We featured a ton of decks over on the feed last week, but this one drew more attention than any of the rest. Artifacts are huge right now, popping up everywhere and often rejuvenating themes new and old, the most notable of which has been multiple Top 8 showings from Kozmo variants. The Artifact cards can neutralize some of the biggest, most powerful trends in competition, and have a knack for filling gaps in certain strategies.

We'll examine those Kozmo deck in a future Competitive Corner later this week, but today I want to take a look at something that swings more from left field. Heroes offer some unique advantages that can work to counteract the biggest decks in competition. First amongst them is Masked HERO Dark Law, favored chiefly for its ability to banish any cards that would be sent to your opponent's graveyard. Against Pendulum variants that means destroyed Pendulums are removed from the game instead of going to the Extra Deck, and against Kozmos, you'll banish spaceships like Kozmo Dark Destroyer and Kozmo Forerunner before your opponent can trigger their self-replacing effects.

So why aren't Heroes topping everything? The Hero strategy has a number of challenges and blindspots that keep it from the consistency it would need to transcend rogue status. While Masked HERO Dark Law's immensely powerful it's also fragile, and the deck has a tough time competing without it – the strategy's not as robust as others. It's also pretty linear; you generally know what the deck's going to try and do, and while it can make good use of defensive removal, that often means cards are more reactive than proactive. The deck needs to win quickly once it makes its set-up, for fear of being toppled with no hope for recovery.

Artifacts fill a lot of those weaknesses. Before we go any further, check out our featured build for this discussion: Tien Nguyen piloted it to a Top 8 finish at the latest Regional Qualifier in Seattle.

DECKID=103910Nguyen went 7-2, losing two matches to Kozmos and beating everything else. The Hero side of the strategy was pretty typical for what we've seen over the past half year, sacrificing very little to make room for the ten Artifact cards. He played all the themed support spells you'd expect, including one Hero Charge for a little extra longevity. "It's an instant Masked Hero," Nguyen explained.

Along with the three staple copies of A Hero Lives, he ran one Goblindbergh and one Summoner Monk to enable his Elemental HERO Shadow Mists, along with double Oasis of Dragon Souls. He opted for Oasis over Call Of The Haunted so he wouldn't be so vulnerable to Kozmo Farmgirl, which can press damage over an attack position monster to score a free search. Revival effects have always been favorable in Heroes, triggering Shadow Mist's spell search. But it takes on a different tone here, since it has great synergy with the Artifacts. More on that later.

With basically a full Hero lineup, where did Nguyen find the space for ten extra cards?

Good Question
Nguyen made most of his notable concessions in the removal lineup, largely in the trap department. Hero aficionados may notice the lack of double Mirror Force, usually favored for its synergy with Masked HERO Dark Law's banishing. His only mass removal is Raigeki, plus one Time-Space Trap Hole and two Grand Horn of Heavens. He favored Grand Horn over extra copies of Time-Space due to Time-Space's Life Point cost, which can make for awkward conflicts when you need to pay half your LP for A Hero Lives.

He also skimped on Mystical Space Typhoon and Forbidden Lance. Past Masked Hero builds we've seen in the Top 8 spotlight have almost always played one or both; Nguyen played neither.

But the good news is that those cards are tremendously easy to drop when you're replacing them with Artifacts. Artifact Ignition's effectively just Mystical Space Typhoon anyways. Meanwhile the combination of Artifact Sanctum and Artifact Moralltach serve as proactive destruction instead of the reactive removal Heroes are more accustomed to, making the strategy more flexible and precise in the way it goes about destroying face-up cards. That's the first place where Oasis of Dragon Souls comes into play again, reviving Artifact Moralltach from the yard to turn Oasis into a straight +1, blocking an attack and creating a potential aggressor on your following turn. That's big.

The rest of the advantages offered by the Artifact engine are even bigger. On a grand scale, Artifact Scythe's the main reason Artifacts are seeing so much play right now; every time you Special Summon it on your opponent's turn, they can't Special Summon from their Extra Deck. That's largely meaningless against Kozmos, but leaves the Pendulum player with nothing to do – no Pendulum Summons, nor Xyz or Synchros. From there it has a beefy 2200 ATK.

#####CARDID= 18729#####

You can trigger that effect a number of ways. Artifact Sanctum pulls Artifact Scythe straight from your deck, or Oasis of Dragon Souls revives it. As a set monster card in your back row, your opponent can blunder right into it as they try to clear the way for what would've been a big turn, triggering its Special Summon effect with Mystical Space Typhoon or stuff like Dragonpit Magician. If they refuse to do so, you can always pop it with Artifact Beagalltach or Artifact Ignition.

When your opponent does manage to force through a big Pendulum Summon because you can't Scythe, Grand Horn and Time-Space step in to compensate. Two groups of protective cards that might not be enough on their own combine in this strategy to make a multi-tiered defense that can be really difficult to fight through, and that's the genius of this thing. The synergies at work make the individual cards so much more valuable than they look in a vacuum.

You really see that play out when your opponent tries to go and disrupt your backrow, as noted earlier. One of the key fragilities of the traditional Masked Hero deck is that if you lose your backrow, or your opponent presses through it and forces you to activate all your cards while they still have plays, it's easy for them to take the field. From there you generally lose Masked HERO Dark Law and the game along with it. But Nguyen runs 18 cards that he'll usually set – we're not counting bluffs – and 10 of them punish his opponent if they're destroyed by opposing removal. Whether they're losing your Battle Phase to Artifact Ignition, your Special Summons to Artifact Scythe, or broad swathes of cards to Artifact Sanctum plays, they're effectively losing their turn more often than not.

In a floodgate-driven strategy that wants to keep a controlling set-up and win as quickly as possible, effectively racing its own clock, all that defensive disruption's even more valuable – it helps clear monsters and thus enables damage dealing attacks. And since the Artifacts are all viable attackers on their own, they contribute to your speed even further. Also notable: boosted access to Rank 5's, in Nguyen's case Artifact Durendal and Constellar Pleiades. Combined with easy Level 4 Special Summons and two Instant Fusions for Elder Entity Norden plays into Tellarknight Ptolemaeus, the deck makes superior use of Rank 5's.

That includes the classic Artifact Durendal + Masked HERO Dark Law combo, which forces your opponent to cycle away their hand and then lose a card to Dark Law's hand disruption. That combo's been appreciated as a fringe play in Masked Heroes for months now, but it's more reasonable here. It's still a rarity, but it crushes your opponent when it happens, and Nguyen's optimized his build to make it happen more frequently than you might expect.

Artifacts were proposed as a tremendous equalizer since the beginning of this format, often in small conversations amongst competitors in the know. One of my favorite players these days, Matthew Monahan, was posting about them really early on, but all that theory's finally showing consistent results weekend to weekend. If you want to play something different – something that can take advantage of current trends and outplay the top decks – Artifacts might be what you're looking for. They can make a number of strategies far more playable, opening up a whack-ton of options that wouldn't be viable in high level competition otherwise.

What do you think: flash in the pan, or here to stay? Will Artifacts make it through the release of Breakers of Shadow? Let me know down in the comments.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer