Leave it up to Billy Brake: after a quiet return to competition at YCS Toronto in September, the two-time Champion exploded into the Top 16 at YCS Dallas with a thunderous showing that left the Yugiverse impressed, confused, and wondering if everything we thought we knew was wrong. When the Top 32 Breakdown was released, the field was divided into thirty competitors playing Shaddolls, Burning Abyss and Satellarknights, with two rogue duelists making the cut: one played Spellbooks, and the other was Billy Brake with a deck only known at the time as "60-Card Control." Details were tough to find even once the tournament was won.
When Brake finally revealed the deck days later, the response was even louder: his strategy mashed up Shaddolls, Burning Abyss, and Artifacts to leverage a handful of cards that none of those three decks regularly played, and as advertised the final tally clocked in at a whopping 60 cards in the Main Deck. With the past year of competition dominated by the Upstart Goblin imperative of 37 card decks, Brake's success was a bizarre swerve from established trends.
Today I want to delve into the over-arching philosophy and the deck-specific minutiae that made Brake's strategy so successful. Are 60-card decks the future of the game? What advantages – and disadvantages – did that massive deck size create? If you haven't seen Brake's build yet, check it out before we dive into the discussion.DECKID= 101218I want to approach this dialogue from four different vantage points. First we'll talk about the inherent advantages of a 60-card deck. Then I want to balance those points by noting the disadvantages that accompany them. With that established we'll get really specific; we'll look at the unique cards that this technique, applied to this particular strategy, allowed Brake to run.
We'll also talk about the individual tactics and interactions that Brake capitalized on thanks to his specific mix of cards, and we'll discuss how finer points affected and swayed those fundamental advantages and disadvantages. There was a lot going on here, and there are important questions to ask about these techniques and how closely they were tied to Brake's unique strategy.Larger Than Life
The more cards you run, the less consistent your deck becomes at making specific actions. Cards are usually Limited or Semi-Limited because they're too powerful when you can draw them consistently: hugging the deck size minimum lets you beat that restriction as much as possible. For years, the chase for Championships has largely revolved around finding the most powerful deck in the format that can perform reliably across long tournaments – competitions lasting ten rounds or more. Opening with a hand of conflicting cards is one of the biggest threats careful deck builders try to avoid. On the flipside they strive to see their best plays as often as possible to maximize the power output of their chosen strategy. This is all commonly understood.
The advantages of a larger deck see much less discussion, and there are in fact many of them. While a bigger deck will perform a particular list of plays less consistently than a smaller one, it can also offer a much wider range of actions: if the overall power level of all of those actions is high, then the result is a strategy that works well, but simply does different things from game to game. That can make the strategy less predictable, and far less linear than more conventional strategies. In turn, the deck will be tougher to play against on a tactical level, and potentially tougher to Side Deck against.
It's really hard to know what to do, let alone what to Side Deck, against an opponent who doesn't know himself what his deck might do.
With the right mix of cards and basic capabilities, a bigger deck may also clog your opening hand and your successive draws with redundant cards less frequently. Redundancy is usually the cost of consistency: if your deck's built to see certain cards as often as possible, you run the risk of seeing several of just one of them – or several with the same function – all at once. While nothing but the most poorly made decks would clog like that on a regular basis, Championship tournaments are long and even just a few awkward hands could knock a skilled competitor out of the hunt.
While there's some redundancy in Brake's build, it's diluted across 50% more cards than his opponent's. That afforded him some opportunity to avoid bad hands. This advantage won't be universal, but the cards Brake was combining – Shaddolls, Burning Abyss, Artifacts, and generic supporters – happened to be so different that they'd create variation instead of just doubling over each other.
A big-deck strategy like this one seeks victory in a number of different ways, and that means two more advantages: first, it's more resilient to specific disruption. Losing one specific card to a banishing effect might be a huge issue for a strategy with more limited win conditions, but it's not a problem when you have so many different paths to victory. By the same token, some strategies will often run out of steam mid-game if they fail to win early and quickly enough; that's a problem for several big decks this format. But more cards and more win conditions means you won't run out of options nearly so quickly, giving you the opportunity to outlast more conventional strategies.
Finally, depending on the strategies and cards involved, a bigger deck may allow you to combine cards that wouldn't normally be played together. That can create opportunities for unique combos and interactions you wouldn't have otherwise; avenues of attack that may be notably powerful, or at the very least surprising to your opponents.But The Bigger They Are…
First up, while being unpredictable makes it tough for your opponent to anticipate your next move, that sword cuts both ways: you don't know precisely how your deck is going to perform from game to game either. That's not debilitating, but it can create an element of randomness in certain match-ups where particular cards or combos would give you a bigger advantage; it also means you as a player need to be more adaptive and faster on your feet. This factor can be mitigated to some degree, but it's one you need to be aware of: we're talking about a fundamental situation in which your deck can do more things, but will do each of them on a less consistent basis. That can be a problem.
Beyond that, even with all the deck thinning in the world it's very likely that you won't see unsearchable one-ofs as often as you would with a smaller deck. Brake didn't run some choice Limited cards like Solemn Warning and Compulsory Evacuation Device, and he likely didn't miss them. But he did play Super Polymerization and Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning, and he wouldn't have seen those power cards as often as he might have with a slimmer deck. That's especially true for short games where you might not resolve an ideal number of search effects – this type of strategy is probably inherently better in slower formats like the one we conveniently happen to be in.
By the same token, it's also tougher to get to your Side Decked cards. If you rotate in four picks from your Side Deck for a particular match-up and you're running a 40-card deck, you'll have a 42.7% chance of opening with at least one of them in your opening hand. Bump that up to a 60-card deck, and the odds drop to 30.1%. While it's harder for your opponents to Side Deck against you, your siding becomes more difficult as well. You can either accept that you'll have a lower chance of seeing your sided cards, or you can side in large suites that share synergy with stuff in your Main Deck for maximum impact. Looking at the Tribute suite Brake played, I feel like that might have been what he was going for, but note that the result is a very streamlined Side Deck that looks very different from what we're used to.
Brake also had to make compromises in his Extra Deck: he needed to run a certain spread of monsters for both Shaddolls and Burning Abyss, and at the same time he wanted to take advantage of opportunities offered by his use of Artifact Moralltach and Effect Veiler. Any high card count deck that combines several different themes will likely have a higher number of imperative Extra Deck monsters. In this case that meant stuff like Dante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss, Downerd Magician, and Ghostrick Alucard for the Burning Abyss suite; along with El Shaddoll Winda and El Shaddoll Construct for the Shaddolls.
Compromises have clearly been made: while we've seen successful duelists run as many as three Dantes and Downerds, Brake dedicated only three card slots to the pair in total. Less of a concern, but still notable: he ran only two each of Winda and Construct, when a third Construct is often common. Burning Abyss favorites like Wind-Up Zenmaines, Number 47: Nightmare Shark, and Number 30: Acid Golem of Destruction aren't here, while Stardust Spark Dragon's also unaccounted for. Some of these cards won't be missed since the deck simply has less use for them, creating opportunities to Summon them less frequently than a more focused 40-card strategy. Others may be legitimate sacrifices. Finding the right balance here was likely difficult, and that'll be a challenge for most over-sized mashups moving forward.But Then There's The Cool Stuff!
The big one is the much-vaunted Kuribandit. Brake himself, along with everyone else involved in testing and developing this strategy, have spoken openly about how amazing Kuribandit is here. Not only would most contemporary Shaddoll and Burning Abyss decks not have room for Kuribandit, they wouldn't offer nearly as many applications for its effect.
A traditional Shaddoll deck would offer about ten cards out of forty with effects that trigger off a Kuribandit excavation, and Burning Abyss would offer seven to ten. This deck has seventeen monsters with triggered effects out of just 60 cards total – a much higher ratio overall. Beyond that it also runs double Breakthrough Skill, Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning, and several more cards that offer big rewards for filling your graveyard.
And that's just a side aspect of Kuribandit: its core ability to get you a spell or trap is enormous, helping you find key cards like Artifact Sanctum, Super Polymerization, and Vanity's Emptiness at a much more efficient rate than you might imagine a 60-card deck capable of. It's one of the big places where Brake could combat the inherent challenges of a 60-card build: by adding an element of acceleration and selection to the strategy, he made up for that lower consistency in seeing particular individual cards when he most wants them. More on that in a bit.
While Kuribandit's only three cards out of 60 here, it's searchable via Scarm, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss, which you can find in turn with Tour Guide From the Underworld, Foolish Burial, and Graff, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss. Heck, you can even trigger it or re-use it off of Shaddoll Fusion and Cir, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss. Even in a 60-card deck, Kuribandit's pretty easy to find and happens to roll neatly into the Rank 3 and Fusion Summoning plans that anchor this deck's aggression.
The Beginning of the End is the other big card of note, and it ties directly into that strong access to Kuribandit. Shaddolls and Burning Abyss are both great at loading Dark monsters to the graveyard, but with both themes in one deck you can play your cards really aggressively to build up a bigger graveyard than either theme could manage alone. And with Kuribandit effectively throwing five cards to the graveyard – four from its effect plus one itself – the deck has an extra method of filling up on Darks in record time.
While neither Shaddolls nor Burning Abyss on their own could fill the graveyard fast enough to make The Beginning viable, neither could likely afford to banish so many monsters at once either. Themed cards like Shaddoll Falco and Cir, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss thrive on stacked graveyards, as does Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning. Play them together and you have more choices in what to banish; you cover The Beginning of the End from two different angles. Once you get to the point where you can start reasonably firing off a Beginning or two, Kuribandit helps you dig for it and all of your search effects thin you toward it.
On top of that, The Beginning itself does more than just give you an automatic +2 of card economy. Like Kuribandit, it helps you get to key cards that you'd have trouble seeing otherwise in a 60-card build. It's the perfect mix of an independently strong card that's just great in a vacuum, as well as a mitigating solution to the fundamental challenges these kinds of decks face. It's such an amazing card in this strategy, serving to make the deck more consistent and secure across the long term. If Kuribandit and The Beginning of the End didn't exist to address some of your core problems, I don't think we'd even be talking about this deck today.On Top Of Those Unique Single Cards…
There's been much said of the potential to Shaddoll Dragon a face-down Artifact Moralltach, though that play's more of a garnish than a main course – it won't happen that often, but it's indicative of the little niche plays that make this deck so tough to predict. More relevant is the incredible milling power of Dante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss, which – like Kuribandit – has nearly twenty effect-driven hits that nab you an immediate advantage when yarded. Brake even ran Michael, the Arch-Lightsworn for its similar potential, despite the relatively small chance of Tuning Shaddoll Falco with Artifact Moralltach to bring it out.
Allure of Darkness is easier to play when you don't have to worry about banishing a key piece to one game plan you depend on to win. Having more than one game plan in the first place alleviates that pressure and lets you do what this deck wants – play all your cards aggressively. And we've already discussed the interaction between Scarm, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss and Kuribandit, making it tremendously reliable.
A mix of strong opening moves, unpredictable play patterns, card choices that would be impossible otherwise, and a wealth of slick combos make this deck really tough for opponents to handle. At the same time those same factors – combined with a ton of deck thinning search effects – help to mitigate the inherent challenges a deck of this size faces. We've only really seen comparable performances from decks approaching this size twice in the past: first the short-lived success of 50+ card Mermail decks, and the more recent success of 50+ card Burning Abyss variants (sparse, but it did happen). While the latter clearly paved the way for this deck as a natural progression, the Mermail comparison serves to drive home some of the big lessons here: namely that a high volume of search effects can compensate for larger deck sizes.
With that in mind, could 60-card decks take over the game? Hell no. Very few themes pack enough search power to make the concept workable, and even fewer combinations of those themes can create the opportunities and interweaving synergies of a deck like Brake's. At the end of the day Brake's success doesn't so much disrupt the notion of 40-card superiority, so much as it makes the point that some strategies – and a narrow few at that – can pull off a higher deck count. For plenty of other strategies a 40-card total with or without Upstart Goblin is still going to be your best bet. But the message that was first approached with those 50-card Mermail decks and then largely discarded might stick this time: where ever there's an utter ton of search tricks, there could be a giant deck waiting in the wings.
Billy Brake won his first YCS in Toronto back in 2011, when he realized the potential of triple Maxx "C" in a field full of Plant Synchro. That victory made us look at the game in a completely different light. Now, almost precisely three years later he's scored another victory that hinged on even greater innovation, and that makes us tilt our views even further askance. Brake's win was a tremendous achievement, and while it won't change the way every deck is played, it should certainly change the way we view certain themes in the future.