YCS Tacoma came and went, and if you were used to the competitive landscape before Secret Forces, well, I'm sorry too. It's gone and you're not getting it back. Before the YCS, there were three decks you could depend on being played: Burning Abyss, Shaddolls, Qliphorts. You might have seen Satellarknights and some rogue strategies on occasion, but your preparation had to account for the first three decks I mentioned.

What did YCS Tacoma do? Nekroz. Nekroz everywhere. Not since the days of Herald of Perfection has a Ritual-based strategy seen the top tables of premiere events all over the world. But, with new strategies come new rules questions, and in this particular case, a new examination of one of the core mechanics of the TCG.

This week on Black and White: Rituals! I've go over the basics of Ritual Monsters, Ritual Spells, and some rules clarifications on the newest addition to the Ritual Family: the Nekroz.

As Always, What We Know From Official Sources
When going over anything rules related, we'll need to see what the rulebook says first. Let's take a trip over to the recently updated TCG rulebook 9.0, page 19 with a small blurb on page 24. To summarize, you activate a Ritual Spell Card the same way you activate a Normal Spell Card. When the Ritual Spell resolves, you Tribute monsters as specified in the effect and Ritual Summon your Ritual Monster from your hand. Certain specific Ritual Spells may not Tribute, for instance Advanced Ritual Art only requires you to send monsters from the deck to the graveyard, while the Effect Monster Djinns like Djinn Releaser of Rituals give you the option of banishing them from your graveyard to fulfill part of the Ritual Spell's effect.

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Page 21 of the rulebook groups Ritual Summons as a Special Summon along with all of the other types of Special Summons: Fusion, Synchro, Xyz, Pendulum and monster's built-in Special Summon methods are considered "Special Summon monsters." The "Special Summon with a card's effect" section also details how "Special Summon monsters" must be Summoned properly first before they can be Special Summoned by another card effect, so you can't use Foolish Burial to put a Magician of Black Chaos into the graveyard and Special Summon it with Call Of The Haunted. The Magician isn't a valid target for Special Summon effects unless the card was successfully Ritual Summoned first.

And sadly, that's all there is in the rulebook. The only other official source for how Rituals work can be found on the cards themselves.

The Vanilla Rituals
Before getting into the somewhat-complicated Ritual Monsters, let's go over some basic ones first.

The most basic Ritual Monsters are ones that have no additional effects, like Zera the Mant. While these types of monsters have text on the effect box saying what Ritual Spell you need to Ritual Summon them, take a close look at the monster's type-line: "Fiend/Ritual". No mention of "Effect." Ritual monsters can be non-Effect monsters the same way that Synchro Monsters like Scrap Archfiend and Xyz Monsters like Gem-Knight Pearl can be.

These monsters conveniently skirt cards like Fiendish Chain and aren't counted towards Ceasefire. This isn't knowledge that's particularly relevant right now, but it's good to point out in case you're looking for some nifty card interactions.

Do keep in mind that a non-Effect Ritual Monster isn't a Normal Monster; those are defined as the monsters with the yellow card frame or a monster that's treated as Normal Monster by another card effect. Branching further, let's look at a few Ritual Monsters with standard effects.

The Previous Standard
So back in the day, most Ritual Monsters could only be Summoned with one specific Ritual Spell, and that one Ritual Spell could only Summon that one Ritual Monster. That made Ritual Summons notoriously difficult, so the payoff had to be exceptional. The only pair that I can remember seeing any kind of play was Relinquished and Black Illusion Ritual. Earth monsters and Dark monsters have a slight advantage since they can use Earth Chant or Contract with the Abyss as alternate methods of Ritual Summoning, but you have to jump through the additional hoop of needing your Tributes to exactly match the Level of the monster you're Summoning.

For some time, most Ritual Spells allowed your Tribute's Levels to match or exceed the Level of the monster you wanted to Summon. That standard started to shift in Shadow of Infinity with the release of End of the World and its beautiful card art, which allowed access to Ruin, Queen of Oblivion and Demise, King of Armageddon. Those monsters emulated the then-Forbidden Black Luster Solder – Envoy of the Beginning and the currently-Forbidden Chaos Emperor Dragon – Envoy of the End, so Ruin and Demise got a look during 2006. But since End of the World requires an exact Tribute, it was still difficult to pull off.

And then Strike of Neos happened. A set with two pairs of matching Ritual Monsters and Spells, plus one addition, game-breaking Ritual Spell: Advanced Ritual Art. It's been reprinted quite a few times - most recently in The Secret Forces - and for good reason: it makes Ritual Summoning way, way easier. Simply have it and the monster in your hand with the proper combination of Normal Monsters in your deck (those yellow ones, remember? Not Hungry Burger, that one doesn't count.)

Advanced Ritual Art was the first of a trend of Ritual Spells: when you only need two cards in hand to Summon a powerful monster instead of three or four, Ritual Monsters are worth playing! Who knew?! This kind of card design is easy to spot when you look at future Ritual-themed archetypes like the Ghiski, who have a slew of Ritual-based support for Water Rituals, which is fitting considering what's now dominating tournaments in the TCG…

The New Hotness Of The Ice Barrier
I suspect most of you just skipped to this section. This is me being sad that you didn't read about the background of Ritual Monsters, which may help you understand why I addressed it in the first place; the next bit will make more sense if you read the back story first.

Let's be clear here: the Nekroz are powerful. They emulate Synchro Monster effects, two of which are currently Forbidden: Nekroz of Brionac for Brionac, Dragon of the Ice Barrier, and Nekroz of Trishula for Trishula, Dragon of the Ice Barrier. Just like Ruin and Demise, when cards do things that Forbidden cards do, it's always worth a look. And in this case, the Nekroz are stupidly consistent.

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The Ritual Spells combine the ability to Summon multiple monsters (like the Gishki) with "after-use" effects similar to recent Spells like Hymn of Light and Good & Evil in the Burning Abyss. If you wanted to Ritual Summon, the Nekroz are the strongest weapons in this hidden arsenal. I don't want to go over the specific combos you can pull off, I'll let another writer do that, but I do want to address a bit of confusion regarding some of the Nekroz Ritual Spells.

Kaleidoscope and Friends
If you instead skipped to this section, for shame! I wrote all those words up there for a reason!

I've noticed some online discussions, debates, arguments, and what-have-you about how the Nekroz Ritual Spells actually work, specifically what happens when another card effect is chained that makes it impossible to Ritual Summon the monster you were intending to. To clarify, I'm talking about chained effect. If something like Vanity's Emptiness is already active, no Ritual Spell can be activated since Special Summoning is a mandatory effect of the Ritual Spell, which Vanity's Emptiness – or whatever card effect - is preventing. Let's look at some of the card texts in question.

At just over one month old, Good & Evil in the Burning Abyss is the newest Ritual Spell that isn't in The Secret Forces. The card's phrased a lot like most Ritual Spells before it: "This card is used to Ritual Summon (thing). You must also Tribute (other things)."

Now, take a look at any of the three Nekroz Ritual Spells. "This card can be used to Ritual Summon (thing or things)" followed by the Tribute requirement. Now, this is where things get a bit different from what we're used to. Previously, Ritual Spells didn't use Problem-Solving Card Text conjunctions in the Ritual Summoning-portion of the effect; only the Tribute requirement was listed. In these three cards, the effect specifically lists out how the card should resolve using the rules of PSCT. This is the first time Ritual Spells were worded in this fashion, and it's clearly caused some disagreements about how to interpret this.

On one side there are people who believe that if you can't Ritual Summon when the Ritual Spell resolves, you don't do any of the effect. One of the primary reasons for this, as given by people I've seen make the argument, is that the actual mechanic of Ritual Summoning requires the Tribute, and that the Tribute doesn't happen if the Summon can't. Support for this idea also comes from the mechanics for Fusion Summoning: cards that Fusion Summon now say "Fusion Summon (thing) by using Fusion Materials (from places)" when the text used to say "Send, from (places) to the graveyard, Fusion Materials… then Special Summon (thing)", which led to conflicts with PSCT, since if you followed the text to the letter, Fusion Summon would be completely disrupted by Macro Cosmos and you'd theoretically never be able to use a Token as a Fusion Material and still perform a Fusion Summon. (Spoiler: we've always been able to use Tokens as Fusion Materials.)

On the other side are the people who believe that a card with Problem-Solving Card Text has to be interpreted as written using official resources. This line of thinking is generally the safest because when you start assuming game mechanics without official info to back it up, you start down a slippery slope of assumptions that doesn't end well. It's very easy to start assuming things about this game, and in our efforts to get everyone on the same page, assuming game mechanics shouldn't be done lightly.

Without additional information from Konami, both sides of this argument have valid reasons for their line of thinking, but obviously with Nekroz being as wildly played as they are, having two different mindsets in play isn't ideal.

Ever since "rulings" – statements about how a card works – stopped being produced in 2011, the TCG has two primary sources for how cards work: the rulebook and the cards themselves. We know how to read the cards because of the PSCT articles, and the rulebook has been revised a few times over the last few years. But, as we can see with this issue, the rulebook doesn't answer the question "What happens when I can't Ritual Summon my Ritual Monster when the Ritual Spell resolves?" So how do we handle this?

As per usual, I've sent an e-mail to us-ygorules@konami.com, as that's the e-mail address that's listed on my rulebook for rules questions. I did get a response, so I'm going to paraphrase it here. At events where I'm the Head Judge, I'm going to follow this. I'd suggest all judges follow suit.

Tributing for a Ritual Summon is one part of the Ritual Summoning; playing the Ritual Monster is the second part. For the Nekroz Spell Cards, another procedure is substituted for Tributing, but it's all part of Ritual Summoning. If you can't Ritual Summon a monster when the Ritual Spell resolves, you do nothing. That is, no Tributes, no sending to graveyard, none of that.

I'd imagine this info was not available before YCS Tacoma, hence the ruling made at that time. With this new information, we should move forward with this as well.

If you have any questions about Ritual Summons, game mechanics, card interactions or tournament policy, send me an e-mail (one question per e-mail please!) to askjudgejoe@gmail.com and your question could be answered in a future Court of Appeals!

-Joe Frankino