The Yu-Gi-Oh! Pro-Play Tour in Orlando last weekend was ground zero for duelists making their first serious tournament attempts in the new format.
SPYRALs dominated the Top 16, but ultimately Pak Pamornsut won the event with Altergeists – a surprising turn of events Leon documented yesterday. A handful of other strategies had successful outings and cracked the Top 16 too, including Dinosaurs, Cyber Dragons, Lunalights, Goukis, and Salamangreats. The lack of Sky Strikers, Thunders, Pendulums, and Orcust variants outside of Cyber Dragons is a sign of how effective the Forbidden & Limited List was in culling the most successful decks of the last format.
The PPT is our first chance to start working out the early winners and losers of the F&L List, and it can help us get an idea of which decks and tech choices are likely to be effective going forward. That said, the event isn't a great representation of the broader competitive environment. Check out the participant breakdown by deck. You might notice that the "Other" category represents a mere 1% of the participants, which is extremely unusual for most other tournament types. YCS events alone might have as many as 40% to 50% of players occupying the "Other" category, even with seven decks listed in their breakdowns. I discussed how entry numbers translate into Top Cut representation back in 2016 following YCS Bochum, where 41.42% of players were bucketed into an eighth category.
Orlando was a totally different beast compared to a Regional or YCS, but that doesn't mean we can't learn from it. There's plenty of insight to glean from the card choices players made in Orlando, especially theirsiding strategy. Many of these cards only get better with the release of Ignition Assault this week, and the impact of Lightning Storm will make at least one more Side Deck pick a near must-play for backrow-heavy strategies.
Droll & Lock Bird was insanely popular in Orlando and was easily the most-sided hand trap in the Top 16. It's possibly the single-best Side Deck pick to topple SPYRALs, effectively halting all of their combos. The SPYRAL strategy is totally dependent on search effects to achieve its win condition and build meaningful field presence. There's simply nowhere for the deck to go when the theme's most important cards become useless. SPYRAL Resort, SPYRAL Quik-Fix, and SPYRAL Master Plan need to resolve for the SPYRAL player to win, and Droll & Lock Bird stops them from activating. Effortlessly.
Unlike other hand traps there's no risk that your opponent will play around Droll's effect. Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring is dangerously ineffective at dealing with SPYRAL Quik-Fix's search effect because it can be activated multiple times in a single turn. Ash Blossom's not much help if your opponent opens well, although some hand traps can disrupt them enough to break their best combos. It's strictly better to use Droll in most situations – if only for the guarantee that your opponent will actually stop making plays.
The demise of Thunder Dragon Colossus and the return of Droll & Lock Bird is almost too perfect. Search-heavy strategies aren't out of the woods yet: if your deck lost to Colossus last format then there's a good chance you'll lose to Droll now. There are some exceptions, however, among decks that only add cards to their hands once per turn. Altergeists are chief among those strategies, and the fact that Droll & Lock Bird is seeing play everywhere is a boon for the deck's prospects in Games 2 and 3. It's harder than ever to shut Altergeists out of the game now, and even Lightning Storm might not be enough to turn the tide.
Combo decks are still very competitive despite the F&L List's attempts to reign in the power of the game's worst offenders. SPYRALs are trying to fill the vacuum left by Orcusts, and thanks to Magicians' Souls there's a very good chance that they'll be successful.
There's a lot of hype backing the SPYRAL deck, and if the PPT in Orlando is any indication we should expect to see a lot of SPYRAL lists popping up in Regional Top 8s. Droll & Lock Bird's popularity is tied to the new success of SPYRALs this format, but it's not the only card that's being reevaluated against the new match-up. Dark Ruler No More and Nibiru, the Primal Being have found a new role as the go-to board breaks against SPYRALs.
Unlike Droll & Lock Bird we've already seen plenty of Dark Ruler No More and Nibiru, the Primal Being. They're well-known elements of competitive play at this point, and their presence in Side Decks isn't surprising. That said, their new role is functionally more interesting. SPYRALs don't have a way to make a comeback if their board is cleared. They have a handful of graveyard recursion to be sure, but nothing approaching the sheer scale of what Orcusts had. Cards like Dark Ruler No More have much more impact than, say, System Down had against Orcusts.
There's also less of an emphasis on breaking the deck's plays with an individual piece of disruption. D.D. Crow and Ash Blossom are workable, but good SPYRAL players will swiftly navigate around them or chain block to beat them in their primary combos. Breaking the board completely with a play led by Dark Ruler No More, or simply swallowing their field with Nibiru is often the better strategy if you can't stop them in their tracks using Droll & Lock Bird.
A typical ending board with SPYRALs includes Apollousa, Bow of the Goddess, Tri-Gate Wizard, SPYRAL Sleeper, and Knightmare Phoenix protecting Tri-Gate. It's Tri-Gate that makes this board tricky to crack, and ultimately disqualifies Evenly Matched as an answer. Luckily Dark Ruler No More can't be responded to by monster effects, so barring a set Solemn Judgment or another piece of spell negation there's very little your opponent can do to stop you.
Once Dark Ruler No More resolves you're free to make your plays without having your cards negated by your opponent's monsters, but keep in mind that your opponent will often end their first turn with four or five cards in hand. They'll have plenty of interruption to keep you from blowing out their field, and you'll still need another full turn to actually deal damage to their Life Points.
Trap-heavy strategies got a serious boost from Red Reboot's Limit on the last F&L List, and we're already seeing the results of those changes with the performance of Altergeists at the PPT. Playing second against a trap-heavy strategy, or any deck that's siding into traps is a much more challenging proposition this format without the win-button that was Red Reboot. Or, at least, without two additional copies of it.
One of the reasons why Red Reboot was so effective before, was its ability to disable all of your opponent's traps, which left them defenseless against your push that turn. It also didn't destroy traps, and as a result many of the newly popularized anti-backrow tech picks are now destruction effects. Twin Twisters, Heavy Storm Duster, and the almost-here Lightning Storm all have a fatal flaw: they destroy traps.
Naturally players have been taking advantage of the shift toward backrow disruption over negation effects. Artifact Sanctum and Artifact Scythe are perfectly positioned to take advantage of the latest trends this format by turning cards like Twin Twisters into an opportunity to destroy an opponent's card and shut off their Extra Deck access for the rest of the turn. Pot of Avarice actually benefits this engine too by recycling Scythe in the event you find yourself with another copy of Sanctum. The Artifact package only gets better with the impending Master Rule updates and the potential return of incredibly powerful Synchro-spam strategies, but it's also a fantastic option today that saw play at the PPT.
You can probably think of at least one more card that benefits from the trend towards destruction-based backrow removal. Yep, Waking the Dragon is also a great choice for a format that's filled with cards that destroy backrow unconditionally. Cards like Lightning Storm become a liability with Waking the Dragon in play, but what are the odds that anyone will blindly end up destroying it anyways?
Unfortunately, players banking on Lightning Storm as a perfect solution to their trap problems will find themselves on the receiving end of a Raidraptor - Ultimate Falcon more often than they might think. Trap Trick can set Waking the Dragon, or even Artifact Sanctum directly from the deck to punish players who lean too heavily on Twin Twisters or Lightning Storm.
Waking the Dragon and Trap Trick didn't see much play in Orlando, which might have been the result of players preferring Solemn Judgment to directly negate Dark Ruler No More and Evenly Matched in the run-up to Lightning Storm's release. Solemn Strike and Solemn Judgment easily outpaced Solemn Warning at the event as duelists tried to beat back power spells and traps in addition to hand traps. Judgment was especially popular in SPYRAL Side Decks, and I suspect it will continue to see a significant amount of play as a going-first Side Deck pick for combo strategies this format that lack dedicated Counter Traps.
The opening salvos of the new format are a preview of some elements of the new competitive environment. Ignition Assault arrives this weekend with plenty of new themes and tech cards, but the format isn't done evolving even if none of those themes end up being as competitive as Altergeists or SPYRALs. There's still plenty of potential among decks that exist pre-IGAS, and a more diverse set of entry participants will help uncover more winners from January's F&L List updates.
Until next time then
Kelly Locke is a West Michigan gamer 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.