When the latest F&L List smited all the biggest Duelist Alliance decks, a lot of things seemed pretty definite. Nekroz, Shaddolls, Qliphorts, and Ritual Beasts were quickly declared dead by consensus. Though we've seen a few interesting builds of those decks over the past weeks, virtually none of them have seen success in any big events. As far as the current format's concerned, those strategies were dead as of November 9th.

Burning Abyss was a different story. Graff, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss was Limited; Cir, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss was Semi-Limited; and the complimentary Mathematician went to one-per-deck as well, in part to ensure that the other two restrictions stuck. And while the first reactions to the new list saw lots of players lumping Burning Abyss in with the rest of the fallen themes, it didn't take long for opinions to shift. I think within twenty-four hours most people had a tentative opinion that Burning Abyss might survive, despite the fact that nobody really wanted to be the one to give it a go and find out.

With ample search power from Graff, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss and Tour Guide From the Underworld the deck still seemed to have some staying power, and it had a few advantages against the incoming top decks. Fire Lake of the Burning Abyss could wipe out Pendulum Scales, clear Xyz, and demolish backrows all at once, promising to create openings and remove disruptive backrows before your opponent could make them relevant. The Traveler and the Burning Abyss lends the strategy longevity to keep up with opposing Pendulum Monsters and self-replacing Kozmos, and the deck can support a number of trap cards to help address its biggest match-ups. There was considerable talk of competitive potential.

And then for weeks, nobody really played the deck anyways. Now it's finally re-emerged, as Jason Imasogie took Burning Abyss to 1st Place at last weekend's Regional Qualifier in Birmingham. Check it out.

DECKID=103808There's a lot of interesting stuff going on here, since Imasogie had to tackle the challenge of building this deck from two different angles: first, he had to compensate for what the deck lost to the F&L List; and second, he had to tech it out to take on Pendulum strategies and Kozmos.

The result was a deck that feels like a blast from the past, leveraging almost every trick we've seen from Burning Abyss over the past year to fill gaps and put pressure on the current top decks. There's a lot of stuff here we haven't seen in a while, and it all comes together to create a cohesive strategy that most players aren't ready for. Whenever you play a rogue deck – a term that oddly now applies to Burning Abyss - you lose the advantages of global testing, and you're often relegating yourself to a strategy with inferior consistency or lower power levels than the top decks.

But if you pick the right one you can wind up having particular advantages over the expected field, and your opponents can wind up with absolutely nothing to Side Deck against you. The latter really applies here, as most players will have very little beyond Maxx "C" to bring in after Game 1.

So How'd He Do It?
It's pretty easy to go point by point here and see what Imasogie lost with the F&L List, as well as how he replaced those cards. Down a Cir and two Graffs, the deck lost some longevity and some early game consistency. That said, the final count of fifteen Burning Abyss monsters still remains average to high by the standards of the last format.

He replaced those missing cards with the engine of Cagna, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss and Good & Evil in the Burning Abyss, regaining some lost consistency by adding more search power. It's nothing new to yard Good & Evil with Cagna, so you can banish the Ritual Spell and search whatever Burning Abyss card you most need. While that was once just a minor convenience in niche builds, it becomes a central problem-solver here, ensuring smooth play sequences and compensating for the Limiting of Graff.

While Libic used to be played in part to work around the conflicts created when you'd run Mathematicians in a deck where non-Burning Abyss monsters blow up your field, the two copies here helped keep Imasogie on the board and let him make surprising Synchro plays for his Trishula, Dragon of the Ice Barrier, courtesy of Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit.

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Since Trishula's effect doesn't target and banishes instead of destroying, it's a great answer to Kozmo Dark Destroyer and Kozmo Forerunner, and this deck can claim a few graveyard trigger effects that remain useful even when Trishula's on the field not being a Burning Abyss monster. Libic still works with that one remaining copy of Mathematician, but now it's a bit of a broader card that winds up creating new moves opponents won't anticipate.

With Mathematician down to one, an old Burning Abyss favorite steps in to fill the void: Crane Crane. Acting as a reverse Tour Guide From the Underworld, Crane Crane becomes even more valuable than before, since there's every chance for you to burn through your in-deck copies of Cir and Graff. Recurring those monsters gives greater access to their effects and again works to replace some of the longevity the strategy lost.

Calcab and a second Farfa round out the lineup, giving more removal power that's going to vary in utility across different match-ups. While Calcab won't be as useful against decks that are light on trap cards, and Farfa may not work against non-targetable Kozmos, neither card really costs you anything in its weaker match-ups; they're all still differently-named Burning Abyss monsters at worst, aiding your Special Summons. In fact, this deck's use of ten different Burning Abyss monsters is another compensation for the two missing copies of Graff. While your Turn 1's won't be quite as economically efficient as they would've been three months ago, you can still make those big double Dante openings reliably.

Traps On Traps On Traps
The trap line-up's really the elephant in the room. With his monsters and spells compensating for the F&L List, Imasogie was free to play sixteen trap cards to try and get an advantage against Pendulums and Kozmos. The result's an updated lineup that taps successful trends we've seen before, combined with some new tricks and choices that were far less popular in the past, but that shine in today's metagames.

Fire Lake of the Burning Abyss and The Traveler and the Burning Abyss are strong picks as noted before, while Solemn Warning, Torrential Tribute, and Vanity's Emptiness are standard choices. Skill Drain can slow down some of the best Kozmo effects, wrecks the search abilities of Majespecter monsters, and cuts down the big Xyz and Synchros that Pendulum decks largely rely on; it's especially great locking out Abyss Dweller and Ignister Prominence, the Blasting Dracoslayer. We've seen Skill Drain in Burning Abyss many times before, and while some Kozmo players find it acceptable to give up certain abilities to run it themselves, this deck relinquishes even fewer plays and it's still advantageous in that match-up, at least enough to not auto-lose you Game 1.

Other cards are more interesting. Phoenix Wing Wind Blast was a popular choice in Burning Abyss for a long time, but fell off toward the end of the last format when Raigeki Break was more useful. Now, with Pendulum Monsters just returning to the Extra Deck when destroyed, spinning a Pendulum Monster to the deck is far more valuable. And while neither card can target Kozmo Dark Destroyer or Kozmo Forerunner, Wind Blast is still better against targetable monsters like Kozmo Sliprider.

Divine Wrath isn't a completely alien choice, but it saw very, very little play over the past year. Now it's much stronger, again fending off key Xyz and Synchros, and countering Majespecter searches. It's also a top pick against Kozmos, halting virtually any play sequence you might want to stop. It's an effective replacement to Karma Cut, and it's a great counter in a competitive landscape where monster effect negation is relatively unpopular. It's another surprise against unwitting opponents.

Painful Escape is huge. While Fiend Griefing was a big pick for Burning Abyss last format, there are really no major strategies that care about cards in their graveyard, which removes on of that card's biggest uses. Painful Escape is similar, giving Imasogie more search power to help him make the most of his diverse Burning Abyss lineup and again compensating for the deck's new Limits. Not only can Painful Escape trigger a graveyard effect and trade one Burning Abyss monster for another, it can search out Tour Guide From the Underworld for an instant Rank 3 or another explosive play. And since it can retrieve a used monster from the graveyard it can even get your Tour Guide back when you've already played it, making Escape even stronger on a level of sheer card economy. It's really good here and I expect it to be a pillar of every successful Burning Abyss build we see this format. A third copy might be worthwhile depending on the shape of your metagame.

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Finally, Imasogie went so far as to run Blazing Mirror Force, helping him close out games as quickly as possible. While Blazing Mirror deals damage to you as its controller, it damages your opponent as well and then leaves you to bat cleanup making direct attacks next turn. It's mixed against Kozmos where destroyed monsters may just replace themselves, but it's amazing against all the Pendulum decks which tend to build fields of several monsters at once, maximizing the Rebound damage and giving you a better chance to win on the following turn. While it's possible that some or all of the monsters you destroy will just head to the Extra Deck and can be Pendulum Summoned again a turn later, that doesn't really matter if you wrap up the game before your opponent gets the chance to do that.

I speculated that we might see Blazing Mirror Force played this way back in the DOCS Giant Set Review, and I'm intrigued to see that come to fruition. I wouldn't be surprised if we see more players running it to hasten OTK's. It's another big surprise that most players won't see coming.

So what do you think? Will we see more Top Cut showings from Burning Abyss this format, or is the release of the Master of Pendulum Structure Deck the final nail in the deck's coffin? With the possibility of new support in BOSH the deck might have a Bright Future. Let me know your opinion down in the comments.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer