How's it going TCGplayers? The North American World Championship Qualifier is said and done, with the dominating force of Traptrix Hand Artifacts (HAT) taking the crown. Over the past few weeks I've covered the gauntlet of competitive decks, from Madolche and Dragon Rulers, to Geargia and Sylvans. You can expect to see a majority of these strategies in the coming weeks as we wait for Duelist Alliance, with a few sprinklings of Mermails, Evilswarms, and other strategies.

But this week I won't be looking at a competitive deck; instead I'll be taking a look at the ideology behind why the top decks are on top, harkening back to my old articles on control and tempo. There's one major thing that Madolche, Dragons, Geargia, and Sylvans all have in common: they revolve around specific card interactions, better referred to as combos. What makes combo plays so strong, and why are they so prevalent right now? Among the many facets of combo-driven strategies, a few stand out: card selection, consistency, synergy, and power.

A combo is an interaction between two or more cards where the result is advantageous and often greater than the sum of its parts. Combos can be as simple as Book of Moon together with Nobleman of Crossout, or as devastating as the Yata-Garasu Lock or Magical Scientist OTK. Combo decks are often capable of creating OTKs, and in the case of engines like Magical Scientist, Frogs, or Morphing Jar, combos can end the duel before your opponent gets a chance to even draw a card. Some of Yu-Gi-Oh's most infamous decks have been combo strategies, or have at least played a particularly backbreaking combo.

But why are there so many combo decks popping up right now?

Card Selection
Card selection's a simple principle: the ability to choose what cards you use will give you more options, and hopefully a better chance to win the game. Combo decks rely on superior card selection to make sure they see their most important cards. So how do we achieve better card selection? A popular example, especially this format, has been the use of Upstart Goblin in just about every deck. While it may seem like a bandwagon idea, it makes sense. By essentially having 37 cards in your deck rather than 40, you improve the odds of seeing the cards you need most, making it easier for you to go off.

Pot of Duality's another great example of card selection; it digs you three cards deep and lets you pick the best one for your current situation. Kuribandit, a new tool introduced in Dragons of Legend, takes that to another level, digging through five cards and letting you add a spell or trap to your hand. While the monsters do go to the graveyard, that's more than fine in strategies centered around building a graveyard filled with monsters – stuff like Dragon Rulers, Zombies, and Lightsworn. While Kuribandit's one of the slower ways you can achieve optimal card selection, it's just so powerful when you're allowed to go first and set up for your next turn safely.

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Kuribandit does double duty in Sylvans as you not only add a card like Sylvan Charity or Soul Charge to your hand, but you get to trigger all of the excavation effects of your Sylvan monsters, leading to greater advantage from just one card. But Kuribandit's not without its faults; going second with Kuribandit as your only viable play leaves you really vulnerable, and a timely Breakthrough Skill can outright cost you the game (as seen in the finals of the European WCQ). When your opponent manages to stop your Kuribandit it's a huge loss in tempo that can be impossible to recover from, so it's best to see Kuribandit as a supplemental edge rather than truly relying on it.

Note that Madolche decks only rarely play some form of card selection, instead relying on the power of its combos and the consistency to get it out, but more on that later.

Consistency
Similar to card selection, consistency is the idea that your deck does what it's supposed to do game in and game out. While it may seem boring at times to see the same cards game after game, that's a good thing! Consistency's important because in long tournaments, you don't want to lose because you didn't see any viable cards, or because your deck didn't do what it wants to do. Bad hands do happen and they will cost you games, but minimizing the number of times that happens is the primary goal of a consistent deck. Consistency's especially important for combo-driven strategies; you want to see your combo pieces early and often so you can make your plays before your opponent can set up. Search cards like Fire Formation - Tenki, Geargiarmor, Madolche Magileine, Charge of the Light Brigade, and Dragon Shrine all give you access to cards that you might not see otherwise in your starting hand. Searching cards also improves your draws for subsequent turns with fewer cards in your deck.

Consistency is essential for decks like Lightsworn, which revolve around an inherently luck-based mechanic (in this case, milling). Lightsworn shore up that weakness with Charge of the Light Brigade and Reinforcement of the Army for searching power, and Solar Recharge plus Allure of Darkness for additional draws. Madolches take advantage of search power through Madolche Magiliene and Madolche Ticket. Geargia have the hard-to-run-over Geargiarmor, and Gear Gigant X also searches. Sylvans draw their consistency from Sylvan Charity, an incredibly potent draw card very much like the original Graceful Charity. Mount Sylvania's also a form of added consistency as it gives you some semblance of control in relation to your excavations.

It's not a coincidence that all of the top decks have some form of search or draw effect; having access to the cards you need when you need them is invaluable. Madolche makes up for its lack of inherent card selection with search effects like Madolche Magiliene and Madolche Messengelato. The fact that Madolche also has a one-card combo in Madolche Anjelly makes it incredibly easy for the deck to go off successfully.

Synergy
Synergy's best explained as a measure of how well your cards work together, an inherent requirement for powerful combos. Mermail's one of the best examples of a deck revolving almost entirely around synergy. Mermails don't possess strong cards individually, but their cards enable others so you can gain card advantage and fuel an OTK. Mermail Abysspike and Genex Undine get your engine going by enabling an Atlantean monster's trigger effect. Mermail Abyssteus and Mermail Abyssmegalo search out combo pieces while also serving as powerful enablers themselves.

Geargia have similar tools in Geargiarmor and Geargiarsenal to search out missing pieces to enable the flurry of Xyz Summons the deck's known for. The pieces of the Madolche engine also work well together, especially Madolche Chateau and Madolche Ticket. The two spell cards work in tandem to give you an endless stream of card advantage to bury your opponent.

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The opposite of synergistic combo decks are what are often referred to as "goodstuff" decks. They usually don't have any cool combos – they're just a deck full of good cards. The HAT decks that have exploded in popularity in the wake of the WCQ are a great example of a strategy stuffed to the brim with "just good" cards that work well by themselves.

Power
There would be no point to a combo if it didn't gain you some serious advantage or outrightly ending a game. The Madolche combo of Madolche Anjelly and Madolche Hootcake are pretty low on the power scale, netting you plenty of cards but only rarely closing out games by themselves. Sylvans, Mermails, and Dragons are defined by their sheer late game power, backed by the card that's become the boogeyman of the format, Soul Charge. It lets these kinds of decks explode right out of the gate and take control of the field. Sylvans can dig for a Vanity's Emptiness with Orea, the Sylvan High Arbiter, or they can lock you down behind two Divine Dragon Knight Felgrands. Dragons really only need a Dragon Shrine or a few draw cards to get going to power out a similar board.

As we saw this past weekend at the ARG Circuit Series Championship, Sehabi Kheireddine's Mermails overpowered Larry Musgrove's Karakuri Geargia by shredding Musgrove's set cards with Atlantean Marksman. The Marksmans could clear the way for devastating turns on the back of Mermail Abyssteus and Mermail Abyssmegalo. Aided by Soul Charge, Mermails have access to a ton of different Xyz monsters at variable Ranks. While they can't make Rank 8's as easily as Sylvans or Dragons, the ability to string one Mermail Summon into another and then follow it up with a Soul Charge can be just as powerful.

Power right now is defined by how well you can abuse Soul Charge, which is why Madolche and Geargia are on the lower end. Geargia can take advantage of Soul Charge to set up a field, but not in the same way as other decks.

Play or Draw?
The newest, and arguably biggest change to Yu-Gi-Oh! now is the new "play or draw" first turn rule. If you go first, you don't get to make your normal draw for the turn, so you need to weigh the options of getting to set up first versus having that extra card. I asked many of the top Sylvan and Mermail duelists this past weekend, and they all agreed that going second in a blind matchup was often the best choice, as that additional card is invaluable; it gives you enough gas to combo out and push through your opponent's set-up.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Infernity duelists swore by going first to set up their field lock before their opponent would have a chance to lay down any pesky traps. Infernity catapulted three duelists into the Top 8, and for good reason: a strong Turn 1 deck with the ability to take full advantage of Soul Charge makes for a powerful combo strategy that can end the duel outright. Look for Infernities to make a big splash wherever you play in response to this excellent showing.

Playing a combo deck takes a different train of thought than other strategies. Every turn, you should always be trying to figure out whether you have the resources to kill your opponent, or if you need to bide your time and setup for a push later. Remember that your Life Points are a resource; you haven't lost the game until they're all gone.

Mermails, Geargia, Sylvans, Madolche, Infernity, and others are all very strong picks right now and you'd be hard-pressed to find a combo deck that doesn't fit your style. Try them out – you might just find out you're a combo duelist at heart!

-Joe Soto