These changes have some serious implications: Fire Fists are competitive again, Synchro-heavy strategies have been given a serious boost, and decks that abused Soul Charge will need to explore new ways to win. Of course, what I'm most interested in is how the List impacts Side Deck construction.Investigating The Biggest Match-Ups
Shaddolls might not have been hit directly, but the limitations to Super Polymerization and Soul Charge won't go unnoticed. Super Polymerization has been particularly useful for Shaddoll players in a format filled with Light and Dark themes. It's a somewhat unfair card: you can't respond to its activation in any way, which makes it nearly impossible to counter. A preemptive Vanity's Emptiness or Non-Fusion Area will make Super Polymerization unplayable, but they're both easily destroyed by Shaddoll Dragon. Now that Super Poly's Limited, Vanity's Emptiness becomes much more playable. In turn, De-Fusion should be less necessary next format, although it remains a strong pick against Shaddolls, particularly for strategies that struggle to play around El Shaddoll Winda.
Satellarknights gained a bit of consistency thanks to a third copy of Reinforcement of the Army. Opening with Satellarknight Deneb has never been easier, and Satellarknight Unukalhai might end up dropping from most builds entirely. While other themes also benefit from an extra Reinforcement – namely Six Samurai and Noble Knights – Satellarknights are the most relevant Warrior theme at the moment. Will the boost be enough to keep the deck in the running with Burning Abyss? We'll have a more conclusive answer after YCS Dallas, but I expect Satellarknights to continue seeing play thanks to its huge consistency and the incredible power of Stellarnova Alpha.
Burning Abyss enters the next format better than ever. Unlike Shaddolls and Satellarknights, Burning Abyss players rarely used Soul Charge. This deck already had a strong match-up against Shaddolls, and with Super Polymerization Limited it's now even more one-sided. Burning Abyss is clearly the favorite for next format, and that's before considering the new support arriving in The New Challengers. For now, Burning Abyss is largely the biggest 'deck to beat', but that doesn't mean Shaddoll and Satellarknights are out of the running.Feeling Empty Inside
Vanity's Emptiness became a staple trap after Duelist Alliance hit, but that doesn't mean it had suddenly become more effective. Emptiness was hugely effective against Artifacts, Mermails, Sylvans, Infernities, and so many other decks before Shaddolls, Burning Abyss, and Satellarknights. For once, the rise in play of a tech card wasn't in response to an increase in effectiveness. Instead, its increased popularity had more to do with a decline in play of Fire and Ice Hand. Ice Hand is an Emptiness killer: you can use it to take out Emptiness, then Summon Fire Hand immediately after. Even if you're stuck with Fire Hand you can still destroy a monster and cause Emptiness to self-destruct. You won't get an Ice Hand, but you'll still clear two cards.
So why aren't the Hands seeing play? The answer is exactly what you'd expect: poor match-ups against the big three. El Shaddoll Winda can't be destroyed by Fire Hand, and the deck plays too many monsters in defense position. Both Fusion Monsters are easily replaced if destroyed, and most of the deck's backrow is chainable. Emptiness might not be able to get out of Ice Hand's way, but Sinister Shadow Games certainly can. The Burning Abyss match-up isn't any easier on the duo: Dante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss is typically stuck in defense and replaces itself immediately anyways. Traps like Phoenix Wing Wind Blast and Karma Cut prevent the Hands from ever resolving.
Are the Hands worth playing? Well, there are plenty of successful rogue players that seemed to think so. Alexandre Dray sided a full set of each in his Top 32 Majesty Artifacts at YCS Madrid, and more recently Stephen Reiter included them in his regional Top 8 Artifact Watt Side Deck. Fewer and fewer players are using Fire and Ice Hand in their Main Deck, but as Side Deck tech these cards still get the job done. They're great problem solvers for strategies that lack the on-theme removal to deal with cards like Skill Drain, Emptiness, or other sided floodgates.
Fire and Ice Hand aren't the only sideable answers to Vanity's Emptiness this format. Raigeki's return to the game brings yet another piece of generic monster removal into competitive play, and it's arguably the best of the bunch. Its ease of use makes it a much more viable Main Deck pick, but it still falls flat against Shaddolls. So where's the best place for it? In the Side Deck! Raigeki's an awesome answer to decks that set up with Emptiness while using monsters that aren't resistant to removal, allowing you to take out multiple monsters and their trap with one spell. Sure, destroying monsters that replace themselves won't get you very far, but shutting off Emptiness is definitely worthwhile.
There are dozens of match-ups outside of the 'big three' where Raigeki's simply amazing. Strategies that rely on setting monsters are at a huge disadvantage this format. Evols, Geargia, and Gravekeepers will have a hard time competing while Raigeki's around. Their early game set-ups were vulnerable to Dark Hole before, and with two pieces of mass removal available I don't expect to see Evoltile Westlo, Geargiarmor, or Gravekeeper's Spy resolve very often. Hard-to-kill monsters like Leo, Keeper of the Sacred Tree and Constellar Pleiades are much more manageable with thanks to Raigeki. Dark Hole's benefits far outweigh its costs for strategies that thrive off field presence, but Raigeki is a different beast entirely: it has all the benefits of mass removal, without the drawbacks of clearing your field. It's a powerful Side Deck pick this format that can bring your opponent's momentum to a crashing halt, or clear the way for game-ending direct attacks.A Post-Soul Charge Format
As a personal anecdote: earlier last month I gave Dragunity another shot. I hadn't played the deck seriously since December, and despite Mavelus' release I couldn't find a build I enjoyed. I spent a lot of time experimenting with a Pendulum strategy that let me Summon Dragunity Arma Mystletainn and Dragunity Primus Pilus from the hand, thus triggering their effects. It was an interesting concept, but wildly inconsistent – it rarely paid off. While testing I found that by loading my graveyard with Dragon Shrine and following up a failed Dragunity Dux play with Soul Charge, I could turn almost any two or three monsters into my graveyard into a field full of Synchros and Xyz. I ended up taking a build to a local tournament, winning a few matches and realizing that the deck only worked because Soul Charge existed. Now? Those cards are right back in my binder.
So what does that mean? For one, it means fewer rogue strategies are going to be competitive. Sure, Shaddolls abused Soul Charge as much as anyone, but there were plenty of weaker themes that were almost completely dependent on it. The format's quickly becoming more narrow: only Shaddolls, Satellarknights, and Burning Abyss make sense for Championship-level play when the best generic power spell in the game is Limited. As a result, Side Decks are increasingly focused on those three match-ups. Rogue strategies will need to avoid Special Summons to dodge Vanity's Emptiness, and themes that can't do so are in a serious bind. Not only will their plays be stopped by Emptiness, but they'll have a hard time recovering without Soul Charge.
I'm a big fan of the new Forbidden and Limited List, and despite not playing any of the big three myself I'm excited to compete this season. There's still a lot to talk about, so next week we'll continue to investigate how the recent changes will impact your match-ups and Side Deck choices.
Until next time then