Any time you're playing against a deck that can frequently make Rank 4's you're going to have to consider the threat of Exciton Knight and Honor ARK. There are plenty of decks that can summon either card with no prior set-up. The question you need to ask yourself is: "Do I run enough protection to keep myself from losing to these monsters?" The Rank 4 toolbox is strong enough now to warrant siding direct counters to Xyz monsters. There are three Side Deck cards that we'll discuss in this article that keep Exciton and Honor Ark from ruining your day, but first, let's talk about how exactly these two monsters will change your strategy.Honorable Intentions
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Exciton Knight is that its ability's a Quick-Effect. Bottomless Trap Hole, Book of Moon, Raigeki Break, and other means of shutting down Ignition Effects are useless because Exciton can simply chain to them. Still, destruction isn't a universally powerful mechanic. Dozens of Xyz monsters directly resist being destroyed by card effects, and there are plenty of ways to negate destruction. Other monsters are easily replaceable or even want to be destroyed. Exciton's biggest threat might be to your backrow, which is typically full of cards that aren't self-replacing. Summon and effect negation are the best way to keep your field safe, and they're exactly what you'll want to side in against decks that make Rank 4's easily.
Number 101: Silent Honor ARK presents a different sort of threat. It might not wipe fields, but it's equally capable of solving a wide range of problems. Specifically, Honor ARK's perfect for taking out monsters that resist destruction. Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossack, Wind-Up Zenmaines, Maestroke the Symphony Djinn, and even opposing ARKs are usually resistant to destruction. In fact, they're all cards that will stick around even after Exciton Knight resolves. Like Number 50: Black Ship of Corn and Lightning Chidori, Honor ARK deals with those monsters by attaching them as Xyz Materials and bypassing their destruction immunity.
ARK isn't without its own protection: it can detach an Xyz Material to prevent it from being destroyed. Generally you'll use its effect to take an opponent's monster, and then have the option of detatching that card to keep ARK around. At 2100 ATK it's stronger than Maestroke and Zenmaines, making it a great choice even if you're just looking for help maintaining field presence. There aren't many cards that resist its first effect outright. Number 49: Fortune Tune is a bit on the weak side, and Number 74: Master of Blades is a risky play with Exciton Knight running around. Honor ARK's an Ignition Effect, but Bottomless Trap Hole will only cause it to drop a material. Still, that's by no means a bad thing. If you're willing to take the minus you'll prevent ARK from using its first bility.
The combination of Silent Honor ARK and Exciton Knight means that it's easier for players to escape a range of situations using their Extra Deck. This is something we saw with Synchro monsters towards the end of the 5D's era, where Plants were dominating tournaments thanks to their access to Stardust Dragon, Scrap Dragon, Black Rose Dragon, Trishula, and Brionac – a powerful spread of problem solvers. Xyz, particularly generic ones, are far easier for the average deck to play. Rank 4's are particularly accessible, and there's no doubt that we'll be seeing a lot of ARK and Exciton in the future.
Effect Veiler's been a hugely important card ever since its release in Duelist Revolution...and for good reason. There are few ways to counter it outside of Debunk, Mind Drain, and Skill Prisoner. Both Exciton Knight and Honor ARK are easily negated by Veiler. Problem solved, right? Well for the most part, yes. Exciton can still activate during your next Battle Phase, or possibly your opponent's next Main Phase if they can keep it on the field. ARK becomes little more than a 2100 ATK body, but probably won't present a threat beyond that. Veiler's ability to almost completely counter both monsters makes it a must-run in the Side Deck, and it'll probably start appearing in a large number of Main Decks.
Maxx "C" and Veiler have both been popular this format: while Veiler sees more play in top cut decks overall, some strategies have favored Maxx "C" in Regional Top 8's and YCS competition. But I believe that's about to change. The issue with Maxx "C" is that it isn't a deterrent to Rank 4 Summons. Sure, you might be able to draw two cards off a Harpie Channeler or Wolfbark' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Coach Soldier Wolfbark">Coach Soldier Wolfbark, but Fire Formation - Tensu, Constellar Sombre and Pollux, and Evilswarm Kerykeion and Castor can make Rank 4's with only a single Special Summon. You'll still lose your field or an important monster. What's worse is that even when you do draw more than once, you might accidentally put yourself at risk of an Exciton play by having more cards than your opponent. I'd definitely side out Maxx "C" for Effect Veiler against any deck that's making frequent Rank 4's.
Fiendish Chain has been the most popular means of negating monster effects this format. But if its weakness to Mystical Space Typhoon is a concern for you, Breakthrough Skill might be a worthwhile alternative. The biggest downside to Breakthrough is that it doesn't persistently negate the monster it affects. Fiendish Chain keeps something like Evilswarm Ophion under lock for multiple turns, while Breakthrough can only be used for two turns at most. Then again, for stopping cards like Exciton Knight and Honor ARK, two negations is all you really need. In the case of Exciton you can chain Breakthrough to its initial activation. Then, if you don't have a way to destroy it outside of the Battle Phase, you can use Breakthrough again on your turn. A single negation's usually good enough to stop Honor ARK in its tracks, but a yarded Breakthrough can strip it of its replacement effect and expose it to destruction.
Like Fiendish Chain, Breakthrough Skill's vulnerable to Forbidden Lance and Trap Stun. However, Typhoon can only counter Breakthrough if it's used preemptively. That's a big advantage over Chain, especially given how popular Typhoon is right now. Better yet: playing Breakthrough will often deter your opponent from using backrow removal on your set cards. Nobody wants to blindly hit a backrow with Typhoon and accidentally destroy a card that can still be used later from the graveyard. It's roughly the equivalent of using Snipe Hunter to destroy a Necro Gardna. Mind games win duels, and Breakthrough does a good job of messing with your opponent's head.
Black Horn of Heaven's seeing more and more play as an out to Xyz, and it's definitely worth playing if Honor ARK or Exciton Knight are giving you a hard time. Outright negation of Xyz Summons is very strong right now, especially since it circumvents Evilswarm Exciton Knight's Quick Effect and ARK's self-protection. Horn's applications aren't just limited to those two cards: nearly any Xyz or Synchro can be negated by its effect with Star Eater being a notable exception. There aren't many inherent Special Summons being used right now, so it's somewhat rare to actually negate an Effect Monster's summon.
Where Horn really shines is in decks that have quick and reliable access to high-ATK monsters. Plants can summon 2800+ ATK monsters from the deck or graveyard thanks to Lonefire Blossom and Miracle Fertilizer. Putting a Tytannial, Princess of Camellias on the field forces your opponent to find a way to get past it. Exciton Knight, Number 30: Acid Golem of Destruction, and Gagaga Cowboy can destroy it, but all of those Xyz plays are stopped by Black Horn of Heaven. Decks like Madolche, Evilswarm, and Constellar have a noticeable lack of Main Deck answers to monsters with more than 2500 ATK or so. Often the only way to get around your field is to use a card from the Extra Deck, a situation that creates the perfect opportunity for Horn's effect.Closing Thoughts
Personally I think Exciton Knight will turn out to have a very positive influence on the game; possibly filling some of the void left by Heavy Storm. We're near the end of the Xyz era now, and Konami has finally made the Rank 4 toolbox into something truly formidable. Honor ARK and Exciton Knight might be the last bit of generic Xyz support that we see, but they're definitely two of the best cards you can run and definitely worth siding for.
Until next time then.