Side Deck Theory: Alternatives To Evenly Matched

Kelly Locke

12/12/2017 11:00:00 AM

Evenly Matched is a format-defining card and widely regarded as one of the best traps ever printed, but it's by no means a necessary staple.

For players on a budget there are plenty of other options that both compliment and replace Evenly Matched, and in some match-ups those cards are often just as good if not better. Evenly Matched has some serious drawbacks: activating it in response to direct attacks is a weak strategy that rarely pans out, and it's usually dead weight after Turn 2.

There are a lot of factors that go into choosing mass removal tech for the Main and Side Deck, but the most important consideration this format is your opponent's ability to respond or mitigate the removal effect. Can your opponent stay in the game after you hit them with Evenly Matched? Is card destruction enough, or will you need to banish cards to keep them off the field permanently?

And finally, what sort of protection can your opponent layer onto their most dangerous monsters?

Mass Removal In The Link Era
The Link mechanic forces most Extra Deck-heavy strategies into a position where they need to commit a huge number of cards to the field to make aggressive plays. Overextending in that way used to be a more worrisome problem in the game, but today's power creep makes overextension a thing of the past. It takes fewer cards than ever to set up an overwhelming field, and you'll end up recovering so much card economy in the process that even losing your entire board won't put you out of the duel. Overextending remains a sign of an inexperienced player, but it's so rarely punished these days.

Today's best decks are loaded with monsters, spells, and traps that replace themselves upon destruction or removal. It's hard to gain real card advantage through things like Dark Hole or Raigeki, and it's that kind of power creep that most likely led to the creation of Evenly Matched.

Mass removal has long since been transformed into a temporary reprieve from your opponent's on-field negation bodies, quick effects, and floodgate monsters that would otherwise stop your own plays. It's not usually an instant-win button anymore, with the exception of a few extremely well-timed cards, but mass removal doesn't need to win the duel single-handedly to be worth 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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Kaijus are the most obvious example of the direction removal has gone over the last few years. Eliminating a single monster is worth a straight -1 to your card economy because cards like Number 41: Bagooska the Terribly Tired Tapir, ABC-Dragon Buster, and plenty of indestructible or untargetable monsters exist. A SPYRAL Sleeper equipped with a SPYRAL GEAR - Last Resort represents a ridiculous amount of interruption and protection, but it's also perfect fodder for a Kaiju. The resource spend is totally worth it if you can remove Sleeper before it can activate its destruction effect.

While Pendulums and Link-heavy strategies commit a copious number of cards to the field, other decks can play much more conservatively while waiting for the right moment to push for game-ending damage. Lightsworn Zombie variants, Infernoids, and Invoked fit nicely into that second category. Lightsworn and Infernoids in particular leverage a resource pool found in the graveyard, so they can tank major removal effects while cards like Fairy Tail - Snow, Mezuki, and the larger Infernoid monsters remain on standby. Invoked are a Little Different: their plays are repeatable, so Invoked Fusion Monsters are typically expendable as long as you have another Aleister the Invoker.

Lastly, Paleozoic Frogs shrug off mass removal in much the same way Burning Abyss does. Toadally Awesome replaces itself if it lands in the graveyard, and most of the time it will negate Raigeki or Evenly Matched anyways. Baiting out Toadally Awesome, or removing it with a Kaiju, is necessary if you're going to try playing Evenly Matched. It's devastatingly effective in the early game as usual, but there are definitely alternatives that can put your opponent in a difficult spot early in the duel that don't run into your opponent's sided answers to Evenly Matched and Cosmic Cyclone.

About half of the game's top decks will take a huge hit from Evenly Matched, and sometimes it's enough to win the game outright.

The Game's Biggest Threat
Outside of Paleozoics and Pendulum Magicians you'll mostly want to use mass removal to clear out your opponent's monsters. SPYRAL Sleeper's likely the scariest card in the Turn 1 SPYRAL set-up, and it's the primary driver of Main Deck removal this format.

Because it's commonly backed up by SPYRAL GEAR - Last Resort your targeting removal cards have shockingly low utility, but luckily we already have an outstanding non-targeting mass removal card available. Raigeki's still an excellent card this format and widely considered to be a Side Deck staple; it does its job well enough against SPYRALs to justify its slot.

Decode Talker's another problem monster that's easily taken out by Raigeki, Interrupted Kaiju Slumber, and Dark Hole. You can take advantage of Decode Talker's upward-facing Link Pointer if your opponent doesn't have Sleeper, then hit it with a Raigeki after. However, SPYRALs are far from defenseless: Tri-Gate Wizard adds card negation to the ideal SPYRAL boards, and SPYRAL GEAR - Last Resort makes Sleeper nearly invincible.

For the most part players won't be Summoning Sleeper unless they have a way to protect it, so banking on destruction-based removal isn't the best plan. Evenly Matched dodges all of that protection aside from Tri-Gate Wizard, which makes Evenly Matched the ideal Turn 1 mass removal effect if you have it.

The best alternative here depends on your deck choice, and how important your Normal Summon is. Lava Golem's an excellent choice to play in place of Evenly Matched or alongside it if you can give up your Normal Summon for the turn. For some strategies that's relatively easy: Pendulum Magicians can simply Pendulum Summon their cards to build field presence, and Paleozoics can either use Swap Frog to build up their field, or play it slow in the early game without Summoning a monster. Lava Golem's 3000 ATK isn't a problem for Infernoid Harmadik, Time Pendulumgraph, or another mass removal card. These days there's very little chance that you'll lose to your own Lava Golem.

 Gameciel, the Sea Turtle Kaiju
Gameciel, the Sea Turtle Kaiju107725
Set Dimension of Chaos
Number DOCS-EN088
Level 8
Type Effect Monster
Monster Aqua
Attribute WATER 
A / D 2200 / 3000
Rarity Rare
Card Text

You can Special Summon this card (from your hand) to your opponent's side of the field in Attack Position, by Tributing 1 monster they control. If your opponent controls a "Kaiju" monster, you can Special Summon this card (from your hand) in Attack Position. You can only control 1 "Kaiju" monster. During either player's turn, when your opponent activates a card or effect, except "Gameciel, the Sea Turtle Kaiju": You can remove 2 Kaiju Counters from anywhere on the field; negate the activation, and if you do, banish that card.

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Again, recommending Lava Golem over Kaijus is entirely dependent on your ability to give up that Normal Summon, but the payoff for absorbing two monsters is just too good to pass up and worth considering even if you do need that Normal Summon. Wiping out SPYRAL Sleeper and either a Tri-Gate Magician or a Decode Talker forces your opponent to reconstruct nearly their entire field. Of course that's totally possible for SPYRALs provided your opponent held on to enough of their cards, but Lava Golem offers enough of a break to let you push through your opponent's remaining defenses.

The Kaiju engine's still playable against the game's best decks, and Interrupted Kaiju Slumber plays the role of a second Dark Hole. Tributing Sleeper's still a great play even if you're only removing a single card. Sleeper's a devastating monster to play against if not impossible depending on your opening hand so spending a Kaiju to keep your own cards safe is well worth it. At that point you'll usually have nothing but hand traps and SPYRAL GEAR - Utility Wire to worry about.

Finding Utility In Other Match-Ups
A set of Lava Golem or a Kaiju engine with a few other mass removal cards is an adequate replacement for Evenly Matched in the SPYRAL match-up, but what about the rest of the competitive scene? With Kaiju-like monsters, Dark Hole, and Raigeki as a backbone there are a handful of excellent spells that really help diversify your options with or without Evenly Matched. System Down's perhaps the most obvious Side Deck pick if you're constantly running into ABC's, and Zaphion the Timelord remains a solid choice against backrow-heavy strategies like Paleozoics.

Kaijus can also remove dangerous cards in the Pendulum match-up like Mist Valley Apex Avian and Timestar Magician. Spell Shattering Arrow might not deal with monsters on the field, but it puts in work against the Pendulum Magician backrow by simultaneously taking out both Pendulum Scales and Star Pendulumgraph. It's an easy +2 if you time it right, although both Avian and Timestar Magician will be working against you. Pairing it with a Kaiju or Lava Golem is the best way to devastate your opponent's field and leave them scrambling to rebuild their Scales.

Spell Shattering Arrow's also an answer to some situations in the SPYRAL match-up. Twin Twisters generally isn't a great option there because SPYRAL Resort prevents SPYRAL cards from being targeted, so you'll rarely get to destroy two cards anyways. Spell Shattering Arrow can destroy multiple cards, including Resort, SPYRAL GEAR - Big Red, and SPYRAL GEAR - Last Resort on a single activation, and that's more than enough reason to play it over Cosmic Cyclone. You can also chain it to Sleeper's effect if it targets itself, and you'll destroy Last resort before Sleeper resolves and take your opponent's entire field with it. With utility against two of the biggest decks in the game it's no surprise that Spell Shattering Arrow' seeing a ton of Side Deck play right now.

In the meantime the most generic mass removal cards in the game Dark Hole and Raigeki put in a ton of work against Number 41: Bagooska the Terribly Tired Tapir. Bagooska's easily playable in any deck with Level 4 monsters, and it's an excellent defensive choice in Game 1 where your opponent's unlikely to have their mass removal mained. You'll definitely want to side for Bagooska if you can't deal with it in Game 1, and mass removal is the easiest way to clear it off the field. It's not particularly durable when it's in Defense Position, so there's no real need to use a card like Evenly Matched against it.

Evenly Matched isn't overrated by any means, but it isn't a must-play either. It's easily among the best mass removal cards ever, so finding a substitute is a real challenge. I think the best alternatives are those cards being played alongside it: monsters that tribute using your opponent's cards, major backrow removal, and generic mass removal that's tried and tested over and over again.

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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