A couple days ago we discussed Robert Moore's surprising first place finish at the Garden City Michigan Regional, where he took Teleport Karakuri all the way to the winner's circle. We talked about one of the basic conundrums of both this format and the last one, as well as its emerging solution. For months now, rogue players have struggled to find common ground between the three top strategies – Shaddolls, Burning Abyss, and Satellarknights – and that's made it tough to build a rogue deck that could outplay the expected field. But in the past couple weeks, duelists like Moore have zeroed in on the relatively slow pace of competition that all three of those decks subscribe to. They've then run strategies like Karakuri to simply blow those decks away before they can get going.

Two weeks ago when Moore took his win, his was the only speed deck of note in Regional Qualifiers. But fast forward one more week and the picture taking shape was a bit shocking. While very few Top 8 lists were reported from the four Regionals last weekend, three of them were aggressive Mermail builds; they took first and second place in Las Vegas Nevada, as well as another runner-up finish in Frederick Maryland. Three Mermail tops in one weekend, from a very limited deck pool – and those are just the ones we know about. That's a head-turner.

While all three builds made some different choices and each ran some unique tech, I want to zoom in on Alex Lopez's build from Vegas. Not only did Lopez take first place, his deck was rich with little tweaks and choices that could fuel a Bright Future for Mermails moving forward. Like Moore's Teleport Karakuri deck, this strategy's viability starts with speed, but it's grounded in a ton of insight into the format. There are lots of Little Details that give it an edge against the top decks.

DECKID=101261Mermail decks generally win in three different ways: Rank 7 Xyz Summons courtesy of Level 7 Mermail monsters like Mermail Abyssmegalo and Mermail Abyssteus; swarming power, making big attacks with Main Deck monsters; and to some lesser extent the use of Synchro Monsters, Summoned with Tuners like Genex Controller, Deep Sea Diva, and rarely Fishborg Archer. Tidal, Dragon Ruler of Waterfalls is key, because it's free Xyz Material for your Rank 7's, a free attacker, and its constant recursion rewards you for playing stuff like Atlantean Marksman and Atlantean Heavy Infantry.

All three of those gameplans are present here, but the balance is different from what we're used to. In times gone by, monsters like Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossack, Number 11: Big Eye, and Mermail Abyssgaios were the biggest focal point of the Mermail strategy. While Rank 7's are a big part of Lopez's success – we'll talk about that in a bit – one of the key differences between his build and the 2013 version is a heightened focus on aggression with Main Decked monsters. That influenced the build in a few different ways, but right off the bat it has a big impact over how he played Tidal, Dragon Ruler of Waterfalls. Instead of using it chiefly as an Xyz Material, he played it first and foremost as a renewable attacker.

2600 ATK is really, really big right now. Tidal's big enough to take out Dante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss, El Shaddoll Winda, and most Rank 4's the Satellarknight deck routinely Summons (including Satellarknight Delteros). While it's not invincible – cards like Karma Cut and Number 101: Silent Honor ARK are still problematic – it can be really tough to answer, and anything that doesn't banish it leaves you with the chance to bring it back again later anyways. The mentality dictating what that card's for in this strategy is different. There's a paradigm shift here, and Tida's use as a simple attacker is one of the biggest advantages this deck now has.

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While Tidal looks the same but plays differently, one big point stands out as strange to anyone familiar with Mermails: Lopez ran triple Mermail Abyssmegalo, a choice that hasn't been popular since the earliest days of the theme. Again, the key here was aggression: Lopez was asked about the Abyssmegalos post-event, and explained that it was one of the pillars of his explosiveness. As Lopez explained of his deck, "I built it to be able to win by Turn 3." The ability to see Abyssmegalo reliably in the early game frees up search effects to be played for other cards, creating more opportunities for swarming and a more reliable sense of aggression.

He even went so far as to play double Aqua Spirit for simple, aggressive early game set-ups, without playing the Mechquipped Angineer or Mermail Abyssocea that were once the reasons to run Spirit in the first place. While Aqua Spirits were previously used to make Turn 1 Bahamut Shark + Angineer plays for big defense, here they're just more damage and fodder for road-clearing Rank 4's.

Shifting Tides
One of the big advantages this deck has aside from speed, is its ability to relentlessly hammer your opponent's backrow. Both Alex Lopez and the runner-up competitor who finished just beneath him, Luis Barbosa, ran double Salvage. That let them make repeated use of Atlantean Marksman – a topnotch card in such trap-heavy formats. Forcing your opponent to activate Sinister Shadow Games or Artifact Sanctum at the wrong time robs a Shaddoll player of their best responsive plays. Peg a Burning Abyss duelist's Phoenix Wing Wind Blast or Karma Cut and they may not even activate them. And Satellarknights play a basic range of 1-for-1 Trap Cards that simply aren't chainable to Atlantean Marksman's effect period.

Salvage let Lopez and Barbosa press that advantage over and over, while also making it easier to run Atlantean Marksman as a basic attacker (for its ability to Special Summon Atlantean Dragoons). This version of Mermails is a more narrow, more focused build than what most of us are used to seeing: there's no Mermail Abyssturge or Abyssocea to create a wider ranges of combos and no Mermail Abyssleed. But it aims to make a slimmer range of plays more frequently and consistently, pushing more raw force on a reliable basis. Salvage was really important for that.

Like Robert Moore's Karakuri deck, all three of these Mermail builds benefited from the heavy presence of Light and Dark monsters amongst the current Big Three. Lopez ran Light-Imprisoning Mirror himself, and would be unaffected by Shadow-Imprisoning Mirror. Like Moore, he could expect to face opponents largely unequipped for the Mermail match-up. Meanwhile he ran heavy removal even on top of his Atlantean Marksmans: he mained two Mystical Space Typhoon, sided another, and then played a full three Night Beam! That allowed him to lock down the chainable cards that so decide games this format, blowing through cards that would be hugely responsive otherwise. I expect it see more use as this format goes on.

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Over in the Extra Deck Lopez had the advantage of easy access to Leo, the Keeper of the Sacred Tree, another factor I pointed out in Moore's Karakuris. Summoning Leo here is as easy as pairing a free Tidal, Dragon Ruler of Waterfalls with a free Genex Controller searched with Genex Undine. While Leo's not insurmountable, and competitors are preparing more and more to deal with it, Summoning it for effectively zero resources is still insane. And while Lopez emphasized that the most common way he'd play Tidal was as a simple attacker, he could also use it for all the classic Mermail Rank 7's…

And then some! Because he was also running Number 74: Master of Blades. While Master of Blades landed with a deafening thud back when it debuted, it's an awesome call now, since targeted monster manipulation is so popular. Cards like Phoenix Wing Wind Blast, Karma Cut, and Castel, the Skyblaster Musketeer just can't touch this thing, and again, it's another innovation that I expect we'll see more of between now and YCS Anaheim next month. Trap cards are huge this format, and with cards like Number 74: Master of Blades and Night Beam at his fingertips, Lopez was clearly playing hard to beat them whenever he could. With so much removal plus triple Phoenix Wing Wind Blast – played for free with Tidal or Controller, natch – he had an incredible litany of backrow problem-solvers.

The door is wide open for Mermails right now, and even with the cat seemingly out of the bag, the sheer potential for customization makes the deck tough to predict. We've dissected Alex Lopez's build, but again, check out the other two from Vegas and Frederick. Barbosa's build had a lot in common with Lopez's, but he ran Gold Sarcophagus for additional search power, a slightly lower emphasis on Mermail Abyssmegalo at two copies, and Dragon Ice – a really great hand trap in this format that nobody sees coming. The unknown runner-up in Frederick played Fishborg Archer and Moulinglacia the Elemental Lord with fewer 'megalo's and no Salvage… though interestingly, all three did run Phoenix Wing Wind Blast despite the differences between their builds.

There's a ton of potential here, and with the YGO Series $10k Championship this weekend we could see Mermails score a tremendous upset! What do you think? Could Mermails be a serious contender, given all their speed and on-trend advantages? Or was last weekend just a bizarre anomaly. I'm curious, so let me know your thoughts down in the Comments.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer
#YGO10k