If you've been following competitive Yu-Gi-Oh! for some time you might've noticed that timing is the single most important factor when playing in a World Championship Qualifier. Skill and luck are awesome, too, but it's really individual card choices that make a defining impact. Deck choice is drastically important as well, and picking the right strategy to use might just be the last straw on the camel's back when it comes to topping the event. But what determines which cards and decks are "right" when Day 1 finally arrives?

With the North American WCQ starting up this coming weekend, I thought I'd take a moment to discuss what might just be the best option for this weekend's Championship: Lightsworns.

Not So Under The Radar
Okay, I'll admit it, Lightsworns aren't exactly the most rogue theme in the world. Patrick Hoban recently wrecked a Regional with Lightsworn Rulers, and you can check out the list here. Oh yeah, and it also just took 2nd freaking place at the European WCQ. Just in general, though, Lightsworns have popped up all over the place in competitive metagames ever since their original release. They've lost numerous cards on the Forbidden and Limited List over the years, and smaller derivative engines have found themselves in a variety of strategies from Zombies to Dragons.

Why is that? Well, to give you a quick rundown of what Lightsworns do, your basic goal is to send as many cards from your deck to the graveyard as possible. Most of the Lightsworn monsters naturally do that during the End Phase, and a couple others activate to mill cards at different times, too. Wrack up a hearty number of Lightsworns in the graveyard and you're free to drop Judgment Dragon on your opponent, threatening a field wipe for almost no cost. Judgment Dragon's arguably the best boss monster in the game right now, and it's a big reason to consider Lightsworns in the first place.

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Of course, Judgment Dragon isn't the only strength Lightsworns boast. Lyla, Lightsworn Sorceress is a powerful Level 4 that blows away opposing back row. Lumina, Lightsworn Summoner revives fallen monsters while making use of dead cards in your hand. Ryko, Lightsworn Hunter is a powerful Flip Effect monster that's a bit slow but still a simple form of easy removal for problematic cards. Ehren, Lightsworn Monk shuffles stuff like Fire Hand, Ice Hand, and Geargiarmor back into the deck for free. And Jain, Lightsworn Paladin can boost up to 2100 ATK to trample over most Level 4's.

Beyond the well-worn regulars, Raiden, Hand of the Lightsworn is a new additional brought to us in the Realm of Light Structure Deck released earlier this month. Raiden's absolutely insane, to say the least. Its effect isn't the most relevant, but Raiden's a searchable, revivable Level 4 Tuner. You can continuously bring it back with Lumina and go straight into any number of Level 7 Synchros. While Black Rose Dragon and Ancient Sacred Wyvern are strong in their own regards, the new Michael, the Arch-Lightsworn is usually your go-to. For the price of 1000 Life Points, Michael banishes any one card on the field. And it can still attack. And it's an extra Lightsworn for Judgment Dragon. And it has 2600 ATK.

As Kelly would say, Michael's pretty neat.

The Lightsworn arsenal also includes two amazing spells: Solar Recharge and Charge of the Light Brigade. Recharge not only gets you out of the dreaded early game, it also accelerates you through your deck by four cards (the two you draw and the two you mill). Draw too many monsters, or need to put something in the graveyard for Lumina? No worries, Solar Recharge fixes your hand for you. Charge of the Light Brigade is your Reinforcement of the Army, searching any Lightsworn after milling three cards. These two cards make the Lightsworn suite incredibly reliable and consistent, but Lightsworns by themselves need two extra pushes in order to really be competitive.

The Extra Push
First up, you have to be able to get out of the early game without losing. Lightsworns are good in the mid and late game, but they do require some set-up. There are two main cards that help you do that: Kuribandit and Needlebug Nest. Kuribandit's definitely the safer of the two, but takes up your Normal Summon. When it works it's going to send at least four cards to the graveyard, while hopefully adding a game-breaking spell or trap to your hand; something like Soul Charge, Solar Recharge, or even Needlebug Nest. Like I said before, Nest isn't nearly as safe as Kuribandit, but not for the reasons you think. Sure, it's a straight -1, but you're usually filling your graveyard with worthwhile monsters. The actual issue with it is that Nest opens you up to Wiretap, something that otherwise just wouldn't happen.

For that reason, I'm conflicted on whether to play Needlebug Nest or opt out. When it resolves it's almost unbeatable, but if it's the only trap you're playing than it's not likely to resolve in the first place. If you do decide to play Needlebug Nest I'd suggest playing other traps, too. Breakthrough Skill, Beckoning Light, and Phoenix Wing Wind Blast are my favorite choices. Breakthrough Skill doesn't mind being milled, and Beckoning Light usually just wins you the game right then and there by adding back multiple Judgment Dragons to your hand. Wind Blast is capable of removing threats that you couldn't eliminate otherwise, and it helps overcome dead draws, too.

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The other problem that regular ol' Lightsworns have is that they don't really do anything independently for you when they're in the graveyard. For that reason, we've got to use cards that like being milled. The Dragon Rulers are the most obvious choice, what with being endless streams of free Level 7 behemoths. Up front, it might seem difficult to use these Dragons because everything in your deck is Light attribute and they need to banish Dragons to work otherwise, but there are two crucial monsters that bridge that gap.

Lightray Diabolos is great, and it's extremely abusable. It's a Dragon for your Dragon Rulers, but if you draw it that's no problem because you can Special Summon it for free. Additionally, it's a Level 7 that can overlay with any of your Dragon Rulers to go into Rank 7's, namely Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossack and Number 11: Big Eye. Eclipse Wyvern's the second monster, and it's probably the biggest reason you'd combine Dragon Rulers and Lightsworns. Whenever Wyvern hits the graveyard from anywhere you can banish either a Judgment Dragon or Lightray Diabolos from your deck. Then, once Wyvern gets banished - like by a Dragon Ruler - you get to add the Judgment Dragon or Lightray Diabolos to your hand.

It's fuel for Dragon Rulers and searches Judgment Dragon. What's not to love?

As for other cards that work well in the graveyard, Necro Gardna and Rainbow Kuriboh both provide attack blocking abilities. It's tough to say which one is better, as Necro Gardna is a Dark for Allure of Darkness and Chaos monsters, but Rainbow Kuriboh isn't a dead draw by itself. Whichever one you choose is up to you, and depends heavily on what build you've opted to run.

Why Lightsworn, Why Now?
I suppose the biggest concern for the player considering Lightsworns for the WCQ would be why you'd use it over something like HAT, Geargia, Bujins, Sylvan, Madolches, or any number of other strategies. Right off the bat, Lightsworns are going to be horribly under-sided for. I think that regardless of the deck's recent success and the fact that they have outs to a variety of cards, people still won't be preparing for them. Most duelists see Lightsworns as a "sacky" deck, only winning from their overpowered boss monster Judgment Dragon. While I was on that boat for a while I feel now that there are so many other ways to win, like a flurry of Synchro and Xyz Summons, that's just not accurate. The theme isn't JudgmentDragon.dek in the way that Bujins are Yamato.dek. You'll win games without seeing Judgment Dragon, and you'll win games if your Judgment Dragon gets stopped in its tracks.

Such is life.

Anyway, Lightsworns also carry a hearty selection of Side Deck cards that not all strategies can use. Xyz Universe is by far the most influential, being tied down almost entirely to Lightsworns, Mythic Rulers, and Atlantean Mermail. Xyz Universe isn't quite as powerful as it was when it first hit tournaments because more people are aware of it, but it's still low key enough where it'll catch the opposition off guard. Resolving Universe against Geargia or Madolches is a free win. It might only work against inexperienced or ill-prepared players, but there'll be a surprising amount of those at the WCQ, I promise.

Then there's Royal Decree. Traps are everywhere, and Decree's amazing if you can pull it off. If your opponent sees traps in your Main Deck in Game 1 they'll probably not prepare for Decree, so you're free to Side it in for Game 2. After that your opponent has no idea whether you're keeping in the Decree, putting your traps back in, or a combination of the two. Royal Decree wins games by itself, and you only really need to keep it on the field for a couple turns before you just go off and OTK.

At the end of the day, though, the real strength of Lightsworns stems from their versatility. You can OTK with Judgment Dragon, make huge Synchro and Xyz Summons with the Dragon Rulers, or grind your opponent down with the Level 4 and lower monsters. If you're overlooking Lightsworns going into the event I'd highly advise taking the time to play test them to get a feel for how their combos and card interactions work. Know thy enemy, or something. Lastly, feel free to say hello to me if you spot me at the WCQ! I'll be there Friday, Saturday, and Sunday so there's plenty of opportunities. Best of luck to everyone playing, and I'll see you in Detroit!

-Doug Zeeff