For YCS Chicago I decided to play Fire Kings, a deck I hadn't touched since I acquired the last few cards I needed for it in January. I went into the tournament intending to have fun playing for a few rounds, drop, and spend the rest of the evening trading. Between meeting up with people I hadn't seen since last year's WCQ and hunting down cards that are impossible to find in my local area, playing Yu-Gi-Oh! was the last thing on my mind. Still, if I was going to play I figured I might as well build something fun. Fire Kings weren't my first choice, but after being repeatedly frustrated with Mecha Phantom Beasts and Sylvans, I figured I'd try something that was at least a bit more consistent. And actually, this deck happens to be a lot more consistent.

With three copies of Fire Formation - Tenki and Onslaught of the Fire Kings, you have six cards at your disposal that fetch monsters from your deck. Fire King Avatar Barong and Yaksha are usually just a card away and help get your combos rolling in the early game. Since Onslaught itself is searchable with Barong, this strategy has an incredible amount of consistency. The odds of opening into an unplayable hand are slim. At Chicago I played a full set of Flamvell Firedog, which is yet another way of grabbing Barong or Yaksha. That left me with nine cards that could summon a Fire King from the deck, or add one to my hand. There's a bit of redundancy there, but these cards have applications that go well beyond the usual Fire King strategy.

Despite losing two copies of Coach Soldier Wolfbark and Rekindling, Fire Kings are still a strong contender this format. Shijing Yang placed 4th at the Little Rock regional earlier this month using his build, so lets start our discussion by taking a brief look at the cards he was playing.

DECKID=100032Yang ran the usual assortment of Fire King cards in his Main Deck, but there's a bigger emphasis on Call Of The Haunted this time around. Besides chaining Call to an opponent's Typhoon and triggering a Fire King effect, he could also use it to summon Wolfbark and make a Rank 4 Xyz Summon. Even with just one copy it's possible to use Wolfbark's effect multiple times in a duel without trying to protect it for a turn. Call is really strong in this strategy and lets Fire Kings recycle their monsters even better than Fire Fists.

The downside? This deck is incredibly easy to side against.

Counter Siding Against Removal
The biggest threat to Fire Kings are cards that banish monsters. Macro Cosmos, Dimensional Fissure, and Banisher of the Radiance are almost impossible to play against. Fire King monsters that are destroyed won't be sent to the graveyard while these banishing effects are active. Without a Mystical Space Typhoon handy a face-up Dimensional Fissure prevents your own monsters from activating after being destroyed. Wolfbark, Circle of the Fire Kings, and Rekindling lose their targets as monsters skip over the graveyard entirely. Garunix won't be coming back to the field during the Standby Phase even if it's destroyed, and Onslaught banishes the monster it Summons at the End Phase. Blanket banishing effects turn this deck on its head and leave the match almost entirely one-sided.

As far as effectiveness goes, using Macro or Dimensional Fissure is the best way to keep a Fire King player locked out of the game. That said, both are easily stopped by Typhoon or some other form of sided spell and trap removal. Other common counters to Fire Kings aren't so easily dealt with. D.D. Crow can kick Garunix out of the graveyard and bring its reign of fire and destruction to a premature end. Circle of the Fire King and Call Of The Haunted can play around Crow, but they're powerless against a Counter Trap like Debunk. Both cards were frequently played last format and remained popular during the first Regionals of this one.

So how do Fire King players plan their Side Deck when they know that Crow, Debunk, Dimensional Fissure, and Macro Cosmos are likely to be sided in during Games 2 and 3? They side a trap that stops all those cards and more: Imperial Iron Wall. Preventing cards from being banished stops Macro and Fissure from doing their thing. Wall overrides blanket-banishing effects and brings the graveyard back into play, but that's barely half of what it's capable of. As long as it's on the field, the effects of cards that banish monsters cannot be activated. Those Side Deck cards I mentioned earlier – Crow and Debunk – are useless while Wall is active. As a counter side this trap is nearly perfect; the only card that slips by it is the currently-Limited Soul Drain.

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Imperial Iron Wall's equally effective against a number of Main Deck tech choices that are devastating to Fire Kings. Dimensional Prison and Bottomless Trap Hole are Game 1 threats that players won't be siding out for this match-up. They're both solid outs to the Giant Nuclear Chicken Garunix. Iron Wall's yet another out to those cards that's beyond Forbidden Lance, Circle of the Fire King, and Generation Shift.

The final way to play Iron Wall is as a counter to match-ups that rely on banishing cards. Bujingi monsters like Turtle and Hare can't be banished while Wall's on the field. Spellbook of Fate, High Priestess of Prophecy, and Spellbook of Life also depend on being able to remove cards from the graveyard. Madolche Hootcake, Mezuki, Allure of Darkness, and the four Dragon Rulers are all stymied by Iron Wall's effect.

Skill Drain On Standby
When Wolfbark was limited I saw it as an opportunity to further explore Skill Drain in Fire Kings. You'll notice Yang avoided siding it himself and that's to be expected. For now, Light-Imprisoning Mirror has enough match-up utility that Skill Drain isn't needed. Bujins, Hieratics, Noble Knights, Constellars, and the upcoming Artifact theme are better countered with Light Mirror. Still, there's Geargia to consider. Most of Yang's Side Deck cards, and even a number of his Main Deck tech choices, are very effective against Geargia. Swift Scarecrow and Maxx "C" prevent OTK's, Mind Crush rips Geargiaccelerator out of the hand, and Full House nukes the backrows protecting Geargiarmor. The sheer number of tech cards included in Yang's build just to deal with Geargia might seem a bit overkill, but each one of them has more than enough utility to warrant their slot.

Let's go back to Mind Crush: the only card in Yang's Side Deck that he played three copies of. Speaking broadly, Mind Crush is a great card for nearly every level of competition. Besides taking out cards added by Tenki, Geargiarmor, Mermail Abyssteus, and Bujin Yamato, it also provides you with a look at your opponent's hand. That level of insight is game-changing, and it's especially useful in one of this deck's toughest match-ups: Mermails and Bujins. Mermails have quick access to Number 11: Big Eye, Abyss Dweller, and Number 101: Silent Honor ARK, all of which are devastating to Fire Kings. Mind Crush is very easy to play in this match-up and directly counter the summoning of Mermail Abyssteus and Abyssmegalo.

Mermails have some high-ATK monsters of their own, but it's Bujins that are most likely to destroy Garunix in battle. Bujingi Crane and Honest can't be negated by Light-Imprisoning Mirror, and since they activate in the Damage Step they're impossible to dodge with Circle of the Fire Kings or Generation Shift. Mind Crush can kick Crane out of your opponent's hand, and it'll also let you know if they're packing an Honest along with it. There are plenty of other cards you can call against Bujins such as Bujincarnation, but clearing their hand of ATK modifiers is probably the best use for Mind Crush.

Besides effects that banish cards, the most common Side Deck trap played against Fire Kings is Soul Drain. Drain prevents Yaksha, Barong, and Garunix from activating and for the most part shuts down this graveyard-dependent strategy. Without the ability to summon Garunix to clear the field it can be tough for Fire Kings to advance their game plan. Yang sided three cards to deal with Soul Drain: one copy of Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Gorilla, and two copies of Full House. Gorilla's an obvious choice in a deck that's already playing three Tenki, Wolfbark, and numerous other Beast-Warriors. It's akin to Breaker the Magical Warrior, but searchable via the same card that fuels its effect. It's a cheap and easy play to simply activate Tenki, grab Gorilla, and destroy Soul Drain without so much as a second thought.

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To deal with decks that play larger trap line-ups like Geargia, you need something that can take out multiple cards at once. Lacking any form of on-theme spell and trap removal, Fire Kings are forced to rely on outside tech; sometimes Typhoon just doesn't cut it, and for those situations you can side in Full House. By exploiting face-up copies of Tenki and Fiendish Chain you can destroy several cards on your opponent's side of the field with just a single trap. It's the best way to preemptively take out Debunk, Dimensional Prison, or Bottomless Trap Hole besides getting lucky with a blind Typhoon.

Smart tech choices go a long way towards swinging a match-up in your favor, and thanks to the April Forbidden List Fire Kings now have a little more space to work. Being limited to just a single copy of Wolfbark and Rekindling should hopefully push players to explore other cards. This strategy is packing some great monsters and a powerful set of support spells, so the loss of off-theme cards might end up being just a road bump on the way to bigger successes. As it stands now Fire Kings are entirely underrated, but absolutely a solid pick for Regional-level competition, or the upcoming YGO Series in Orlando.

-Kelly