Despite the low number of Regionals last weekend, we saw some really cool decks Top 8. But I think almost everyone agrees that this one is by far the coolest.

It's been weeks, perhaps months since we last saw the Herald of Perfection deck known as Star Seraph Rituals Top 8 a Regional. Debuting in August last year with the release of the Cyber Angel monsters in Dragons of Legend: Unleashed, the deck started topping events immediately and became a rogue hit. The strategy never reached deck-to-beat status, but its position on the competitive fringe actually kept it under the radar of many competitors, most of whom couldn't devote time or resources to the match-up. That gave Star Seraph Rituals an edge.

If you're not familiar with Herald of Perfection be sure to mouse over it and give it a read; the card saw substantial tournament success years ago, played in a more basic form with Advanced Ritual Art and Normal Monsters like Gyakutenno Megami and Happy Lover, leveraging support like Manju of the Ten Thousand Hands and Dark Factory of Mass Production. With lots of free plusses and recursion, Herald players looked to fuel Herald of Perfection's negation ability and control the duel long enough to win. That version of the deck fell out of favor when restrictions were made to cards like Advanced Ritual Art, but Herald of Perfection's mass negation has always remained unique and powerful.

Three cards brought it back into competition toward the end of the Summer: Pre-Preparation of Rites was released three months prior in Shining Victories, allowing a quick search of both Herald of Perfection and its Ritual Spell Dawn of the Herald as an immediate +1 of card economy. That +1 is always good, but it's more powerful in a deck focused on generating card advantage and then making a series of 1-for-1 trades to grind opponents down. When Cyber Angel Benten and Ritual Sanctuary were released in August the deck finally had the consistency and sheer card economy needed to return to the top tables.

Benten's a Level 6 Light Fairy that aligns perfectly with the strategy; it's a one-card tribute for Herald of Perfection, and its search effect can boost core consistency, or extend your plays into combos with Star Seraph Scepter and Star Seraph Sovereignty. The classic combo of "stick and chair" is so much easier to make here with Benten's effect letting you search whichever card you need. From there the card advantage and raw muscle that combo offers played into a Rank helps deepen your control, widen the card advantage gap, and field more damage to close out the duel. Benten even searches stuff like Honest when you need it.

Ritual Sanctuary helps drive consistency too, giving you the chance to pitch any redundant spell – such as a dead Ritual Spell or another copy of itself – to seek out another Light Ritual Monster or Ritual Spell card from your deck. It doesn't just make the strategy more consistent by helping you get to your core combos; it also helps cushion bad draws when things go badly, and searches secondary cards when things go well. That last bit's important; the ability to accommodate a single Saffira, Queen of Dragons as an accessible, alternate play that keeps your cards from clogging is clutch, and Ramos built his deck with range and variety in mind.

We'll talk about that a bit later. For now those are the fundamentals of the strategy as it appeared last Summer and into September. But that deck disappeared over time, outclassed by newer strategies like Blue-Eyes White Dragon and eventually Metalfoes, ABC-Dragon Buster, and Paleozoic Frogs.

So what changed? How did Brandom Ramos manage to resuscitate a down-and-out strategy like Star Seraph Rituals?

Good question.

DECKID=107094There's a lot going on here, and despite the well-deserved hype surrounding some of the newer choices Ramos brought to the deck, some of this is more subtle than you might think. Ramos innovated this strategy with bigger set-ups and splashier plays, reinforcing the Herald of Perfection setup in ways we've never quite seen. But he also pushed the core concept behind the deck to new heights, and in doing so, he created a strategy that's capable of far more than the builds from five months ago.

Before we start in on the minutiae and the finer points, let's begin with the cool stuff, starting with one inalienable truth.

Ties Of The Brethren Is Absolutely Brutal
If you spend a decent amount of time following deck building trends and studying our Deck Archive here on TCGplayer, you're probably familiar with Ties of the Brethren. And you're probably used to seeing it in Majespecters, almost exclusively.

The card's so synonymous with Majespecters – where it's used to Special Summon any two of Majespecter Toad – Ogama, Majespecter Fox – Kyubi, and Majespecter Crow - Yata - that it actually Top 8'd in that deck as well just this past weekend: Oliver Petereit managed to top a Regional in Germany with Brethren Majespecters, which abuses Ties to dump two Majespecters to the field and make immediate searches as a result. It also has the option of using that field presence to lock opponents under Secret Village of the Spellcasters in appropriate matchups.

In Majespecters, Ties of the Brethren is largely a brute force enabler: it gets you a bunch of free cards and helps patch up the Majespecter deck's slow early game. Exploding six cards onto the field off any one Level 4 Majespecter and Ties, you use it to kickstart your strategy. But it actually plays the opposite role here in Star Seraph Rituals. Instead of helping you field Herald of Perfection, Ties of the Brethren helps you defend it from a variety of threats, ratcheting in the lock on your opponent by interrupting a bunch of play that would give them outs otherwise. That's probably why the Majespecter deck runs three Ties, but Ramos only played two. It's not necessarily useful unless you've already gone off.

The real goal here is to establish a field of Herald of Perfection and a Level 4 Light Fairy. It's smoothest with Manju of the Ten Thousand Hands, but Star Seraph Sovereignty or Star Seraph Scepter can work too. From there Ramos would target his Level 4 with Ties of the Brethren and Special Summon two cards: Honest and Barrier Statue of the Heavens. He'd activate Honest's effect to bounce it back to his hand, effectively buying insurance against any would-be attacker that might threaten Herald in battle. And with Barrier Statue of the Heavens on the field, virtually nothing save ABC-Dragon Buster could Special Summon their way out of the lock.

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With the concern of an attacker addressed by Honest and the Barrier Statue's ban on Special Summons, Herald of Perfection seals away spells, traps, and monster effects. And without any of those options there really isn't much the top strategies can do.

Honest won't just protect Herald of Perfection; it'll bump off anything that tries to attack and remove Barrier Statue as well. And without Special Summoning, your opponent's going to have a very hard time finding a second aggressor so they can make two attacks on the Barrier Statue.

Even if they do, you still control Herald and likely the rest of the duel with it. It's devastating. Factor in the ability to recycle Honest with Saffira, Queen of Dragons and Ritual Sanctuary, as well as the opportunity to search a second copy with Cyber Angel Benten – itself recycled with Dawn of the Herald – and suddenly you've got a tremendously robust plan that offers a much stiffer lock than Herald of Perfection on its own.

And That's Flashy, Fun, And Wildly Impressive
But beyond that bit of Inspiration, Ramos also made a lot of smaller choices and subtler decisions that all serve to do one thing: more.

The Star Seraph Ritual deck of 2016 could compete long after the fall of the original Herald of Perfection decks, because it had two things: more consistency, and more range. While not all versions of the deck played Saffira, Queen of Dragons, the ones that did had more options, more flexibility, and a greater ability to adapt to a spread of threats and situations. They could also run a ton of redundant cards to ensure a reliable Herald of Perfection play, while then leveraging those same cards into complimentary plays that helped close the game once the lock was in.

That was key to this deck's success last summer, and Ramos appeared to take that idea and run with it.

Ramos did play Saffira, Queen of Dragons and a Hymn of Light to Summon it with, giving him more to do with his Ritual infrastructure and a greater ability to press for a win. Hymn also has a stellar graveyard effect that lets you banish it to protect your Rituals from destruction one time, making your set-up more secure. That's nothing new; we've seen it many times before. But it's the right decision, and it sets the tone for the rest of Ramos' choices.

First up on the "smart ideas" list, Ramos played Cyber Angel Idaten. It's been played before, but it was really rare to see it in previous Top Cut builds. Idaten's effectively just an alternate tribute for your Ritual Summons: its effect boosts your Herald of Perfection from a weak 1800 ATK to a beefy 2800 ATK, making it much tougher to attack. Its DEF goes through the roof, too, spiking to 3800 defense.

Idaten's valuable in match-ups that are more likely to present a big attacker to try and break your board – stuff like Blue-Eyes White Dragon, ABC-Dragon Buster, or even Mermails – and it's easily searched with a huge number of effects that would be searching redundant cards otherwise. It costs virtually nothing, too; worst case scenario, it's discard fodder for Herald's effect.

Ramos played Instant Fusion and Elder Entity Norden as well, giving him better access to a Rank 4 toolbox that included a range of problem-solvers, from simple removal like Diamond Dire Wolf and Castel, the Skyblaster Musketeer, to Abyss Dweller, Gagaga Cowboy, and Number S39: Utopia the Lightning.

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More intriguingly he ran Sprite's Blessing, new from Invasion Vengeance. It might not look impressive at first glance, but it accomplishes a lot here. On a basic level it's a fourth Dawn of the Herald when you need it, or a replacement when you've banished a bunch of Dawns with Pot of Desires. But it's also a second enabler for Saffira, and it suddenly affords you the fringe option of Ritual Summoning Cyber Angel Benten or Cyber Angelt Idaten, without having to run Machine Angel Ritual. Blessing opens up a ton of different possibilities, and that's what this deck is all about.

There's even some really smart stuff going on in the Side Deck. Ramos commented post-event that Urgent Ritual Art let him dodge Dimensional Barrier by Ritual Summoning on his opponent's turn instead of his own. That's kind of nuts, just flatly outplaying a card that most players will try to rely on in this match-up, thinking it's the key to their success.

He also sided a lone Consecrated Light, giving him more ways to fend off Awesome Heroes with their Masked HERO Dark Law, as well as any Burning Abyss or Phantom Knight variants. While the one copy of Consecrated Light isn't searchable with Ties of the Brethren due to Level, you can either Normal Summon it or toss it for Herald's cost and revive it with Ritual Sanctuary, shuffling back just one spell.

Eliminating cards like Masked HERO Dark Law, ABC-Dragon Buster, and Toadally Awesome is hugely important, but since there are no Level 6 Kaijus, Ramos played Santa Claws instead. That gave him the option to pitch it for any of his Ritual Summons if he ever drew it and didn't need it. As a Light it could combo with Ritual Sanctuary, and it would still work under Barrier Statue of the Heavens, too. Smart use of a really esoteric card.

Brandom Ramos did an awesome job updating Star Seraph Rituals into something new and fresh, adding considerable flash and raising the power ceiling, while also finding more range and more options in a strategy that lives and dies by its ability to react and eliminate opposing answers before they happen. It's a smart-as-hell twist on a fan-favorite strategy, and for my dueling dollar, it was far and away the most impressive deck of the week. Congratulations to Ramos for both the innovation, and the competitive success it brought him.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer