Side Deck Theory: Are Main Deck Traps Worth Playing?

Kelly Locke

1/16/2018 11:00:00 AM

Trap cards have trended up and down in popularity throughout the game's history, but I think we're now at a tipping point: traps are finally too slow to play.

They've all but vanished from Main Decks again, and I'm not sure they're coming back this time without major changes to how Yu-Gi-Oh! themes and hand traps are designed. There's a lot to discuss here, but for competitive players the short term outlook is straightforward: you're not going to be seeing many Game 1 traps, and even fewer if you're playing first in Games 2 or 3.

Competitive players are already well aware that their opponents are unlikely to have large backrows in Game 1. Nearly all of the game's most popular strategies are running five or fewer traps in the Main Deck, with some decks skipping traps altogether. In many ways they're unnecessary–hand traps fill in for traditional traps so well that it's hard to justify them. That's a problem Konami has clearly sensed, and they've responded by making better traps. Solemn Strike helped take on the extremes of the Pendulum era, and Evenly Matched is leading the way on an entirely new bread of trap cards.

Siding strategy wasn't always so narrowly-focused on playing first versus playing second, and hand traps were once far less relevant. As the game moves forward into 2018 there's no sign that Normal Traps – even those that can be used twice like Breakthrough Skill and Lost Wind – will be able to compete without a massive reshuffling of the hand traps available in competition.

What few traps remain in Main Decks are a point of interest, and they tell an interesting story about the state of trap cards in this game. Then there are the sided traps, and those cards also have a story to tell.

The Last Traps Worth Playing
The remaining Traps in Main Decks are almost exclusively themed, searchable, and extremely powerful. SPYRAL lists stick to SPYRAL GEAR - Utility Wire and SPYRAL MISSION - Rescue, but Rescue isn't even played as a trap. It's sent to the graveyard with Foolish Burial Goods as a proxy Monster Reborn, which leaves SPYRAL Main Decks with exactly one real trap card. Pendulum Magicians similarly run only two or three copies of a specific trap: Time Pendulumgraph. You can say the same for Trickstars too with their reliance on Trickstar Reincarnation in Game 1.

The three biggest decks in the game are often playing fewer than four Main Deck traps, and that's a big deal. The competitive environment is flooded with monsters and spells in Game 1, creating an aggressive format where monsters and Quick-Play Spells represent the vast majority of interruption.

That said, some traps are still making Main Deck showings. The Solemns – Solemn Warning, Solemn Strike, and Solemn Scolding – are powerful enough to warrant a slot despite their disadvantages. Solemn Strike is particularly popular, but Solemn Scolding's been making appearances as an answer to Evenly Matched and other big Turn 1 cards. Just recently Brandon Wold made the Top 4 at the ARG Circuit Series in Las Vegas Nevada with two Main Decked Solemn Scolding.

Evenly Matched shows up in deck lists from players who are usually choosing to play second in the duel. The advantage generated by Evenly Matched can absolutely swing the game in your favor in the right match-up, but unlike the Solemn trio it breaks the mold of trap cards since the beginning of the game. Evenly Matched can be played proactively or reactively from the hand, so it completely mitigates some of the biggest disadvantages of ‘standard' trap cards.

 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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The Phantom Knights of Shade Brigandine is another trap that bends the rules just enough for it to see Main Deck play. It showed up in a Kaiju World Chalice build at the same ARGCS in Las Vegas and was piloted by Brandon Lichter who like Wold also finished in the Top 4. Shade Brigandine is a trap monster that becomes a Normal Monster when Summoned, so it synergizes with Imduk the World Chalice Dragon. However, the reason it's playable in such an aggressive strategy is because you can activate it the turn you set it.

Is it any surprise that the most popular Main Deck traps in the game are either obscenely powerful or can be activated far earlier than other traps? At this point it shouldn't be: every piece of disruption in the game is competing with an ever-expanding line-up of hand traps that can be activated at any time to stop a wide range of effects. Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring is the card which all others are tested against. Can Ash Blossom fill the roll of another trap better? If so, why not simply play Ash Blossom instead? If it can't, can Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit accomplish the same goal?

What about Droll & Lock Bird, D.D. Crow, or Effect Veiler?

The penalties for not interacting with your opponent on their first turn are so extreme that most traps have been phased out for better cards. In most decks you don't want to see traps until you search them, and the top strategies can do that extremely well. Whether or not a strategy can search its key traps is a defining aspect of the current competitive environment. It's not just hand traps pushing this trend either – there's been a massive redirection of resources in Yu-Gi-Oh! with the introduction of Link Summons, and it's making monsters with trap-like effects a much stronger choice than traditional traps.

Traps In The Link Era
Link Monsters are about to become even more important as we reach the first big releases of 2018. Heavymetalfoes Electrumite is on its way to deliver a massive boost to Pendulum Magicians and Zefras, and the remaining imports from the OCG LINK VRAINS Pack are also poised to shake up the game. We're diving headlong into a Link-centric era in 2018 and monsters – all monsters – are a valuable asset as Link Materials. Unlike Synchros, Xyz, and Pendulums there's a use for virtually every monster that doesn't somehow restrict Link Summons to be exchanged for a Link Monster, and that's something the vast majority of spells and traps can't compete with.

Meanwhile, hand traps have much greater utility in today's game with their potential as Summoning Materials. In a pinch you can turn your D.D. Crow into a Link Monster, or use the Tuner aspect of Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit, Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring, Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries, and Effect Veiler to add even more utility to your Extra Deck. These cards are insanely flexible, and the crazy coverage of Ash Blossom and Ghost Ogre has pushed them into must-play territory.

As we continue to receive ever-stronger Link Monsters the importance of monster cards in general is likely to go up. Again, you're not looking for specific monsters here – nearly any monster will work. It's ironic that the deck with the largest trap line-up in the format happens to be playing mostly trap monsters. Paleozoics play a huge number of traps that are often put towards Xyz and Link Summons, further emphasizing the point that regular traps just don't cut it anymore.

A flexible card pool lets you escape situations that a more rigid build can't avoid. Increasing each card's utility and coverage gives you more options each turn to find a way to win the duel, and you're at a distinct advantage whenever you have more options than your opponent. Hand traps don't simply stand out because they're playable when your opponent wins the dice roll, they're also at the top of the game because they represent everything tournament victors are looking for: they're versatile, effective, and consistent solutions to problems that are tough to counter. Much of this was true before the Link mechanic, but it's been cemented even further since.

Side Deck Standouts
The Side Deck appears to be the new home for trap cards, and that's beyond the usual floodgates we'd come to expect. Anti-Spell Fragrance, Dimensional Barrier, Imperial Order, and Unending Nightmare continue to be great Turn 1 picks against a number of match-ups, and especially Pendulums. I don't think these going-first Side Deck cards are leaving the game anytime soon, but they're exclusive to going first. It's rare to see someone side those cards in ahead of a game where they're likely to play second.

Solemn Strike directly answers the hand trap-heavy format by simply negating them. It's still an impressively powerful card, but it's showing up in the Side Deck more often than the Main Deck these days. Like most other traps Solemn Strike is too slow to make an impact on Turn 1 against your opponent's hand traps, and again too slow to make a difference in Turn 2 when you're playing second. Joel White took 1st Place at the ARGCS with Trickstars and sided all of his traps besides Trickstar Reincarnation, including a full set of Solemn Strike. He wasn't the only duelist there to have that idea. Alex Weiner did the same in his Top 16 SPYRAL build .

The ability to search Solemn Strike and Solemn Warning through Guiding Ariadne could potentially pull these cards back into Main Decks for Pendulum strategies. Again, a key to success with traps this format is being able search them, and Guiding Ariadne very easy to search and activate thanks to Heavymetalfoes Electrumite . It could be relevant again soon, and when that happens Pendulums will be well positioned to take advantage of the decline in Twin Twisters' popularity.

 Mind Crush
Mind Crush67095
Set Legendary Collection 3: Yugi's World
Number LCYW-EN295
Type Trap Card
Attribute TRAP 
Rarity Ultra Rare
Card Text

Declare 1 card name; if that card is in your opponent's hand, they must discard all copies of it from their hand to the Graveyard, otherwise you discard 1 random card.

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Mind Crush was another hugely popular pick at the ARGCS, and it carried over that popularity since December. It's a smart out to Evenly Matched and it's still a very strong piece of hand disruption, but Links have pushed players to commit more cards to the field than ever before. After Turn 1 you'll find plenty of strategies that just don't have any cards left in their hands besides hand traps, and hitting those cards with Mind Crush is a questionable move. It's very difficult to predict which hand traps your opponent's holding.

The lack of Main Deck spell and trap removal is a telling sign that players aren't expecting to see dangerous traps in Game 1. Cosmic Cyclone has swung into the top slot as the go-to answer for Pendulums and backrow this format, and Twin Twisters seems to have disappeared. Duelists aren't trying to clear a path for their monsters in the same way they were last year, and that's largely because most hand traps are extremely difficult to counter. In a way it's better to simply play around them and play through them rather than play direct solutions.

I think Konami's having a bit of an identity problem with trap cards: they just don't have a place in an era when hand traps and Quick-Play Spells can do the job just as well. Counter Traps are an exception thanks to their insane coverage and unique activation timing, but otherwise there's very little reason to stick to Normal Traps or even Continuous Traps when more flexible alternatives exist. Cards like Evenly Matched and the upcoming Infinite Transience are merely blurring the line between traps and Quick-Play Spells.

With a new hand trap on the way I can't help but wonder if traps will be phased out entirely, or if there's any effect that can justify them in today's game. For now going first or second and siding appropriately is the single most important function of the Side Deck, and it's a trend brought on almost entirely because of the weakness of trap cards in the current state of the game.

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​​​ ​​​Yu-Gi-Oh!,​​​ ​​​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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