The latest Forbidden & Limited List cleaned up many of the remainingproblem cards that have been plaguing the competitive scene recently.

Degenerate monsters like Topologic Gumblar Dragon and Number 86: HeroicChampion - Rhongomyniad are now Forbidden alongside exceptionally strongmonsters like Fairy Tail - Snow and Number 42: Galaxy Tomahawk. It's a movethat decreases the peak power of certain strategies and select comboswithout directly hitting any of the big themes. Altergeists and SkyStrikers escaped the F&L List without a scratch, and Thunder Dragonslost two copies of Gold Sarcophagus while picking up a replacement:Savage Strike's Aloof Lupine.

There was definitely some confusion about the List's approach to the topdecks of last format. I think players were expecting a balancing pass toaddress Sky Strikers directly, but it's possible any would-be hits weredelayed until after the launch of Structure Deck: Soulburner.

Salamangreats are about to receive a gigantic competitive bump, and they'llbe challenging Sky Strikers at top tables in major events soon enough. Thatsaid, Sky Strikers are still an uphill battle for dozens of otherstrategies. That's relevant for decks that aren't among the big three butcould still close the gap between Regional and Championship-levelcompetition. Plenty of unexpected strategies are being piloted to RegionalTop 8s –check out our deck archive for some examples.

Before you throw up your hands and say "Well I guess it's Salamangreats orthe same-old decks to beat" you should take a second look at the F&LList. There are two changes on it that address Sky Strikers indirectly:Interrupted Kaiju Slumber and Eradicator Epidemic Virus. Both cards are nowUnlimited and well-positioned to be excellent tech picks for the SkyStriker match-up. They're not the hits many players might have wanted, butI think putting more copies of each card in the hands of deck builders willaffect the outcome of competitive events in a way that's remarkablysimilar.

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Most Sky Striker spells can't be activated if their controller has amonster in the Main Monster Zones. That isn't a huge problem for SkyStrikers as they'll typically control nothing but a Link Monster in theExtra Monster Zone, but it does present a vulnerability that can beexploited.

Summoning a monster to your opponent's field is nothing new: you could doit with Summon Sorceress or previously with Grinder Golem. Kaijus wereequally viable past the first turn, and Knightmare Corruptor Iblee alsoaccomplishes the same goal of disrupting the Sky Striker engine just byexisting in their Main Monster Zone. All of these cards are great, but noneof them are as generic as Interrupted Kaiju Slumber.

You can run Interrupted Kaiju Slumber with the intention of playing it asmass removal. The extra monster you're Summoning to your field can help asan extender in a chain of Link Summons, or simply serve as an attackerduring that turn's Battle Phase. What you're really gaining from Slumber isprotection – your opponent's best defensive card is useless while theycontrol a Kaiju. Leading with Slumber while playing second will destroyyour opponent's Sky Striker Ace and shut off their defenses (asidefrom hand traps). You can play aggressively without fear of losing amonster to Sky Striker Mecha - Widow Anchor, and that's a huge break forcombo-heavy decks.

You won't win games with Interrupted Kaiju Slumber like you can with anunanswered floodgate, but you can use it to disrupt your opponent formultiple turns with very little investment. Searching another Kaiju bybanishing Slumber expands the value of the spell beyond a single instanceof mass removal and some temporary disruption. A second Kaiju will gobbleup another Link Monster and once again shut down Sky Striker spells untilit's taken off the field.

Sky Strikers aren't powerless here: Darkest Diabolos, Lord of the Laircan't be tributed for a Kaiju, although it still loses to mass removal.Giving your opponent an extra monster is always a risk, so Summoning aKaiju should be viewed as a temporary solution to Widow Anchor and not along term floodgate. There's also the new Super Anti-Kaiju War MachineMecha-Thunder-King that could, possibly, show up as a specific counter toKaijus. We'd need to see a serious increase in Kaiju play for a strictanti-Kaiju tech to start showing up in Side Decks, but it might happen nowthat Interrupted Kaiju Slumber is Unlimited.

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Eradicator Epidemic Virus hasn't been Unlimited since the infamousSeptember 2013 F&L List. Its Limit was the direct result of its power against one particularspell-heavy strategy: Spellbooks. Dragon Rulers and Spellbooks dominatedthe competitive scene for a few months after the release ofLord of the Tachyon Galaxy, and the September List reigned them inalongside over a dozen other massively influential cards.

It's easily one of, if not the single largest lists of changes ever in theTCG. It was also the point at which the TCG F&L Lists became entirelyseparate from the OCG, and over five years later we're still feeling theafter effects of the changes made then.

With that context it's a bit surprising to see Eradicator Epidemic Virusreturn to Unlimited while the deck to beat is so similar to Spellbooks.Eradicator's return – much like Interrupted Kaiju Slumber – looks like aconcession to strategies that are currently struggling against SkyStrikers. It's not a small concession either: Eradicator's an extremelypowerful Turn 1 trap in that match-up and a game-changer for strategiesplaying Danger or Lair of Darkness. It's not specifically a floodgate, butit tends to act like one if your opponent can't pick up the pieces.

I don't think Eradicator necessarily replaces Imperial Order, and onlydecks playing high counts of Dangers or other seriously strong Darkmonsters will want to experiment with this particular Virus trap.Unfortunately Sky Strikers have great recovery cards and can, potentially,mount a comeback against Eradicator much more easily than they can againstImperial Order. That said, Eradicator Epidemic Virus has the potential todestroy every card in your opponent's hand, and that's hard to pass up ifyou're playing enough Dark fodder to run it.

Darkest Diabolos, Lord of the Lair is already seeing play in Sky Strikers,but it could become even more important if Eradicator turns into a top SideDeck pick for the mirror match. Keep in mind that even Sky Striker MechaModules - Multirole will usually be destroyed by Eradicator, and youropponent will need a very specific opening hand to recover more than asingle card from their graveyard. It's not impossible, but it's rough andpairing Eradicator with just one hand trap will usually be enough to endthe duel on Turn 1.

Should This Be The New Norm?
The TCG's approach to Sky Strikers is significantly different from theOCG's more direct limitations on the theme's best spells, but is it abetter way to balance the deck?

It's a hard concept to quantify, especially this early in the format whileSalamangreats are still a couple of weeks away. We'll get our first chanceto see how the competitive scene reacts to the F&L List at YCS Chicagothis coming weekend. That said, I'm certain this List was built withSalamangreats in mind. We won't get the full picture until later inFebruary, but the outcome of high profile competitive events won't tell thewhole story either.

Introducing more counters to a strategy will keep it from being assuccessful as it was previously at large events. The OCG competitive sceneis defined by the existence of Maxx "C", and it's the biggest differencemaker in how Sky Strikers and Salamangreats perform. The problem withbalancing decks by introducing counters is that those strategies stilloutperform the vast majority of decks that are worthy of competition. Ifyou don't draw your counters you're still at a disadvantage against a deckwith a better engine, more consistency, and stronger power plays. SkyStrikers still do all the same things they did before, exactly aseffectively as they did before.

The Side Deck's a bandaid against poorly-balanced strategies that letsplayers tackle popular themes by leaning into tech specifically to winthose match-ups. Rogue strategies that avoid losing to popular tech cardsare the big winners, especially when those decks can effectively leveragethe best Side Deck cards.

Again, it's a little haphazard when you're relying strictly on counterplayto balance competitive themes. In a game like Yu-Gi-Oh! where deck buildingcan only influence statistics so much you're often left at the mercy ofluck to find your counters. Balance by 'chance' isn't ideal, but at majorevents it often plays out that decks with more counters will take fewer TopCut spots even if you never draw those counters.

This F&L List introduces a question going forward over the next fewmonths: which decks can best abuse the freshly-unlimited Interrupted KaijuSlumber or Eradicator Epidemic Virus? I think the latter is potentiallyhuge, as Eradicator's also an exciting tech against Altergeists. So farDanger! and Orcust are strong candidates to wield Eradicator, but justabout every deck in the game can side into Kaijus. We'll find out first atYCS Chicago if these cards will be format-defining Side Deck picks.

Until next time then

-Kelly


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