Heading into the YCS Tacoma weekend there were two big strategies I've wanted to write about: the two most dominant decks of the format up until this point, Qliphorts and Burning Abyss. With The Secret Forces making its debut this weekend and Nekroz poised to become the next big thing… or the biggest disappointment of 2015… the future of competition's really up in the air. It's going to be weeks until we see the complete fallout from the YCS, and it's going to be turbulent times as players race to innovate and stay on top of the developing competitive landscape. Flat out, we don't know what's going to happen: a big showing from Nekroz in the Top 32 will have a big immediate impact on competition as we know it, while a failed showing will create less immediate change, but may raise even more questions in the following weeks.

While the general shape of Qliphorts has been pretty consistent since Secrets of Eternity dropped, with a handful of big outliers like Adam Hairston's Top 8 YCS Charleston build as standouts, Burning Abyss has really been all over the place. What solidified for a few weeks as a brief trend toward monster-heavy builds with few to no traps culminated in Azad Deihim's Top 4 build that ran no trap cards whatsoever, and played a whopping 24 Malebranches.

Meanwhile that very same Top 4 featured Elvis Vu running a relatively trap-heavy build, packing triple Fire Lake of the Burning Abyss; Karma Cut; Solemn Warning; and Phoenix Wing Wind Blast. It looked a lot like a direct update from the Burning Abyss builds that were so big on discard-costed traps just a few months ago. Other Burning Abyss duelists making the Top 32 in Charleston ran Vanity's Emptiness, Rank-Up-Magic Astral Force, double The Beginning of the End, and varying numbers of Enemy Controller. No two builds were really alike.

The conclusion about which Burning Abyss deck was truly the best has continued to fluctuate in the weeks that have passed since, and heading into YCS Tacoma this weekend there's still no standard build. In fact, the question's only become more clouded thanks to Regional Qualifier results that only emerged this week. There now seem to be two broad defining categories of Burning Abyss decks, and Zak Aossey's 1st Place build from the Las Vegas Regional demonstrates the newest.

DECKID= 101740Aossey's build is the most prominent of a new Burning Abyss breed, defined in large part by its use of Mask Change II from the HERO Strike Structure Deck. Aossey played two copies, letting him pitch Malebranche monsters to Special Summon the new Masked HERO Dark Law. A Macro Cosmos on legs that threatens to banish a card from your opponent's hand every turn if they search from their deck, Dark Law's devastating against Qliphorts and Satellarknights, and offers a tremendous advantage in the mirror match. It has a discard cost, an effect that yards one of your monsters from the field, and it consumes itself upon resolution to place one monster on the field for a -2 overall, but since Malebranches have compensating effects you can often recoup your investment in the same turn and effectively 1-for-1 into your Fusion. Burning Abyss will frequently play Mask Change II more easily than an actual HERO strategy, and Aossey wasn't the only Regional competitor who took note.

While fewer than half of the Top 8 Regional decks from last weekend are available to the public, we saw a successful Masked Burning Abyss build at all three events: Luis Perez took 1st Place West Allis Wisconsin Regional with three Mask Change II and a pair of Dark Laws, while an unnamed duelist at the Toronto Regional took third in Toronto with a pair of each card. This wasn't a one-shot wonder or a metagame-specific quirk: Toronto, Wisconsin, and Vegas are a long ways apart. And while the numbers are strong now, they could be even stronger with over a dozen Top 8 lists still missing.

Aossey's deck was unique amongst the Masked Burning Abyss decks last weekend, because he actually went beyond Masked HERO Dark Law to play Masked HERO Koga too. While it was nowhere near as easy to Summon as Dark Law, Aossey could give up Virgil, Rock Star of the Burning Abyss to make Koga and control a big beater that grew with his opponent's field. Sound situational? It is, but when you're up against Apoqliphort Towers you'll generally take whatever outs you can find. Though Koga would be affected by Towers' stat reduction ability and its protection from effects, Koga's own ATK boost can get it over Apoqliphort Towers if your opponent controls another monster.

While that alone may not be relevant all too often, Koga makes a number of small plays possible with Virgil and extends the reach of moves you were already going to make anyways. Options are good, and while Aossey had to forego niche Rank 3's like Ghostrick Alucard and Number 17: Leviathan Dragon, the sacrifice appears to have been worthwhile.

While there are theoretically lots of ways to build a Masked Burning Abyss deck, note the things that all three builds had in common: protection, in the form of Phoenix Wing Wind Blast and Enemy Controller, plus aggressive picks like Raigeki, Snatch Steal… and Enemy Controller. Since the strategy can win so easily off Masked HERO Dark Law, reactive cards that keep it on the field are worth more here than they would be in a more conventional Burning Abyss deck. At the same time, Mask Change II operating at Spell Speed 2 allows you to sneak more damage in the Battle Phase when opportunity strikes, making the already-amazing Enemy Controller that much better as one link in a sequence of aggressive game-ending attacks. I'm a huge fan of Enemy Controller right now in any Burning Abyss deck, and that card's even better in Masked. It just does more on both attack and defense.

I believe this version of Burning Abyss is the strongest heading into the YCS weekend, and it may be a great choice if the search-heavy Nekroz strategy takes off. Dark Law gives you several advantages in that match-up. But if Masked HERO's aren't your cup of tea, what's the alternative? Check out the other logged Top 8 build from that Las Vegas Regional.

DECKID= 101739While this version of Burning Abyss may be less exciting, there's a lot to love here – namely consistency. This competitor ran a balanced trap lineup with a surprise Torrential Tribute, along with triple Enemy Controller and seventeen Malebranche monsters packing trigger effects to combo with them. Snatch Steal, Raigeki, and double Dark Hole created field-clearing opportunities that allowed this deck to win with simple, fast plays that could be made as a matter of routine, really letting this deck make the most of the wealth of Malebranche names.

And man, did it have a big lineup of different Malebranches. I really love the symmetry here, with three copies each of Cir, Graff, and Scarm; two copies of Calcab, Farfa, Libic, and Rubic; and singles of Alich and Cagna. While Calcab, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss and Libic, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss have been played as one-ofs or not at all in many builds, two copies here allowed for lots of problem-solving while giving this deck ample opportunity to throw them down as Special Summons for use as Xyz Material.

Cutting Rubic, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss to two instead of the more standard three was likely a bit of a sacrifice, but not a move without precedent; we've seen lots of Top Cut builds in Regionals and YCS events that played just two copies. One Cagna, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss is all that's needed to yard Fire Lake of the Burning Abyss and set it up for recursion, while Alich was likely run more for its name than its effect in this competitive climate.

Compared to the Masked Burning Abyss variants there's nothing really fancy going on here, but what's happening falls in line with proven theory and then takes it to a new level. I'm kind of shocked we're seeing Burning Abyss builds topping that don't run triple Enemy Controller – it's easily one of the best, most aggressive cards in the game, and gives you an immediate edge in the mirror match if your opponent's not running it. It grants maneuverability, an element of choice and diversification amongst your plays, and creates win scenarios where they wouldn't exist otherwise. Beyond the mirror it's amazing against anything that might field Stellarknight Constellar Diamond against you: this deck ran Gaia Dragon, the Thunder Charger so it could Snatch Steal or Enemy Controller Diamond, overlay it, and shut down its brutal anti-meta abilities. There are just too many uses for Enemy Controller to be ignoring it.

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Meanwhile the solid numbers across the monster lineup just scream consistency, allowing big opening fields that either win games or force Constellar Diamond depending on match-up. The deck's a mix of strong fundamentals and next-level tech that thinks two steps ahead of the competitive standard.

With a broad range of options and some strong answers to Nekroz, I think Burning Abyss has a competitive future no matter what this weekend holds. In the long term there are numerous options that can keep the deck competitive in the Nekroz match-up, and in the short term the sheer popularity means it's "too big to fail," at least for the first few weeks.

The future's a blur right now, but like I said in our discussion of Adam Hairston's Qliphorts, the important thing at present is to understand what your choices are once we see how the weekend pans out. Will Nekroz succeed and dominate YCS Tacoma? Will all the hype result in an over-prepared field that shuts Nekroz out? I've got my theories, but the truth is we don't know. So for now, the options moving forward are what matter; you want to be prepared to make the best decisions possible once the facts come out and variables start locking into place.

To me, these two decks exemplify two categories of potential choices: Masked Burning Abyss and conventional Burning Abyss builds are two very different beasts, and each has a mix of competitive overlaps and unique advantages. For now I'm curious as to what you think in the present: which strategy do you believe is superior? Let me know your thoughts down in the Comments.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer