The North American World Championship Qualifier wrapped up last weekendwithGabriel Vargas piloting his Goukisto victory against Walter Jule's Pendulum Magicians in the Finals.

The success of Goukis is one of the biggest stories from the WCQ, butPendulum Magicians might have stolen the show by somehow making it all theway to the event's last duel. Nobody expected Pendulums to make up a bigchunk of the Top 64 – and to be fair that didn't happen. But it's even moresurprising that Jules somehow navigated the elimination rounds to finish in2nd Place. Other decks like Paleozoics, Kaiju Dinosaurs, InvokedMekk-Knights, World Chalice, and Altergiests made the Top 64 as well,despite the overwhelming presence of Goukis, Trickstars, and Sky Strikers.

Looking over our deck archivereveals some interesting tech choices that haven't seen a lot of discussionyet, as well as a handful of known solutions to popular decks that aresuddenly seeing more play. The takeaway is that duelists were doubling downon countering Goukis – a wise choice given the deck's popularity at theevent. The threat of an Extra Link further protected by KnightmareCorruptor Iblee presents a real deck building challenge for competitivestrategies. Extra Links are fairly common in Goukis, and that's not astatement I expected to say just a year into the Link era. Most decks can'trecover from Extra Link set-ups, and as a result tech choices are largelygeared toward preventative measures.

Staying In The Game Against Goukis
Whether or not you can actually halt Gouki combos is a bit of a toss-up.The usual assortment of hand traps were present at the WCQ with Droll &Lock Bird leading the pack. It's the ideal counter to Goukis and the besttemporary measure you can run when playing second, but Goukis can directlycounter it if they're fortunate enough to see Called by the Grave.Capitalizing on Droll's effect is crucial, and Goukis can Salvage thesituation by leveraging their own hand traps to stall out your Turn 2plays. That back and forth is still in your favor: successfully resolvingDroll is a big deal, and it's far more impactful than Ash Blossom &Joyous Spring or Infinite Impermanence.

Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries remained a popular choice over theweekend for its obvious utility against nearly every strategy this format.Shutting down Isolde, Two Tales of the Noble Knights can cripple Goukis inthe early game, and banishing Firewall Dragon makes Extra Linking nearlyimpossible. Vargas sided a playset in his winning build in part to keep hisown Extra Deck cards safe from opposing Ghost Reapers.

#####CARDID= 23175 #####

Meanwhile, PSY-Framegear Gamma and Infinite Impermanence showed up inplenty of Side Decks; Infinite Impermanence in particular was a top techchoice for the event and yet another card Vargas sided three copies of. Hewasn't alone – many players in the Top 64 were siding copies of InfiniteImpermanence to answer Gouki combos without risking their hand trap toCalled by the Grave. It's arguably the best non-monster card to side inwhen you're playing second, and at this point I think it's clearlydethroned Evenly Matched.

Speaking of Evenly Matched: there was an interesting trend in the Top 64where players were only siding two copies. Siding a full set of EvenlyMatched is somewhat unnecessary unless you're particularly desperate to seeit on Turn 1, so siding in two copies reduces the odds you'll open withmore than one. That lowers the number of potential dead cards in yourstarting hand while also freeing up more Side Deck space. More importantlyEvenly Matched can be hit or miss against certain Extra Link set-ups if youdon't have a way to deal with Knightmare Corruptor Iblee.

'Comeback' cards like Evenly Matched and The Winged Dragon of Ra - SphereMode are a liability against a deck that can make those cards irrelevantduring its normal combos. Sphere Mode did see some play, but it wasoutperformed by hand traps when playing first and bested by Shared Ridewhen playing second. In fact, the best way to play Sphere Mode wasalongside Shared Ride: a build choice that several Top 64 Trickstar playersopted to go with instead of running full playsets of Evenly Matched.

New Tech In Goukis
Goukis a problem at the WCQ had that they needed to overcome if they wereto find success in a lengthy tournament filled with hand traps and InfiniteImpermanence. Called by the Grave wouldn't be enough to ensure that combosweren't halted by Droll & Lock Bird, Ghost Reaper, or some form ofeffect negation. As a Gouki player you're largely banking on winning anygame where you get to play first, and pushing that going-first win ratio toits limit is a key part of the larger tournament strategy for this deck.Goukis had to tech in new cards to reduce the luck factor inherent in aglass cannon strategy.

One of those new tech choices was Neo-Spacian Aqua Dolphin: a Level 3Warrior that can destroy a monster in your opponent's hand provided youcontrol a monster with ATK that's at least equal to the card in their hand.Since most hand traps have 0 ATK you won't need to bother putting a monsterwith high ATK on the board – Aqua Dolphin's already strong enough todestroy the game's most popular hand traps. It's a flexible card for theGouki strategy, searchable by Isolde, Level 3 for M-X-Saber Invoker plays,and it can be Special Summoned by Marauding Captain. Overall it's afantastic pick for a deck that desperately needs as many outs to hand trapsas possible.

Perhaps the most attention-grabbing card at the event was Vargas' sidedDragged Down into the Grave. Its effect lets both players discard a cardfrom their opponent's hand and draw a card, and that allowed Vargas to pickoff hand traps like Infinite Impermanence that he otherwise couldn't dealwith. It gave him excellent insight into his opponent's hand, what handtraps they had, and how his opponent might try to make a comeback on thefollowing turn. But it's the power to kick away his opponent's only defensethat made Dragged Down so powerful.

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During the last duel of the event Vargas played Dragged Down to kick awayhis opponent's Infinite Impermanence and leave him with no interruption forVargas' Gouki combos. He immediately went on to make an Extra Link andultimately win the event when his opponent conceded next turn. Reboot' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Red Reboot">Red Rebootwould have answered Infinite Impermanence just as easily, but if WalterJule's hand contained a monster instead Vargas almost certainly would havelost the duel. Dragged Down was the ideal hand trap counter for thatspecific scenario and it paid off huge for Vargas.

That said, Dragged Down can Backfire if your opponent draws into anotherhand trap. Players this format end up with close to ten hand traps whileplaying second in Games 2 and 3, so it's reasonable that your opponentmight simply find one of those cards on their free draw. If your opponenthas two hand traps in their hand you'll have to make a tough decisionbetween them, and at that point you've traded two cards to rob youropponent of one interruption while leaving them with a second, andpotentially a third if they draw another. Not only is Dragged Down risky,but it also has a terrible effect on your card economy and awful valueoutside of glass cannons like Goukis.

Still, Vargas made it work and took home the Championship title because heelected to side Dragged Down over other anti-hand trap tech choices. I'llbe curious to see if Dragged Down gains traction beyond the WCQ, or if thisis a one-time tech pick that's too risky to see wider play. At every eventthat are high risk, high reward tech picks that completely fail and neverreceive any attention. Dragged Down worked out this time, but again I'm notsure if it will catch on. The first time someone activates it and sees twohand traps in their opponent's hand I think they'll quickly realize thiscard isn't for them.

Concluding A Year Of Links
WCQs mark the end of the competitive year and give players a breatherbefore the next Big Core set, but this event was particularly noteworthy asthe conclusion to the first year of Link Monsters in competitive play. Froma competitive, perspective it's hard to overstate the power of the Linktoolbox as it stands today: Knightmares are an incredible addition to thegame and the fuel provided by Sky Strikers has only accelerated theinsanity of Link spam strategies. The Extra Link isn't some far-offtheoretical win condition – it's a reality and a key element of the mostsuccessful theme in the game right now.

This year's WCQ raises questions about the future of competitive play. Willthe next year be similarly saturated with strategies that load the boardwith Link Monsters? Will hand trap battles become the primary form of playinteraction going forward? There are plenty of new cards and WorldPremieres on the way just this month in Cybernetic Horizon, butit's hard to imagine anything dethroning Goukis until something is changedon the Forbidden & Limited List.

We're in a better place than we were last format when FTKs were frequentand expected, but if the Game 3 of the Finals at this year's WCQ is anyindication, we have a long ways to go before we have meaningful playerinteraction beyond hand trap fights.

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.