The Soulburner Structure Deck landed in February last year, tying together what were up until then the unremarkable Salamangreat cards into a neat, compact strategy that would come to command huge representation at tournaments. As soon as the Structure dropped it made an immediate impact, because the Salamangreat deck let players of almost any budget take a stab at competitive play. The deck was hugely accessible, and it had wide extra appeal because it showcased some of the coolest looking cards from the show.
Salamangreat has always been a midrange deck; its game plan is to survive early and eventually use the inevitability of recurring engine cards to grind out an advantage and win the game. One of the benefits of that type of strategy is that you'll almost always get to at least play the game, since it's so consistent. Salamangreat was totally untouched by the most recent Forbidden & Limited List, and it was positioned to be an excellent deck going forward.
…At least until Secret Slayers hit. When Secret Slayers released, decks like Adamancipator and Eldlich changed the competitive landscape completely, shoving older decks like Salamangreat to the side. While meaningful data from events is hard to come by due to widespread closures of in-person tournaments, it's still very clear that Salamangreat's taken a tumble in the eyes of serious competitors.
I've been playing and testing with a group of local players online for a few weeks now, and I've found that Salamangreat is actually fantastic. The format's really polarized right now: there's an extremely powerful combo deck on one side of the scale, Adamancipators; and an extremely powerful control deck as well, Eldlich. It's usually really difficult to play defensive cards in a format that's so torn in two different directions. It's hard to defend against two very different forms of attack, because each of them demands different types of counters: run the stuff that stops the combo deck and the control deck won't care, creating dead cards; choose cards that stop control, and now you could find yourself ill-equipped to stop combo.
At some point the correct choice is to forego defense almost entirely, which is tough because in a vacuum of specific cards that stop them, combo decks tend to win more overall. That's where Salamangreat comes in, combining both the speed of combo plays, with a highly searchable and efficient defensive line-up. That pairing leads to a deck that's flexible, consistent, and powerful.
When you're sitting down to the table with Salamangreat, you shouldn't be too worried about flashy plays or intricate combos. Instead, you're looking to plan your turn according to the defensive options your opponent might have. (Check out my article on asking "why?" for more info on that.) I took the core cards from Structure Deck: Soulburner, added some Code Talkers and a couple of new goodies from Eternity Code, and I think I found the beginning of a healthy, balanced diet for your spring.
As you can see, we're not exactly looking to play anything fancy here. The game plan is simple: survive early and win late. Your initial turns are kind of underwhelming, but they're efficient. Once you get past the first turn or two, your opponent might notice that the heat's picking up, but by the time they realize they're on fire it's too late.
Johnny recently wrote on defining your role in the game, and Salamangreat does that so ridiculously well that despite consistently disregarding the theme, I've found myself coming back to the strategy time after time. There's no better way to explain the plan than to break down the deck and detail just how you're reaching your victory.
The Combo Starters
Right away, we've got thirteen starter cards: Lady Debug, Formud Skipper, One for One, Salamangreat Foxy, Salamangreat Gazelle, Cynet Mining and Salamangreat Circle. That means you've got an 87.7% chance to see a starter when you're going first, and that's huge because those are only the "better" starter cards. Any Salamangreat monster card can technically fill the role of a starter since Salamangreat Balelynx requires just a single Level 4 or lower Cyberse monster as its Link Material, so card roles in this deck are often really fluid.
The best starters are Lady Debug and Formud Skipper, since each can fetch legitimately every monster-based extender in your deck; seeing either of them is incredibly important. That said, they're also your main Normal Summons, so you don't want to play too many of them. If we count Cynet Mining as well as One for One as additional copies of these key starters, you're opening up with one of your best starters in 74.2% of your games. Cards like Foxy, Gazelle, and Salamangreat Circle all open multiple avenues of play as well, though they're not as strong, and you'd rather play them as extenders whenever possible.
The Combo Extenders
Speaking of, your extenders are Salamangreat Jack Jaguar, Salamangreat Falco, Salamangreat Spinny, Pot of Desires, Micro Coder and the new Parallel eXceed from Eternity Code.
With twelve extenders total, you're right in that oh-so-sweet spot for ratios. The primary extender you'll abuse the most is Jack Jaguar, giving you infinite resources by shuffling back cards like Sunlight Wolf and Baelynx into your Extra Deck, while providing extensions and defense nicely packaged into one beefy card. Seriously, 1800 ATK on a Normal Summon randomly comes up in 2020, pretty frequently. I'm not sure how, or why.
But it does. That's where we're at in the world right now.
Salamangreat Falco fills another interesting role, an extender that can also recycle Sanctuary should it get destroyed, or set copies of your defensive cards, as well as returning Salamangreat Gazelle back to your hand as needed. It's also a Level 4 for any of those coolio Rank 4 plays you can make all over your Main Monster Zones since Master Rule 5 is in place.
Parallel eXceed is one of the COOLEST extenders around. You slap this winged cyber snake down when you Link Summon, and then you get a super nifty effect that just doesn't seem reasonable, summoning a second copy from your deck and then shifting both Parallels to Level 4. I like free Rank 4's, especially when they're searchable. Semi-relatedly, you'll find that Pot of Desires is rarely if ever correct to activate as the first action of your turn. Instead, playing it as an extender gives you more options and raises your ceiling higher, once your powerful starters have gotten the ball rolling. Be careful to play around stuff like Parallel eXceed.
Micro Coder's interesting here too; I didn't feel it was worth playing in Salamangreats previously, but it lets you take the normal ending of Salamangreat Sunlight Wolf and Salamangreat Roar, and just add a Transcode Talker and Cynet Conflict to that field. What's more than one negate?
Two. Two negates. And your monsters can't be targeted.
Because you know, that's really cool.
Oh, and they're also stronger by 500 ATK? Sure! Why not.
Ash Blossom and Joyous Spring
The Defensive Cards
This deck plays a series of hand traps for defense - Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring, D.D. Crow, and Infinite Impermanence – along with Salamangreat Rage, Salamangreat Roar and Cynet Conflict.
The deck's goal of surviving the early game is contingent on these defensive cards, so you need to see them consistently. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Zoodiac: your engine is compact enough that you can play a higher number of defensive cards to make trades with your opponent's high-value cards, important since you're playing so many low value cards that just kind of exist.
With twelve defensive cards total you'll open with at least one of them 85.1% of the time. That's pretty good, but you're actually more consistent than since four of those defensive cards are searchable with simple, baseline combos; you don't really need to worry TOO much about drawing them. There isn't much to say here, but remember that depending on the matchup the value of certain cards can change. More on that later!
Bombs And Engine Requirements
Your big pressure card is Will of the Salamangreat. If you've summoned Salamangreat Sunlight Wolf or Salamangreat Heatleo with another copy as a material it becomes a pseudo Soul Charge, which seems kind of insane, right? It also serves as an extender, since it can summon a single monster if needed. Note that it doesn't target the monsters that will be summoned, and that's super important due to the popularity of D.D. Crow right now. It's a neat little interaction that can come in clutch if your opponent isn't careful with their responses.
Salamangreat Sanctuary's your big engine requirement. You're abusing it to get to the bonus effects of your "reincarnated" Link Monsters, summoned using the same-named monster. It's pretty straightforward, and it's key to many of this deck's standard plays.
The Extra Deck
Broadly speaking, you'll usually go into your Extra Deck for a Rank 4 to hold off your opponent, or a Sunlight Wolf to get extra resources for later. Number 60: Dugares the Timeless let you continue to push forward if your plays see minimal interruption, or to build more defenses by drawing more cards. You're playing Number 41: Bagooska the Terribly Tired Tapir for those hands where you just have to sit and wait things out, which happens more often than you might imagine. It's also incredibly strong in matchups that don't play core removal.
The standout cards in the Extra Deck are Topologic Zeroboros and the new Accesscode Talker, both of which have quickly become personal favorites for me. Zeroboros is an incredible removal tool, and it randomly wins you games you have no business winning. Accesscode Talker's the real star, though: packing 2300 ATK and gaining 1000 ATK times the Link Rating of a Link Monster used as material is crazy when it's combined with Accesscode's response immunity. Usually you'll be summoning Accesscode with a combination of Update Jammer and Sunlight Wolf, so it'll hit the field with 4300 ATK, clearing two cards from your opponent's field and making two attacks.
You could also play Mekk-Knight Crusadia Avramax in the extra over Accesscode Talker, for another powerful Link 4 option. Being untargetable is definitely good, and should Invoked Shaddolls pop up as a strong choice in the future, Avramax would be a great option in that matchup. You might have noticed, but I specifically chose to omit Apollousa, Bow of the Goddess because its impact in a deck like Salamangreat is minimal. You're welcome to test it yourself and see if you can make it work, but I found it to be terrible.
Key Plays And Combos
There really aren't many combos in Salamangreat compared to something like Adamancipators or Dragon Link, which is generally a good thing in a combo heavy format – like I said earlier, if everybody's playing to beat combo-centric strategies they're going to have several suboptimal cards in your matchup. The most basic combo I found myself relying on ends on a Rank 4 and Salamangreat Sunlight Wolf with Salamangreat Roar, requiring Formud Skipper, any Salamangreat monster and a Cynet Mining.
-First, start by summoning Formud Skipper
-Link into Salamangreat Balelynx, triggering the effects of Skipper and Balelynx to search for Salamangreat Sanctuary and Parallel eXceed. Make sure to activate Skipper as Link 1 in the chain to protect it from Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring
-Activate Cynet Mining to discard your Salamangreat monster, grabbing Salamangreat Gazelle from your deck
-Since you discarded a Salamangreat monster for Cynet Mining's cost, summon Gazelle with its ability
-Send Salamangreat Roar to the graveyard with Gazelle's effect
-Link the Gazelle and Balelynx for Salamangreat Sunlight Wolf, triggering your Parallel eXceed in your hand
-Activate Parallel eXceed's effect to summon a second copy, and chain Sunlight Wolf as well, getting back Gazelle
-Xyz Summon a Rank 4 of your choice, using the two copies of Parallel eXceed as materials. Usually you'll go for Abyss Dweller if you're playing blind
-Activate your in-hand copy of Sanctuary and summon a second Sunlight Wolf using the first as the entire Link Material
-Activate Sunlight Wolf's effect to get back your Salamangreat Roar from the Graveyard for free
That's a really basic combo, but off of one Cynet Mining, a random Salamangreat monster and a Formud Skipper you end on an Abyss Dweller, a Salamangreat Roar, and a Sunlight Wolf protected by your Balelynx in the graveyard, and a Gazelle in hand.
Let's say you open up with Micro Coder going first instead? What sort of goodies can you pull off with that? Well, remember that Micro Coder can search out ANY "Cynet" spell or trap card. That means it can grab Cynet Mining if you need it.
Let's say you opened with Salamangreat Spinny, Salamangreat Roar or Salamangreat Rage, Parallel eXceed, Salamangreat Jack Jaguar and Micro Coder. At first glance that it doesn't seem so hot. But when you parse it out you can put together a surprisingly strong field. It'll require all five cards, but I just want to showcase how flexible your toolbox is here.
-Summon Spinny, linking into Salamangreat Balelynx, triggering its effect and your Parallel eXceed
-Summon the second copy of eXceed using the first copy's effects like before
-Link the Balelynx, a copy of Parallel eXceed, and the Micro Coder in hand to make Transcode Talker
-Use Micro Coder's effect to search Cynet Mining
-Activate Mining, discarding the Jaguar from your hand to search for Gazelle
-Summon Gazelle, sending Will of the Salamangreat to the graveyard
-Bring back the Spinny from earlier, using its effect
-Link into Sunlight Wolf and place it under the Transcode Talker
-Activate Sanctuary and summon a second Wolf using the first
-Use Wolf's effect to get back Will of the Salamangreat
-Activate Will, and use the second effect to summon back both Gazelle and Jaguar
-Link Gazelle and Transcode Talker into Accesscode Talker, Triggering Sunlight Wolf to get back Gazelle
-Activate Accesscode Talker's effect targeting the Transcode Talker to boost Accesscode's ATK, giving it a total of 5300 Attack Points
-Finally, Xyz Summon your Rank 4 of choice by using the leftover Parallel eXceed and Salamangreat Jack Jaguar
That combo's a bit longer, but you end on an Accesscode Talker, Salamangreat Sunlight Wolf with protection, Salamangreat Gazelle in hand, a Salamangreat trap and a Rank 4 of your choice.
The biggest takeaway from both example combos is to note how flexible each step can be, and how each additional Salamangreat card can allow for more options. Salamangreat Falco can bypass the occasional need to use Sunlight Wolf to get Salamangreat Gazelle to your hand, letting you use Sunlight Wolf's effect elsewhere. That means you can reycle Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring as needed, or set your key defensive cards for free. The best way to learn this deck's combos is to shuffle the deck up and give it a whirl; just remember to have a specific end goal in mind when you start making plays. Salamangreat cards aren't particularly powerful, so you have to maximize efficiency at every turn.
It's REALLY important to acknowledge a key weakness you'll need to watch out for: Nibiru the Primal Being. It's a big problem for the types of combos I just described. Luckily the popularity of Nibiru is on the decline due to its weakness in the current format, but it's important to keep in the back of your mind. Always try and conserve as many resources as possible to play around the possibility of Nibiru.
Adamancipator is 100% the hardest matchup you'll face. You have to rely on your defensive cards to help you survive long enough to get you to the later points in the game so you can use your free recursion to squeeze out wins, and sometimes it just won't work out. That happens; you can't have a great matchup against every top deck in a format like this one.
As for Eldlich, you'll fare a lot better there. You'll want to abuse your negation cards and D.D. Crow to get a leg up on their lockdown playstyle. If you get past their defensive cards you'll win the game pretty naturally.
There isn't much else to say about matchups right now, since we don't really have big events going on at the moment. But give this thing a whirl and see what you can do online, or with your friends! Salamangreat's both an incredibly consistent deck and incredibly cheap to build. It's always nice when you can play a deck at any level of competition, and from your kitchen table to the finals of a future YCS tournament, you can play Salamangreat anywhere.
It's also incredibly cheap! Speaking as someone who tries to play for as little cost as possible, it's a fantastic choice for any scene. The most expensive cards require are Cynet Mining and Lady Debug. Even the Coder package isn't truly necessary if it's out of your reach, and you could very easily play more copies of defensive cards along with core consistency boosters to create a less powerful, but more streamlined version.
Until next time, stay safe, and play on!
-Zachariah J. Butler