If you've been living under a rock for the past week you might have missed that the ban list dropped last Thursday and some really important changes have taken effect. The big three decks were barely touched, aside from Shaddolls losing two copies of power play cards in Super Polymerization and Soul Charge, meanwhile Satellarknights received a third Reinforcements of the Army. Burning Abyss escaped totally unharmed, which was rather shocking: I think we all thought that Tour Guide From the Underworld or Phoenix Wing Wind Blast would be touched in some way, but Konami left them alone for now.

Instead, older decks were given new life with Glow-Up Bulb being Limited, Coach Soldier Wolfbark going to straight to three and Blackwing Gale – The Whirlwind finally hitting the Semi-Limited stage. Oh. And Raigeki is back at one. I don't know how big of an impact that'll have, which is insane to actually type out, because it's Rai-Freakin'-Geki, but you better believe I'll be playing it in a range of decks for old times sake.

A few other less important changes occurred too, but I think it's safe to assume that the October 1st format, before New Challengers will look vastly similar to the July format except Burning Abyss may be the most played deck this time around.

With all of that to think about, one big question still remains: What the heck should we play this format? Well, with the release of every F&L list, one deck in particular always becomes viable to its hardcore fan-base, despite their most important card still sitting in the Limited section: Gladiator Beasts.

Enter the Coliseum
Why Glads and why now? Those are the two questions you should always be asking yourself when considering any deck at the start of a new format, but especially a control deck like Glads. If you're unfamiliar with the theme because you didn't play when the deck was at full power, you're in luck, because the Konami Yu-Gi-Oh Database holds the answer to all of your burning questions!

Hop on over there and type "Gladiator" in the text box, select "Search by Card Text" and hit enter. By searching for the text and not by the name, you'll receive a list of every single card in the theme and every card that supports it. While most cards have Gladiator in their name, there are quite a few that don't, like Defensive Tactics and Test Ape. It's always important to switch between searching by card name and searching for words in the effect text to maximize your knowledge of the cards that were intended for your deck, even if you're just looking to put a new spin on an old classic.

#####CARDID=16125#####

As you begin scrolling through all of the Gladiator Beast cards, you'll begin to notice that the theme has a ton of duds and a few cards that seem good, but don't really have a place in competitive play today. However, if we know anything about solid deck building, all you truly need are a handful of solid cards – and Gladiators certainly have that. Gladiator Beasts Laquari; Gladiator Beast Bestiari; Gladiator Beast Darius; Gladiator Beast Equeste; Gladiator Beast Retiari; and Gladiator Beast Murmillo are all still solid monsters for your Main Deck. Newcomer Gladiator Beast Augustal is also a card that I consider to be pretty good, because of its beefy 2600 ATK and ability to make a quick Gladiator Beast Heraklinos. Looking further into the Extra Deck, Gladiator Beast Gyzarus is still as lethal as ever, while Gladiator Beast Nerokius can really punish a ton of strategies: especially Burning Abyss and Shaddolls.

The Gladiator Beasts' unique ability to attack and shuffle themselves into the deck is incredible for a few reasons, but none more than this: they don't have to leave an Extra Deck monster on the field against Shaddolls.

A Fusion Mash-Up!
The main glaring issue for Gladiator Beasts is the lack of speed. It's one of those decks that lives and dies by its Normal Summon and needs to attack to gain any significant advantage. But the reason that I'm a huge fan of this theme is that your Main Deck can create answers to nearly every situation with just one successful attack.

Gladiator Beast Retiari can banish key monsters from your opponents' graveyard; Murmillo destroys any problem monsters; Bestiari rids the field of harmful floodgates; and Equeste nets you quick +1's, and recycles the incredible Gladiator Beast War Chariot. And then there's Gladiator Beast Darius, whose main purpose is to enable your Contact Fusions and Rank 4 plays. All solid effects, but getting to them can be difficult when you're staring down big Extra Deck monsters. Well, thankfully one of the most powerful decks today helps solve that issue: Shaddolls.

This mash-up came to me when a few Shaddoll decks started tossing in Outstanding Dog Marron so they'd never run out of Light monsters for Shaddoll Fusion, and to free up a ton of space that would typically be used for some form of Light engine. Applying that logic here, you have plenty of room for all of your worthwhile Gladiator Beast cards while not losing out on your incredible Shaddoll support. Speaking of Shaddolls, let's take a peak at what cards are available to us by heading back to the Konami Yu-Gi-Oh Database and replacing our search of "Gladiator" with "Shaddoll".

Right off the bat Shaddoll Dragon's appealing for its spell and trap destruction, its bouncing ability and its 1900 ATK. Shaddoll Beast will help you get to your traps by netting you free draws, while Shaddoll Hedgehog can grab Shaddoll Fusion or any other monster you need. Shaddoll Falco, while one of the more annoying cards in the theme, is going to be pretty bad here. Your Extra Deck's going to be super tight with Glad Fusions, Shaddoll Fusions and Rank 4's, so running a Tuner that replaces itself doesn't seem like a good idea.

#####CARDID=16882#####

Instead, Shaddoll Hound – while hardly seeing any competitive play – looks to be hugely promising in this deck. Its flip effect allows you to re-use any Shaddoll card from your graveyard much like Equeste, while its secondary effect can switch big monsters to defense mode for your Glads to run them over. Coupled with Sinister Shadow Games, Hound seems like the perfect rogue pick for the Shaddoll part of this deck.

Purple Cards On Purple Cards
If there's one thing Gladiator Beasts love more than tokens being left on the field it's an incredible suite of trap cards behind them. Thanks to Outstanding Dog Marron and the fact that Glads can operate smoothly with only a small number of monsters, you're free to run a high trap count. Looking at how the competitive scene played out last format, it's pretty safe to assume that most of those traps are still going to be good now. Compulsory Evacuation Device was arguably the best generic trap of the format, while Vanity's Emptiness was the most deadly floodgate available. Vanity's somehow avoided the Forbidden and Limited List, so it's going to be one of those cards that's found in nearly every single deck for the next three months. It's a nice fit for this strategy and reminds me a lot of when I ran Glads a few years ago…

Back in 2011, at the height of the Plant Synchro format, I took a Gladiator Beast deck to the World Championship Qualifier. I qualified for Day 2 and lost in the final round, narrowly missing the Top 64 to a Malefic Skill Drain deck that ended up finishing in the Top 4. The reason for my success in that tournament full of incredible strings of Special Summons, was that Royal Oppression was Limited. I opted to run it in my Main Deck backed by a full playset of Trap Stuns so that when I was ready to go off, I could turn off my Oppression and finish the turn with some devastating Gyzarus plays. My opponents were then left to deal with two Glads, Oppression and two or three additional trap cards, one typically being a War Chariot.

I'll never forget beating our reigning National Champion at the time, who was running Tengu Plants 2-0 in less than ten minutes on Day 2 with that exact play. For a person returning to the game after five years, and that being my first large tournament ever - I was beyond happy with my performance of breathing new life into a dated strategy.

2014 Gladiator Beasts accomplish that same thing, but now you have three copies of your floodgate, a few new monsters and a new way to punish people for using their Extra Deck. Laquari's base 1800 ATK is bigger than most commonly played monsters right now, and a 2100 ATK Laquari is bigger than every monster in the Satellarknight Main Deck. I'm pretty sure this is my favorite Gladiator mash-up to date:

DECKID=101202A few noteworthy choices for the deck: Running Augustus over Murmillo. I think Murmillo's a bit lackluster right now since the boss monsters of each of the biggest decks replace themselves when destroyed, or are immune to destruction effects anyways. Augustus lets you unclog your hands of Gladiator Beasts while enabling nearly any Contact Fusion. Its 2600 ATK is also pretty dang good right now and if you draw it, you could use it to Fusion Summon El Shaddoll Winda. Murmillo's fantastic in the Side Deck, because it's pretty powerful against a lot of rogue strategies. Retiari's typically the most questionable Gladiator in the Main Deck, but its ability to stop Scarm, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss searches, banish Satellarknight Deneb, and rid the game of Shaddoll Fusion is too good to pass up on.

The Transmigration Prophecy is one of my favorite changes on the new F&L list, because shuffling cards back into your opponent's deck is often way more devastating than banishing them. Sure, the Prophecy's an initial -1, but hindering Burning Abyss monsters, Shaddoll shenanigans and a vast array of other monkey wrenches you can throw at your opponent make it really versatile. The ability to shuffle back your own Shaddoll cards to keep Sinister Shadow Games liveyou're your Constructs functioning as card advantage machines is important too. Simply put: I love this card.

This deck is the ultimate mind game, because once your opponent sees a Shaddoll card they're terrified to go into their Extra Deck. Throw down a Gladiator Beast next turn and they realize that they need to start Summoning larger monsters or risk getting ground down by Chariot loops, multiple Laquaris, or Bestiari slowly picking off their traps one by one until you finally Contact Fusion for Gyzarus. It's been testing really well for me and I'm eager to play it at a tournament soon!

What do you think of Gladiator Beast variants right now? Aside from Vanity's Emptiness, were you happy with the F&L list? What decks are you considering for the new format?

Pasquale Crociata
-Team Parallel Worlds Gaming