When Burning Abyss debuted in Duelist Alliance there were very few players who predicted just how good the deck would turn out to be. I was certainly caught off guard by Scarm, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss' stupid-good search effect; the Dante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss loop with Cir, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss; and the ridiculous consistency of their low-Level strategy. By the time I realized how competitive Burning Abyss truly was, Dante's price had already skyrocketed. It continued to rise as more and more duelists discovered that the deck was worth playing at the Championship level and is, arguably, one of the best picks to counter the general trends of the format.

Burning Abyss have a great Shaddoll match-up, and that's largely what keeps them relevant. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's strictly the better deck, but it's arguably the most important match-up for Shaddoll players outside of the mirror. There's plenty of overlap between the two themes, as we saw at YCS Dallas with Billy Brake's 60-card mashup of Shaddoll, Burning Abyss, and Artifacts. It's a strategy that's quickly catching on, and presents an entirely new set of Side Deck challenges.

For this article I want to focus primarily on siding for pure Burning Abyss, and not the convoluted hybrids that, well, are a bit more difficult to suggest answers for. I'm not quite sure exactly how popular those hybrids will be in the coming weeks, but if they become a serious match-up worth siding specifically for I'll definitely tackle that discussion too. In the meantime let's take a look at how Burning Abyss operate, and discuss the best cards to beat them.

Entering The Inferno
The Malebranche of the Burning Abyss form a connected network of monsters with a degree of synergy we haven't seen since the Dragon Rulers debuted in Lord of the Tachyon Galaxy. Scarm searches both Cir and Graff, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss; Cir Summons Scarm and Graff from the graveyard; and Graff Summons either Cir or Scarm from the deck. Using them in combination lets you pull monsters from almost anywhere with just one Malebranche at your disposal. Sound familiar? The Dragon Rulers had a similar design. The biggest difference between these two themes is that the strongest Burning Abyss monster only has 1600 ATK; the strategy's almost wholly dependent on its Extra Deck, Main Decked boss monsters, and its trap cards.

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Unfortunately for Burning Abyss players, Rank 3 Xyz tend to be a bit underwhelming when compared to Rank 4's. Dante's clearly the best of the bunch, and it's typically used for either Rank-Up Magic Astral Force or as material for Downerd Magician. Both cards ensure that Dante will reach the graveyard, triggering its effect to recycle a Burning Abyss monster. You can return Cir to your hand, then use Cir's effect to Summon Dante from the graveyard. Looping both monsters lets you Summon a fresh Downerd Magician or Astral Force target every turn. Dante itself is a strong defensive wall that can be used aggressively in some situations, but its real purpose here is to get Burning Abyss monsters into the graveyard as quickly as possible.

The rest of the Burning Abyss Extra deck isn't very exciting. Number 47: Nightmare Shark can end games by attacking directly, Ghostrick Alucard is an excellent solution to decks with high trap counts, and Mechquipped Angineer offers more defensive options. But ultimately those cards aren't replacements for Number 101: Silent Honor ARK, Evilswarm Excition Knight, or Castel, the Skyblaster Musketeer. As substitutes for their weaker Extra Deck, Burning Abyss players add Raiza the Storm Monarch, Caius the Shadow Monarch, Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning, Chaos Sorcerer, or Vanity's Fiend to their Main Decks. They add much-needed aggression and card removal to the monster line-up, and help Burning Abyss players push their way through defensive set-ups.

Like Dragon Rulers, the Burning Abyss trap line-up is filled with discard-costed powerhouses. Phoenix Wing Wind Blast, Karma Cut, and Raigeki Break are essentially costless thanks to Scarm's effect, and they're also excellent against Shaddolls. Spinning or banishing Shaddoll Fusions prevents your opponent from recycling their Fusion spell, potentially alienating them from their Extra Deck. Placing set cards back on top of the deck sets your opponent back a turn, and Shaddolls just so happen to set a lot of cards. Chaining Phoenix Wing Wind Blast to Sinister Shadow Games is also extremely painful for Shaddoll players.

Burning Abyss makes up for its weak monsters and underwhelming Extra Deck with highly efficient traps, versatile Main Deck bosses, and plenty of ways to generate free card advantage. It's easily one of the best three strategies in the game right now, so how do you go about siding for the match-up? Like most single-Attribute themes, we'll start with Shadow-Imprisoning Mirror.

The Abyss Gazes (Loathingly) Into You
It's probably no surprise that Shadow-Imprisoning Mirror is an excellent Side Deck pick against Burning Abyss. Malebranche monster effects activate in both the hand and the graveyard, but it's the graveyard effect that makes them worth playing. Mirror negates Scarm, Graff, and Cir's abilities when they activate after being discarded, destroyed, or detached, and keeps your opponent from replacing them. Off-theme cards like Tour Guide From the Underworld and Caius the Shadow Monarch also lose their effects, as well as several notable Extra Deck monsters. Dante's unaffected since it's a Light monster, but while Mirror's on the field any Malebranche that hits the graveyard will lose its effect, limiting Dante's usefulness.

Shadow-Imprisoning Mirror's almost a must this format since it covers both Shaddolls and Burning Abyss, but what if you're playing a strategy that relies on Dark monsters yourself? Rivalry of Warlords might be just as good of a floodgate since it prevents your opponent from using their Extra Deck. Burning Abyss players don't play Fiend-Type Rank 3 Xyz, which means they can't overlay Fiends for a non-Fiend. They'll also be locked out of Raiza the Storm Monarch if they're playing it, since it's a Winged-Beast. Shaddolls can easily get away with playing Rivalry and it often outclasses Vanity's Emptiness. It's more robust and doesn't limit your own Special Summons.

Continuous Traps like Shadow-Imprisoning Mirror, Vanity's Emptiness, and Rivalry of Warlords are incredibly vulnerable to removal and negation. Most duelists are well-equipped to handle floodgates using cards like Phoenix Wing Wind Blast, Trap Stun, and Mystical Space Typhoon. Burning Abyss players are no exception, and they play just as many of those cards between their Main and Side Deck as other Championship-level strategies. That said, this deck has a noticeable lack of on-theme removal. Tech removal options aren't readily searchable, which means floodgates have a better chance of staying on the field when compared to other match-ups. That's worth keeping in mind, especially if your deck lacks answers to trap cards.

Banishing effects keep Burning Abyss from doing much of anything. Macro Cosmos and Banisher of the Radiance are solid, but Dimensional Fissure and Different Dimension Ground don't have the same stopping power. Neither of them banish monsters when they're detached as Xyz Materials, which means your opponent will still be able to trigger Scarm, make more Rank 3's, and generally harass you until they run out of steam at a later point. They'll get the job done...eventually, but it's obviously much better to simply banish everything indiscriminately.

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Rounding out our discussion, you can also use Flying "C", Mischief of the Yokai, and Stygian Dirge to throw a wrench into your opponent's Xyz plays. Mischief is probably the best of the bunch, as Flying "C" can be a problem against builds that are packing multiple Level 6 monsters. It's not a long-term solution, but it will keep Dante off the field for an extra turn. Siding into anti-trap tech like Royal Decree and Trap Stun let aggressive strategies quickly overtake the field and push through most Burning Abyss set-ups to end games in a flash. Power Filter's surprisingly useful in this match-up despite being largely overshadowed by Vanity's Emptiness. It will actually prevent your opponent from Summoning Dante entirely. There's some serious potential there which might see it replace Emptiness if Emptiness ends up Limited.

Burning Abyss is clearly one of the best decks in the game right now, and it's still an incomplete theme. More cards are on the way in The New Challengers, including a new Synchro. Burning Abyss can only get better as the format goes on, and it'll continue to be a serious contender in November. I'm also of the opinion that it's the easiest of the "Big Three" to side against, which is likely the reason why Shaddolls continue to outperform them – even if only by a small margin. It's a defensive strategy that doesn't have much aggression, and if you can exploit the theme's core mechanical weaknesses you'll find this match-up to be much more manageable.

Until next time then