I was holding off on this one for a few weeks, biting my nails waiting for the F&L List. I half expected Tour Guide From the Underworld to be Limited or Semi-Limited, and it didn't! That means we get to discuss one of the coolest Top 8 Regional decks of the previous format.

It's been said that the last format was a bad time for rogue decks. I'm not really sure that's true. I mean don't get me wrong, there were definitely some bad events for rogue decks – YCS Toronto was nothing but the Big Three strategies. But over on the other side of the world that very weekend, we saw no less than six rogue decks make the Top 32 at YCS Madrid: decks like Spellbooks, Geargia Fire Fist Stun, and Majesty Artifacts, along with some alternative builds of the Big Three that pushed them to their limits (54-card Burning Shaddolls comes to mind). Meanwhile, Regional Qualifiers saw plenty of rogue success as well.

The truth is, last format should have been awful for rogue strategies. The factors that usually allow rogue success were just non-existent. In a play environment where one deck dominates competition and makes up a disproportionate segment of competitive metagames, rogue strategies can play to beat that deck and thus succeed. But instead of one top strategy last format we had three, and they all worked very differently; it's tough to design a deck that can beat Shaddolls, Burning Abyss, and Satellarknights all at once, since all three are unique. The numbers game makes it tougher for rogue decks to capture a share of the top cut finishes too: it's very likely that on average, last format's top three strategies occupied more seats per tournament than a single dominant deck would have on its own. There was less space for rogues from the get-go.

Yet despite those factors, rogue players still made breakthroughs and we saw lots of cool strategies – albeit not quite as many as in some previous formats. A vast number of the rogue tops we saw the past two months were captured by acknowledged decks now marginalized into rogue status – stuff like Mermails, Infernities, and Spellbooks – but some were truly original efforts.

One of my favorite stories of September was Daniel Nunnally's Top 8 with today's subject, a Chaos Ritual deck that hinged on the new Duelist Alliance monster Saffira, Queen of Dragons, Summoned with Djinn Releaser of Rituals. Saffira has 2500 ATK and an effect that lets you recycle Light monsters, including Honest and Effect Veiler. You can also banish its Ritual Spell, Hymn of Light, to negate its destruction. Combined with Djinn Releaser of Rituals it's like a one-sided Vanity's Emptiness on legs. Here's what Nunnally's build looked like.

DECKID= 101082Nunnally's strategy was very smart, but he was the first to admit that his build was flawed: his strategy was thrown together last minute, and his Extra Deck was literally just a stack of remainders from a previous deck. Having put in a lot of time with the build myself, I feel like his success was almost miraculous: this strategy hinges on Rank 3 Xyz Summons via Tour Guide From the Underworld, and Nunnally played only four Rank 3's; meanwhile his Extra Deck was packed with virtually unplayable cards. Building on Saffira's abilities to restrict his opponent's moves, Nunnally ran classic stun monsters that would continue the theme of disruption, but they also created conflict with his own effects. He even ran triple Upstart Goblin with 41 cards, a decision that's tough to rationalize in a deck that wants to see its combos as early as possible.

But the core idea was so strong and Nunnally such a skilled player that he scored a Top 8 anyways (remember, Nunnally's no stranger to top cuts – he took second place at YCS Chicago in 2012). The key is really Djinn Releaser of Rituals: you want to get Saffira onto the field and lock down your opponent's Special Summons. From there the goal is to protect Saffira long enough to win: Royal Decree shields it from trap cards; Djinn Demolisher of Rituals fends off targeted effects like Book of Moon or Castel, the Skyblaster Musketeer; and Hymn of Light shields it from attacks and basic removal like Dark Hole and Evilswarm Exciton Knight. Today, that protection from Hymn stops Raigeki as well.

That said, the abilities of Saffira, Queen of Dragons are often the best defense going. Recycling Light monsters means repeatable access to Honest and Effect Veiler – that's huge, and it's the ability you'll use most. You can also opt to draw two cards and discard one instead, like a mini Graceful Charity. That effect's awesome because it gets you deeper into your deck as an instant +1, and then lets you chuck dead cards you don't need. You can toss extra monsters or your second Royal Decree, or load cards to your graveyard like Hymn of Light. It helps you leverage the free plusses you score with Manju of the Ten Thousand Hands into more useful cards, too. Saffira's third effect even lets you Don Zaloog your opponent's hand, which is awesome even if you barely ever use it.

So how do you make all that actually happen? Good question.

Setting Up Saffira
To recap, your goal is to Ritual Summon Saffira, Queen of Dragons with Djinn Releaser of Rituals as one of your Tributes. Everything beyond that is gravy: using Djinn Demolisher of Rituals keeps targeted cards off your back; having access to Honest and Effect Veiler offers more protection and faster wins; and Royal Decree lets you make attacks more freely. If you can get extra copies of Hymn of Light into your graveyard that's helpful as well, and following up with big plays involving Caius the Shadow Monarch, Chaos Sorcerer, or Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning speeds things along. Saffira's essentially a giant floodgate; that means speed is essential.

To make that Saffira + Releaser play you need three things: a copy of Saffira, Queen of Dragons; a Hymn of Light; and access to Djinn Releaser of Rituals. With three Saffiras and three Preparation of Rites to search it out, Nunnally effectively played six copies. Manju of the Ten Thousand Hands can grab Saffira in a pinch too, but it's usually copies four, five, and six of Hymn of Light. You've got a lot of redundancy and flexibility.

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While Nunnally only ran one Djinn Releaser, he played three Tour Guide From the Underworld to seek it out. You can Tribute Releaser straight from your hand or field, but you can also banish it from your graveyard. That means you can take another minus of card economy for your Ritual Summon if you want to make a faster play, or Tour Guide into a Rank 3 with Djinn Releaser as your second Xyz Material. From there you can play out the Xyz Monster and use Djinn Releaser from the graveyard later.

That's usually the best way to play this deck, but it's also slow and gives faster opponents a chance to make their Special Summons. Nunnally addressed that problem by running Doomcaliber Knight and Thunder King Rai-Oh for early game disruption, plus Caius and the Chaos monsters to punish over-extensions. He even ran Gorz the Emissary of Darkness –Limited to one-per-deck at the time – and double Tragoedia. You really want to go for the slow roll with this strategy to gather as many control elements as possible; doing so ensures that Saffira sticks when you Summon it. A well-supported Saffira is nearly unstoppable in today's competitive metagames.

But There Are Problems
As I alluded to earlier, this particular build of Chaos Saffira suffers some from conflicts between its cards. Don't get me wrong, I think Nunnally did an amazing job and his success served to draw attention to what might become a very competitive strategy. But there are challenges, and understanding those problems will inform successful re-builds in the future.

First up? Your big hand trap monsters are great in some games but not so great in others. Right off the bat, Gorz the Emissary of Darkness conflicts with Royal Decree. That means you want to draw Gorz early and save Decree for later, but doing that sacrifices your ability to bluff backrow (which I've found to be essential in some match-ups, drawing out Mystical Space Typhoons before committing Decree to the table). Gorz also fails to contribute to your central win condition beyond just keeping you alive to get yu there. Tragoedia still works despite a full backrow, but it Shrinks to puny sizes when you make a Saffira play, or when you struggle for a moment and bleed a couple cards. If you've ever struggled playing a combo deck you know what it's like to rip a Tragoedia with two cards in hand. It's not a good feeling.

Thunder King Rai-Oh and Doomcaliber Knight are great at shutting down your opponent's search effects and monster aggression. The problem is that this deck packs eight search cards itself, all of which are useless when Thunder King's on the table; that's rough, because you'll almost always want to use your search tricks as soon as you see them. Doing so thins your deck, helping you get to your most important cards. Meanwhile Doomcaliber Knight can stop big moves from all of the top strategies, but it's difficult to play alongside Saffira and it can stop you from Summoning Tour Guide and Manju when you need to focus on your set-up.

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Even just the Chaos monsters can cause awkwardness, since you can wind up starved for Lights in your graveyard and every Light you banish is another you can't reuse with Saffira, Queen of Dragons. Combined with the 41 card count and lower ratio of Tour Guides to Manju/Hymns and Preparations/Saffiras, the deck's functional but doesn't feel as consistent as it could be. I've been working on new builds myself because I believe in the core game plan, but I haven't found the stun approach to be as successful as other alternatives. I've been running Scarm, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss to search out Tour Guide and that's really helped. The Extra Deck obviously needs to be heavier on Rank 3's for Tour Guide, as well as Level 7 Synchros for Sorcerer / Caius plays with Effect Veiler, too.

So Why This Deck, And Why Now?
It's fair to wonder why I'm talking about a past format deck that I'm describing as flawed, but it really comes down to the core concept: Saffira, Queen of Dragons plus Dinn Releaser of Rituals beats Shaddolls, Satellarknights, and Burning Abyss quite handily. While Nunnally was questioned post-event about his decision to forego Herald of Perfection – thought by some to be a good pairing with Saffira –I totally support his answer: you just don't need Herald when you control Saffira with Releaser's effect. As much as the hand trap beaters and the stun monsters conflict, they still have better utility than dead copies of Herald. The Saffira Herald deck's fun to watch when it's winning, but it's never been consistent enough for competition.

So flash forward to today: those three core match-ups are still really good across the board, while new restrictions on Shaddolls make that deck even softer. Meanwhile the biggest new up-and-comer is the returning Fire Fist deck, which Saffira can trounce thanks to your infinite supply of Effect Veilers. You can drop a Veiler every turn to ward off Brotherhood of the Fire Fist – Bear or Coach Soldier Wolfbark, and Djinn Demolisher plus Hymn of Light can stymie any Bears that happen to press through your negation.

In my experience the Bujin deck is the only big strategy that gives updated builds of this concept serious problems: it's virtually impervious to Effect Veiler, it can largely ignore Djinn Releaser (barring Honest), and Kaiser Colosseum is a beating. But beyond that match-up the Saffira deck's hugely on trend: Royal Decree's exceptional since Mystical Space Typhoon continues to be an unpopular Main Deck pick. While Raigeki's back to break apart your set-up, Hymn of Light stops it from destroying Saffira and lots of people aren't playing it anyways. Few competitors are running their own Veilers to stop your Tour Guides, and while Breakthrough Skill and Fiendish Chain can still get the job done, you stand a decent chance to Decree those threats anyways. Variants playing Scarm, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss can drop Tour Guide after Tour Guide to press through those one-shot negations.

I think Daniel Nunnally was really on to something here, and the deck only seems to get stronger in the new format. We'll have to see how things shake out in the wake of YCS Dallas, but I believe this strategy has major potential. Hats off to Nunnally for making it happen!

-Jason Grabher-Meyer