Pendulum Magicians have outperformed nearly every other deck on thecompetitive scene since the release of Heavymetalfoes Electrumite. They'renot dominating entirely, and decks like True Dracos and Mekk-Knight Invokedare very capable of going head-to-head with Pendulums. True Dracos havefound an especially great place in the current format thanks toAmano-Iwato, so the ability to tackle the True Draco match-up has become anabsolute must at all levels of competition.

In a nutshell, if you want to be competitive your deck has to be able tohandle Master Peace, the True Dracoslaying King, and theincredible Turn 1 fields Pendulums make.

Strong openings from Pendulums aren't limited to negation bodies andfloodgates: Pendulums also have an FTK combo and an incredibly powerfullockdown. You'll need to address all three outcomes with your Side Deck,and that's a challenge if you're not playing first. By definition, the FTKends the game before your first turn, so hand traps are your onlydefense when you're playing second. It's an extreme situation, but it'seven worse considering Pendulum FTK isn't a fringe strategy. It's among themost popular builds of Pendulums and it sees plenty of success at Regionalsand YCS events.

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Utopic Pendulums are only slightly less common than FTK variants, but bothversions have been outperforming non-FTK and non-Utopic builds in Regionalsthis month. As always, you can check out Regional Top 8 and YCS Top 32lists in ourdeck archive, and the trend there is startling.

Since April began we've recorded nine FTK builds, four Utopic builds, andfive builds employing neither win condition from Top Cuts. That's a hugechange from March where the vast majority of topping builds stuck to fieldswith Vortex Dragon and Norito the Moral Leader. At the time of this writingYCS Memphis is just getting started, so when you're reading this we'll knowmore about the popularity of each build at the Championship level.

In any case the prevalence of FTKs and lockdowns using Number S0: UtopicZEXAL means Side Decks need to adjust accordingly, and there's only a smallnumber of cards that can realistically save you in either match-up.Unfortunately your best defense is simply winning the dice roll, and eventhen you're competing against one of the strongest strategies in the game.

FTKs Probably Shouldn't Exist, But Since They Do…
First, let's talk about the FTK build and the hand traps that actually workin this match-up. If you've played against Pendulums recently you'veprobably realized how ineffective certain hand traps can be: Ghost Ogre& Snow Rabbit and Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring are easily playedthrough thanks to the deck's incredible redundancy. There are many, manyways to play through a single piece of disruption and still land an FTK,and that presents a siding challenge for players. What do you side in whenyou absolutely need to stop your opponent from making plays?

One answer, unsurprisingly, is floodgate cards.

Floodgates are actually fairly common in hand trap form, but they're almostalways temporary. That's just fine for avoiding FTKs, so cards like Droll& Lock Bird and Hanewata are totally ok here. Droll doesn't stop youropponent from performing the FTK, but it can make reaching key combo cardsmuch more difficult. Finding Instant Fusion is hugely important for theFTK, and Droll can shut down extra copies of Pot of Desires and Allure ofDarkness early in the turn. It's far from perfect: modern PendulumMagicians aren't using deck searching effects as often as they were whenPerformapal Skullcrobat Joker and Iris Magician were legal.

Hanewata has extremely low match-up utility and almost no utility in thePendulum Magician match-up outside of halting the FTK. Like Droll it's aquestionable choice: if you draw it you won't be losing to burn damage thatturn, but if your opponent never attempts the FTK you're stuck with auseless monster in your starting hand. That said, Hanewata's much saferthan Performage Damage Juggler or Lifeforce Harmonizer. Your opponent couldSpecial Summon a destroyed Supreme King Dragon Starving Venom with SoulCharge or Monster Reborn to apply its effect again, and even Effect Veilercan be played around by using a negated Venom for a Link Summon.

D/D/D Rebel King Leonidas has a floodgate effect that prevents all effectdamage while it's face-up on the field. Its built-in Special Summon effectmakes it relevant during the first turn of the duel, and if you're playingsecond you can either Pendulum Summon it or activate it in a Pendulum Zonepreemptively. It's best as a hand trap against Pendulums, but getting itout of the hand quickly is important against Trickstars. That said, it'sbeen a long time since Trickstars focused on winning games with burn, soLeonidas' true value is that it's a searchable counter to the FTK throughcards like Wavering Eyes and Heavymetalfoes Electrumite.

Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries bridges the gap between the extreme ofHanewata and high-quality but low success rate hand traps like Ash Blossom,Effect Veiler, and Ghost Ogre. Robbing your opponent of their Supreme KingDragon Starving Venom is a sure way to avoid the FTK and a budgetalternative if you don't have a Heavymetalfoes Electrumite of your own.

If you do have an Electrumite, and that's especially relevant if you're ina mirror match, you'll definitely want to take out their key Link Monster.Not only does that knock out their FTK for the most part, but it alsocripples the deck's ability to achieve its goals beyond the alternative wincondition.

The New Shock Lock
Number S0: Utopic ZEXAL has one of the strongest lockdown effects in thegame: it prevents your opponent from activating any cards oreffects for the remainder of their turn. Summoning Utopic ZEXAL is a bitchallenging, but it happens often enough that you'll want to be preparedfor it. The strategy plays out much like a normal Pendulum Magician builduntil there's an opportunity to make a Rank 4 and a Rank 6 on the sameturn. Thanks to Heavymetalfoes Electrumite it's totally possible to do thaton the first turn, and ultimately that means there's a good chance you'llbe fighting through Turn 2 without any card effects.

The Utopic build's significantly more susceptible to hand traps than theFTK builds, and that's mostly thanks to the way Rank-Up-Magic Argent ChaosForce is searched from the deck. Players will Xyz Summon Beatrice, Lady ofthe Eternal and use its effect to send the Spell Card to the graveyard,then overlay Beatrice with Gaia Dragon, the Thunder Charger to triggerArgent Chaos Force's effect. Using Effect Veiler, Ghost Ogre & SnowRabbit, or Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring will halt the combo immediately,although there's still a chance your opponent might have drawn into theRank-Up-Magic anyways.

You can further guard against Utopic ZEXAL by siding Forbidden Chalice andchaining it from your hand during the Draw Phase. It's easily the bestnon-hand trap solution to Utopic ZEXAL, and it's useful if you've alreadymaxed out on other cards or if you just want insurance in case youropponent actually opens with Argent Chaos Force. Another advantage toForbidden Chalice is that it comes into action after your opponenthas committed resources into a single Xyz. It's much easier to break up afield consisting of a 0 ATK and DEF Utopic ZEXAL and a HeavymetalfoesElectrumite than a field with Vortex Dragon and Norito the Moral Leader.

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Once again, Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries can kick Electrumite out ofthe Extra Deck to make this combo impossible. You can also side UtopicZEXAL as a budget option with a different kind of impact: rather thanstalling out the engine entirely you'll snipe the end of their combo andleave them with a Gaia Dragon, the Thunder Charger and a face-up NumberS39: Utopia the Lighting. That's not a terrible field, but it offersessentially no protection against mass removal. Ghost Reaper's fantastic inthis match-up against all builds, and doesn't require an extreme investmentcompared to alternative hand traps.

The sheer power of Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries this format is worthtalking about in another article, and at the moment it's easily among thebest cards in the game. High profile tournament matches are entirelydecided by whoever resolves Ghost Reaper first. It's scarily similar to theway Evenly Matched was played last year and it acts as an equalizer almostidentically: Pendulums become much more manageable without their key LinkMonster and start to really show the weaknesses brought on by the lastForbidden & Limited List.

Heavymetalfoes Electrumite itself is significantly more affordable today,and that's a direct threat to Pendulum Magician players who have beensomewhat spoiled by its price tag. It's easier than ever to pick up a copyto play with the now-budget Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries. OtherwiseForbidden Chalice and the upcomingInfinite Impermanenceare among the best answers to Utopic builds, and Effect Veiler and onceagain Infinite Impermanence are outstanding against FTK variants. Needlessto say we'll be spending a lot of time talking about those newFlames of Destruction hand traps in a few weeks.

Until next time then

-Kelly

Kelly​​​ ​​​Locke​​​ ​​​is​​​ ​​​a​​​ ​​​West​​​ ​​​Michigan​​​​​​gamer and writer. In​​​ ​​​addition​​​ ​​​to​​​ ​​​writing​​​ ​​​onTCGplayer,​​​ ​​​Kelly​​​ ​​​writes​​​ a ​​​​​​personal​​​ ​​​blog​​​​​​ ​​​covering​​​ ​​​Yu-Gi-Oh!,​​​ ​​​Destiny,​​​ ​​​and​​​​​​other​​​ ​​​hobbies. You​​​ ​​​can follow​​​ ​​​him​​​ ​​​on​​​​​​​​​Twitter​​​​​​ ​​​and​​​ ​​​check​​​ ​​​out​​​ ​​​his​​​ ​​​​​​Youtube​​​ ​​​channel​​​. He​​​ ​​​also studied marketing at Western Michigan University.