCS Dallas; Ryan Levine, 3rd at Dallas; Hani Jawhari, 4th at Dallas; Complexity Card Gaming's Marcello Barberi, who Top 32'd both YCS tournaments; and Team JRB's Ed Acepcion, who traveled from his local Murrillo Digital Systems to make Top 32 at Dallas with a trend-setting Invoked deck.

All seven of them generously gave their insight within hours of the new F&L List reveal, and it proved to be a wealth of perspective on the updated format.

Let's Start With SPYRAL
It makes sense to begin the discussion with the SPYRAL cards, largely because that was where most of the respondents placed their focus. While this List update will have far-reaching effects they all ripple out from the impact on SPYRALS.

Jesse Kotton messaged me with his early thoughts from the tarmac, as he landed in Toronto. “I think the List was much needed to bring diversity to the format. Konami did a good job at weakening SPYRAL, without making it it unplayable like it was before SPYRAL Double Helix.” Marcello Barberi echoed Kotton's sentiment about the necessity of the update: “I'm very happy about the new changes; I didn't like the format at all because there were so few interactions between players. Ed Acepcion was in agreement: “The hits on SPYRAL were 100 percent needed.”

Some of the respondents seemed to feel slightly different: Faisal Khan said he felt “the SPYRAL hits were a little excessive,” and that “they needed to hit the deck's power rather than its consistency.” If there was one big reservation across the majority of our players, that was it: a concern that instead of lowering the SPYRAL deck's power ceiling, the changes did more to make the deck increasingly dependent on luck.

Khan continued: “The problem with SPYRAL was the insane Turn 1 boards. In terms of consistency it wasn't very high up compared to other meta decks.

Even before the List update, you'd still brick a considerable amount of the time no matter how you built the deck.” Khan would know: he and his brother Imran played a version of SPYRALS built entirely to maximize consistency at Dallas, in a bid to try and compensate for the theme's lower reliability.

 SPYRAL Super Agent
SPYRAL Super Agent121342
Set The Dark Illusion
Number TDIL-EN086
Level 4
Type Effect Monster
Monster Warrior
Attribute EARTH 
A / D 1900 / 1200
Rarity Ultra Rare
Card Text

If this card is in your hand: You can declare 1 card type (Monster, Spell, or Trap); reveal the top card of your opponent's Deck, and if you do, Special Summon this card if it is a card of that type. If this card is Special Summoned by the effect of a "SPYRAL" card: You can target 1 Spell/Trap Card your opponent controls; destroy it. You can only use each effect of "SPYRAL Super Agent" once per turn.

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Ryan Levine shared many of the same feelings: “I'm being cautious before passing judgment. Limiting SPYRAL Quik-Fix curbs the power and combo potential of the deck for sure; you can't make three Rank 1s and Link Summon six monsters anymore, but the ‘core" setup of SPYRAL Sleeper and SPYRAL GEAR - Utility Wire is very much alive. It's usually enough to win anyway. I believe the limitation of SPYRAL GEAR - Drone will have a far greater impact; it greatly diminishes the deck's consistency.”

In a deck where fielding SPYRAL Double Helix is your first priority, the starter combo of Drone and SPYRAL Super Agent was the preferred way to meet that milestone. “It was always the safest way to get Double Helix on the field,” Levine continued, “and fewer Drones means that will happen significantly less. You may be more or less reliant on ‘guessing' your opponent's top card with Agent to start your play, which obviously adds a lot more variance to the deck.”

Other commenters agreed that the main impact on SPYRALS was consistency, and there was some justified trepidation about that. “Drone going to one was a big problem,” noted Hani Jawhari, “for the simple fact that SPYRAL becomes a luck based deck.” Jawhari was one of the few interviewees who remarked upon further consistency issues. “With Quik-Fix and Drone getting hit, it affects the whole deck. Some of your best cards are useless.”

On one hand the immediate impact on Machine Duplication is clear, with nothing left to duplicate. But the loss of four cards calls the entire monster lineup into question. “You have less access to SPYRAL cards,” continued Jawhari. “With 1 Quik-Fix and 1 Drone, you only have eight SPYRALS in your Main Deck and two of them can't even be Normal Summoned.”

So What Do Future SPYRAL Decks Look Like?
The opinions on future SPYRAL builds actually varied a bit more than I expected.

Ryan Levine may have been the most pessimistic about the strategy's future: “SPYRAL will no longer see 25+ of 32 top spots at premiere events, that's for sure.” He qualified his statement by saying that “if a few SPYRAL decks sneak into the Top Cut at San Diego it wouldn't shock me.”

Jy Sharif expressed views that were similar, saying that “With the information and knowledge I have now, I think SPYRAL will only be viable as a fragile sleeper turbo strategy, which I don't think is enough to allow it to continue as the tier zero deck that it was.” Hani Jawhari expressed similar misgivings: “SPYRALS took a hard hit – the list hit almost every single combo piece. It's such an impact that I don't even know if the deck is still playable. “

Ed Acepcion and Marcello Barberi had slightly sunnier views: “SPYRAL is now much more of a grind deck, which is a lot healthier,” remarked Acepcion, quipping that “Resort is actually just the best card in the deck.” Barberi's focus was similar: “The deck will still be playable since Spyral Resort and Sleeper remain great cards, but the strategy will definitely become way more fragile - and it already was very fragile.” Acepcion managed to fight his way into the Top 32 at Dallas with a deck absolutely slammed with hand traps, and Barberi's view took that into account: “Kaijus and all the hand traps are gonna be better. We're just gonna have to test it out and see how other decks will adapt!”

With a slightly mixed set of views on the future of SPYRALS, and concerns about the limiting of consistency versus overall power ceiling, I wanted to know, were the right changes made? Faisal Khan was all over one of the most obvious points there: “I would have preferred that Machine Duplication was Forbidden instead of hitting SPYRAL GEAR - Drone. The decision to limit Quik-Fix and Drone has hurt the deck's consistency enough to where I think the deck will be much weaker in competitive play. Machine Dupe was definitely unhealthy.”

Acepcion held similar views: “Machine dupe is correct. Quik-Fix is correct. But I don't think Drone was. Drone's a very powerful card, but it's not oppressive.”

It's a tricky situation. On one hand, it's a matter of public record that the curators of the game over at KDE want to keep the F&L List slim and manageable to keep the game accessible. And while I'm not sure if they've ever stated that they prefer to make as few changes per F&L List update for the same reason, it's an easy leap to count those two goals as one and the same. From that perspective, the ability to curb the overall power level of SPYRALS and eliminating the current problems presented by Machine Duplication by Limiting a single card, instead of restricting one card and then Forbidding Duplication as well, is attractive in that model.

 Destrudo the Lost Dragon's Frisson
Destrudo the Lost Dragon's Frisson148319
Set Circuit Break
Number CIBR-EN038
Level 7
Type Tuner/Effect Monster
Monster Dragon
Attribute DARK 
A / D 1000 / 3000
Rarity Rare
Card Text

If this card is in your hand or GY: You can pay half your LP, then target 1 Level 6 or lower monster you control; Special Summon this card, and if you do, this card's Level is reduced by the Level of the targeted monster, also place this card on the bottom of the Deck if it leaves the field. You can only use this effect of "Destrudo the Lost Dragon's Frisson" once per turn.

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Amazing Discoveries Unlimited - Lightly Played 2 $1.69
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Anonymous Bards 1st Edition - Near Mint 7 $1.97

At the same time, Machine Duplication always seems to exist in one of two states: useless, or entirely broken. In past eras Machine Dupe has either been completely ignored, or relegated to hugely casual decks that were never a competitive factor – strategies like Synchrons and Morphtronics. Or alternatively, it's created massive problems by defining competition in eras like that of the “Troop Dupe Scoop” format, where it was used to turn one Card Trooper into three. It's very possible Machine Duplication has done literally nothing but cause trouble in Yu-Gi-Oh, so it's a bit of a mixed bag to see it dodge another F&L List.

That said, the status of SPYRAL GEAR – Drone is emerging as the one big point of concern. With the SPYRAL early game now coming down to more luck than before, games will be lost on RNG and won in ways that won't seem as fair to the winner, or the loser.

So What About Set Rotation And Gofu?
The responses to these two changes were a bit more spread out: some of our interviewees focused on the immediate impact on SPYRALS, others looked to the impact on other current decks, and some looked toward later releases. It was a nice mix of insights.

Hani Jawhari focused on the immediate damage to the SPYRAL strategy, doubling down on his concerns for the deck's viability: “You've lost more access to your SPYRALS with only three SPYRAL Resort and 3 Terraforming. I don't believe the deck can function. I thought about SPYRAL Tough as an option, being able to know the top card of your opponent's deck, but for that to work [your opponent has to control something for you to target.]”

SPYRAL Tough saw some minor Side Deck play over the last two weekends, but it was almost never well received; by and large, players said they regretted running it. As Jawhari pointed out, it doesn't do much to solve the SPYRAL deck's problems going first. Jawhari also noted that “Gofu getting hit makes an impact, because you can't rely on the Resort combo.”

Faisal Khan's views were grounded more in the theoretical, and the more widespread limitations Set Rotation and Gofu caused: “I like how they hit Set Rotation instead of Terraforming, because while they both search Field Spells, Set Rotation locks your opponent out of them, which isn't a very healthy interaction in my opinion. Gofu was a good hit because it is extremely splashable.” For most players, Blackwing - Gofu the Vague Shadow was becoming a one-card shortcut to virtually any LINK-3, and while that kind of power was justified in helping Link Monsters get off the ground, it was going to become a problem over time as more Link 3's were released.

It draws immediate comparisons to stuff like Reborn Tengu and Tour Guide from the Underworld; two cards that were allowed to run free for weeks to help integrate new Summoning mechanics into the competitive scene, before eventually being removed due to their rising power levels. I don't think anyone will miss Gofu; from Ultimaya Tzolkin to Decode Talker, Gofu was never really played to achieve what it was seemingly designed for, and was instead used to break power restrictions on other cards.

Gofu was effectively played in spite of its own design, complicating the release of other cards; that's never healthy and it always gets worse as the game continues to grow. At the same time, generic Link enablers like Scapegoat and The Agent of Creation – Venus are still around should you want them, though they operate on less aggressive levels. Whether something like Scapegoat will become a problem in the future is up in the air: it's certainly filled that role of “doing stuff it was never designed to do, making other cards overpowered” before, to massive results.

Ryan Levine brought up at least one very interesting point that was unique to his observations: “Set Rotation and Gofu are fine limitations in general, that I believe will be very healthy for the game. Gofu was fine right now, but with the Crystron Link Monster on the horizon it was fine to hit it now.” Levine's referring to Crystron Needlefiber , a hotly discussed card from the upcoming LINK VRAINS Pack in the OCG. You can Summon it for free with Gofu and one of its Vague Shadow Tokens, and when it hits play it immediately Special Summons a Level 3 or lower Tuner from your Deck or hand as a potential +1.

You can also Banish Needlefiber to Special Summon any Tuner Synchro from your deck, which means you wind up with a Tuner, a Token, a free Coral Dragon, a discard-to-destroy effect, and the chance to draw a card with Coral Dragon with or without making a bigger Synchro Summon. While the LINK VRAINS Pack probably won't see release here in the TCG for quite some time, it's pretty easy to count Needlefiber as a potential forward-thinking reason to restrict Gofu.

“…And Set Rotation was just an unhealthy card to begin with, “ continued Levine. “I'm glad we'll be seeing less or none of it.”

The one thing everyone seemed to agree on was the healthier trajectory of the Advanced Format. Ed Acepcion remarked that the former domination of SPYRALS suppressed creativity because it “forced players to start every deck build with three Droll & Lock Bird, three Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring, and more cards to beat SPYRALS.” With the SPYRAL threat lessened at least a bit, players hopefully won't have to run twelve or more hand traps.

 Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring
Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring131153
Set Maximum Crisis
Number MACR-EN036
Level 3
Type Tuner/Effect Monster
Monster Zombie
Attribute FIRE 
A / D 0 / 1800
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

During either player's turn, when a card or effect is activated that includes any of these effects: You can discard this card; negate that effect.
- Add a card from the Deck to the hand.
- Special Summon from the Deck.
- Send a card from the Deck to the Graveyard.
You can only use this effect of "Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring" once per turn.

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Jy Sharif said he had “…high hopes for this new format. A lot of decks can come back into play, and it allows for deck building, creativity, and innovation to be rewarded. With what seems to be the demise of SPYRAL, it's going to be interesting to see how all the other decks play out in this new format.” He zeroed in specifically on Evenly Matched as a card to watch, describing it as “extremely powerful versus decks like Pendulums, True Dracos, and Paleozoics, which are all suddenly viable again. “

Jesse Kotton spoke about some of those decks as well, though more in the context of renewed competition: “The List is pretty good for the same decks that were good at the last Ultimate Duelist Series – True Dracos, Trickstars, ABCs, and Pendulum Magicians. The biggest difference between now and then is that ABC-Dragon Buster got a huge boost from Destrudo the Lost Dragon's Frisson, whereas the other decks have remained pretty much the same.”

ABC-Dragon Buster was one of the most anticipated strategies of the post-Zoodiac era, but the deck's actually accomplished less since the fall of Zoodiacs than it did during their reign. There's definitely a low rumble in the background of competitive discussions, now that the threat of Set Rotation hampering Union Hangar has been alleviated and Destrudo's in the competitive mix. Definitely keep an eye on that deck, or start testing it now if you've been considering it.

Ryan Levine had more interesting observations as well: “ Spirit Warriors may shake things up a tad in the coming weeks, and the SPYRAL hits give Magical Musketeers a bit more room to breath.” That set releases on November 17th, just a couple weeks out, and despite the initial hype surrounding Magical Musketeers it hasn't seen much discussion over the past few weeks. Levine was careful to temper his statement: “I'm not too optimistic about them and I think it's far more likely the Pendulum Magician deck will be the dominant force, especially backed by their new friend Bagooska.”

There are really no consensus answers yet about the future of competition, but I think it's definitely valuable to see what some of the top minds of this competitive season were thinking in their first few hours with the new F&L List. Can SPYRALS survive? Will Pendulum Magicians or ABC-Dragon Buster steal the throne? Questions like those will only be answered in time, but for now, it looks as if the game is in a much healthier place than it was the last two weekends, and the speed of the action we saw is appreciated.

There's something to be said for closing a wound before it has the chance to fester.

For now, thank you to our seven contributors who took the time to drop what they were doing and share their thoughts. I'd like to give a big personal thanks to Ed Acepcion, Marcello Barberi, Hani Jawhari, Ryan Levine, Faisal Khan, Jesse Kotton, and Jy Sharif (who wanted to give an extra shoutout to Andy Swann and Kristoffer Nielsen). It's not often we have such an opportunity to gather insights from so many top players in one shot, especially at the cusp of a new era of competition.

Stick with us here on TCGplayer this week, as Doug Zeeff examines the design issues surrounding hand traps; Loukas Peterson fixes up a Krawler deck; and I return on Friday to bring you a Top 10 look at the bestselling cards in the wake of the F&L List announcement.

Thanks for reading,

-Jason Grabher-Meyer

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