YCS Charleston was the first YCS of 2015, the first YCS of the format, and the first YCS since the release of Secrets of Eternity. Being the first in so many categories made Charleston unpredictable and a little exciting. Based on earlier Regional results the best decks in the game were still Burning Abyss, Qliphorts, Satellarknights, and Shaddolls. Surprisingly, it was Volcanics that stole the show and dominated the Swiss rounds. Sohrab Pasikhani's 10-0 record was entirely unexpected and caught the majority of the player base off guard.

Despite Volcanics toppling the usual favorites, HERO strategies didn't crack the Top 32. Mask Change II saw a bit of play in Shaddolls to Summon Masked HERO Dark Law, but even those strategies were only moderately successful. HERO players did manage to score Top 8 finishes at the Tinley Park Regional over the same weekend, although that was with a much smaller pool of players. Dark Law's arguably the best anti-meta monster in the game right now, but it's not quite ready to compete at the Championship level.

In case you missed it, here's the rest of the Top 32:

Burning Abyss: 19
Qliphort:8
Satellarknights: 3
Shaddoll:1
Volcanics:1

Obviously Burning Abyss continues to be the best deck in the game, and the majority of Side Deck cards are geared towards beating it and Qliphorts. Satellarknights have a bit of extra spark in them thanks to some new Side Deck options of their own, and Shaddolls remain a solid deck, but were completely dominated by the rest of the field. In another format these numbers might lead you to conclude that Shaddolls is just another rogue strategy; its representation in the Top 32 was equal to Volcanics – a strategy that only just received its first YCS top. In context that hypothesis doesn't hold up: Shaddolls have topped nearly every Regional and YCS since their release. The deck's weak performance at Charleston translates into bigger changes in the format that have pushed combo strategies out of competition.

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Denko Shaddoll variants are falling out of favor as Burning Abyss players move to smaller trap line-ups. Azad Deihim finished 8-2 after Swiss without playing any traps between his Main and Side Deck, making Denko Sekka-lead plays much less effective. This trend isn't new, but it is the first time we've seen it in a YCS setting stateside. Had Burning Abyss players dropped their trap counts last format, we would have seen Denko Sekka fall off in favor of Artifact cards. That isn't likely to happen with Artifact Moralltach Limited...or so I'd probably say if Mark Balaban hadn't topped Charleston with his Artifact Shaddoll build.

Adding Artifact Scythe into the Artifact Sanctum arsenal adds an extra floodgate against Burning Abyss, Shaddolls, Qliphorts, and other Extra Deck-based strategies. 'Scythe Control' is an idea that has been running around since Moralltach was Limited, and it sees some play in the OCG as a variant of HAT. Korey McDuffle, last year's NAWCQ Champion, had been generating some hype regarding Scythe leading up to the YCS before switching to play Infernoids...and losing to an Artifact deck in Day 1. Jason wrote about both of the Artifact builds that made the Top 32 at Charleston and I highly recommend you give that a read if you're looking for a more detailed breakdown.

As for Qliphorts, their post-SECE strategy is vastly improved thanks to Qliphort Stealth, Soul Transition, and the occasionally-teched Qliphort Monolith. Players have shifted to more aggressive builds with Main Deck copies of Storm and minimal trap line-ups. The extra backrow removal works demolishes the defensive set-ups of Satellarknights and Burning Abyss while triggering the deck-searching effect of Saqlifice. With both Monolith and Soul Transition digging through the deck, Maxx "C" and Swift Scarecrow have become the go-to defensive options for Qliphorts. Monolith specifically makes hand traps much stronger than regular traps, not unlike how Super Rejuvenation led Dragon Rulers to cram Effect Veiler, Maxx "C", Swift Scarecrow, and Droll & Lock Bird in a single deck.

Finally, Satellarknights outperformed Shaddolls at the YCS thanks in part to their latest Xyz monster: Stellarknight Constellar Diamond. The Satellarknight version of Constellar Ptolemy M7 is probably the second-best anti-meta monster in the game, right next to Masked HERO Dark Law. Its effects are direct counters to Burning Abyss, but they're still very potent against Shaddolls by preventing them from using monsters in the deck as fusion materials. Satellarknight Rigel's another solid card for theme as a Main Deck monster with 1900+ ATK. Being able to attack over 2000 DEF or 1900 ATK monsters without making a Special Summon is important in some cases, and it reduces the deck's vulnerability to certain Side Deck cards.

I've spent a lot of time discussing match-ups because they're one of the most important factors to consider when constructing your Side Deck. Knowing which cards to side is also important, but match-up knowledge helps you determine how many of those cards you should include. When The Secret Forces hits shelves on Friday we'll have three new decks to consider: Ritual Beasts, Nekroz, and Yosenju. We'll be talking about these decks – especially Nekroz – more next week. In the meantime, let's dive into the other half of our discussion: which Side Deck cards were trending at YCS Charleston?

Xyz Universe Trending Up...Again
I wrote about this card several times last year after its debut in Primal Origin when it was used to gobble up Gear Gigant X's and spit out Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossack or Divine Dragon Knight Felgrand. Whether or not Xyz Universe is playable in any given format depends on the number of Xyz Monsters being Summoned and coexisting on the field at once, as well as the viability of high-Rank Xyz targets for its Summoning effect.

Burning Abyss have the advantage only needing one Xyz target on their opponent's side of the field thanks to Dante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss' interaction with Cir, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss. Xyz Universe saw some play last year in match-ups with Burning Abyss and Satellarknights, but now Satellarknights are playing Universe themselves. The reason? A new monster for Universe's effect: Stellarknight Constellar Diamond.

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Diamond's accessible to any deck with Xyz Universe, and several players that made the Top 32 at Charleston sided both cards together. Normally sending Dante to the graveyard will add a Burning Abyss back to your opponent's hand, but after Diamond hits the field anything that your opponent adds from the graveyard will end up banished.

Again, you can side Diamond and two Xyz Universe in just about anything outside of Qliphort. Satellarknights and Burning Abyss just happen to be the most popular strategies playing it right now. We'll definitely be seeing more of this card as long as Burning Abyss are a relevant match-up, and it's entirely possible that Nekroz could pick up the card as well.

Imperial Iron Wall Against HERO
Speaking of banishing cards, Imperial Iron Wall is seeing play again in response to Masked HERO Dark Law. While dedicated HERO strategies didn't make it to the Top 32, Dark Law was added to some Shaddoll and Burning Abyss Extra Decks. Sohrab Pasikhani sided two copies in his Volcanic build as a counter to Dark Law or other sided cards that might banish his monsters. He may not have sided it in very often throughout the tournament, but being prepared rarely Backfires. Charlie Finnegan also sided Imperial Iron Wall in his Artifact Satellarknights, likely to protect his Artifact cards, Call Of The Haunted and Satellarknight Altair targets.

Imperial Iron Wall also makes short work of Infernoids, which were a potential dark horse pick for Charleston that never really materialized. None of the deck's monsters can be Summoned without banishing cards or by the effect of Eye of the Void or A Wild Monster Appears!, so Iron Wall effectively locks them out of the game. The deck's current support leaves a lot to be desired, but there's been a decent amount of hype building up for it over the last couple of weeks. Infernoid Harmadik's price tripled overnight after McDuffle (noticing a pattern here?) announced he would be playing it at Charleston.

Upcoming strategies like Ritual Beasts and Nekroz rely on banishing cards to Summon monsters and activate key effects. While Nekroz are probably answered by better cards, Iron Wall offers a lot of match-up utility this format. For decks like Volcanics, Shaddoll, and even Burning Abyss, Iron Wall can be a lifesaver and a means of disrupting your opponent's plays. What we've seen so far of the card is likely just the beginning of a renewed period of extensive play.

The usual selection of Side Deck cards hasn't changed much since last format: Fairy Wind, Spell-Shattering Arrow, Light and Shadow-Imprisoning Mirror, Ojama Trio, Twister, and Flying "C" are still incredibly popular. The addition of a new, championship-level strategy is poised to change that, and some of these cards could be pushed aside in favor of direct counters to Nekroz. Once again, we'll be talking more about The Secret Forces next week.

Until next time then

-Kelly