Another September, another YCS Toronto, right? Congrats to the Top 16 duelists that survived the Constructed rounds to give us a sense of what the strongest decks are moving forward! Now that we've seen the results, I think Burning Abyss beats its rivals of Shadolls and Satellerknights despite having the least representation in the top cut of YCS Toronto.

About a month ago I praised Monarchs as strong choice in the post Duelist Alliance environment, and I'll firmly stand by that prediction. However, I think I was pretty wrong about which Monarch deck crushes the competition. You'd think recursive Tribute fodder and a plethora of spot removal would be enough produce easy wins, but the Frog Family and Co. just didn't cut it.

My later builds of Frog Monarchs dropped Dupe Frog for Mathematician; Gorz, Emissary of Darkness and Tragoedia for Ghostrick Jackfrost; and underwent about ten other changes that made my deck slightly better each time. Sadly, I found that Frog Monarchs didn't have strong enough plays to consistently win against everything you might face in a big tournament this format. Sure, Monarchs will win virtually every match against Shaddolls, but the results are spotty against the remaining decks. You'll blow out wins with Mobius the Mega Monarch but lose to Ghostrick Hieratic Monarchs because you couldn't see a Swap Frog.

Dressing Fancy
In 2013, I made Top 8 at YCS Toronto and was content to play only at Regionals for the rest of the dueling season, three of which I made Top 8 at as well. I went back to Toronto again this year with Pasquale Crociata and Doug Zeeff in hopes to make a repeat performance, but… things didn't go quite as well as planned.

My final record more or less resembled the area code of San Francisco due to an insane number of draws, but it's not like I was trying to tie as often as I did. It's kind of hard to win a match when you're locked down by Skill Drain for 33 minutes and every Mystical Space Typhoon and Phoenix Wing Wind Blast gets countered by a Dark Bribe or Wiretap. I mean, if one Shaddoll player I faced hadn't stocked his Extra Deck with three (not a typo - three) copies of Number 61: Volcasaurus, you could move one of those ties over to a win. Life happens, but not once during any match did I feel like I was close to getting blown out of the water. In the end I managed to make Day 2, but my ties caught up with me and locked me out of the playoff rounds.

Despite the less than optimal performance, I still think that I had the right idea for Burning Abyss. The only problem? I built the deck the night before the event, ditching all Frogs for the Burning Abyss monsters… hoping something good would come of it.

DECKID=101145 Yes, my deck was bereft of Vanity's Emptiness primarily because I didn't have a playset, but just ignore that for now. If I play in any Regionals or larger events in the near future, at least I have a starting point, right?

I omitted popular choices like Rank-Up Magic Astral Force and Supply Squad because I was tired of drawing slow and often dead cards. I won't deny the power of those spells, but I wanted to have the best opening hands possible with as Little Dead weight as I could reasonably manage.

The King Has Arrived
Without a shadow of a doubt, my favorite deck of all time is Soul Control. I may have played with some decks for longer periods of time, or had better results with different strategies, but the old school Soul Control deck will always be my bee's knees if you know what I mean. Coming in at a close second is my very own Hieratic Monarch deck… followed by Perfect Circle Monarchs.

Is there a common theme there? Ever since Zaborg the Thunder Monarch dropped in Ancient Sanctuary, I've been captivated by the dozen Monarchs released so far in the TCG. Inherently, these cards are unfair for your opponent… which probably doesn't sound right, but bear with me. I'm not comparing Monarchs to Spellbook of Judgment or Chaos Emperor Dragon – Envoy of the End, but Monarchs consistently move you forward while stealing from your opposition. Technically unfair, right?

Take Caius the Shadow Monarch for example. Needing a Tribute Summon to go off, it takes away one of your monsters, giving you a -1 in card economy and costing you field presence. Upon hitting the field it gets rid of a threat, giving your opponent a -1, meaning you're tied in card economy, right? Even if your opponent wastes something like Effect Veiler or Breakthrough Skill to stop Caius' banishing ability, you're free to take down a monster in battle, tilting the imbalance of the equation even further in your favor. It may be a slow crawl to amass field and hand advantage, but that grinding pace is exactly why Monarchs are so good.

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Forgive the pedantic exposition, but I needed to explain why I like Monarchs so much. Maybe it's because I graduated with a mathematics degree, but my play style has always favored slowly amassing card advantage for myself while slowly stripping my opponent of resources. Higher Life Points? Unbreakable fields? Bah, who needs those when you control fifty more cards than your opponent?!

While the Monarchs aren't dastardly one-sided per se, they put a serious damper on anything your opponent does. Some, like Thestalos the Firestorm Monarch can be underwhelming because they don't immediately solve any on-field threat, but others like Raiza the Storm Monarch are absolutely crushing. Not only does Raiza provide spot remove, but it can completely neuter your opponent's next turn if you bounce something like Kaiser Coliseum or Artifact Morraltach to the top of their deck and force them to draw it again.

In the same vein, Mobius the Frost Monarch and Caius will be downright devastating, giving the right situation. The end result of these three Monarchs combined is like having monster versions of Phoenix Wing Wind Blast and Raigeki Break, letting you either permanently remove a threat, bait out effect negation, or cripple your opponent by costing them an entire turn of progress.

So, How About Them Little Monsters?
Before talking about their interaction with the Monarchs, I need to give credit to the Burning Abyss Fiends in their own right. We currently have four World Premiere cards for the theme – three Level 3 Fiends and a beefy Rank 3 Xyz that's climbed beyond the 50 dollar mark on the secondary market. What they lack in ATK they make up for with their effects.

All three Malebranche of the Burning Abyss monsters - Graff, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss; Scarm, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss; and Cir, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss - have similar abilities and similar restrictions. All three can only use one of their effects per turn, so if you Special Summon one with its inherent Special Summon ability, the second effect is null. Their effects are pretty simple, but don't underestimate the power of ridiculous recycling and searching.

Graff, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss starts things off by Special Summoning any other Burning Abyss monster from your deck when it's pitched by a card effect, destroyed in battle, or detached as an Xyz Material. Think about that for a second – these things work literally every time, barring something like Skull Meister or Vanity's Emptiness. Dandylion's Limited to one per deck, and that card's done diddly squat for years. The Malebranche monsters have infinitely more support.

Moving on, we also have a revival monster: Cir, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss brings back any Burning Abyss monster from the graveyard when Cir goes down. And to make the deck ultra-consistent, Scarm, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss searches for any Level 3 Fiend from your deck during the End Phase.

To make matters a little tricky, you can't get the same Burning Abyss monster with its own effect. I think that's only relevant in preventing an infinite Cir loop; the restriction's negligible. The only real downside to Burning Abyss monsters comes in their self-destruction drawback. If you control a monster that doesn't have "Burning Abyss" in the name, then your Burning Abyss monster explodes… albeit triggering its effect. So if a Graff or Cir dies, you can bring out a Scarm and let it destroy itself for a free End Phase search. Don't worry, this restriction doesn't apply to Dante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss. Dante adds a Burning Abyss monster back from your graveyard when it dies, completing the full circle of a seemingly indestructible chain of monsters.

Joke's on me though, because I initially thought this restriction was the result of a condition, similar to Blackwing – Kochi the Daybreak. Thankfully, the restriction's more like Blackwing Vayu – The Emblem of Honor, meaning that if you try hard enough you can negate the effect with Tour Guide From the Underworld, which is conveniently searchable with Scarm. Obviously, the core of the Burning Abyss deck is that list of monsters, and it makes a tight little bundle that never truly runs out of steam. You'll eventually run out of Tour Guide and Scarm targets, but Cir and Dante make a loop that's even better than Wind-Up Rabbit and Wind-Up Rat.

As you can tell, the real power of the Burning Abyss monsters lies both in their mass recursion and their uncanny ability to trigger all the time. Unlike the Yang Zings that miss timing every five seconds, or other monsters that need to be face-up on the field to activate, Burning Abyss monsters will trigger virtually every time you get them to the graveyard, so you can capitalize on their efficiency and play a ton of cards to make insane plusses.

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Take Ghostrick Alucard for example. At the low price of a single Tour Guide, you can Summon a Scarm and make my favorite Rank 3 Xyz with enough steam to pop a facedown spell or trap. If you detached your Scarm, then during your End Phase you'll get a free monster from your deck while keeping your miniature boss monster on the field. If you have a facedown Phoenix Wind Wing Blast or Karma Cut, then your can keep the ball rolling by searching a Cir before setting your trap. Stop your opponent in his tracks and pitch the Cir, then special Summon Scarm! Once it combusts, search another during your End Phase and make your opponent cry about how seamless and efficient your deck is.

The Burning Abyss monsters make virtually every spell or trap that had expensive discard costs playable. Bounce El Shaddoll Winda with Back to Square One, or pop a Kaiser Coliseum with Raigeki Break. I mean, who doesn't like free?

Additionally you can run cards like Allure of Darkness, Mathematician and Foolish Burial that can be hit or miss depending on your build and your match-ups. Normal Summon Mathematician, send Graff to the graveyard, Special Summon Scarm and then search a Tour Guide after Scarm dies. You've just cleaned up your deck by three cards, nabbed an extra +1, set up your Graveyard, and put a nuisance on the field for your opponent to deal with… and that nuisance will net you a card when it leaves. Even though none of these monsters are beefy enough to make an impact on their own, the overarching theme and the cards they're played with are just screaming to be put into a deck.

Wait, no, that's just the sound of lost souls burning in hell forever.

1 + 1 = 3
For better or worse, recycling little monsters and spamming Tour Guides won't cut it alone. Rank 3 Xyz simply don't have the power to combat imposing fields. Unlike the Rank 4 toolbox, a Rank 3 Extra Deck has very little spot removal and "problem solvers," if you will. Nightmare Shark can end games, and Wind-Up Zenmaines can slap around even the beefiest monsters, but there aren't any Rank 3 alternatives to explosive cards like Evilswarm Exciton Knight or stun negation like Abyss Dweller.

Monarchs need a reliable engine and the Burning Abyss monsters need a larger purpose to serve. Let your little monsters do the grunt work – thinning your deck, drawing cards and providing fodder for Karma Cut and Phoenix Wing Wind Blast and paving the way for your kings.

Think about this example: use Foolish Burial and send Graff to the graveyard, Special Summon Scarm from the deck and Tribute it for Mobius the Frost Monarch. Sure, your opponent could stop your combo with Solemn Warning or Vanity's Emptiness, but baring those two cards you just went so far in the green it's not even funny. For the small investment of two cards, you get a giant monster, blow up multiple spell or trap threats and then get a free Tour Guide From the Underworld during your End Phase.

Or you can bring out Scarm with Cir if your opponent kills your Dante. Or bring Scarm out by discarding a Cir to the graveyard, and get free Tribute fodder that way. The Burning Abyss monsters act as amazing Tribute fodder because the theme's a more consistent and powerful engine than Frogs in terms of longevity and consistency. Additionally, you're not forced to run niche cards like Ronintodin that make your hand go from hero to zero when you draw them.

Rather, I should call cards like Ronintodin "dependent," in that they're horrible to see in your opening hand and barely useful even when coupled with another card (Swap Frog). The only dependent card I included in the deck was The Monarchs Stormforth, but I think it's fair to include two meager copies when you have infinite Tribute monsters in your deck. Your Monarchs will be almost satisfied with just your Burning Abyss monsters, but The Monarchs Stormforth is used more as spot removal than needed Tribute infrastructure.

I mean, let's face it – there are so many stinking annoying monsters that could be a thorn in your side at the inopportune time, and you may not have the time or resources to deal with them separately. For example, let's say you need to get a Fossil Dyna Pachycephalo or El Shadoll Winda off the field, but you don't have a Phoenix Wing Wind Blast set or a Breakthrough Skill in graveyard. The Monarchs Stormforth is an instant out to an otherwise unbeatable monster that you need off the field ASAP.

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Moreover, each half of this deck solves so many other problems you're likely to encounter. What're the three best Side Deck options for Burning Abyss: Flying "C", Stygian Dirge and Shadow Imprisoning Mirror. Guess what solves all three of those problems? Yeah, Monarchs. And on the flip side, Burning Abyss monsters provide Tribute fodder without being completely dependent upon Swap Frog. Scarm, Graff, Mathematician and Tour Guide all actively start your Burning Abyss loop, whereas Monarchs used to be dependent upon Swap Frog, Dupe Frog and Mother Grizzly.

At the heart of the matter, the Burning Abyss theme's the life blood to this strategy. It advances the duel by keeping monsters on the field for future plays; searching for more monsters during the End Phase; and providing an inexpensive outlet for your reactionary cards. The Monarchs are the icing on the cake – they're the big hitters that can capitalizing on your well-oiled Burning Abyss engine and punish your opponent at virtually no cost.

Just remember, beat your opponents before they beat you.

-Loukas Peterson