They've all but vanished from Main Decks again, and I'm not surethey're coming back this time without major changes to how Yu-Gi-Oh! themesand hand traps are designed. There's a lot to discuss here, but forcompetitive players the short term outlook is straightforward: you're notgoing to be seeing many Game 1 traps, and even fewer if you're playingfirst in Games 2 or 3.
Competitive players are already well aware that their opponents areunlikely to have large backrows in Game 1. Nearly all of the game's mostpopular strategies are running five or fewer traps in the Main Deck, withsome decks skipping traps altogether. In many ways they're unnecessary–handtraps fill in for traditional traps so well that it's hard to justify them.That's a problem Konami has clearly sensed, and they've responded by makingbetter traps. Solemn Strike helped take on the extremes of the Pendulumera, and Evenly Matched is leading the way on an entirely new bread of trapcards.
Siding strategy wasn't always so narrowly-focused on playing first versusplaying second, and hand traps were once far less relevant. As the gamemoves forward into 2018 there's no sign that Normal Traps – even those thatcan be used twice like Breakthrough Skill and Lost Wind – will be able tocompete without a massive reshuffling of the hand traps available incompetition.
What few traps remain in Main Decks are a point of interest, and they tellan interesting story about the state of trap cards in this game. Then thereare the sided traps, and those cards also have a story to tell.
The Last Traps Worth Playing
The remaining Traps in Main Decks are almost exclusively themed,searchable, and extremely powerful. SPYRAL lists stick to SPYRAL GEAR -Utility Wire and SPYRAL MISSION - Rescue, but Rescue isn't even played as atrap. It's sent to the graveyard with Foolish Burial Goods as a proxyMonster Reborn, which leaves SPYRAL Main Decks with exactly one real trapcard. Pendulum Magicians similarly run only two or three copies of aspecific trap: Time Pendulumgraph. You can say the same for Trickstars toowith their reliance on Trickstar Reincarnation in Game 1.
The three biggest decks in the game are often playing fewer than four MainDeck traps, and that's a big deal. The competitive environment is floodedwith monsters and spells in Game 1, creating an aggressive format wheremonsters and Quick-Play Spells represent the vast majority of interruption.
That said, some traps are still making Main Deck showings. The Solemns –Solemn Warning, Solemn Strike, and Solemn Scolding – are powerful enough towarrant a slot despite their disadvantages. Solemn Strike is particularlypopular, but Solemn Scolding's been making appearances as an answer toEvenly Matched and other big Turn 1 cards. Just recentlyBrandon Wold made the Top 4 at the ARG Circuit Seriesin Las Vegas Nevada with two Main Decked Solemn Scolding.
Evenly Matched shows up in deck lists from players who are usually choosingto play second in the duel. The advantage generated by Evenly Matched canabsolutely swing the game in your favor in the right match-up, but unlikethe Solemn trio it breaks the mold of trap cards since the beginning of thegame. Evenly Matched can be played proactively or reactively from the hand,so it completely mitigates some of the biggest disadvantages of 'standard'trap cards.
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The Phantom Knights of Shade Brigandine is another trap that bends therules just enough for it to see Main Deck play. It showed up in aKaiju World Chalice build at the same ARGCSin Las Vegas and was piloted by Brandon Lichter who like Wold also finishedin the Top 4. Shade Brigandine is a trap monster that becomes a NormalMonster when Summoned, so it synergizes with Imduk the World ChaliceDragon. However, the reason it's playable in such an aggressive strategy isbecause you can activate it the turn you set it.
Is it any surprise that the most popular Main Deck traps in the game areeither obscenely powerful or can be activated far earlier than other traps?At this point it shouldn't be: every piece of disruption in the game iscompeting with an ever-expanding line-up of hand traps that can beactivated at any time to stop a wide range of effects. Ash Blossom &Joyous Spring is the card which all others are tested against. Can AshBlossom fill the roll of another trap better? If so, why not simply playAsh Blossom instead? If it can't, can Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbitaccomplish the same goal?
What about Droll & Lock Bird, D.D. Crow, or Effect Veiler?
The penalties for not interacting with your opponent on their first turnare so extreme that most traps have been phased out for better cards. Inmost decks you don't want to see traps until you search them, andthe top strategies can do that extremely well. Whether or not a strategycan search its key traps is a defining aspect of the current competitiveenvironment. It's not just hand traps pushing this trend either – there'sbeen a massive redirection of resources in Yu-Gi-Oh! with the introductionof Link Summons, and it's making monsters with trap-like effects a muchstronger choice than traditional traps.
Traps In The Link Era
Link Monsters are about to become even more important as we reach the firstbig releases of 2018. Heavymetalfoes Electrumite is on its way to deliver amassive boost to Pendulum Magicians and Zefras, and the remaining importsfrom the OCG LINK VRAINS Pack are also poised to shake up thegame. We're diving headlong into a Link-centric era in 2018 and monsters –all monsters – are a valuable asset as Link Materials. Unlike Synchros,Xyz, and Pendulums there's a use for virtually every monster that doesn'tsomehow restrict Link Summons to be exchanged for a Link Monster, andthat's something the vast majority of spells and traps can't compete with.
Meanwhile, hand traps have much greater utility in today's game with theirpotential as Summoning Materials. In a pinch you can turn your D.D. Crowinto a Link Monster, or use the Tuner aspect of Ghost Ogre & SnowRabbit, Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring, Ghost Reaper & WinterCherries, and Effect Veiler to add even more utility to your Extra Deck.These cards are insanely flexible, and the crazy coverage of Ash Blossomand Ghost Ogre has pushed them into must-play territory.
As we continue to receive ever-stronger Link Monsters the importance ofmonster cards in general is likely to go up. Again, you're not looking forspecific monsters here – nearly any monster will work. It's ironic that thedeck with the largest trap line-up in the format happens to be playingmostly trap monsters. Paleozoics play a huge number of traps that are oftenput towards Xyz and Link Summons, further emphasizing the point thatregular traps just don't cut it anymore.
A flexible card pool lets you escape situations that a more rigid buildcan't avoid. Increasing each card's utility and coverage gives you moreoptions each turn to find a way to win the duel, and you're at a distinctadvantage whenever you have more options than your opponent. Hand trapsdon't simply stand out because they're playable when your opponent wins thedice roll, they're also at the top of the game because they representeverything tournament victors are looking for: they're versatile,effective, and consistent solutions to problems that are tough to counter.Much of this was true before the Link mechanic, but it's been cemented evenfurther since.
Side Deck Standouts
The Side Deck appears to be the new home for trap cards, and that's beyondthe usual floodgates we'd come to expect. Anti-Spell Fragrance, DimensionalBarrier, Imperial Order, and Unending Nightmare continue to be great Turn 1picks against a number of match-ups, and especially Pendulums. I don'tthink these going-first Side Deck cards are leaving the game anytime soon,but they're exclusive to going first. It's rare to see someone side thosecards in ahead of a game where they're likely to play second.
Solemn Strike directly answers the hand trap-heavy format by simplynegating them. It's still an impressively powerful card, but it's showingup in the Side Deck more often than the Main Deck these days. Like mostother traps Solemn Strike is too slow to make an impact on Turn 1 againstyour opponent's hand traps, and again too slow to make a difference in Turn2 when you're playing second.Joel White took 1st Placeat the ARGCS with Trickstars and sided all of his traps besides TrickstarReincarnation, including a full set of Solemn Strike. He wasn't the onlyduelist there to have that idea. Alex Weiner did the same inhis Top 16 SPYRAL build.
The ability to search Solemn Strike and Solemn Warning through GuidingAriadne could potentially pull these cards back into Main Decks forPendulum strategies. Again, a key to success with traps this format isbeing able search them, and Guiding Ariadne very easy to search andactivate thanks toHeavymetalfoes Electrumite. It could be relevant again soon, and when that happens Pendulums will bewell positioned to take advantage of the decline in Twin Twisters'popularity.
Mind Crush was another hugely popular pick at the ARGCS, and it carriedover that popularity since December. It's a smart out to Evenly Matched andit's still a very strong piece of hand disruption, but Links have pushedplayers to commit more cards to the field than ever before. After Turn 1you'll find plenty of strategies that just don't have any cards left intheir hands besides hand traps, and hitting those cards with Mind Crush isa questionable move. It's very difficult to predict which hand traps youropponent's holding.
The lack of Main Deck spell and trap removal is a telling sign that playersaren't expecting to see dangerous traps in Game 1. Cosmic Cyclone has swunginto the top slot as the go-to answer for Pendulums and backrow thisformat, and Twin Twisters seems to have disappeared. Duelists aren't tryingto clear a path for their monsters in the same way they were last year, andthat's largely because most hand traps are extremely difficult to counter.In a way it's better to simply play around them and play through themrather than play direct solutions.
I think Konami's having a bit of an identity problem with trap cards: theyjust don't have a place in an era when hand traps and Quick-Play Spells cando the job just as well. Counter Traps are an exception thanks to theirinsane coverage and unique activation timing, but otherwise there's verylittle reason to stick to Normal Traps or even Continuous Traps when moreflexible alternatives exist. Cards like Evenly Matched and the upcomingInfinite Transienceare merely blurring the line between traps and Quick-Play Spells.
Witha new hand trapon the way I can't help but wonder if traps will be phased out entirely, orif there's any effect that can justify them in today's game. For now goingfirst or second and siding appropriately is the single most importantfunction of the Side Deck, and it's a trend brought on almost entirelybecause of the weakness of trap cards in the current state of the game.
Until next time then
Kelly Locke is a West Michigangamer and writer. In addition to writing onTCGplayer, Kelly writes a personal blog covering Yu-Gi-Oh!, Destiny, andother hobbies. You can follow him onTwitter and check out his Youtube channel. He also studied marketing at Western Michigan University.