Side Deck Theory: Top Side Deck Picks From YCS Dallas

Kelly Locke

11/1/2017 11:00:00 AM
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YCS Dallas set the tone for a SPYRAL-dominated format with a blowout Top 32 showing, and that trend continued through YCS London with another SPYRAL-filled top cut. Last week we checked out some of the non-SPYRAL decks in the YCS Dallas Top 32 , but this week I'd like to focus instead on the winning decklist. More specifically: the list crafted by Imran and Faisal Khan that led them to their 1st and 2nd Place finish at the event.

The narrative out of YCS Dallas should be all about these two brothers who managed to meet at the finals of a YCS event. It's an absolutely incredible accomplishment that's unfortunately overshadowed by the present power of SPYRALS. Their success is a testament to how testing and practice can pay off in a big way.

I think it's worth taking an in-depth look at their carefully constructed Side Decks for two reasons: first, it's a great example of what a well-tested and highly effective Side Deck looks like in current competition; and second, it gives us a bit of insight into how other decks can remain competitive moving forward.

Artifacts Are Back - Again
The most striking element of the Khans' Side Deck is the five card Artifact engine. They sided three Artifact Sanctum to Summon both Artifact Lancea and Artifact Scythe no Artifact Moralltach necessary.

These days Scythe has far more stopping power than Moralltach, and the delayed destruction from Moralltach makes it difficult to play anyways. Artifact Sanctum spiked in play earlier this year as players looked for more ways to stop their opponent from loading the field with Zoodiac Xyz, but this time it's back in competitive play as a replacement for Dimensional Barrier rather than an additional temporary floodgate.

Link strategies can push straight through one of the best temporary floodgates in the game: Dimensional Barrier. While SPYRALS do play Xyz, it's their Links that help them generate the most advantage. Artifact Scythe, however, prevents all Extra Deck Summons regardless of monster card type. It's one of the best traps you can open with when you're going first to completely shut down your opponent's strategy. Without access to their Extra Deck SPYRALS won't be doing much on their turn, and their low trap count makes them extremely vulnerable to follow-up plays.

Artifact Lancea won't stop your opponent from building their field in most match-ups, but the Khan brothers weren't running it just to buy a turn against Infernoids and ABCs. Activating Lancea on their opponent's turn prior to the end of the Battle Phase would stop Evenly Matched. That might seem like guesswork, but Evenly Matched is easily predicted when your opponent skips straight to their Battle Phase with nothing on the field. Any time that happened and either Khan had Artifact Sanctum set or Lancea in hand, they would wait until their opponent declared that they were ending the Battle Phase, then use Lancea's effect.

 Evenly Matched
$74.99
$64.99
$62.00
Evenly Matched148377
Set Circuit Break
Number CIBR-EN077
Type Normal Trap
Attribute TRAP 
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

At the end of the Battle Phase, if your opponent controls more cards than you do: You can make your opponent banish cards from their field face-down so they control the same number of cards as you do. If you control no cards, you can activate this card from your hand.


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Although Artifact Lancea's a great out to Evenly Matched when it's played offensively on your opponent's turn, it's completely useless on your own. For the Khan brothers that was a totally acceptable trade-off: Evenly Matched is easier to control on your turn because you can either leave your opponent with a card on the field or knock them out of the duel outright. What SPYRALS and most other strategies are most concerned with is a Turn 2 activation that resets huge gains in card advantage. That's when Evenly Matched is at its best, and luckily it's also the ideal moment for Artifact Lancea to spring into action.

The on-destruction effect of the Artifact cards were a problem for the brothers' opponents over the weekend. SPYRAL Super Agent and Twin Twisters would often end up destroying a set Artifact only to trigger their effect. Setting Artifact Scythe does absolutely nothing, but few opponents would let it remain on the field if they had a game-ending hand with at least one Twin Twisters or Super Agent Summon available. Nobody wanted to lose a duel because they didn't preemptively target a set Solemn Strike or Solemn Warning.

I think it's worth noting that the Khan brothers didn't play Evenly Matched themselves. They stuck with more traditional mass removal like their Main Deck copy of Raigeki and sided Dark Hole. Twin Twisters also helped them push through heavy backrow, but for the SPYRAL mirror match their first and often only line of defense was their hand traps. You can see the outcome of that decision in the finals , where both of Faisal's Turn 1 plays are completely stopped by Imran's hand traps. The Side Deck philosophy here is simple: why side three cards to break your opponent's field when you can stop them from being built in the first place?

Unending Nightmare Seals The Pendulum Match-Up
Sticking with the theme of siding cards that are best going first, Unending Nightmare is essentially a win button against Pendulum Magicians. For the most part Magicians simply cannot play against this card without some other form of spell or trap removal or one other very specific card combination. Each new non-Purple Poison Magician they activate in the Pendulum Zone is just another target for Unending Nightmare. Your opponent might play Pendulum Call to get around it, but they'll need a card in their Pendulum Zone to activate Duelist Alliance. It's a difficult position to be in and it makes Unending Nightmare the ideal Side Deck pick when playing first against Pendulum Magicians.

While the Khan's mostly sided Unending Nightmare for Pendulum Magicians it also has decent match-up utility elsewhere this format. Any strategy playing Field Spells including ABCs, Trickstars, SPYRALs, and True Draco variants can't establish their Field Spell for as long as Unending Nightmare is active. There are several decks this format playing three copies of their Field Spell, plus three Terraforming, and for now - three Set Rotations. Normal spell removal just isn't enough to guarantee that a Field Spell won't break through, and Unending Nightmare is perfectly capable of picking up the slack.

 Unending Nightmare
$24.99
$6.99
$4.99
Unending Nightmare131196
Set Maximum Crisis
Number MACR-EN079
Type Continuous Trap Card
Attribute TRAP 
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

You can pay 1000 LP, then target 1 face-up Spell/Trap Card on the field; destroy it. You can only activate this effect of "Unending Nightmare" once per Chain.


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Unfortunately Unending Nightmare doesn't break the Set Rotation lock because it can only target face-up spells and traps. Instead, the Khan brothers used Twin Twisters to take out backrow and free up their Field Spell Zone. Most players aren't running Main Deck copies of Gateway to Chaos or Oracle of Zefra, so a full set of sided Twin Twister was enough to help push through a disruptive Turn 2 Set Rotation.

Beyond answering Set Rotation, Twin Twisters was arguably the best way to counter backrow-heavy strategies and quickly answer Time Pendulumgraph. The strategy with hand traps and any kind of removal is fairly simple: stop your opponent's combos, then blow out their defense with Raigeki, Dark Hole, and Twin Twister. SPYRALS accomplish that better than any other deck in the format, and the discard outlet sets up Summons with SPYRAL GEAR - Big Red. The fact that Twin Twisters has somewhat fallen out of Main Deck play, at least in SPYRALS, isn't surprising. But it does open up some opportunities for backrow-heavy decks in Game 1.

Dimensional Barrier Is Even More Valuable Now
The crucial flaw in Dimensional Barrier's card design is that it can't negate the effects or prevent the Summon of Link Monsters. As we head into an increasingly Link-focused game it's becoming more and more difficult to recommend Side Deck cards with no effect on Links. That's especially true at a time when the deck to beat is primarily focused on Link Summoning. However, that hasn't stopped Dimensional Barrier from finding its way into nearly every Side Deck in the Top 32. It's still an impressively powerful card in the right match-up just not against SPYRALS.

Pendulum Magicians and Invoked strategies are making Top 32 appearances despite the dominance of SPYRALS, and you can expect to play against them at Regionals and YCS events. Why wouldn't you play a trap that gives you an entire turn free from your opponent's best cards? In fact, Dimensional Barrier's value has effectively gone up since Circuit Break. It's more important than ever to condense your Side Deck picks for non-SPYRAL match-ups into just a few cards, and Dimensional Barrier's about as compact as it gets. By playing Barrier and Unending Nightmare as coverage for pretty much every other match-up the Khan brothers had enough room to add the five-card Artifact engine.

It's this weird, counter-intuitive siding strategy that's keeping Dimensional Barrier in Side Decks, but since it's not in Main Decks we've seen a select few top cut breakthroughs from Pendulum Magicians, Invoked , and even Burning Abyss at YCS London. SPYRALS have sufficiently forced Dimensional Barrier out of the Main Deck, and it's harder for these strategies to lose their Game 1 as a result. That said, the trend might not continue for long.

The Artifact engine itself is one way other strategies can come back and compete against SPYRALS. The other, of course, is Evenly Matched. From what we've seen at recent YCS events it's clear that Evenly Matched is among the most popular ways of leveling the playing field against SPYRALS on Turn 2, but the Khan brothers avoided it because their deck could push through a SPYRAL field. That's not the case for other strategies, so Evenly Matched is still an amazing card in the majority of Side Decks.

The Artifact engine definitely caught on after YCS Dallas. At YCS London both the 3rd and 4th Place finishers ran it in their SPYRAL builds, and it showed up elsewhere in the Top 32. Evenly Matched was noticeably more common, so likewise the Artifact engine just made sense as a counter to both Evenly Matched and the heavy Extra Deck usage of most competitive strategies. The takeaway seems to be this: Artifacts are awesome, but Evenly Matched is still too good to pass up. It'll be interesting to see if that opinion changes over time, or if Evenly Matched is unquestionably a Side Deck staple.

Either way, the success of the Khan brothers is an accomplishment we can point to as an example of how skillful deck building can be, and the amazing benefits of rigorous testing. It was clearly the best build at the event, but there's always room for improvement from both SPYRAL players and rogue duelists.

Until next time then

-Kelly


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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