Dark Ruler No More and Nibiru, the Primal Being have found their way intodozens of Top 8 Regional builds in every area, and that's a problem forcombo decks. Both cards are designed to answer the end boards of combostrategies in different ways: one shuts off the negation bodies andfloodgates, while the other takes out all of your opponent's monstersduring their Main Phase. The crushing effect of Summoning Nibiru at acrucial point in your opponent's combos can't be overstated, and playersare looking for any way they can to avoid it.
Fortunately for Nibiru, and unfortunately for combo strategies, Called bythe Grave is typically useless to stop it. As a result Nibiru has causedsome interesting trends since its release – at least to the extent that anyone card can drive decisions across the entire competitive spectrum.Orcusts are seeing more play, Thunders have fallen out of style, andbackrow heavy strategies are rapidly trending up. Altergeists, SkyStrikers, Subterrors, and True Dracos are enjoying their new Side Decktools, and combo decks are still scrambling to piece together solutions tothese new board-breaking cards.
A refreshingly retro answer to Nibiru showed up at recent Regional over thelast two weeks: Exchange. Jerry Han sided it inhis Top 8 Orcusts, andAlex Alcantardid the same in two very different Regional settings. I'm honestly shockedto see Exchange in any competitive environment, and if it was just aone-time fluke I'd be inclined to write it off. But I can't ignore playersin California and Texas topping in the same weekend with Exchange in theirSide Decks.
Despite Exchange's meme-status among the community – seriously, google anycompetitive discussion on Exchange prior to this week – there's a very realcompetitive capacity here as Side Deck tech for Orcusts, and potentiallyother strategies too.
No Longer Just A Meme
I'd like to think that everyone has considered playing Exchange at somepoint, tried it out, and promptly realized why nobody was playing it in thefirst place.
Exchange is a complete disaster in terms of card economy, and at best youcan resolve it for a -1. Giving up a spell is a high price to pay whencards like Monster Reborn can help you outplay hand traps and other formsof interruption just as easily. If the card you take from your opponentisn't immediately useful you might as well consider Exchange a -2, andthose hits to your economy add up quickly when you're playing first. You'llneed to be able to perform your usual combos with a tiny number of cardsafter resolving Exchange, which can be a tall order for any deck other thanOrcusts.
You can activate Exchange immediately at the start of your Main Phase, butyou'll get better results by optimizing your hand first. It'd be a problemif you activated Exchange with only one card in your hand that can launch acombo, so you might need to Normal Summon before you play it. It's anotherhoop to jump through that can easily produce suboptimal results. If youropponent targets your first monster with a hand trap – their onlyhand trap – then Exchange might be useless.
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Activating Exchange after your opponent drops a hand trap might let yousteal a second one, but the odds and necessity of doing so changesdrastically. What are the chances your opponent has a second hand trap? Didthe first hand trap already stop your plays? Would an extender be a betterchoice at this point? You'll have to weigh all of those options when youconsider whether or not Exchange is a fit for your siding strategy.
The inconsistencies with Exchange have kept it off top tables in the pastdespite the fact that it's one of the fastest pieces of hand control in thegame. There's simply no other legal card that lets you rip a specific cardout of your opponent's hand right at the start of the duel. Hand control'sincredibly powerful in any format, and Exchange can be activated a fullturn ahead of the next best options. What's more, Exchange gives youperfect insight into your opponent's hand and lets you make the bestpossible decisions as to what your final board should look like. Seeingcards like Evenly Matched, Dark Ruler No More, or a Kaiju can absolutelymake or break the outcome of a duel.
There aren't nearly as many downsides to Exchange if you can launch bigplays with just one or two non-specific cards. The flexibility of yourstrategy makes a huge difference, and your ability to combo off even afteryour opponent selects a card to take is tremendously important to makingExchange work. Orcusts simply need two monsters with different names toLink Summon Knightmare Mermaid, so it's totally possible they might havetwo or even three one-card Orcust combo starters in their opening handalongside Exchange. It's a lose-lose situation for your opponent whenyou're delivered an excellent hand, and in Orcust those hands are commonenough to make Exchange viable.
The card you take from your opponent could end up being incredibly useful.Grabbing a hand trap adds another defensive option to protect your Turn 1set-up, and there are plenty of traps being played this format that areworth picking up. To phrase it one way: the card you end up with could beeven more important than the card your opponent is now missing. It'stotally reasonable to grab an Evenly Matched or Dark Ruler No More insteadof a hand trap if you know you can break through your opponent'sinterruptions with your extenders.
Alternatives Don't Cut It
There are plenty of ways to tackle hand traps this format – Called by theGrave is practically a staple in numerous strategies, and Red Reboot's oneof the most popular Side Deck picks of the format. Discard-based handtraps, or any monster that lands in the graveyard immediately afteractivation are easily negated by Called by the Grave. It's a perfectlyacceptable Game 1 solution to your opponent's Main Deck interruption in themajority of match-ups this format. Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring andother monster-based hand traps are still vastly more popular than InfiniteImpermanence, and many of them have more troubling effects. A well-timedInfinite Impermanence can shut down a play, but even a poorly-timedArtifact Lancea can bring your opponent's combos to a screeching halt.
Red Reboot's return to prominence has plenty to do with the general rise intraps this format. It's not specifically seeing more play to addressInfinite Impermanence, although it's still a perfectly viable counter toany Main or Side Deck copies your opponent might be playing. What's reallyimportant here is that neither card addresses Nibiru and that's a problemfor combo decks that can't get generic monster effect negation on the boardbefore their all-important fifth Special Summon that turn.
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For the most part players have avoided addressing Nibiru directly, and sofar that's led to a steep decline in combo decks other than Orcusts.Thunder Dragons have taken a significant dip in popularity and Orcusts havethrived in the vacuum of their absence. Orcusts don't have any more ways ofplaying around Nibiru – unless you count Neo Spacian Aqua Dolphin inWarrior-heavy variants – but the theme itself just does a better jobrecovering when it loses its entire field. The deck's recovery capabilitieswere its chief selling point before Orcust Knightmare came along, andskilled players can effectively mitigate Nibiru's damage to their field byconserving resources on Turn 1.
Called by the Grave's a better option than Exchange against ArtifactLancea, which is still being widely played as a temporary floodgate forOrcusts and Thunders. That said, Called by the Grave typically won't leaveSide Decks when Exchange is sided in. The two cards can clash, however,because you'll usually want to activate Exchange first. If your opponent'sholding two pieces of interruption they'll almost always grab your Calledby the Grave, or maybe even one of your own hand traps. You could setCalled by the Grave before activating Exchange, but that largely defeatsthe purpose of running the two together in the first place.
Exchange works in a narrow set of strategies that meet a lengthy list ofrequirements: low-investment combos and plentiful extenders are easily thetwo most important aspects of any deck looking to leverage Exchange. It's ahigh-skill card in the moment, and you'll need to carefully decide when toactivate it and what cards are most important to remove from youropponent's hand. There are so many ways Exchange can Backfire, but playingit carefully can work wonders to protect your biggest plays, and that'smore than enough reason to give it a shot.
Until next time then
Kelly Locke is a West Michigangamer and writer. You can follow him on Twitter for more updates and check out his Youtube channel. He also studied marketing at Western Michigan University.