At my locals we have an unofficial tradition where everyone – at one point or another – has played Lightsworns. I had my run with the deck back in 2010, shortly after Judgment Dragon was reprinted. With Charge of the Light Brigade, Honest, and Solar Recharge available as promos I was able to put together a build with minimal effort. That said, I was playing Lightsworns well past their prime. Charge, Lumina, Lightsworn Summoner, and Necro Gardna were all Limited by then, while Judgment Dragon was Semi-Limited. Since I dropped the deck two things have changed: first, more Lightsworn cards were reprinted; and second, previously-restricted cards slowly made their way off the Forbidden and Limited List.

The Realm of Light Structure Deck that released last week contains just about every Lightsworn card ever printed, and finally makes the entire deck accessible to budget players. It's a far cry from 2008 where a complete build would be valued at hundreds of dollars – and that was without an Extra Deck to consider. This set's loaded with solid tech for Lightsworn players, but more importantly it has four new cards: Raiden, Hand of the Lightsworn; Minerva, Lightsworn Maiden; Lightsworn Sanctuary; and Michael, the Arch-Lightsworn. Raiden and Michael are strong additions to the deck and give the strategy some teeth when it isn't dropping Judgment Dragon.

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This Structure Deck couldn't have arrived at a better time. Lumina, Lightsworn Summoner and Judgment Dragon are currently Unlimited, leaving Charge as the only card in the theme currently restricted. Thanks to new cards released over the last year this deck plays in a way that's very different from before. It's more aggressive, and more capable of putting Judgment Dragon on the field in the early game. It's also very successful at securing Game 1's against defensive decks like Geargia, Bujin, and Traptrix variants. Anything that can't win games quickly is at risk of being overwhelmed by field-clearing Dragons...and thanks to Raiden your opponents will have to worry about more than just Judgment Dragon.

The Light Brigade Charges Again
Keep in mind that Realm of Light is only the second round of Lightsworn support this year. If you haven't been keeping up with the deck over the last few months you'll want to pay special attention to how Kuribandit, Eclipse Wyvern, and the Dragon Rulers have changed this strategy. Kuribandit's been played in threes in nearly every Lightsworn build since its release. It's the perfect first turn Summon, excavating five cards to your graveyard while potentially grabbing a powerful spell or trap. Lightsworns can hold their own with just monsters, but it's Solar Recharge and Charge of the Light Brigade that really get the ball rolling. Kuribandit lets you get to those cards earlier and more consistently while simultaneously building your graveyard, and that makes a huge difference early on in the duel. Oh, and it happens to be a Dark monster.

There was a time when players would use Gold Sarcophagus to banish Judgment Dragon, hoping to add it to their hand in two turns. Eclipse Wyvern is very similar to Sarcophagus, but you don't have to wait to for a couple of Standby Phases to add your banished Dragon. Instead, you can use a Dragon Ruler or Black Luster Soldier to trigger Wyvern's effect and get Judgment the same turn you banished it. Typically Wyvern will activate when sent from the deck to the graveyard, but you can also pitch it for Lumina and trigger it that way. At any rate, searching Judgment Dragon faster speeds up the deck dramatically. The 'multi-JD drop' win condition that Lightsworns are known for is now much more easy thanks to these new Dragons.

Of course, it's the newest Lightsworns that have had the most recent impact on the deck. Raiden is one of the theme's two new Tuner monsters and packs a Main Phase mill effect that can potentially increase its ATK. Now that Lumina can Summon a Tuner, all sorts of Synchro plays are possible. The most common of which is to simply use Lumina and Raiden to Summon a Level 7 Synchro. Reliable access to the field-clearing power of Black Rose Dragon is dangerous, and a Lightsworn player can Summon it ahead of Judgment Dragon to bait out traps. Raiden also makes Crimson Blader a possibility, giving you a bit of an edge against Mermail, Sylvan, and Dragon Rulers.

Michael's just awesome: it's just as accessible as Black Rose Dragon and its effect deals with nearly any problem card on the field. As a Level 7 Dragon it has obvious synergy with the Dragon Rulers and provides a way to Summon Rank 7 Xyz. By opening up the Extra Deck for Lightsworns, Raiden adds a huge amount of flexibility to this strategy and puts it well within range of Championship success.

Snuffing Out The Light
Lightsworns are a graveyard-dependent, all-Light theme. You can probably imagine the types of cards that work well against pure builds: effects that banish, and counters to Light monsters. As you might expect we'll be discussing some sided tech options that do one or the other. In any case, whatever cards you side need to be resistant to your opponent's removal. In Games 2 and 3 you'll have to contend with removal in both the Main and Side Deck. Lyla, Lightsworn Sorceress breaks backrow cards and reduces the effectiveness of cards like Dimensional Fissure or Macro Cosmos. On the other hand, she's powerless against Light-Imprisoning Mirror and Skill Drain. Sided monsters will need to be protected: many of the Normal Summons in this deck are strong enough to take down Banisher of the Radiance, Fossil Dyna Pachycephalo, and Kycoo the Ghost Destroyer.

During Games 2 and 3 your opponent will most likely side in Mystical Space Typhoon and Royal Decree. Ryko, Lightsworn Hunter's another popular main or side pick that offers removal against any card that isn't resistant to destruction. Like Lyla it's somewhat useless against cards that can negate its effect, but that's where Typhoon and Decree come in. What Lightsworn monsters can't destroy, these two cards can usually deal with.

First up: the floodgates. Light-Imprisoning Mirror is my go-to suggestion for siding against Lightsworn. It's vulnerable as a Continuous Trap, but it's viable at any point in the game and puts in a ton of work. Locking up the effects of all Light monsters on the field and in the graveyard means Lyla and Ryko can't destroy it, forcing your opponent to rely on off-theme methods of removal. They could simply have a Typhoon ready to counter it, or they might not. Like Bujin, Lightsworns won't do a whole lot while under Mirror. Their End Phase effects won't activate, Lumina can't Summon monsters from the graveyard, and Judgment Dragon won't be able to nuke the field. It also stops Eclipse Wyvern from banishing a Dragon. There are numerous other tech cards like Lightray Diabolos and Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning that are similarly stopped by Mirror.

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As with most graveyard-dependent strategies, Dimensional Fissure and Macro Cosmos are incredibly strong in this match-up. Unlike Light-Imprisoning Mirror these two cards don't have the same protection against Ryko and Lyla, but they also counter more than Light monsters. Kuribandit, the Dragon Rulers, Honest, and Necro Gardna aren't affected by Mirror, but they are stopped by blanket banishing effects. Charge of the Light Brigade can't be used, and Solar Recharge leaves your opponent's monsters removed from play. Macro and Fissure prevent the graveyard from being developed and stall out the game. If enough Lightsworn monsters are banished your opponent won't be able to Summon Judgment Dragon, although that's obviously a best-case scenario. Still, banishing monsters has a lasting effect on the duel and will, over time, throw put your opponent into an unwinnable position.

Again: Macro Cosmos, Dimensional Fissure, and Banisher of the Radiance are all vulnerable to all sorts of removal and negation. They're fragile cards, and ideally you'd want to play something your opponent can't simply destroy with a single Typhoon. D.D. Crow is one option, and it's great against Lumina plays. Banishing a single Lightsworn monster may or may not prevent Judgment Dragon from hitting the field that turn, but hitting a Lumina target is almost always worth it. Crow works best in situations where banishing a monster serves a dual purpose.

Soul Release is, believe it or not, somewhat viable against modern Lightsworn builds. Banishing up to five cards at once can be extremely powerful; without a developed graveyard Lumina and Judgment Dragon become dead weight. After Soul Release empties the graveyard of Lightsworns and Dragon Rulers, your opponent will have to yard new monsters to take their place. It's a serious setback that buys you time to win the game while your opponent's plays are restricted. Kuribandit and most Lightsworn mill effects load the graveyard during the End Phase, exposing them to Soul Release. Timing is everything, but if you play it at the right time you can seriously disrupt your opponent's strategy and leave them scrambling.

Lightsworns are a serious contender for the North American WCQ this year, and I'd absolutely plan to go up against the deck there. If you're not already siding for them...you really should be. Seriously: this deck is good. For the most part the same cards you'd side against Bujins – the notable exceptions being Debunk and Mistake – are great against Lightsworn. There will be a wide variety of decks heading into the WCQ, so getting as much utility out of your sided cards as possible is absolutely essential. Judgement Dragon easily steals Game 1's from even the best players. Your Side Deck will often be the only thing stopping them from repeating their success a second time.

Until next time then

-Kelly