Despite my insatiable desire to put two, three or even four different themes in every deck I make, I promise that I do have some smattering of competitive Yu-Gi-Oh! buried in there. I hope my track record can speak for that, though it's hidden under a clutter of misshapen conglomerations. More often than not, when I've topped a Regional or YCS, I've put some serious thought into the deck I'm going to play and I actively prepared for that tournament.

Doug "Thug Life" Zeeff, Pasquale Crociata and I have been putting some serious thought into the next big event the three of us are attending together: YCS Toronto in September. Last year, I played my cards right and had an amazing weekend up until bricking in the Top 8 and saying goodbye to my shot at a prize card. This will probably be the only time I give myself a shoutout because the match was so memorable and entertaining for me, and I hope to have similar success in 2014.

But enough about 2013; it's almost time for this year's YCS Toronto, and I just bought my plane ticket this morning. I've officially started prepping with Doug and Pasquale for the big hoopla too, discussing how the newest booster set Duelist Alliance will shape the tournament. With virtually no big events between now and the YCS, most of our information will come from our own testing instead of gleaning it from other big events.

While every card set promises fresh life breathed into old archetypes alongside completely new (and might I add AWESOME) strategies, many things will fall short of being competitive in the long run. Look at Madolche, for example. Madolche Anjelly had its fifteen minutes of fame after Chris LeBlanc won his second YCS with Madolches as Anjelly skyrocketed to 70 dollars on the secondary market, but we've seen the deck fall to near obscurity as it's been outclassed by HAT, Sylvan, Lightsworn Ruler, Mermail, Infernity and the rest. Nevertheless, it was a real threat of a deck at one time, and it was something that the unprepared duelist would easily fall to in tournaments.

This Is The Start Of Something New
Duelist Alliance brings us the Stellarknights, Yang Zings, and Shaddolls alongside the World Premiere Burning Abyss theme. Additionally, Batteryman Duelists get one of the better search cards, and you should bet your money that someone has done something with Pendulums.

Sure, Shaddolls can be slow; Stellarknights are missing Number 16: Shockmaster here in the TCG; and Battteryman 9-Volt is just one card, but Duelist Alliance is going to make a big impact here whether you like it or not. I mean, look at Doug's thoughts on Batteryman; surprise surprise, Batterymen are actually a cohesive deck now. I can't say with certainty how dominant one theme will be or if a deck's fifteen seconds of fame will last longer than just that, but it seems like anything could happen at YCS Toronto.

Don't worry, we're still going to see a barrage of all the other wonderful decks we've faced for what seems like forever, looming for another eternity, but now there'll be some new kids on the block as well. I think it's going to be a lot harder to plan successfully for Toronto, since we've been burdened with another 100 new cards, many of which will be relevant to competition. Without beating around the proverbial bush anymore, I'll go ahead and say it with near certainty: I'll be playing Monarchs in Toronto.

DECKID=100911It's a weird choice for me, because I haven't really touched any sort of "pure" Monarch deck since Soul Control was competitive and Thestalos the Firestorm Monarch was all the rage. Yes, I do love me some Hieratic Monarchs, but that deck involved much more intricate turns and big kill-combos instead of a slow, methodical destruction of your opponent. Monarchs are one of the oldest decks to survive to this day without really changing their play-style.

It Feels So Right To Tribute Summon You
So, why monarchs, right? Where's the crazy, you ask? I tried my best to convince myself that so many other decks could be better, but Monarchs are similar to Dark Worlds in the most stark of ways. When the gears are going, you're unbeatable. When they're not, you're sunk in the water sinking like the brick hands you've drawn. So what's the plan? Build a deck that doesn't brick.

Frog Monarchs has by and large taken its rightful place as the best Monarch variant outclassing Ghostrick, Hieratic, and Macro variants simply because of consistency. It's not the most powerful nor is it the most intricate, but it beats all the other strategies because the methodical pattern of tributing a Treeborn Frog once per turn is just too consistent to pass up.

That being said, a good Frog Monarch deck will be able to yard Treeborn Frog or have impending access to Treeborn or Tribute fodder on virtually every first turn. When you don't have Treeborn Frog or Swap Frog, Ronintodin as a defender or Dupe Frog as a searcher were often good enough. When you were bereft of even those, Soul Exchange came as a temporary solution and alleviated you from your struggles.

And now, The Monarchs Stormforth is a breathe of fresh air so desperately needed because it fills in the missing piece that no other cards could really fill. I won't pretend like every opening hand will be ideal, but having half a dozen ways to set up a Treeborn combined with a staggering six Soul Exchanges (cause isn't that what Stormforth is, really?) was finally the kick in the pants I needed to play this deck.

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Before I belabor the point too much, I do want to briefly talk about how you play the deck, though it shouldn't be that hard to pick up. Early game, you'll want to yard your Treeborn Frog and Ronintodin so in late game you'll have a plethora of tribute fodder for your Monarchs. Once per turn, you can summon a big beater and trigger its effect upon summon in a slow and methodical march to victory. There isn't a real need to play cards in your back-row, and your own hand traps should provide all the defense you could need.

Shattering Competition
Since Dimensional Fissure and Macro Cosmos are Limited and Mask of Restrict isn't played, there aren't really any floodgate cards that shut Frog Monarchs down. Rivalry of Warlords and Gozen Match aren't really played much anymore since they don't directly hurt a beaucoup of strategies and Vanity's Emptiness is only so effective against the deck. These are all semi-popular counters to the Frog engine in Frog Monarchs, but against six Soul Exchanges? They're hardly relevant.

Hand traps do little to Monarchs. D. D. Crow hits Treeborn and Ronintodin, but you'll have other copies of those amphibians when you're without a spell stealing card. Effect Veiler is a straight up -1 that leaves your monster sitting pretty on the field, and Maxx "C" is more like a reactive Upstart Goblin than anything. Electric Virus, Rose Archer, Marionette Mite - none of these are threats you have to watch out for, and without any offensive counters to back them up, your opponents' hand traps get outclassed by your big monsters. After all, it's not like you invested three cards just to summon a Monarch.

Speaking of threats that are inert, Monarchs inherently make so many cards dead for your opponent on turn one beyond the hand traps. Typhoon' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Mystical Space Typhoon">Mystical Space Typhoon, Traptrix Myrmeleo's second effect, Wiretap, Ice Hand and the like are utterly useless against Monarchs because Monarchs never set cards in the back row unless you're desperate for some defense with an Enemy Controller. So on top of having virtually no floodgate cards and ineffective hand traps, your opponent might find a significant portion of their dead utterly useless in Game 1.

And while your opponent is stuck with a handful of useless cards in the deck, your hand traps should always be live and act as the only defense you'll ever need. Outside of Debunk, there isn't a whole lot your opponent can do to counter Battle Fader, Ghostrick Jackfrost, Gorz, the Emissary of Darkness and Maxx "C." Oh, right, you can totally play Maxx "C" in here because unlike a lot of other decks, you can actually draw into some useful things if your opponent is trying to OTK you.

Against The Threats
I don't really think I'm giving the deck too much credit when I say it doesn't have any major weakness outside of its own inherent challenges. Outside of big bodies like Photon Strike Bounzer and Mermail Abyssgaois, there aren't many threats against Monarchs that really give you a run for your money. D.D. Crow and Debunk are inconvenient during the early game, but unless your opponent sides Soul Release I think you'll be fine.

There are a few Rank 4 Xyz that can create some problems. Abyss Dweller shuts off your Frog Engine for two turns, but that isn't a problem if you have Soul Exchange, The Monarchs Stormforth, Tragoediea, Battle Fader, Ghostrick Jackfrost or Gorz the Emissary of Darkness. Number 80: Rhapsody in Berserk is probably the biggest threat, but unless your opponent can get rid of both copies of Treeborn Frog and Ronintoadin with just one Rhapsody, that won't cripple you. And while I don't want to heap too much praise onto Stormforth and Soul Exchange, Cairngorgon, Antiluminescent Knight is only a problem if you don't have one of those spells handy.

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But let's talk about real life match-ups. Look at Sehabi Kheireddine's deck from the North American WCQ just a short time ago, and the World Championship-winning build it turned into weeks later. As Jason Grabher-Meyer discussed, the deck could win because it was fast. Like ridiculously fast and surprisingly consistent. There's an extremely high chance that he'd open up with a comfortable backed by Infernity Break and Infernity Barrier every Game 1. But looking at his deck list, you see that all he has is four defensive traps. Simply put, a strategy like this Monarch deck puts something like Infernities on a limited clock. Even if that type of deck hits its perfect set-up, how many turns can it survive, when you're plucking away resources with Monarchs, Soul Exchange and Stormforth?

And this theory doesn't just hold up against Infernities, no. The strategy's similar in almost every matchup. With the lack of defensive traps and proactive cards, you'll rarely stop them from setting up. Geargia will set a Geargiarmor and multiple traps. HAT will start with Traptrix Myrmeleo backed with some solid defense. Decks will simply be able to combo out early in the game, but if you can stay with them thanks to your trap monsters and continue to slowly amass your resources, you will win the grind game.

Unless, of course, you brick entirely.

Monarchs derive much of their power from being so tough to counter, but they also benefit from deck building priorities that see you playing very few cards that interfere with your over-arching priorities. Typhoon' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Mystical Space Typhoon">Mystical Space Typhoon's about the only card in this deck that doesn't directly assist you in your Tribute Summons, Tribute support or general defense. Monarchs try not to waste time or cards. If it's not directly advancing your strategy, don't play it in Monarchs.

The list continues with decks that simply don't have amazing match-ups against Monarchs. Mermails and Infernities will try to OTK, and HAT may try to create unbreakable fields, but any chink in the armor of those two strategies is detrimental and often lethal when facing Monarchs. Some decks like Sylvans have easy access to Divine Dragon Knight Felgrand, but between Soul Exchange and Enemy Controller, you can deal with threats like that pretty easily easily.

Most importantly, I hope you've recognized Shadolls as a competitive force. It may not prove to be the best strategy of the format, but at Toronto I know it's going to be one of the decks to beat. Not only does it seem to plus from every aspect of the game as it loads the graveyard and triggers effects, but El Shaddoll Winda is no laughing matter.

Winda's ridiculous. With enough ATK to stand on its own, Winda protects itself from destruction and says no to strings of Special Summons. It's kind of like an Evilswarm Ophion, but much better. Fire Hand, Dark Hole and even Artifact Morraltach are powerless against Shaddoll Winda, and you better have a big beefy monster to deal with it. Phoenix Wing Wing Blast, Compulsory Evacuation Device and Dimensional Prison are all fine answers, but hitting it with a Soul Exchange is never a bad idea.

I don't think this is by any means my final build, and I'll be tooling around with Doug and Pasquale to come up with something better, hopefully. More than anything, I'm looking to have a fun time, and even if that means not winning, it also means not getting wrecked by floodgates.

Just remember, beat your opponents before they beat you.

-Loukas Peterson