This upcoming weekend's going to be the first tournament exposure that a lot of duelists have to the new format, with the new F&L List taking effect yesterday. Even so, there have been a lot of people playtesting under the new List pretty regularly since it was revealed a couple weeks ago, and from their jumpstarted experience we can see a couple strong points emerging, relating to the shape of competition for the next month or so before Legacy of the Valiant hits. Mermails, Evilswarm, Constellars and Fire Fists are all going to be just as big as they were before Dragon Rulers landed over the Summer, and the game's going to sort of revert to the way it was just before the era of first-turn Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossacks and Return from the Different Dimension-induced aneurysms.

One of the big differences between competition then and now, is that the handful of decks that were seated just under those four decks in tournament popularity are now a lot stronger, and there are a lot more of them. Agents and Plants both got back a couple of cards they were missing that will help boost them up the competitive ladder; Geargia are going to be more prominent, losing nothing after their win at YCS Turin; Blackwings might actually be worth playing; and little rogue things here and there are marginally more viable for a lack of Dragon Rulers.

One of the most interesting and important changes going into the new format, though, is Plaguespreader Zombie becoming unlimited.

Researching the Disease
For most people, Zombies are the first and only thing that comes to mind when Plaguespreader gets brought up, but there's a myriad of decks that Plaguespreader can infect its way into. It wouldn't be wrong to say that Zombies are the most upfront and logical place to drop it, and they're probably the most effective deck at abusing Plaguespreader without it being banished. That said, Zombies aren't even a scratch on the surface of what Plaguespreader does to the overall game environment.

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The ability to put a card from your hand back on top of your deck can be a blessing for a lot of strategies; cards like Stardust Dragon/Assault Mode hate to be in your hand, so setting them back where they belong can make them live again at no real cost. Assault Mode decks had a pretty good competitive run last format, taking a couple of Regional and YCS Tops, and a lot of that was thanks to Dragon Ravine. Without it though, some of their speed is gone and the risk of drawing into your Assault Mode monster is a lot more real. The state of the game right now definitely doesn't make Level 8 Synchro Summoning hard, and Fire Formation - Tenki now at three makes Assault Beast entirely too efficient, so with Plaguespreader around to help mitigate any in-hand Assault Modes we might still see it being somewhat competitive.

Destiny HERO - Malicious has the same kind of interaction: it's worse with every copy you draw into, and Plaguespreader's ready to send one back into the deck to be Special Summoned the right way with your Malicious in the graveyard. It's seen play in a lot of different decks over the years, and Plaguespreader's usually not too far behind. Together the two of them offer one of the fastest ways to push out a lot of Level 8 Synchro Summons, and with the Dragunity version of Assault Mode now out of commission, that might be a strong alternate direction to pursue.

Toward the end of the month when Legacy of the Valiant brings the Sylvan archetype to the TCG, Plaguespreader's going to be even more relevant. Sylvans use a pretty new mechanic called "Excavating"- it's just revealing a card of your deck while treating it as still being in the deck, so it's not exactly revolutionary, but each of them has a unique effect that triggers if they were the card you Excavated. Using Plaguespreader to stack a Sylvan to the top of your deck means you can consistently force through the effect of a Sylvan if you have it in your hand and a Plaguespreader in the graveyard. None of the Sylvan monsters are that strong, so having access to Synchro Summoning's probably going to be important. Without having done much testing with Sylvans, saying that Plaguespreader's going to be a valuable card for the theme seems like something of an understatement. We'll have to wait and see if that proves true, but I'm pretty confident.

Milling decks like Lightsworn appreciate access to it just the same, like they did when it was first released. It's a good mill in itself since it's live in the graveyard, but being able to stack Wulf, Lightsworn Beast, Necro Gardna or another name for Judgment Dragon's Special Summoning is where most of the real appeal is. If Plaguespreader gets stuck in your hand, Beckoning Light and Lumina, Lightsworn Summoner can both put it where you like so it's live for later. Eventually we'll be getting new Lightsworn Tuners that may or may not replace Plaguespreader, but for now it helps to be able to make Level 5 and Level 6 Synchros.

Tour Guide from the Underworld's a big deal for Plaguespreader, too, since Leviair the Sea Dragon's way easier to Summon right now. Rank 3's are going to become more popular, and anytime that happens, Leviair sees increased play. Bottomless Trap Hole and Dimensional Prison are still popular traps, and there are plenty of cards that either banish themselves or others. Shutendoji and Mezuki are good examples, since they're going to be paired up with Plaguespreader a lot of the time anyway. With Leviair being more useful and more accessible, Plaguespreader's a lot better than it would have been otherwise.

The fact that Mezuki switched to unlimited status at the same time is mind-blowing; as a completely free Book of Life alternative, it's like the F&L List is daring people to try and build around Plaguespreader. Bumped to three-each in a deck, the potential to swarm the field for free doesn't even make sense. Cards like Lavalval Chain and Foolish Burial give Plaguespreader and Mezuki a consistent way into the graveyard, and Burial from the Different Dimension can recycle a combination of three of them for no cost. If you had three Mezuki ready to go, activating them and putting them back with Burial from the Different Dimension could lead to as many as six free Special Summons. Six. What is that even?

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If you don't want to go the direction of Synchro Summoning as a one-and-done with Plaguespreader, you can basically recycle it infinitely as Xyz Material. When you revive Plaguespreader and overlay it, it forgets that it should be banished and goes back to the graveyard when it's detached. That's a bit gimmicky, but with Quillbolt Hedgehog and Plaguespreader Zombie you can make a Rank 2 for one card out of your hand. When that Xyz dies, you can just do it again for the cost of Special Summoning Plaguespreader. Last week I wrote on Number 49: Fortune Tune (which you can check out right here), and using Quillbolt and Plaguespreader to keep bringing out Gachi Gachi Gantetsu is kind of the same thing on a way smaller scale.

Metastatic
The sheer range of different decks that Plaguespreader helps just by existing is crazy. It doesn't go everywhere, and the places it won't fit are pretty obvious. Mermails aren't going to get anything out of putting cards back on top of their deck and there's no real need for extra Tuners there; Evilswarm and Constellars already do there own thing; and generally you need a specific goal or gimmick for Plaguespreader to hit its niche.

A full Zombie deck has so much absurd recursion that they can Synchro with Plaguespreader way more than just once or twice. Between Book of Life, Mezuki and Zombie Master you have up to nine cards that bring it back, in addition to its own Special Summon effect. Somehow people seem to have forgotten about my favorite Zombie as time's passed: Il Blud. Despite being a Level 6, three Mezuki and access to Book of Life are pretty appealing and Zombie Master can discard it to bring back something else, so it won't be dead very often. Pyramid Turtle can grab it straight from the deck and it lets you bring back a Zombie foe free every turn.

You can instantly make a Level 8 Synchro Summon with Il Blud and Plaguespreader, and that means Scrap Dragon, Stardust Dragon and Crimson Blader are options. Since Il Blud's a Level 6, that puts Rank 6 Xyz Summoning out there, too. Il Blud and Plaguespreader Zombie together make Level 8 and Rank 6 monsters viable Extra Deck bosses, and that could transform Zombies from a spammy swarm strategy into a control game that lets you try to dominate through resourcing and small trades. That seems like a lot of praise for Il Blud, but without Plaguespreader at three it would never work efficiently enough to even try.

The Sylvans are an interesting archetype, and they're probably the second-strongest deck for Plaguespreader. Excavating cards blindly doesn't necessarily hurt you since you don't lose anything, but there is a lot of luck involved in hitting the Sylvan you really wanted to use, and that's kind of unfortunate. They do have a field spell, a trap, and a monster that stack the top of your deck, but opening up the Extra Deck is never a bad thing and adding consistency is generally good. Sylvan Flowerknight says when it's Excavated and lands in the yard you can stack any Sylvan card from your deck to the top, and that adds some consistency, but you'd have to Excavate twice in a turn for it to be helpful; the first time to activate Flowerknight and the second time to activate the monster Flowerknight put on top. Otherwise you're just going to draw the other Sylvan and that doesn't help. You could get the field or trap, but that only goes so far.

With Plaguespreader, you can stack Sylvan Leaflow and Excavate it to destroy a monster, or Sylvan Stoolhouette to destroy a spell or trap. Afterward, you're good to Synchro Summon with Plaguespreader, use another Stoolhouette to Xyz Summon a Rank 2, or put on pressure with the Sylvans you already control.

Diagnosis
Other than those decks and the Zombie support, Plaguespreader gets all sorts of generic Dark support too. Dark Grepher, Armageddon Knight, Allure of Darkness, Dark Armed Dragon and a whole zoo of other cards either put Plaguespreader in the graveyard or benefit from it being around. Creature Swap's a nice pick, trading your 400 ATK monster for something inevitably bigger.

Plaguespreader Zombie's one of those cards that isn't all that dangerous by itself, since it doesn't generate card economy and it doesn't have the raw stats to be a threat, but it's a total nightmare with the right synergies. Even though Sylvans don't debut until the end of the month, it's hard to imagine that we wouldn't be seeing Plaguespreader around in the next few weeks, either as a tech pick or as part of a main strategy. It's just too strong, too accessible, and too convenient to not exploit now that it's unlimited.

It should be expected that people are going to be doing it. I know I am.

-Beau