Hey! Jason here, doubling up on Competitive Corner this week along with Joe Soto as we count down the days to the WCQ in Detroit!

Yes, this is another Lightsworn article! And yes, it's running side-by-side today with Doug Zeeff's writings on the same topic. But there's a good reason for that: after seeing various Regional successes throughout the year, Lightsworn exploded at the European WCQ last weekend to take a second place finish off the release of the Realm of Light Structure Deck, despite having lower representation in the tournament than many competitors expected. While 91 players started Day 1 with Lightsworn as their deck of choice, only eleven made it to Day 2. Numerous top finishers remarked post-event that they'd expected heavier Lightsworn representation. What really happened were smaller base numbers than some anticipated, followed by some early round stomp-outs that thinned the herd.

That's not really a surprise: with the Realm of Light cards being so new, it was inevitable that lots of competitors wouldn't feel comfortable playing them and would thus choose a different deck. It was equally inevitable that many would play the deck anyways, and fail in their first efforts with the strategy. But despite those stumbles Lightsworn still took second place in the hands of Marcel Burri, setting off a week of hubbub and leaving players all over North, South, and Central America asking – is Lightsworn the top choice for the rest of the WCQ season?

Examine the wording there: the question isn't, "Is this deck worth playing in tournaments?" The question is, "Is this the best deck, and thus my deck choice for the WCQ." With that question in mind I want to take a long, hard look at this deck's positioning in competition and some of the results we saw at the European WCQ, and really delve into the factors that make Lightsworn worth playing; and by extension, what might make them the top deck for WCQ North America. In addition to that I want to raise some questions about current builds and potential innovations that could give you a leg up if you choose to play Lightsworn this weekend, and on into the new format.

The Strongest Late Game In Existence
Right off the bat, this is the single greatest strength of Lightsworn today. Judgment Dragon's amazing: some time between now and the last time we saw competitive Lightsworn strategies dominating tournaments, the very definition of "boss monster" changed. Boss monsters used to be field-demolishing Special Summons you generally had to luck into via normal draws: they were fundamentally inconsistent in almost all cases, but when they hit they'd hit super-hard. Nowadays boss monsters are generally Xyz: cards like Madolche Queen Tiaramisu, Gear Gigant X, Mermail Abyssgaios and others. Those cards aren't nearly as powerful as stuff like Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning and Dark Armed Dragon, but you don't have to draw into them – they're inherently healthier for the game, with lower power levels but a higher chance of seeing play.

Judgment Dragon ain't havin' none of that. It's a 3000 ATK world-ruining behemoth that's easily the best example of its own special brand of oldschool, pre-5D's design. And while it's got all the power of its original design, it's now searchable with Eclipse Wyvern and to some lesser extent, the new Minerva, Maiden of the Lightsworn. There are two things that have historically held Judgment Dragon in check: lack of access to it, and its threshold Summoning requirements. Now one of those factors is effectively gone. It's better than it's ever been before.

And that's only half the equation! Dragon Rulers are still dumb, functioning as killer beatsticks on their own and teaming up both with one another, as well as with Lightray Diabolos to make Rank 7's. And Diabolos itself just ruins lives with its 2800 ATK and its ability to punt away set cards. There's no other deck that can exert that much late game pressure right now, and that's the most talked-about factor that makes Lightsworn so dangerous. Now seems like a good time to drop in the deck list just in case you're not familiar and aren't completely sure what we're talking about. Here's the build that took second in Europe:

DECKID= 100577The problem? Well, the problem was demonstrated in the very Finals of the European WCQ. If you haven't read that feature match yet yourself you're missing out, but let me sum it up for you: while Marcel Burri was running the Lightsworn Ruler deck shown above, his opponent Eugen Heidt was piloting Mermails. Knowing that he was up against the strongest late game in current imagination, Heidt made the obvious decision – to blow Burri out of the tournament before he could ever get his Dragon Rulers and Judgment Dragons going. If you know your opponent's playing to a late game you can't possibly match, the obvious strategy is to just cut them off before they ever get there.

And that's exactly what Heidt did, smashing Burri in a 2-0 victory that saw the Swiss duelist left holding not one, but two dead copies of Judgment Dragon as Heidt walked all over him to capture the European Championship. Heidt turned Burri's greatest strength into a fatal weakness, and he did it with key moves like this:

"Burri had drawn into Kuribandit, Raiden, Hand of the Lightsworn, Lumina, Lightsworn Summoner, Lyla, Lightsworn Sorceress and Rainbow Kuriboh. He Normal Summoned Kuribandit, he wanted to advance to the End Phase, but Breakthrough Skill made sure that Kuribandit would get to stay on the field just a little longer."

That was Burri's first turn in Game 1 and Heidt proceeded to win moments later on Turn 2. Burri wound up playing a grand total of six turns in the entire Match. Heidt's ability to break that early game set-up by taking out Kuribandit was just spine-shattering, and it's certainly not the first time it's happened: some players are starting to realize that as important as Kuribandit's been to both Lightsworn and Sylvans, it also loses a ton of games when it doesn't work; it just sits on the field waiting to get pounded. Even when Kuribandit does work it still leaves you wide open if it was your only Summon for the turn, and the fact that it's being run in decks that play few – sometimes no – trap cards is not helping that problem.

On the flipside of the coin, Needlebug Nest is vulnerable to Wiretap, Trap Stun, and Seven Tools of the Bandit; there's no foolproof way to get a jump on the Lightsworn early game. However, there are ways to cushion possible blows, outplay your opponent's answers, and take fewer risks. More on those in a bit, but first I want to speak to what may be the real biggest strength Lightsworns possess.

They Have The Best Access To Board Wipes Of Any Strategy
Forget the focus on the late game. Sure, that late game's awesome if you can get there. But one of the big elements making that late game so strong is the ability to clear the entire field with Judgment Dragon, an ability that you can leverage much earlier in the game with Lumina, Lightsworn Summoner and Raiden, Hand of Lightsworn creating plays with Black Rose Dragon. Virtually no other strategy offers such easy access to Black Rose right now and that's huge. The fact that you can use the same play to nix one card at a time courtesy of Michael, the Arch-Lightsworn is just a bonus in my mind. The really big deal here is the simple two-card play that lets you blow everything up, on top of the simple one-card play that also lets you blow everything up.

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Burri clearly recognized that, since he played double Forbidden Lance in addition to the preemptive coverage of Lyla, Lightsworn Sorceress putting pressure on his opponent's backrows. Personally I think all Lightsworn Ruler decks moving forward should be playing a full three copies: you can protect Judgment Dragon, Black Rose, and Kuribandit from effect negation. That means defending what are arguably your best late game, mid-game, and early game plays from the simple disruption you can virtually guarantee your opponents will be running. At the same time Lance gives you more options and more plays should you decide to run a completely trap-free build – it's a great choice at least until Game 2, when your opponent rotates out their Mystical Space Typhoons, Wiretaps and Seven Tools, and you bring in Needlebug Nests.

Seems like a good plan for the WCQ to me.

Incredible Access to Synchro Monsters
Following the point on Black Rose Dragon and Michael, it really deserves to be noted that Lightsworn are likely the best Synchro Summoning deck in the game right now. Raiden, Hand of Lightsworn makes those easy Level 7 Synchros off Lumina, sure, but Minerva, Maiden of the Lightsworn means easy Level 6's as well. I'm actually not convinced I'd play Minerva for the WCQ, but once we hit July 14th and Goyo Guardian's back that definitely changes.

For now, Raiden is so ridiculously important that I'm shocked at the lack of emphasis it's seeing. You want to get to it as early as possible to bring your Black Rose plays online. It also mills up to four cards per turn – nearly as much as Needlebug Nest and Kuribandit – without costing you a minus or leaving you with a blank field. There's a big, big difference between a blank field and one with a 1700 ATK Blocker on it when your opponent's trying to take you out in one turn. While Burri played only two copies of Raiden, I can't imagine not tripling down on it and running a Reinforcement of the Army to get to it as well. Reinforcement can search Ehren, Lightsworn Monk; Garoth, Lightsworn Warrior; Jain, Lightsworn Paladin; and Raiden. It gives you answers to Fire Hand, Ice Hand, and Geargiarmor; a milling and card-drawing machine that buries five cards off 1-for-1 Lumina plays, even getting you free card advantage in the process; and a stiff-hitting beater with 2100 ATK. Or it can grab Raiden to set you up with powerful field-wipes and Michae's spot removal. One Reinforcement seems like a no-brainer to me, while a second copy seems like an obvious choice for the new format. Even if you're just getting another Lightsworn you run only one copy of, ROTA helps you get to that fourth name for Judgment Dragon.

Your opponent can't search their Fiendish Chains and Breakthrough Skills. You can search incredibly strong milling combos, sending as many as seven cards to the graveyard on Turn 1 and then forcing your opponent to try and attack you to keep you from making Michael or Black Rose on the turn following. Someone's going to win Matches at the WCQ by recognizing that.

Alternative Defenses?
With traps constantly being questioned in the Lightsworn game plan, the two alternatives that see the most debate are Rainbow Kuriboh and Necro Gardna. One of those cards doesn't even deserve to be discussed: while both are good mills, Necro Gardna's an awful draw, it has no surprise factor, and it's easy to play around. Rainbow Kuriboh can drop from your hand to block one attack without warning, and can – potentially – block another attack later on. It's the obviously superior card.

The problem is that both of these monsters essentially block one attack and then exit stage right. Rainbow Kuriboh's repeatable, sure, but only across lengths of time. Both can protect monsters, but only if they're in the right place at the right instant and your opponent only has one attacker.

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Personally I'm interested in seeing what other defensive hand traps could be capable of. Ghostrick Jackfrost has the ability to stop two would-be direct attacks when your field's blank, but to me the most interesting possibility is Construction Train Signal Red. The Train Signal can protect a monster from one attack just like Rainbow Kuriboh would, but it can also protect you from two direct attacks in one turn as well if your field's blank. It gets extra points for being a Level 3, and thus Synchro Material and Xyz Material. How cool would it be to play out Lumina and Raiden on Turn 1 for seven mills, sucker out an attack to block with Train Signal, and then head into your next turn with an immediate Rank 3 Xyz summon, Level 7, or Level 10 Synchro play on deck before even using your Normal Summon? Or Lumina's Special Summon? And oh, you get to mill two more cards with Raiden too. Train Signal's useless when milled, but I think it's worth considering regardless.

Aside from that, Doug talked about Forbidden Chalice as a trap alternative last week, and it's an idea I was sold on instantly. Monster effect negation without trap cards is huge, and Forbidden Chalice beats out Effect Veiler by working on both player's turns, as well as offering a +400 ATK boost that can make a big difference to monsters like Raiden and Garoth.

Lightsworn Rulers are a huge pick heading into the WCQ, and as Doug stated their power's bolstered by the fact that no matter what happens at the Central American WCQ (which by the time you read this, will have been completed), competitors still won't be Side Decking adequately for the match-up. I don't believe that a netdeck of Marcel Burri's strategy will win the North American Championship; the cat's out of the bag and Eugen Heidt drew the world a roadmap as to how to beat that deck. But there are very clear paths for innovation now, and that could make Lightsworn Rulers the best choice this weekend.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer