The Hand Trap Epidemic
Doug Zeeff

“Hand trap” is a phrase commonly used to define monster cards that have Quick Effects you can active from your hand. The early hand traps were cards like D.D. Crow, Gemini Imps, Effect Veiler, and eventually Maxx “C”. Nowadays, a variety of hand traps pop up in almost every deck list that's topping tournaments, especially since the revamp of SPYRALS; cards like Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit, Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries, Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring, Droll & Lock Bird, and even PSY-Framegear Gamma – a monster played almost exclusively to counter opposing hand traps.

SPYRALS have dominated the OCG for weeks now, but there were a lot of people claiming they wouldn't be as good in the TCG since our Advanced Format is so different. But after looking at the insane results from YCS Dallas and YCS London it's clear that SPYRALS are the deck to beat. What's most interesting to me is the handful of decks that Top 32'd those events that weren't SPYRAL builds. They pretty much all had the same thing in common.

A whole lot of hand traps.

We saw Trickstars, Invoked, Pendulum Magicians, and even Burning Abyss top those two YCS events, and they all played a ridiculous number of hand traps in the Main and Side Deck. The last time I remember seeing so many hand traps was in the latter half of the Zoodiac era with Lunalight Blacksheep and Elder Entity Norden. People were playing Maxx “C” as well as Retaliating “C” and Flying “C”, and Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit often paired with Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries. Outside of that period, there haven't been a lot of formats where this many hand traps have been so commonly played at every level of competition.

Why Is That?
The first thing that's worth looking into is why certain formats favor hand traps over others. Simply put, the more pressure your opponent can put on you from Turn 1, the more hand traps become a necessary evil. Zoodiacs with Elder Entity Norden could easily draw 3 to 5 cards on the first turn, setting themselves up with tons of backrow and removal options. Because of that, duelists scrambled to find ways to counter that strategy going second, which led to so many hand traps being played right up until Elder Entity Norden was Forbidden.

SPYRALS are very similar, albeit a lot less consistent. There are plenty of two and three card combos in SPYRALs that end with multiple Firewall Dragons, SPYRAL Sleeper equipped with Last Resort, and backrow. That opening is incredible and extremely difficult to come back from. Even cards like Evenly Matched can only accomplish so much, so many players realized it's a lot easier to stop SPYRALS from making their board than it is to deal with the board itself.

It also helps that SPYRALs, more so than Zoodiacs, regularly auto-lose to a well-timed hand trap. Specifically speaking, Droll & Lock Bird on their first search. Many of the SPYRAL combos rely on searching the deck a ton of times in one turn, so if you can hit them with Droll & Lock Bird they're forced to end with a subpar board.

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What separates SPYRALS from a deck like Zoodiacs is Zoodiac Drident, or a similar card. While there certainly are cases where Droll & Lock Bird doesn't prevent your opponent from getting to SPYRAL Sleeper, a vast majority of the time it'll end their turn on the spot. By contrast, no matter what you did to Zoodiacs it usually wouldn't stop them from ending on Zoodiac Drident, which they could then use to disrupt your actual plays, which made that deck a lot scarier.

That being said, even though SPYRALS lose to hand traps a lot harder than Zoodiacs did, the deck is clearly still extremely powerful. Taking up almost the entire Top 32 from two different YCS tournaments isn't something to overlook.

Why Hand Traps Are Weird
Hand traps create this weird paradox in deck building, and I think we're already starting to see it with SPYRALS. When you go second, you absolutely want to see one, maybe even two hand traps in your opening hand. If you don't draw any, your opponent – especially if they're playing SPYRALS - will almost always win the game if they draw a playable hand. Because you want to draw hand traps, you run as many in your deck as you have room for, often somewhere around 9 to 14.

The ideal situation when you're going second is to have the extra hand trap or hand traps to prevent your opponent from making a play, but also having the right cards to make a follow-up play on your own turn. That's where the paradox happens: hand traps are useless unless your opponent's making a play. Sure, there are fringe uses for them like using Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit as a Tuner, but overall you use them to stop your opponent from making moves.

That means when you go first and want to make moves yourself, hand traps are usually going to be bricks. The one exception would probably be Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring against an opposing Maxx “C”, but even that isn't very likely to happen.

So hand traps create this situation where you don't want to draw too many or too few of them. If you go first and open with four hand traps it's going to be really difficult to win, especially with a combo deck like SPYRALS – combo strategies need multiple cards to go off, none of which are usually hand traps. With Zoodiacs it was easy because all the combos just required a single Zoodiac monster; you could open with Zoodiac Barrage and four hand traps and you'd be fine. But decks like SPYRALS don't have those one-card combos. You always need two or three cards. You're bound to see losses if you simply start with the incorrect number of hand traps.

That's why I'm kind of surprised at the success of SPYRALS. I'm not saying that I have a better way of building them, but if you read check out the YCS Feature Matches the entire strategy just seems so fragile. I felt like I watched the infamous “summon SPYRAL Gear - Quik Fix, get Drolled, pass” opening again and again. Compared to decks like Zoodiacs or Performapal Pendulums, it just doesn't seem to have the power level that it takes to capture 29 seats in the top 32.

Hand Traps And Rogue Decks
What I find curious about formats where hand traps are so good against the best deck, is rogue deck positioning. In some ways, hand traps help rogue decks fight against the most dominant strategy. By giving slower decks a chance to stop the opponent before making a big board, those slower decks are given a chance to make their own setup.

In other ways, formats where people Main Deck 15 hand traps really, really hurt rogue decks. Part of the reason that rogue decks aren't usually the most popular choice comes down to consistency and power: hand traps can rob a rogue deck of the little consistency or power that they did have, so it can be really frustrating for players who don't want to play the consensus “best deck.” Outside of Droll & Lock Bird, the best way to counter hand traps is to have more plays than your opponent can deal with. Rogue decks can't always do that, so I feel like there's some false hope in formats like the current one, where rogue duelists overestimate how much hand traps are helping them.

I will say that if you can find a rogue deck that's good against hand traps and can also get away with playing a lot of them, then you've got a fine opportunity to be successful in tournaments right now. The best recent example is probably Ed Acepcion's Invoked list from YCS Dallas .

For the Invoked deck to work, all you have to do is recycle the same Aleister the Invoker every turn. That's a one card engine, so you can afford to draw four hand traps in your opening hand and still have plays to make. I believe the key to playing rogue decks right now is grounded in hand traps, so carefully picking strategies that can use them without getting destroyed by them is the best way to improve your chances.

-Doug Zeeff

Doug Zeeff hails from Michigan and is currently an English major in college. When he's not found emailing Konami about why there's not a single walrus card in all of Yu-Gi-Oh! you can find him regularly posting unorthodox, unfiltered Yu-Gi-Oh! content on his Youtube channel, Dzeeff. In his spare time he enjoys eating cheese, Overwatch, and, of course, playing Yu-Gi-Oh. Click here to follow him and his adventures on Facebook!