The Dragon Rulers are certainly an oddity. Half of its members are Limited while the rest are Forbidden outright. These restrictions speak volumes about how powerful those cards are. Lord of the Tachyon Galaxy brought them into the TCG, but the September 2013 Forbidden and Limited List took half of them out. Reactan, Stream, Lightning, and Pebbles were legal for just three and a half months. After September, Dragon Ruler players were forced to use off-theme support to continue the Dragon Ruler shenanigans. Dragon Ravine became a staple in every build, and Patrick Hoban popularized the Dragunity Ruler hybrid that went on to have substantial success. Then, the most recent changes to the F&L List in January knocked each Dragon Ruler to one copy per deck.

Oh, and it also took out Dragon Ravine in the process.

At the time I was pretty upset about losing Ravine, and with it any opportunity to play Dragunity – my favorite deck – for the next three months. It was frustrating, but I still felt it was ultimately the best move Konami could make outside of Forbidding the remaining Dragon Rulers. Back in December I wrote about how new generic Dragon support had made cards like Dragon Ravine too powerful. Ravine had taken on a role similar to Future Fusion, and we'd still see Rulers being played if Ravine hadn't been hit. I wasn't expecting to see much from them this format, but Hoban struck again, coming up with yet another way to keep the deck from dying out. Repeating his success with last year's Dragunity Ruler hybrid, he created a new variant using Hieratics.

From The Ashes
Dragon Rulers have once again returned from the ashes in the form of Hieratic Rulers. At its core it's a Hieratic deck that plays the four Rulers plus a few extra ways to get Dragons into the graveyard. Dragon Shrine and Hieratic Seal From the Ashes differentiate this strategy from the 'usual' Hieratic build, but that doesn't mean that the Rulers are the entire focus of the deck. Hieratic Dragon of Tefnuit, Hieratic Dragon of Eset, and Hieratic Dragon of Su have no problems applying pressure to your opponent or even winning games on their own. They create powerful first and second turn plays that put a large number of Dragons in your graveyard.

The three Hieratic Effect Monsters generally played – Tefunit, Eset, and Su – have effects that trigger when they're Tributed, summoning a Dragon-Type Normal Monster from your hand, deck, or graveyard. Tributing Tefnuit or Eset for Su leaves you with two Level 6 Dragons and a choice of several Rank 6 Xyz Sumons. Hieratic Dragon King of Atum's usually the most common choice since you can use its effect to grab a Dragon Ruler from your deck. If you happen to have another one available you'll easily make a Rank 7 Xyz. Ending your first turn with a field of Atum and Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossack isn't a bad way to start off, and it puts your opponent under a ton of pressure.

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While Atum's effect lets you Summon a Dragon Ruler from your deck, Dragon Shrine sends them straight to the graveyard. Shrine can also send a Normal Dragon first and thin the deck by two cards total, function as a very specific double Foolish Burial. That's really useful given the number of draw effects Hieratic Ruler builds are typically running: nobody wants to draw into a Luster Dragon #2 or a Labradorite Dragon. If you can just Summon your Normal Monsters from the graveyard later, why not send them there along with a Dragon Ruler to keep your draws smooth? While Shrine's a straight minus of card economy it's well worth the loss in the long run.

Dragon Shrine's great for sending Dragon Rulers to the graveyard, but Hieratic Seal From the Ashes is what makes them truly fearsome in the late game. Ashes can yard a Hieratic from your deck on your opponent's turn, effortlessly providing more Dragons for the Rulers to banish. But what happens when you run out of monsters? Well, Ashes has you covered there too. During your turn you can return a banished Hieratic monster to your graveyard, meaning you can recycle your monsters and repeatedly Summon Dragon Rulers over and over. Not bad. Lastly, if Ashes is sent from the field to the graveyard you can special summon a Hieratic monster from the graveyard. Not bad at all.

Upstart Goblin, Reckless Greed, and Maxx "C" give this deck a huge amount of draw power. Between the nine Hieratic monsters and a playset of Hieratic Seal of Convocation, the Hieratic engine itself is quite consistent. Early aggression is complemented by late game Rank 7 Xyz and Level 8 Synchros, resulting in a deck that can make big plays early on without falling to pieces if the tempo shifts. This strategy isn't the fragile Hieratic deck you might have encountered in the past: it's a new way to play old cards, and it happens to have very few poor match-ups this format. After a big showing in the Top 32 at YCS Atlanta last weekend, it's something you'll definitely want to consider Side Decking for.

Return To Ash
Like most other match-ups, siding for Hieratic Rulers requires dodging their themed removal plus their counter sided cards. That means the threat of Hieratic Dragon of Su, Mystical Space Typhoon, Trap Stun, Forbidden Lance, and A Wingbeat of Giant Dragon should be considered when choosing which cards to side in. A lot of these cards are Anti-Spell and trap. Skill Drain and Fiendish Chain are typical anti-monster choices, but they're slower and easier to stop. Monsters with disruptive effects clearly have an advantage here, and that's exactly where we should start looking for counters for this match-up.

Let's start with everyone's favorite fossilized Dinosaur: Fossil Dyna Pachycephalo. At 1100 ATK it's just strong enough to avoid being run over by Eset, so your opponent will have to find some way to Tribute Summon a Tefnuit or Su...without Special Summoning. Dyna slows down the duel immediately and baits out monster removal. It's relatively simple to protect, easy to Summon, and has a huge impact on what plays are available to both players. It's great in Fire Fists, Harpies, and any other strategy that can get a lot of damage done without using their Extra Deck. Spellbooks can substitute Dyna for Jowgen the Spiritualist which has a solid 1300 DEF to stand up against Eset.

Kycoo the Ghost Destroyer's another play-restrictor that shuts off access to the Ruler's Summoning effects. Clearing the graveyard of Dragons can hurt, especially if you banish the Hieratic player's Normal monsters. Even Ashes can't return Labradorite or Luster Dragon back to the graveyard. Still, Kycoo does little to stop Tefnuit, Su, and Eset from making Rank 6's. Unlike Fossil Dyna you won't be able to sit on it indefinitely. It lets you capitalize on open fields, and needs to be run alongside enough monster removal to score direct attacks. It's another strong pick for Spellbooks, though other strategies will need to compare it with Dyna and Thunder King Rai-Oh and make their choice accordingly.

Banisher of the Radiance is very strong in this match-up. Played early it can completely remove the graveyard from the equation. It is possible to return banished Hieratic monsters to the graveyard with Ashes, but the process is slow and easily disrupted. Banisher gets a nod over Dimensional Fissure and Macro Cosmos because it's much more difficult to remove from the field. Mystical Space Typhoon, Hieratic Dragon of Su, and Wingbeat are useless against it. Even summoning Banisher into a developed field will stall your opponent for a short time. Your traps become even more dangerous because they'll banish a destroyed monster. Black Horn of Heaven, for instance, would negate Atum's summon and banish it. There's definitely a lot to be said for how these blanket banishers affect graveyard-dependent strategies.

Electric Virus is great against Dragons, especially decks that are making Rank 6's frequently. You can take cards like Atum, Constellar Ptolemy M7, and Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossack with the Virus' effect. If you do nab a Rank 6 you can overlay it with your own Gaia Dragon, the Thunder Charger and keep it permanently. Not only do you get a free card out of the deal, but you'll also be keeping Dragons out of your opponent's graveyard as long as Thunder Charger survives. First turn set-ups with Hieratic Dragon King of Atum and Dracossack are easily dismantled with Electric Virus, so it's useful at any point in the duel.

There are also a number of non-monster options to side against Hieratic Rulers. Mask of Restrict shuts off the Hieratic engine and prevents Normal Dragons from being Summoned. As an added bonus it also stops Dracossack from Tributing tokens to destroy cards. Light-Imprisoning Mirror is an obvious choice against an all-Light archetype, and it works extremely well here. When it's not being destroyed by Typhoon, Mirror disables the graveyard effects of the Hieratic monsters as well as the on-field effects of Su and Atum. Both cards are extremely vulnerable, but they're very effective when it comes to stopping Hieratics in their tracks.

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Siding in extra backrow removal wouldn't hurt either. Hieratic Ruler builds commonly play Skill Drain and it's a pain to go up against if you're playing a combo-oriented strategy. Don't let the deck's early aggression confuse you; it'll play its fair share of defense and most builds are running plenty of traps. You definitely want to avoid blindly destroying a Seal From the Ashes, though. Mistake is another problem card that Hieratics can side into. The only search effects they play are their three Convocations, so it's rather easy for them to side Mistake against Bujins, Mermails, Spellbooks, and anything else that relies on searching the deck.

Hieratic Rulers is a powerful, consistent strategy with few poor match-ups, and it's topped multiple Regionals this format as well as YCS Atlanta. We'll definitely be seeing more of it through March. It has one of the best Side Decks in the game right now with a ton of outs to commonly-sided cards, and more than a few devastating traps like Mistake and Skill Drain. It's absolutely a match-up you want to be prepared for if you'll be competing in tournaments.

-Kelly