Fire Fist was hugely popular at YCS Atlanta, a fact that likely surprised no one. The deck has been a strong contender all format long, largely due to Fire Formation - Tenki returning to Unlimited status after being Semi-Limited for months. Heavy backrows are back in style, and Fire Fist play the grind game better than any other strategy in the game today. While 3-Axis builds saw the most success last month, 4-Axis has suddenly skyrocketed in popularity. These decks are running light on actual Fire Fist monsters and Fire Formation cards. Most are only playing Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Bear and Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Gorilla, often leaving the total count of Fire Fist monsters at just four.

Despite all the odd naming conventions this deck's still a serious contender. It dominated the ARG Circuit Series tournament in Charlotte and accounted for over half of the Top 16. A full nine Fire Fist players topped, but only one focused on Level 3 Fire Fist monsters. 4-Axis has clearly been established as the deck to beat for this format, and players at Charlotte were already prepared to side against it.

Fire And Water: Conflicting Hand Traps
The Side Decks played by the Top 16 finishers at Charlotte were remarkably similar. Since the event was held just a week after the last major Championship, it's not surprising that players were well-prepared to handle the decks that made a big showing the weekend before. Still, plenty of Fire Fist duelists managed to top despite the huge number of cards that were being sided against them. That alone should speak volumes for the deck's resiliency. But Fire Fists weren't the only relevant match-up of the weekend. Mermail, Karakuri Geargia, and Hieratic Rulers had to be sided against as well. For those decks, Maxx "C" was the most popular counter.

While Maxx "C" was sided more than any other card in the Top 16, it acted mostly as a replacement for Effect Veiler in Games 2 and 3. Using two copies of Veiler in the Main Deck has become extremely common amongst a large number of strategies; there are dozens of simple monster effects running around that it's useful against. Wolfbark' rel=" Soldier Wolfbark">Coach Soldier Wolfbark, Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Bear, Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Gorilla, and Cardcar D are all great targets, and that's just in Fire Fists. Harpie Channeler, Gear Gigant X, Spellbook Magician of Prophecy, and many, many other cards are just as vulnerable to Effect Veiler's negation.

Number 101: Silent Honor ARK and Evilswarm Exciton Knight have certainly helped bolster Veiler's popularity. Maxx "C" just isn't enough to deter players from Summoning Rank 4's. What it is good against are decks that make Special Summons three-to-four times per turn...or more. Once again: Maxx "C" was primarily sided to counter Mermail, Karakuri Geargia, and Hieratic Rulers. What's interesting here is that while Karakuri Geargia and Hieratic Rulers made a big showing at YCS Atlanta, they were outdone by Mermails at Charlotte. In fact, Patrick Hoban actually won the tournament using Mermails, by winning round after round of Fire Fist match-ups.

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The question that remains unanswered, at least for me, is whether Mermails will maintain their momentum in a format where Maxx "C" is rarely used in the Main Deck. Beyond some Limited picks like Soul Drain and Dimensional Fissure, not a whole lot of cards are being sided specifically for this match-up. Mermail decks are very good at breaking established fields, and that's exactly what Fire Fist and Bujin rely on. Mermails can quickly get through those strategies' defenses and dish out a ton of damage without resorting to a slow war of attrition. If there's any strategy that can capitalize on the current, backrow-heavy trend, it's Mermails.

Fire Extinguishers
Outside of Maxx "C", the most commonly sided cards in the Top 16 were counters to Fire Fist. Overworked was played in twelve of the sixteen decks at either two or three copies each. There's no doubt about the trap's efficacy against strategies that rely on Fire Formation – Tenki. Any Beast-Warrior is at risk of being destroyed while a Fire Formation's face-up on the field: Overworked is often played like a one-sided Torrential Tribute. It effortlessly rids the field of Bear, Gorilla, Wolfbark' rel=" Soldier Wolfbark">Coach Soldier Wolfbark, and generally whatever Wolfbark happens to Summon. Brotherhood of the Fire Fist – Tiger King can be destroyed as well, leaving very few cards in the deck unaffected.

But Overworked can be sided against much more than just Fire Fists. Decks that run Tenki to search key cards, like Bujin, are also vulnerable. Bujingi Turtle can't negate it, which means it's up to Forbidden Lance and Bujingi Hare to protect Bujin Yamato. Overworked really shines when your opponent controls two Beast-Warriors and you can resolve your trap. Hare can only protect one monster, so at worst you'll force your opponent to expend two cards to keep their monsters around. At best, Overworked will knock out both cards before they can either activate during the End Phase, or be used for an Xyz Summon.

Harpies also have issues with Overworked. Harpies' Hunting Ground gives Winged-Beasts a small ATK boost; Harpies' Pet Dragon changes its own stats; and Harpie Lady 1 increases the ATK of Wind monsters. There are lots of opportunities for this card to be useful, and it's entirely chainable against removal. You can activate it whenever it's targeted by Hunting Ground, Icarus Attack, Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossack, or Lightning Chidori. Although typically, you'd want to use it before your opponent makes an Xyz Summon. There's one exception to that of course, which is Ice Beast Zerofyne. If you happen to draw into Overworked after Zerofyne hits the field there's still a pretty good chance that your opponent will use its effect again and bump its ATK, thus leaving it vulnerable to Overworked.

One of the big reasons why players jumped from 3-Axis Fire Fist to 4-Axis was the ability to use Mistake. Brotherhood of the Fire Fist – Rooster can conflict with it, but there are only six cards in 4-Axis that are affected: the playset of Tenki, and Pot of Duality. Once enough of those resolve there's nothing to stop the Fire Fist player from fipping Mistake and leaving it face-up for the remainder of the game. That's a big problem for a lot of strategies: Mistake throws a massive wrench into their game plan. Mermail, Bujin, Spellbooks, Geargia, and dozens of other decks rely on searching their deck to function at even a basic level.

Simply put: if you can Side Deck Mistake, you should. It's one of the most effective cards being sided right now and it's great against nearly every rogue deck you might run into. Only Lightsworn, Racoons, or maybe Sylvan can play through it. Its utility's absurdly high, but it's also unplayable in a lot of strategies. Even Fire Fist players need to be careful about when they activate it. Going forward, I think we'll continue to see a distinction between the decks that can use Mistake, and the ones that can't.

Backrow Frustrations
I've been talking to a number of players lately who seem frustrated with the current state of the game. Specifically, they're upset that backrow cards have become so prevalent and that most decks are setting three or four cards on their first turn. Slow grind games aren't everyone's cup of tea, and for those players I recommend siding some serious backrow removal. Duelists at Charlotte might have been having just as much fun as always, but they clearly recognized the need for a solution to the heavy backrow trend.

Believe it or not, several duelists actually sided Full House – yes, the trap from Extreme Victory. Full House targets two face-up spell or trap cards as well as three set ones…and destroys all of them. It's very conditional, but it can end up as a +4 in the best case scenario. The trick, clearly, is to find a match-up where your opponent's playing plenty of face-up and face-down backrow cards. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Fire Fist happen to match that description. Fire Formations and Fiendish Chain easily fulfill Full House's face-up requirement. The rest of their backrow, which includes cards like Solemn Warning, Bottomless Trap Hole, Torrential Tribute, and set Fiendish Chains are all valid targets for the rest of House's activation condition.

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Full House is more playable than you might think. A freshly-activated Normal Spell or Normal Trap can act as one of the face-ups, as can a dead Fiendish Chain. There's nothing stopping you from targeting your own cards with House's effect, and in a deck like Harpies you can actually benefit from that. Gravekeepers, Bujin, and other strategies using Tenki or a Field Spell will usually present numerous opportunities to activate Full House. Resolving it can be devastating, and will often leave your opponent defenseless. It's also a persisting threat: once your opponent knows you're playing it they'll be more cautious about committing cards to the field.

From sided Continuous Traps to Main Deck annoyances like Kaiser Colosseum, Full House makes a lot of cards quite risky to play. It's a rather poor substitute for Heavy Storm, but it does have other advantages: after all, Full House doesn't have to destroy your own set cards. It's great in the Fire Fist mirror and you can use your own expended copies of Tenki as targets if you need to. Once again, this is another Side Deck card that can be played against a large number of rogue strategies, too. Decks that try to play the grind game themselves, like Harpies, can be just as vulnerable. There's plenty of reasons to side Full House, especially if you're tired of playing against "set five" strategies.

Closing Thoughts
Despite the overwhelming number of similar-looking Fire Fist decks that made the Top 16 at Charlotte, there's still plenty to be learned from them: Gozen Match and Rivalry of Warlords were nowhere to be seen; Soul Drain and Dimensional Fissure were played at one in nearly every Fire Fist deck; and Fossil Dyna Pachycephalo was also a common sight. Light-Imprisoning Mirror continues to show up frequently, and it's largely responsible for keeping Hieratics and Bujin from having much success.

Things have certainly changed since February 2013, but Fire Fists and Mermails are still facing off at major tournaments. We'll probably continue to see Fire Fists dominate until the end of the format, which is actually just a short month away. In the meantime, I'd keep an eye on Full House. I think that card will see a lot of play this year.

Until next time then