The first YCS weekend of the post-Duelist Alliance format arrived at an unusually awkward time. There's only half a month left until the October updates to the Forbidden and Limited List which will bring an end to this shockingly short format. The July List took a minimalist approach that some players found a bit underwhelming, but the seven card change was offset by the impact of Duelist Alliance. Shaddolls, Satellarknights, and Burning Abyss have taken the game by storm and have quickly outpaced last format's top strategies. Their dominance at Toronto has left no doubt that we've entered another 'trinity' format where just three decks are competing at the championship level. There isn't much room for rogue strategies, but there are some opportunities worth pursuing.

Side Decks are becoming increasingly focused in response to more narrow metagames. The new DUEA themes are extremely popular and, expectedly, they're being heavily sided against. That's no surprise: players will typically side more cards for match-ups they're more likely to face. With the exception of a few high-utility picks, you'll find most of Toronto's Top 32 were siding exclusively for Shaddolls, Satellarknights, and Burning Abyss. Had the final rounds of the tournament been constructed rather than draft, these players would have been well-prepared for elimination rounds consisting of only those three decks.

Just how dominant are these strategies? Let's break down each event from that first weekend:

YCS Toronto Top 32:
16 Shaddolls
9 Burning Abyss
7 Satellarknights

YCS Madrid Top 32:
16 Shaddolls
6 Satellarknights
4 Burning Abyss
1 Spellbooks
1 Artifacts
1 Infernities
1 Mermails
1 Burn
1 Stun

Shaddolls were the big winners at both Toronto and Madrid, representing exactly half of the Top 32 at both events. It's an incredible achievement for a strategy that stumbled out of the starting gate. This deck received an unbelievable amount of hype leading up to its release, but early results from Regional Qualifiers weren't promising. While Shaddoll players were certainly scoring invites in solid numbers, they shared that success in roughly equal parts with Satellarknight and Burning Abyss players. And now? Shaddolls are taking half the spots in the top cut of Championships. Even at the recent YGO Open in Chicago Shaddolls claimed seven Top 16 positions. This level of dominance hasn't been seen for a while, and it certainly wasn't something I'd have attributed to Shaddolls back in August.

Shortly after DUEA was released I was seriously wondering whether Satellarknights would overtake Shaddolls entirely. It had a stronger Side Deck, lost to fewer floodgates, and was the ideal Championship strategy: so mind-numbingly consistent that brick hands were nearly impossible to draw into. At the time I also believed Stellarnova Alpha would put the deck over the top and make it the clear standout from among the DUEA archetypes. Regional results supported my standpoint, but I still considered Shaddolls to be a 'work in progress' rather than a fully developed strategy. Shaddolls are complicated, and Satellarknights are much more straightforward. Once players found a build of Shaddolls that worked, they also found a means of outpacing Satellarknights.

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It's hard to overstate the extent to which Super Polymerization changes the Shaddoll-Satellarknight match-up. It's an incredibly powerful card given the usual trap line-up found in the majority of Satellarknight builds. Super Poly swipes away monsters that could have been used to Stellarnova Alpha, and despite being a Quick-Play Spell Alpha can't respond to it. Solemn Warning has the same problem, which means the only out Satellarknights have to Super Poly is a preemptive Vanity's Emptiness. Still, it only takes one Shaddoll Dragon to bring down Emptiness and make Super Poly live again.

Bumping a monster off your opponent's side of the field and Summoning El Shaddoll Construct can be game-breaking, especially when it happens during your opponent's turn. Main Deck Super Polymerization is now a must for Shaddoll players. The trend seems to be headed towards two copies in the Main and one copy in the Side Deck. That helps a bit when paired up against Mermail or other rogue strategies.

Burning Abyss are the oddball of the bunch; their competitive strength is largely the result of their excellent Shaddoll match-up. The Malebranche cards fuel discard-costed traps like Phoenix Wing Wind Blast, Raigeki Break, and Karma Cut which are hugely effective against Shaddoll monsters. It's a defensive strategy at heart, and it's also reliant on its backrow to buy time until they draw into a monster that can actually win them the game. Dante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss is nice, but it's usually Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning that ends duels. It's probably the most fragile of the bunch, and easily loses to a well-timed Chain Disappearance.

Siding Strategies And Exploring Rogue Decks
It's easy to look at a format like this and become discouraged. Event results tell a somewhat depressing story: you can't win unless you're playing Shaddolls, Satellarknights, or Burning Abyss. But that line of thinking is self-fulfilling and typically leads to a steadily increasing number players jumping on bandwagons in an attempt to get a cut of the winnings. That means more people piloting the same decks and inevitably a collapse of diversity among successful strategies. The resulting 'three-or-fewer-deck-format' is often criticized by players who find themselves alienated from serious competition where only select themes can thrive. In 2013 we experienced a two-deck format where Spellbooks and Dragon Rulers were the only choices for serious competitors at the WCQ in Chicago.

Let's face it: Shaddolls are probably going to be one of the most popular decks because players know it can win. They don't need to do any testing, and they don't need to experiment with different builds for weeks on end. Duelists with enough skill can pick up an already-successful version of the deck, learn it inside and out in under two weeks, and pilot it to an event top. Of course, that's assuming everything goes as planned. What happens when players who are expecting a string of match-ups against the 'big three' end up paired against a rogue strategy?

A majority of Side Deck cards are geared towards Shaddolls, Satellarknights, and Burning Abyss. There's also a ton of Main Deck tech being played because it answers those same match-ups: Vanity's Emptiness, Breakthrough Skill, and Forbidden Chalice are notable examples. That's where your opportunities as a rogue player exist. By taking advantage of narrow siding strategies in a three-deck format, you can build something totally unexpected and steal wins by surprising your opponent and leaving their Side Deck useless. Stun has huge potential this format because it can play a few highly effective counters to the best decks in the game.

Siding Better Cards
Macro Cosmos is a rarely-played floodgate that's absurdly strong against Shaddolls and Burning Abyss. Without access to their graveyard those decks miss out on their best effects. Without the Malebranche engine Burning Abyss players are completely handicapped. They can make plays with Tour Guide, but they can't search another Tour Guide even if Scarm, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss is detached. Shaddoll Fusions will end up banished if activated while Macro Cosmos is face-up, leaving it out of reach of El Shaddoll Winda and El Shaddoll Construct's effects.

So why isn't Macro Cosmos seeing play? Simply put: Shaddolls, Burning Abyss, and Satellarknight decks can't afford to run it. It interferes too much with their own strategy. Satellarknights can get away with playing Dimensional Fissure, but running both cards is obviously ideal. The ability to play Macro Cosmos and Dimensional Fissure will give you a serious edge against a huge range of decks. Nicolas Probst's Top 16 Stun build at YCS Madrid is a great example of this strategy in action: he played a fascinating combination of Geargia, Hand, and Fire Fist cards that included Main Deck copies of Macro and Dimensional Fissure.

Probst's surprising success is due in part to his unconventional build. Macro Cosmos seems to interfere with Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Bear, Groilla, Fire Hand, and Thunder King Rai-Oh to a point where it normally wouldn't be worth considering, but thanks to his Geargia line-up he could still make plays while locked out of his graveyard. He also sided a copy of Banisher of the Radiance; by protecting Banisher with Fiendish Chain and Dimensional Prison, he could effectively play another blanket-banisher that wasn't affected by Mystical Space Typhoon or Royal Decree.

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Speaking of Decree, Daniel Nunnally's Saffira Chaos takes advantage of current trends by running a full set of Royal Decree. Saffira, Queen of Dragons recycles Honest and Effect Veiler during each End Phase on the turn they're used. When Summoned using Djinn Releaser of Rituals and Djinn Demolisher of Rituals, Saffira prevents your opponent from Special Summoning and becomes untargetable. Add a bunch of Light and Dark monsters into the mix and you have a working Chaos strategy that's surprisingly effective. Nunnally's build is the best take on this deck I've seen so far, and the addition of Royal Decree is more meaningful than you might expect. Shutting down Counter Traps and non-targeting traps is hugely important for keeping Saffira on the field.

Royal Decree's also helpful due to the amount of traps the top decks currently rely on. Creating locks with Vanity's Emptiness is how Shaddolls win games, but Decree makes that a non-issue. It's chainable to Artifact Sanctum, Sinister Shadow Games, Breakthrough Skill, and any number of other traps being played in huge numbers. Disabling Stellarnova Alpha is also worthwhile, and while under Releaser's effect Satellarknight players could find themselves without a way to take Saffira off the field.

Like Macro Cosmos and Dimensional Fissure, strategies that can afford to play Royal Decree are going to have a huge advantage this format. Some Shaddoll players do side it, but it doesn't have quite the same impact as it does in a deck that's maining three copies of Effect Veiler and Doomcaliber Knight. Despite the fact that this deck is playing Light and Dark monsters, it doesn't have much to fear from Light or Shadow-Imprisoning Mirror thanks to Decree. Super Polymerization isn't a problem either thanks to Releaser.

That's really the secret to playing rogue this format: explore floodgates that the top decks aren't playing, and avoid running into their Main and Side Deck tech. Don't use Light or Dark strategies unless you're sure you can deal with the huge amount of hate being thrown at them, and stick to card combinations that aren't dependent on Special Summons. There are plenty of viable themes that fit this description, and even a few that offer some great on-theme solutions to this format's biggest threats. Ezie Smoot's Top 16 Koa'ki Meiru at the YGO Series Open in Atlanta is another great example. Koa'ki Meiru Drago's a powerful anti-meta pick, and the rest of the deck easily dodges commonly-sided cards.

Rogue strategies have great potential this format, and I believe they're well-worth exploring. Metagames do a fair amount of self-perpetuating, but you can certainly use that to your advantage and playing something totally unexpected.

Until next time then
-Kelly