Conversion Side Decks are so few and far between that successful builds might as well be mythical creatures from some far-off land. Yet, already two conversion strategies have placed in the Top 16 of YCS events this year. Maybe we've wandered into a different dimension, or accidentally unleashed forbidden, ancient magic onto the world.
Whatever the case may be I'm now certain that Bjorn Schulze's Top 8 finish in Berlin has implications beyond proving that a conversion between Chain Burn and Inzektors is possible. Now that Hooman Farahbakhsh has once again shown off just how effective a conversion Side Deck can be with two other strategies – Bujin and Fire Fist – it's high time players started seriously considering conversion siding as an option.
Farahbakhsh's deck is designed to transition between two Tenki-based strategies: Bujin and Fire Fist. The Bujin side of his build is fairly typical with just a few changes to make it more aggressive. A full set of Bujin Yamato, Bujingi Crane, and two copies each of Bujin Mikazuchi, Bujingi Hare, and Bujingi Turtle comprised his Bujin line-up. The only difference between Farahbakhsh's choices and those of YCS Chicago winner Tom Mak's three weeks before was a single Bujingi Quilin. The last piece of themed support in the Main Deck is a pair of Bujincarnation. That leaves Honest as the final, mutually exclusive tech choice. You might have already guessed, but the total number of Main Deck cards that don't support Fire Fists comes out to fifteen exactly.
By siding out the fourteen Bujin cards plus Honest, Farahbakhsh would replace them with the entirety of his Side Deck and convert from Bujin to Fire Fists. Two copies of Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Bear, Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Gorilla, and Coach Soldier Wolfbark give the deck a solid Level 4 foundation, while three copies each of Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Leopard, Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Rooster, and a single Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Spirit add a 3-Axis element. A set of Fire Formation - Tensu provide just enough Fire Formations and summoning support to make combos with Rooster viable. Lastly, a lone Rekindling adds a deadly late-game card into the mix.
Where these two strategies intersect is in their use of Beast-Warriors. Fire Formation cards support both themes, allowing Farahbakhsh to keep Tenki and Fire Formation - Gyokkou in his Main Deck even after siding. Tenki's an obvious, and arguably necessary card for Fire Fist and Bujin, while Gyokkou is more optional. Along with three copies of Mystical Space Typhoon and Forbidden Lance, Farahbakhsh was playing a huge number of cards to counter spells and traps. His Game 1 strategy with Bujin is notably more aggressive than builds that don't feature a conversion side. His trap count was also a bit on the low side, especially considering his decision to not play hand traps.
Making Sided Cards Useless
Conversion sides are the ultimate deception. You can fool your opponent into thinking you're playing a different deck before the match begins and surprise them, but once the cat's out of the bag your advantage evaporates. On the other hand, convincing your opponent to side in match-up specific tech cards that have no effect on the deck you're actually playing leaves you with a huge advantage for the entirety of the duel. It's not enough to simply deceive: you have to be able to create an opportunity and capitalize on it.
Bjorn Schulze's Chain Burn/Inzektor conversion exploited conventional Side Deck tactics by changing into a monster-based strategy after his opponent sided out their counters to Effect Monsters. Players would drop Effect Veiler, Bottomless Trap Hole, and other defensive cards in an effort to push past Schulze's own defenses before their Life Points ran out. That ended up being their downfall: without protection from Inzektor Hornet their aggression would leave them vulnerable to field-clearing Inzektor combos. In Schulze's case, he was betting on his opponents siding out Main Deck tech.
Farahbakhsh's conversion strategy was a bit different. Rather than convince his opponent to side out cards, he was hoping they would side in cards. Specifically, his opponents would side in cards that were effective against Bujin but useless in the Fire Fist match-up. Think about the types of traps that are typically sided against Bujin. Light-Imprisoning Mirror is phenomenal at stopping Bujin Yamato, Bujin Mikazuchi, Turtle, and Hare. It also negates the effects of Bujintei Xyz Monsters. Light Mirror was a popular card last format and it continues to see a considerable play as a counter to Hieratics. I highly recommend siding it...but I'd recommend you keep it out when playing against Fire Fists. That makes sense, right? That deck isn't exactly known for playing Light monsters.
So what happens when you side in Light-Imprisoning Mirror against Bujin, set it on your first turn, activate it during your opponent's Draw Phase, only to watch them play Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Leopard and search Tenki? Tenki grabs Spirit, Spirit is Summoned and Horse Prince hits the field, and suddenly you're staring down a set-up that you have no counters to. No, an entire deck that couldn't care less about Light-Imprisoning Mirror, Debunk, or Soul Drain. Cards that would have previously locked your opponent out of the game are now useless as anything other than a bluff, or as a means of paying activation costs.
This is exactly the sort of scenario that Farahbakhsh designed his deck for. Side Deck cards used against Bujin usually don't share matchup utility with Fire Fists. Again, think Light-Imprisoning Mirror, Debunk, and Soul Drain. Those cards work against Mermail and Hieratics too, but they're nearly useless in the Fire Fist match-up. By deceiving his opponent into siding them in and converting to Fire Fist, he can play at least Game 2 with a serious advantage. Making four or five of his opponent's cards dead before the game even begins is great. It's definitely worth building a strategy around if you think you can pull it off.
After siding into Fire Fists Farahbakhsh could quickly take control of the duel and capitalize on his opponent's confusion, and their now-useless Side Deck cards. That's where Gyokkou, Typhoon, and Lance come in handy. Protecting game-ending plays from a Dimensional Prison or Mirror Force is usually enough to bypass the crippled defenses of any player who sided for the wrong deck.
The mind games continue in Game 3 where Farahbakhsh can either stay with Fire Fists, or switch back to Bujin. Either way his opponent will have a tough choice to make: side for Fire Fists, Bujin, or both? Of course, 'both' typically means bringing in cards that aren't nearly as effective. Overworked and Mind Crush are probably the best choices, but many players have forgone Overworked in response to Wolfbark hitting the Limited List. Then there's the biggest mind game of all: an opponent who knows of Farhbakhsh's strategy ahead of time thanks to word of mouth might predict the Fire Fist side in Game 2...and instead find himself playing against Bujin again. Making the conversion isn't mandatory, after all.
The Future Of Conversion Side Decks
Part of the reason why conversion Side Decks are becoming increasingly viable is the small, manageable size of the core engines major themes are based around. Ghostricks, Spirits, Inzektor, Madolche, Bujin, Fire Fist, Fire King, and even Geargia are rarely playing more than fifteen on-theme cards in the Main Deck. For YCS Chicago one of my friends decided to try a different take on Chain Burn Inzektors by siding into Madolche instead. It's actually more effective than you might think; you can leave Chain Strike in and deal some serious burn damage as Madolche effects queue up in the graveyard after being destroyed. Neither of us did very well, but after the event we felt confident that we could tweak the build and greatly improve it.
Hybrids like Ghostrick Madolche and Ghostrick Spirit are now possible due to the small footprint of their core engines. Ghostrick Jiangshi, Ghostrick Mary, and Ghostrick Specter take up as few as eight deck slots, while Spirits generally need between nine and thirteen. Fleshing out a more 'complete' theme like Ghostricks and siding into it is certainly possible, but you can also side in or out of different hybrids. For example: going from Ghostrick Spirits to pure Ghostricks lets you shift into a build with The Dark Creator, a Ghostrick Yuki-onna lock, or some other variant. It's a change that affects your playstyle, which just so happens to be the third form of conversion Side Decks.
We've already discussed siding to capitalize on the cards your opponent sides out, and siding to dodge the ones they're bringing in. The third and final conversion strategy changes your deck's playstyle dramatically, but without changing themes. The most common example of this are strategies that side into Skill Drain variants. Decks like Fire Kings, Dark World, Hieratics, and Mythic Rulers can go well beyond simply bringing in extra effect negation. Siding a half-dozen card that work under Skill Drain's effectively a conversion side, although it's usually less obvious than other forms. Imagine playing Mythic Rulers and siding Beast King Barbaros, Fencing Fire Ferret, and Fusilier Dragon, the Dual-Mode Beast. Those monsters all work great under Skill Drain; combo with pre-existing elements in your deck; and dramatically change your playstyle by giving you multiple powerful Normal Summons.
Every newly-released deck theme opens up more possibilities to create conversion strategies. I'm personally looking forward to a format where these types of decks are common, and every smokescreen side challenges players to risk effectiveness over utility. There are so many ways to exploit your Side Deck beyond just filling it with match-up tech; it's an extra fifteen cards that open up tons of new possibilities. Farahbakhsh's build might be the last of its kind that we see in a YCS Top 16 this format, but I'm sure we'll see another successful conversion strategy at another event in the next few months. Maybe it'll be yours? Give it a shot and you might end up even more surprised than your opponent.
Until next time then