In the aftermath of YCS Tacoma it's now readily apparent that Nekroz is the new deck to beat. Twenty-two duelists in the Top 32 played Nekroz, leaving just six Qliphorts and four Burning Abyss to round out the rest of the field. Satellarknights had a great run leading up to Day 2 with two undefeated players heading into Round 7, but failed to make it past the final cut at the end of the Swiss Rounds. Shaddolls, Masked HERO, and Volcanics underperformed, and while Ritual Beasts and Yosenju were topping at Regional events all weekend their success didn't carry over to the YCS.

YCS Charleston foreshadowed some of those events: Shaddolls have vanished from the Top 32 and Satellarknights have mostly taken their place. Burning Abyss dominated Charleston, but it was only the third most represented deck after the cut in Tacoma. Qliphort effectively lea pt right over Burning Abyss...only to be topped by Nekroz.

The Secret Forces was a huge game-changer at Tacoma, and the addition of Nekroz to the competitive environment makes it tough to compare to Charleston. It's a whole new game now, and there are three new decks players will have to be prepared to play against.

Inheriting A Legacy
Why were Nekroz so successful? The deck dominated Tacoma just one day after its release, easily beating other strategies which were previously considered to be the best in the game. Qliphort and Burning Abyss would have been the favorites going into the YCS had The Secret Forces released any other time, but lost out to Nekroz in a huge way. Is the deck really that good?

The short answer is: yes, it's that good. In my personal opinion I believe Nekroz is the best new strategy since Dragon Rulers. They've got it all: incredible consistency, amazing opening plays, access to lockdowns, Rank 4 utility, and an easily-searched toolbox of monsters that includes the effect of one of the best Synchros in the game. This deck is stupidly good and its success at Tacoma surprised very few players.

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Consistency is king in Yu-Gi-Oh, and Nekroz have plenty of it. Manju of the Ten Thousand Hands; Senju of the Thousand Hands; Herald of the Arc Light; Nekroz of Brionac; Nekroz of Clausolas; Preparation of Rites; Nekroz Mirror; Nekroz Kaleidoscope; Nekroz Cycle; Shurit, Strategist of the Nekroz; Exa, Enforcer of the Nekroz; and Great Sorcerer of the Nekroz all search the deck for Nekroz cards. The quantity of search effects means that every combo piece is accessible when you need it on Turn 1. There's no waiting involved, and bricking is almost impossible.

At a Championship-level event with close to a dozen rounds a deck like Nekroz is at its best. Over the course of the day other players are likely to lose duels purely as a result of poor opening hands. Qliphorts can fail to draw Qliphort Scout or a way to get it, and Burning Abyss might start with an all-spell hand. There are a few combinations with Shaddolls that are tough to play out of. Nekroz, however, has very few 'poor' hands. Nearly any combination of cards is playable to a competitive degree. Again, it's largely thanks to the deck's absurd number of deck-searching effects.

One of the deck's most common plays involves activating Kaleidoscope to Ritual Summon Nekroz of Unicore by sending Herald of the Arc Light to the graveyard. It won't leave your opponent up any cards, but it will set them up for future plays. Unicore's a stepping stone for the theme's powerhouse monsters – Nekroz of Trishula, Nekroz of Valkyrus, Nekroz of Decisive Armor, and Nekroz of Gungnir – as well as Rank 4s. It's a vital part of the strategy even if it doesn't win duels on its own.

Speaking of powerhouses: the biggest Ritual Monsters in this deck are some of the best monsters in the game right now. Nekroz of Trishula carries the effect of a Synchro that has been Forbidden since 2012 and absolutely lives up to its name. Banishing three cards, without targeting, is incredible when so many monsters resist destruction or replace themselves upon hitting the graveyard. it's not uncommon for Trishula to cripple players beyond their ability to recover. As if that wasn't enough, Nekroz players can discard Trishula to protect their monsters from being targeted by card effects. Breakthrough Skill, Effect Veiler, Fiendish Chain, Qliphort Carrier, Virgil, Rockstar of the Burning Abyss, Fire Lake of the Burning Abyss, and Phoenix Wing Wind Blast are all easily negated by Trishula.

Nekroz of Trishula gets most of the attention as far as 'Summonable' Nekroz monsters go. Most of the other monsters in the deck are played for their discard effects rather than their on-field abilities, but that's not to say they aren't worth Summoning. Decisive Armor banishes set traps and is a great follow-up to Denko Sekka; Gungnir makes short work of Qliphort fields; Valkyrus speeds the deck's strategy along by grabbing draws and triggering search effects; Brionac shuffles away Extra Deck cards; finally, Nekroz of Clausolas can play a defensive role by negating Synchro, Xyz, and Fusion monsters on either players turn while zeroing out their ATK.

With replaceable Ritual Spells, easily searched combo pieces, and plenty of extra Ritual support, Nekroz are a powerful theme with no real equal at the moment. Their deck engine is the best in the game as of right now, but this consistency comes at a cost: it's a very fragile strategy that's susceptible to a large number of floodgates. With the right sided cards, or even Main Deck tech, you can keep your opponent from doing much of anything. For decks like Qliphort and Burning Abyss these cards help them stay relevant at the Championship-level, but other decks will need those same cards to avoid being completely brushed aside.

Preventing Special Summons
The most effective Main Deck card against Nekroz is Vanity's Emptiness. Its recent reprint in The Secret Forces is a hint: this card is too good not to play right now. Emptiness stops every Nekroz Ritual Monster from hitting the field under any circumstances, and chaining it to a Ritual Spell typically leaves your opponent down a card. An Extra Deck card will still be sent to the graveyard if Emptiness is chained to Nekroz Kaleidoscope, but a monster won't be Summoned. It's an odd behavior that results from a re-wording of the card's text from its initial OCG release, and might not stand in future events.

Vanity's Fiend and Fossil Dyna Pachycephalo saw some play at YCS Tacoma in Qliphorts and Yosenju to counter the torrent of Special Summons Nekroz are capable of. Fossil Dyna is a bit easier to Summon and can crack the Djinn lock when flipped face-up, but it's also weaker than Manju and Senju. Most Nekroz players are using Book of Moon and Book of Eclipse to flip floodgate monsters face-down, which can actually work in Dyna's favor if you can keep it from being banished by Trishula or Decisive Armor. For Qliphorts, Burning Abyss, or Shaddolls, Vanity's Fiend is the superior choice. Although it's just as vulnerable to spells it's also noticeably stronger, leaving your opponent with fewer outs. Vanity's cousin, Majesty's Fiend, also happens to be very effective in this match-up by denying your opponent the discard effects of their monsters.

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Negating Ritual Spells will also shut down Ritual Summons, and there are a few cards that can do just that. Naturia Beast can outright win you the game if you can keep it safe from Decisive Armor-boosted Nekroz Effect Monsters. Nekroz players exclusively use spells to deal with monster-based floodgates, and Naturia Beast can simply negate them at any point. Likewise, Summoning Horus the Black Flame Dragon LV8 would seal the duel in your favor. Unfortunately, resolving the effect of Horus the Black Flame Dragon LV6 is tricky unless your opponent leaves a Manju or Senju on the field. I'd be tempted to side it in a deck that plays The Monarchs Stormforth, but I recommend leaving that tech for casual play.

Dealing With Search Effects
Nekroz players search their deck many times more than they Special Summon, so Shared Ride takes the place of Maxx "C" in this match-up. Still, neither card will stop your opponent from OTK'ing if the opportunity presents itself. Led by Trishula and Abyss Dweller, Nekroz can make big plays with impunity against Burning Abyss, Qliphort, and Shaddoll. They're only really concerned with Shared Ride in the mirror match, where extra draws could let their opponent grab a Valkyrus. Swift Scarecrow, Battle Fader, and Gorz the Emissary of Darkness are easily stopped by either of Trishula's effects. Unless you're playing a deck that makes a habit of playing those cards no matter the match-up, I'd look for another Side Deck option. Don't get me wrong: Shared Ride is incredible, but its usefulness is mostly restricted to the Nekroz Mirror match.

Mistake disables searching altogether and shuts down the Nekroz engine before it has a chance to spin up. Flipping it in response to Brionac or Clausolas will net you a +1 and leave your opponent out of the duel until they can draw into Mystical Space Typhoon or Twister. Remember all those cards I mentioned earlier? Mistake leaves them dead in the hand or useless upon Summon.

At worst, Mistake will get blasted by a piece of removal as soon as it's flipped. At best you'll win the duel the next turn. In most situations, however, your opponent will have to make an awkward play to take it off the field. They can still make Ritual Summons, Rank 4's, and bring Trishula down on it, but those plays won't be ideal. Herald of the Arc Light can't activate while Mistake is up, forcing your opponent to make a -2 to put Castel, the Skyblaster Musketeer or Evilswarm Excition Knight on the field.

The problem with Mistake is that very few strategies can play it right now. Some of the decks that can – Infernoids, Racoons, and Yang Zing – are only viable at the Regional level. Their match-up against Nekroz is poor, but Mistake can definitely give them an edge. Mistake's also excellent against Qliphorts and Satellarknights, and somewhat effective against Burning Abyss. Shaddolls might be the best venue for Mistake to work its magic, though it requires some sacrifices to work. Shaddolls can also play Thunder King Rai-Oh due to its Light Attribute, and a few other strategies can Main Deck it. It's a magnet for Book of Moon, Book of Eclipse, Snatch Steal and Dark Hole, but it's strong enough to hold its own in battle.

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Imperial Iron Wall's worth considering for its multiple uses against Nekroz. First, it prevents your opponent from banishing their Ritual Spells to search more spells from the deck. Second, Iron Wall limits Nekroz Mirror to Tributing cards in the hand and on the field. Third, it stops both Trishula and Decisive Armor from banishing your cards, and fourth, Valkyrus won't be able to end your Battle Phase. It doesn't have as much of an impact as some of these other cards, and it's easily played around, but it can have a serious impact on a longer duel. The trick is getting Iron Wall on the field before it becomes irrelevant, which is often very early in the game.

Finally, we'll take a look at Mind Crush. This card was heavily sided at Tacoma for good reason: ripping a card from your opponent's hand when they attempt to make a Ritual Summon expends the use of that Ritual Spell for the turn and leaves them out two cards. It's a quick +1 that can brick the rest of their hand if you're lucky, and it also provides invaluable information regarding which cards they're currently holding onto. Knowing whether or not your opponent has Ritual Spells makes a big difference: if you're not threatened by a monster sitting on their field, you can simply leave it there and prevent them from banishing their spells to search out another Mirror, Cycle, or Kaleidoscope.

Emptying the Graveyard
Macro Cosmos, Dimensional Fissure, Banisher of the Radiance, and Masked HERO Dark Law banish Nekroz monsters before they can ever hit the graveyard. Early in the duel this might not make a big difference: your opponent can still search and Summon Rituals without interference, but as the game progresses these cards will start to take their Toll. Kaleidoscope becomes much less useful when Herald of the Arc Light is sent to the graveyard, and each of the Ritual Spells will either end up banished or have their fodder banished. Nekroz of Unicore loses its usefulness without any targets left in the graveyard, and Preparations of Rites will miss its second effect.

Banishing cards doesn't have to be something you accomplish with a floodgate. Burning Abyss can play Dark Smog while Qliphorts have access to Sealing Ceremony of Mokuton. Both cards can quickly clear out your opponent's graveyard and stomp out the Djinn lock before it can be established. Kycoo the Ghost Destroyer takes advantage of Manjus and Senjus – or simply open fields – to banish monsters. It also can't be stopped by Valkyrus and even offers some protection against Trishula.

Nekroz are going to be the deck to beat for at least the next month and a half, and nearly everyone will be siding heavily for that match-up. Of course, Nekroz players aren't oblivious to that: they'll be counter siding with Twister, Book of Eclipse, and Denko Sekka. Avoiding those cards, beating the consistency of the deck, and coming out ahead won't be easy for the majority of competitive strategies. For now, Qliphorts are clinging to success thanks to their ability to main Vanity's Emptiness and Skill Drain. This coming weekend will see more Nekroz players hitting up events around the country, followed by even more the week following. It's a tough deck to build with lots of hard-to-pull cards, but there's no doubt in my mind that we'll still be discussing how to beat it by the time the World Championship Qualifier rolls around.

Until next time then
-Kelly