There's a lot going on in the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG right now, between the new format just a couple weeks underway, a monstrous list of new products hitting shelves over the course of the next couple months and some very real reprints to keep an eye out for. Vanity's Emptiness, am I right?

More than anything else, at least from a competitive standpoint, the changes to the Advanced Format should be considered the top of the list. Last week in a piece on Raigeki, I ran down some of the changes on this format's F&L List. You can check that out right here if you want, but I've got you covered on the SparkNotes version just in case: Glow-Up Bulb has some potential, but who knows. Gorz the Emissary of Darkness is at two and nobody seems to really care about that for some reason? And both Magician of Faith and Formula Synchron are at three again, though that seems pretty unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Well, mostly, but more on that another time.

I do want to stick pretty closely to the context of the F&L List for a little bit though, since there's a ton going on there. In that same vein, there are a fair number of older deck themes that haven't seen the light of the competitive circuit in a while, and the number one thing that breathes life back into them aside from new support is what rotates on and off of the List. I plan on discussing Plant Synchro and how or when it might be relevant again, but before all that there's an archetype in particular that got a big boost from this format's List that I want to make sure I don't pass up: Blackwings. More specifically, the Semi-Limiting of Blackwing - Gale the Whirlwind.

Feather Striker
Quietly, subtly, over the course of the last few formats, Blackwings have been getting back big chunks of their old power. Don't get me wrong, even if the TCG did see Dark Strike Fighter come back, it probably wouldn't be anything like it was in its prime, and Crush Card Virus is still safely quarantined away where it should be. That said, Gale isn't the only card the deck's been given back in recent memory. For a couple of years there, Blackwing - Kalut the Moonshadow was restricted to varying degrees, and Gale's been Limited for the better part of half a decade now. It might not feel like that long, but September '09 was a long time ago. Black Whirlwind's been back and forth between unlimited, Semi-Limited and Limited over the years, too, but it's sitting pretty firmly at unlimited right now.

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The viability of the deck on paper's hard to deny, and I'd venture to say that Gale being Semi-Limited is largely related to that. Just about all of Gale's stats are beneficial in some way, save for its negligible DEF. As it turns out, birds don't take punches very well. That aside, being a Winged-Beast, a Dark and a 1300 ATK body are all tremendous. It's inarguable that Blackwing - Blizzard the Far North is one of the Blackwing deck's best cards – it is a Debris Dragon more or less. The key differences being that Blizzard can be used without restriction for whatever you want, and that the monster you Special Summon back doesn't have its effect negated.

For Gale, that means you have the freedom of a +1 into an automatically crippled monster on your opponent's side of the field. Effectively, Gale can trade blows with anything under 2600 ATK. When you move up the Blackwing ranks, Gale's effect essentially confirms that any monster your opponent controls willget run over by battle if it sticks around. Blackwing - Bora the Spear and Blackwing - Shura the Blue Flame can beat over any body with up to 3350 and 3550 ATK respectively, and Blackwing - Sirocco the Dawn smashes anything your opponent might have the whimsy to drop on the field.

Like Legendary Six Samurai - Kizan, you can't Special Summon Gale from your hand if the only Blackwing monsters you control are more copies of Gale, but if there's even one more Blackwing flying around you can drop both copies at the same time without any problem. Flooding the field with Blackwings is easy, and that deck's equivalent of Reinforcement of the Army or Satellarknight Deneb is a continuous spell. The searching conditions are a Little Different: you only search when you Normal Summon a Blackwing, and what you grab needs to have less ATK than the Blackwing that just hit the field. At the same time, Sirocco, Shura and Bora all have more than Gale, and if you have literally any of those three then you probably wanted to grab Gale anyway. There are other Blackwing monsters you could feasibly use to search for Gale, but nobody's got any reason to run them seriously right now anyway, save for Kalut the Moonshadow. That one's gotta stay in your hand most of the time.

More than just beating and swarming, the fact that there are so many spam-friendly Level 4 and 5 Blackwings means Gale being a Level 3 Tuner pushes out Synchros like a beast. Synchro Summoning's inherently a stern -1 of card economy, but Black Whirlwind and Shura bringing out Tuners as +1's can mitigate that and turn your Synchro Summon into an even trade. Most of the Synchros Blackwings are going to make have some kind of built-in protection, so dropping them as 1-for-1's seems pretty good. Beelze of the Diabolic Dragons skips out on all destruction, Stardust Spark Dragon does something similar, and Blackwing Armor Master doesn't deal with losing battles. Then there's Thought Ruler Archfiend, but we'll talk about that soon enough.

Attempted Murder
The Blackwing deck itself has more of an Extra Deck than just Levels 7 and 8; Kalut the Moonshadow and Gale make efficient Rank 3 Xyz Summons, when you're using searches from Black Whirlwind to put them together. Gale's ATK-cutting effect practically guarantees that any Rank 3 you make takes something out in battle that turn too, keeping momentum in your favor. Ghostrick Alucard's scary with its own +1 effect, but getting a free +1 in battle at the same time swings things in your direction super heavily.

Making Wind-Up Zenmaines used to be a power play, but now it's kind of mediocre. That quickly changes when you're making your Zenmaines with the intent to kill a monster in battle right then. You basically strong-arm the situation and say "Summon enough to hit this three times next turn, or I'm going to keep scoring +1's. Your call." With only one Gale in the mix before, those plays are passable at best since you can't rely on them, but the added consistency of a second copy does really pull things together.

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Even Main Deck tech becomes more viable with a second Gale at your disposal. The Artifact engine feels neither here nor there in Blackwings if you're looking at them from the perspective of last format, but now you have the option to run them with a little more confidence since Level 8 Synchro Summons are easier to make. Artifact Moralltach has synergy with Icarus Attack anyway; if you target it as one of the two cards to destroy with Icarus Attack, Moralltach's effect activates to Special Summon itself and destroy something else. You still took out two cards, but gained a 2100 ATK beater for your trouble.

If you have a Moralltach on the field that you already used, you can Synchro Summon Vulcan the Divine as a 1-for-1 with Blizzard and bump it back into your hand. Conversely, use Blackwing - Zephyros the Elite's effect to put it into your hand as a +1 and skip the middleman. With the reliable destruction and recursion of Moralltach, and double Gale making Moralltach useful for Synchro Summoning, there's definitely a lot to be said about that tech.

Three Moralltach and three Icarus Attack is a lot of power to throw around on your opponent's turn, and it puts you in a position to hold the game's tempo for a long time. Then three copies of mini-Honest via Kalut the Moonshadow and double Gale sets up your battle phase to be a nightmare for your opponent. The only thing they can do to approach you at that point is to sit and play passively, but Blackwings actually don't give anyone a chance to do that so much. Delta Crow - Anti Reverse wiping away your opponent's entire backrow during their end phase might be one of the most game-ending plays possible. In a deck built to swarm and mash through Life Points, having so much tempo control and field clear potential is unreal, and two Gale augments that. Not only is it another Blackwing for Delta Crow's consistency, but you only fear monsters after you rip apart a backrow like that, and Gale specifically doesn't care about monsters at all.

And just as a side issue, because I don't know how I could skip over it in good conscience, there's an old spell card for Blackwings that no one's ever played called Raptor Wing Strike. It lets you toss one of your on-field Blackwings back into the deck, then search for any Blackwing from your deck and put it in your hand. While that's a -1, you can toss back Gale to search for it again, drop it and use Gale's ATK-cutting effect a second time to either super-cripple one monster or give yourself two kills in one battle phase.

More than that, Wing Strike dodges Fiendish Chains, Effect Veilers, and Breakthrough Skills that would otherwise cause you problems. Forbidden Lance stops Chain and Breakthrough, but leaves Gale at 500 ATK without the chance to run over the monster it just cut down, and it doesn't stop Veiler at all. Raptor Wing Strike gives you a brand new Gale from the deck with no lingering anything, at the same -1. If you didn't need Gale you could get any other monster, or you could cut something with Gale and put it back to get Shura, then use Shura's effect to Special Summon that Gale right back onto the field. It might be god awful, but it's definitely something to keep in mind for testing.

Tengu Out Of Ten
Despite the current format's power creep, and the stranglehold Satellarknights, Burning Abyss and Shaddolls seem to have on things, there's a huge amount of wiggle room for rogue decks to make appearances on the Regional level. Icarus Attack and Moralltach can break up Satellarknights before they get rolling; Burning Abyss and Shaddolls both have weaknesses in the Extra Deck and Side Deck; and there's a lot of room for haphazard OTK's through Delta Crow and Raigeki.

One extra copy of Gale doesn't seem like it would be such a meaningful boost at first glance. When you really get into it though, there are a lot of differences in the general play style and build that come with a second Gale. Firstly, as a Blackwing player, preserving that single Gale or feeling like you've wasted it isn't such a factor anymore, since you have multiples. Beyond that, the ability to pick up the Artifact Engine and feel like you can actually use them for something is a big deal. With only one Gale, you have to play the Artifacts like a beatdown core or try to make Rank 5's with Sirocco if you run them at all, and that's not a good time for anyone. Double Gale letting those Moralltach more regularly go into Synchros preserves the old feel of Blackwings and still ramps their power and momentum control by a huge margin.

Blackwings aren't one of the deck themes that people consider even plausible anymore, and I'd have agreed until just a couple weeks ago. Which camp are you in, and what's your biggest Reasoning point for your stance on the deck? Whether you're scared of them and think they're even relevant anymore or not, don't be too shocked if you see 'em pop up this format around the local and Regional scene. Rogue decks never leave, and this one might just sneak up on you.

-Beau