Side Deck Theory: Evenly Matched Levels The Playing Field

Kelly Locke


YCS Dallas was a testing ground for the new releases in Circuit Break, including the highly anticipated Evenly Matched. Long before CIBR arrived in the TCG there was already a massive amount of hype around Evenly Matched, and that excitement only grew when it became a must-play card in the OCG. There was an expectation that Matched would be just as ubiquitous here, and for the most part, YCS Dallas reflected that. It was almost everywhere in the Top 32, but it was notably absent from the 1st and 2nd Place build designed and piloted by Imran and Faisal Khan .

Although Evenly Matched is a game-changing card it's not quite a must-run, and that's great for budget players who can't afford to get their hands on a playset. The Artifact engine tends to replace it in Regional and YCS-topping builds, but they're two very different siding solutions.

Evenly Matched gives you a chance to come back Turn 2 when you're going second, by nearly wiping out your opponent's field, while Artifacts help secure your Turn 1 set-up. You'll need to be prepared for either Side Deck choice regardless of what you're currently playing.

 Evenly Matched
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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This week I want to finally discuss Evenly Matched: why it's exclusively in Side Decks, what it means for the future of the game, and how to play around it. I think it's likely to be an extremely popular card next year when the LINK VRAINS Pack arrives in the TCG, and quite possibly a permanent fixture in the game going forward.

The Answer To ‘Dice Roll' Formats
The concept of a ‘dice roll' format is fairly simple: when the mechanics of the game reach a point where match-ups are decided by whoever gets to play first, then the outcome of a duel is more dependent on the result of the dice roll than anything else.

SPYRALs at YCS Dallas and YCS London certainly came close, but for me I always go back to Performage Performapals as the best example of a dice roll format. The Pendulum match-up in early 2016 was a mess, with both players racing to Summon Naturia Beast to lock their opponent out of their spell cards. If you played first and opened with Naturia Beast, or a large line-up of Counter Traps thanks to Guiding Ariadne, you simply won the game with no questions asked.

FTKs, hand loops, and lockdowns that thrive on not interacting with your opponent can make the dice roll the most important factor in a match. Evenly Matched won't help you there – which unfortunately makes it somewhat useless against Trickstars – but it does answer the massive fields built up by decks like SPYRALs and Pendulum Magicians. In terms of utility Evenly Matched is much better off, although it means more traditional hand traps are still the only way to beat certain win conditions.

So, Evenly Matched itself is an awesome card that's both flexible and extremely powerful. Its effect forces your opponent to banish cards face-down on their side of the field so that they control the same number of cards as you. You can massively shift card advantage in your favor by knocking out almost the entirety of your opponent's field, and that's more than enough firepower for a single card. Almost is the key word here, because activating Evenly Matched will give you at least one card under your control, so your opponent can likewise save one of their own. Master Peace, the True Dracoslaying King, Crystal Wing Synchro Dragon, and ABC-Dragon Buster can keep your opponent in the game, but losing everything else is still a huge problem.

The fact that Evenly Matched banishes cards face-down is just ridiculous. Not only does it remove those cards from the duel permanently in most match-ups, it also prevents cards from activating their “when this card leaves the field” effect. Face-down banish effects are among the most powerful in the game, and when attached to Evenly Matched there's not much else you could do to make the card better. Well, you could change the activation timings, but as they stand now you can play Evenly Matched at its most opportune moment: on your first turn while playing second.

Initially many players compared Evenly Matched to cards like Gorz, the Emissary of Darkness and Tragoedia, but comparisons like that didn't consider that those monsters could actually stop OTKs. Evenly Matched is powerless until the end of the Battle Phase, long after game-ending damage has been dealt. Yes, it'll still punish your opponent if they go in to deal damage without enough ATK on the field to end the duel, but quite a few things have to go right in your favor for that to happen. Some strategies can make survival a bit more likely by playing Fairy Tail - Snow or another card to block potentially two attacks.

I think Evenly Matched is best positioned as a proactive out to established Turn 1 boards, but that's dependent on how easily popular strategies secure OTKs.

A New Argument For Building To Play Second
Evenly Matched punishes your opponent for overextending in a way that Dark Hole and Raigeki just can't compare, and luckily its activation conditions let you put it into action on Turn 2. If you open with Evenly Matched while going second you can head directly into your Battle Phase, enter the end of it, and then activate Evenly Matched. You'll still have your Normal Summon in your Main Phase 2, so you're not missing much outside of your Battle Phase. The card economy swing thanks to Evenly Matched should be enough to make up for it.

Since the opening hand rule change in 2014 there's been a fair amount of discussion on whether it's better to play first or second. Overwhelmingly the answer has been to play first whenever you can, but I think Evenly Matched makes a solid argument for choosing to play second. There are a lot of caveats though: are you playing against Trickstars? Do you have enough hand traps for those times when you don't open with Evenly Matched? Can you advance your strategy in your Main Phase 2 to make up for the loss of your Battle Phase?

 Grinder Golem
Grinder Golem56889
Set Legendary Collection 2
Number LCGX-EN196
Attribute DARK 
Rarity Common

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It's a big risk to take on going second purposefully, but for the most part Evenly Matched is being sided in when you have to play second. It's helping to neutralize both dice roll formats and some of the inherent disadvantages to playing second without breaking the game.

While the second player has the first Battle Phase, Evenly Matched exchanges that phase for a near-board wipe that puts you back in the game. For many decks that's an excellent trade-off: you usually can't reach your Battle Phase Turn 2 anyways if your opponent has built up a massive field.

Countering Evenly Matched
The easiest answer to a Turn 2 Evenly Matched was Set Rotation, but its recent Limit makes us look elsewhere for ways to keep Turn 1 set-ups safe. The idea here is simple: either negate Evenly Matched outright, or make it unplayable. There's not much you can do to recover if it resolves fully.

Set Rotation fit into the latter category by giving your opponent a card during their Battle Phase, which prevented them from activating Evenly Matched from the hand since they controlled a card. It's incredibly easy to telegraph: if your opponent goes straight to their Battle Phase without playing a card, they probably have Evenly Matched in their hand. You can also give your opponent a monster with Lost World, Grinder Golem, or Black Garden. Grinder Golem is playable just about anywhere thanks to Akashic Magician, so it's not as niche as you might think.

Artifact Lancea also stops Evenly Matched from being activated, and it's one of two reasons why the Artifact engine has suddenly become so popular since Circuit Break. Even if you draw Lancea it's still playable, although the same can't be said for the other big Artifact being run: Artifact Scythe. The overall value of Artifact Sanctum was high at YCS Dallas, and it's even greater now that Set Rotation is Limited. It's easily the best option for answering Evenly Matched, but it's not the only option out there.

Anything that can stop your opponent from banishing cards on the field works as a counter to Evenly Matched. Chaos Hunter needs to be Summoned alongside your Turn 1 set-up, and Imperial Iron Wall could work in a match-up where it's an effective floodgate already. Otherwise, negation is your best bet. After all, why Pendulum Summon Chaos Hunter when you could Summon Mist Valley Apex Avian instead? Imperial Iron Wall is nice in the right match-up, but Solemn Scolding will likely get the job done just as well with more flexibility.

I think most players will simply stick to the Artifact engine. It's a proven concept and puts at least four cards in your deck to answer a Turn 2 Evenly Matched. That's hard to beat, and Artifact Scythe will only get better next year as Link Monsters start arriving for various different themes.

An extremely powerful board-clearing trap couldn't have come at a better time: Pendulums and Links require massive investments into the field and make overextension almost mandatory to win. It's easily the best way to capitalize on the game's current trends, and there's no reason to believe that that players will stop opting to go first so they can build massive Turn 1 fields. Expect Evenly Matched–and its counters–to stay relevant for a long time.

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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