The Secret Forces is easily the most controversial set release we've seen in years, bringing three new themes to life, a ton of killer reprints, and demolishing everything we knew about the competitive scene thanks to the arrival of Nekroz. Flat out, almost every card in this set is good. There are maybe a dozen cards a reasonable person might not be interested in and everything has at least some conceivable use, even if Gishkis aren't quite your thing.

But at the same time, the set was plagued with reports of short printing on certain cards at worst, and faulty collation at best. (Collation means the randomization of cards as they appear in packs.) Whether the most popular cards are actually rarer than the rest is up in the air, but with many box-openers struggling to find key Nekroz cards, the internet was an angry mob from day one. Meanwhile I know of someone who opened up fourteen consecutive Ritual Beast Ulti-Apelios in one box, and several others have told me that they opened boxes where half the packs were pure Secret Rares.

Either way, something clearly went awry.

In the mean time, Nekros Fever has created one of the most painful situations someone like me can watch, which is good cards going to waste. Lots of folks are opening their boxes, stripping out the Nekroz stuff, and literally just walking away from the rest of the cards they opened. What a waste! Between the players who want to ignore Nekroz entirely, and the Nekroz players ignoring the rest of the set, there's a lot that's being misunderstood about The Secret Forces.

There's some awesome stuff in this release, and I want to spend a couple days talking about it so you can get the most out of it. Today we'll start with an in-depth, card-by-card look at two of the new themes from THSF: Yosenju and Ritual Beasts.

#####CARDID= 17914#####

Even with minimal representation in YCS tournaments, Regional Qualifiers, and big indy competitions, we've already seen three different flavors of Yosenju: a basic beatdown deck; a metagame-driven Stun variant; and a Pendulum version. Regardless of which you want to play – or what unique Yosenju strategy you come up with – the Level 4 Beast-Warriors are probably going to be the core of your game plan. Searchable with Fire Formation – Tenki, Yosenju Kama 1, Yosenju Kama 2, and Yosenju Kama 3 all share an effect that lets you string together Yosenju Normal Summons.

Coupled with Yosenju Tsujik from The New Challengers, you have a strong core of twelve searchable Beast-Warriors that you can Normal Summon en masse for attacks, special abilities, or to use as Xyz Materials. The most basic version of the uses the four Beast-Warriors and pairs them with cards like Fossil Dyna Pachycephalo and other Stun standbys, largely looking to hate on Special Summons; since your swarming ability's based entirely on Normal Summons you're not affected by stuff like Fossil Dyna, Vanity's Emptiness, or the now-dreaded Djinn Releaser of Rituals.

Since the Beast-Warrior Yosenju all bounce back to your hand in the End Phase when they're Normal Summoned, you can throw down a bunch of them for an attack and then lift them out of harm's way, keeping them safe from monsters or mass destruction like Raigeki and Dark Hole. Keeping yourself alive with no defenders on the field isn't always easy, but a variety of backrow options plus hand traps seem to be effective in different match-ups. In the Pendulum variant you can always Pendulum Summon Yosenju Beast-Warriors as needed if you want to keep them around – more on that a bit later on.

For now, take a peek at Yosenju Kama 1 above. With 1600 ATK it's a moderate attacker, spiking to 2600 ATK with a bit of help from Yosenju Tsujik. If you control another Yosenju monster, it can Compulsory Evacuation Device a face-up card off your opponent's field, helping you clear away Blockers so your smaller attackers can get in for damage. It helps you play aggressively, and it happens to be a nice answer to Dante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss.

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Moving onto Yosenju Kama 2, it's the strongest attacker of the bunch with 1800 ATK. While Yosenju Kama 1 bumps away a card to help you make attacks, usually clearing a monster in the process, Kama 2 can make a direct attack for 900 Battle Damage – more if it's somehow boosted. Note that while Kama 1's ability requires a second Yosenju monster to work, Kama 2 is independent and can be played for its effect all on its own.

Yosenju Kama 2 lets you sneak through damage really easily, and combined with this theme's ability to make unexpected Gagaga Cowboys, it creates win scenarios even when you can't get through big monsters. The Yosenju deck's tremendously fast, and while 900 damage might not seem like much, you have lots of ways to chip down your opponent's Life Points, or deal a couple finishing blows after a big early press. Remember too that while Fire Formation – Tenki is played chiefly to search the Yosenju Kamas you want, it also adds a small ATK boost, and the Yosenju pack a couple different ATK bonuses of their own.

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Yosenju Kama 3 is unique amongst the trio of new Yosenju Beast-Warriors. While the other two have damage-oriented abilities like Yosenju Tsujik, Kama 3 rewards you for attacking and destroying monsters with those other Yosenju by grabbing you a free card from your deck. There's no restriction on any monster you grab, and you can even get the Yosenju trap card, Yosenjus' Secret Move.

In a beatdown or Stun Yosenju deck, Yosenju Kama 3 helps build card advantage and inevitably helps you make more attacks and Xyz Summons. In the Pendulum Summoning variant it helps you get to key cards you can't search with Fire Formation – Tenki, since the other Yosenjus aren't Beast-Warriors. Again, like Kama 1, Kama 3 rewards team-ups and aggressive play, placing a premium on effects that can secure your Summons and your attacks against reprisals. It goes especially well with Yosenju Tsujik, since Tsujik comes with a built-in ATK boost that can get it over almost any Normal Summon.

Note that all four of the Yosenju Beast-Warriors are WIND. That means you can overlay them for Lightning Chidori, giving the deck even more stopping power and more ways to get key cards off the field. Chidori can be difficult to secure against attacks with its low ATK, but any deck that can run it should be built with Chidori in mind; its spin effect is a stunning answer to nearly any monster threat, and while set backrow cards may not be hugely common right now, its first ability – which sends an opposing set card to the bottom of your opponent's deck – works on monsters, too. That's surprisingly relevant right now given the popularity of Book of Moon and Book of Eclipse for the Nekroz match-up.

#####CARDID= 17917#####

With the four Beast-Warriors locked in as the core of any Yosenju strategy, Yosenju Shinchu L straddles the line between beatdown and Stun variants, and the full-blown Pendulum Summon versions. While Shinchu L isn't a Beast-Warrior and contributes no ATK to your game-winning fields, its two effects can keep your monsters safe and help you make those all-important presses. As an attack enabler, it's an impressive two-pronged support card and it's searchable off Yosenju Kama 3.

Activate Yosensju Shinchu L as a Pendulum Spell and you can destroy it in place of an on-field Yosenju monster, whether that monster would be destroyed by battle or a card effect. That helps you outplay everything from the newly-repopularized Mirror Force and the destruction ability of Nekroz of Gungnir when you're trying to attack, to simply surviving big attackers.

Summon Shinchu L instead, and it turns to defense mode with 2100 DEF and protects all of your other Yosenjus from targeted effects. That's useful in all the big match-ups right now, protecting you from lots of trap cards your opponent might be playing, as well as Gungnir; Farfa, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss; Virgil, Rock Star of the Burning Abyss; Qliphort Carrier; Qliphort Stealth; Stellarknight Delteros; or splashable threats like Enemy Controller and Castel, the Skyblaster Musketeer.

Note that while Shinchu L can act as sort of a partial Denko Sekka in the simple Beatdown decks, it puts in vastly more work in the Pendulum version, where its effects will have more to protect as you won't be returning monsters to your hand with such absolute frequency.

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If you are looking to play a Pendulum variant, then Yosenju Shinchu R finishes out the opposite side of your Pendulum Scale. While it has a similar 2100 DEF; an effect that shifts it to defense when Normal Summoned; and a cool little ability that stops your opponent from attacking other Yosenju, its real worth lies in its ability to become the first-ever Scale 11 Pendulum Spell in the TCG.

Without that ability, Shinchu L and Shinchu R will still let you Pendulum Summon Level 4 monsters. With it you're limited to Special Summoning only Yosenjus, but you can unleash the theme's insanely powerful boss monster…

#####CARDID= 17912#####

That being Mayosenju Daibak! If you're going to Special Summon Daibak, you have to do it as a Pendulum Summon, but the goods news is that its Pendulum Summon can't be negated. Tributing for it is fair game too, and no matter how it hits the field it targets and then bounces away any two cards: face-up, face-down; monster, spell, or trap; yours or your opponent's, Daibak doesn't care. That makes it a tremendously powerful attack enabler, a destroyer of dug-in set-ups, and it even lets you reuse one-shot effects. If the core of the strategy revolves around the idea of clearing the way for a string of Level 4 Beast-Warrior Summons with spot removal tricks, it's easy to see how devastating a double spot removal effect could be.

The cool thing is that Mayosenju Daibak isn't just a one trick pony: since it hops back to your hand in the End Phase when you Special Summon it, you can keep blowing away your opponent's stuff each turn until you win. And with 3000 ATK on Daibak alone that should happen pretty quickly. It's searchable via Yosenju Kama 3, and it even makes a solid Pendulum Spell in a pinch: at Scale 7, it has a powerful effect that can boost each of your Yosenju by 300 ATK. That's a big deal when you start talking about fields of four or more attackers.

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You can also search Mayosenju Daibak – or any other Yosenju – with Yosen Training Grounds. You fuel it by Summoning Yosenju monsters: Summon one to power a 300 ATK boost for your Yosenju for one turn, or Summon three to search a Yosenju card from your deck or retrieve one from your graveyard. Sounds good, right? A single string of Yosenju Kama Summons would net you a free card.

But timing is everything, and Training Grounds isn't always a consistent card in such a fast strategy. Because your Yosenju Kama monsters Normal Summon each other immediately, instead of giving you time to make moves between Summons, searching another monster to Summon is usually impossible. That relegates you to a two-turn scenario, often grabbing you a free monster for next turn when you aren't necessarily sure what you want, or getting you the Yosenju trap card. Neither of those scenarios are bad, they just may not be ideal when you'd prefer all of your cards to be killing your opponent right here, right now.

That said, grabbing something that gives you an ATK boost without requiring a Summon or a set can be immediately helpful. Mayosenju Daibak's +300 ATK is very similar to Training Grounds' boost, and it sticks across future turns. Even Shinchu L's protection effect can be useful. It's at its best in a full Pendulum Summoning deck.

There are lots of ways to play Training Grounds and I'm not saying it's a bad card – not at all. It just won't do absolutely everything you wish it would in all cases. The fact that it's not a "Yosenju" card itself is another example of that challenge; you can't search it with Yosenju Kama 3, nor its own effect.

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…But you can search Yosenjus' Secret Move, which is similar to Solemn Warning, minus the Life Point cost and the ability to stop Summons. It won't work on your opponent's turn if all your Yosenju monsters were bounced off the field in your End Phase, but it's a great two-turn plan for forcing through your attacks, and it works nicely with Yosenju Shinchu L, since Shinchu L never bounces itself back to your hand. The option to just stomp out Ritual Spells, boss monster effects, Qliphort Scout searches, and everything in between is huge, and shutting down an opposing backrow card or defensive effect when you're going for game is tremendously useful.

All in all, this card's more complicated than it looks – and as a topdeck, it can often come a turn too late when you're trying to win in the early game. That said, the sheer flexibility of it may make it too good to leave by the wayside. Similar cards, like Infernity Barrier and Necrovalley' rel=" Tombs of Necrovalley">Imperial Tombs of Necrovalley, seem tougher to activate by comparison. Note that Secret Move lets you control a Yosenju in any position, not just a vulnerable attack mode like Barrier; and it of course has only one activation requirement instead of two, like Tombs.

In a deck that's all about hitting hard and fast, clearing the way and boosting ATK to end games as quickly as possible, Secret Move is at times the card you need to win, or the turn-too-late topdeck that ends you. Learning to play it effectively is one of the big points of finesse in the strategy, whether you're playing Yosenju Beatdown (with or without Shinchu L), Yosenju Stun, or Yosenju Pendulums.

The Yosenju deck has a lot of unique little advantages in current competition, the most important being its speed and its ability to win without Special Summoning. I've seen a painful number of people at my local game stores and hobby shops literally throw away their Yosenju cards.

Don't be that guy. Yes, Nekroz are dominant. But when every card is good, don't throw away the cards that aren't quite as good as the best.

#####CARDID= 17940#####

Know what else are getting thrown away by the fistful? These guys. Ritual Beast decks topped all over Europe in their first Regional Qualifier weekend, but they missed the Top 32 at YCS Tacoma, so they're being massively underrated stateside. The deck specializes in two things: massive card advantage thanks to tricks that abuse search effects, and a De-Fusing mechanic that lets you react to your opponent's moves and outplay them.

Like Gladiator Beasts before them, the Ritual Beasts revolve around Contact Fusions: that means Fusion Summons that don't require a Fusion Spell. The theme has three Fusion Monsters so far, and all three…

-Can be made with any Ritual Beast Tamer and any Spiritual Beast. There are no specific combinations here, at least as far as bottom line Summons go.

-Must be Special Summoned, and only from your Extra Deck.

-Can be de-fused on either player's turn at Spell Speed 2, returning to the Extra Deck to Special Summon a banished Ritual Beast Tamer and a banished Spiritual Beast in defense mode.

Provided you have the right monsters banished, you can de-fuse a Ritual Beast Fusion Monster to dodge targeted effects, split your resources when you're threatened by attacks, or get to the effects of specific Tamers and Spiritual Beasts. That last part is subtle, but crucial and often undervalued: your real goal with this deck is to get one of each of your Main Deck Ritual Beast monsters into the game as early as you can, so that you can pick and choose which effects to recycle and abuse through Contact Fusions, and extend your plays.

Each Ritual Beast Fusion Monster also serves a unique purpose on its own. We're starting with Ritual Beast Ulti-Apelio, since it's the high-profile beatstick that wins games in virtually three attacks. It's aggressively-minded, unaffected by other card effects when it attacks. It's simple and efficient.

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Ritual Beast Ulti-Pettlephin is the precise opposite, with just 200 ATK but 2800 DEF. It's a big wall against attacks, and it can't be destroyed by card effects thanks to its effect.

If your opponent threatens it with a big attack or effect negation you can kick in that De-Fusing effect in response and diversify, ensuring that your opponent wastes their Breakthrough Skill or at least leaves you with two more defenders.

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Ritual Beast Ulti-Cannahawk's very arguably the single most important of the Ritual Beast Fusions, packing middling ATK and DEF but an effect that serves as the lynchpin for your entire strategy. Once a turn, it lets you target and return two of your banished Ritual Beast cards to your graveyard. If you do, you can grab a free Ritual Beast card from your deck, making a quick +1. The effect resolves so long as at least one of the two targeted Ritual Beasts return to the graveyard.

That effect sounds pretty good at first glance, but as Pasquale explained last week, the real strength lies in how this ability interacts with your De-Fusing effect. Since Ulti-Cannahawk's search ability is Spell Speed 1 and targets two banished Ritual Beasts, and its De-Fusing is Spell Speed 2, you can…

-Activate the search effect with three banished Ritual Beasts.

-Pick your two targets to return to your graveyard.

-Chain the De-Fusing ability.

-Special Summon one Ritual Beast you targeted to return to your graveyard, and the third Ritual Beast you didn't target.

-Return the one Ritual Beast to your graveyard for a free search.

This gets you a free +1 with your search effect, and places two monsters on the field for another potential Contact Fusion. Why does cheating this play with only three Ritual Beasts instead of four matter? Well, we'll get there. For now let's look at the non-Fusion Spiritual Beasts.

#####CARDID= 17934#####

All three of the Ritual Beast Tamers have effects that let you Summon another Ritual Beast monsters when the Tamer's Normal Summoned. Each is also a Psychic monster, so if you just need to get one to the field for a Contact Fusion, Emergency Teleport does the trick. All three are restricted to only being Special Summoned once per turn though, ensuring that their own abilities won't get out of control in combination with Teleport, De-Fusing tricks, or off-theme recursion.

That said, Ritual Beast Tamer Elder's effect lets you Normal Summon another Ritual Beast monster when you Normal Summon the Elder, bypassing those Special Summon Limitations. Note that unlike the Yosenju Kamas, Elder lets you claim the Normal Summon whenever you like. You have to spend an in-hand card for your extra Summon, but it comes with those two perks.

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Ritual Beast Tamer Lara is more efficient in terms of strict card economy, reviving a Ritual Beast monster from your graveyard as a Special Summon. Pasquale compared it to Debris Dragon, which seems wholly accurate.

It's worth recognizing that none of the Ritual Beast Tamers are strictly better than the others, just different, and you want them all working in tandem and available at any time once you get going. That said, Elder is usually the one played in threes since you want to see it on Turn 1 as often as possible, while the other two require set-up past Turn 1.

#####CARDID= 17935#####

Ritual Beast Tamer Wen is another +1 like Lara, but Special Summons a banished Ritual Beast monster instead of reviving it from the graveyard. With Contact Fusions and numerous effects banishing your monsters, Wen's clutch for recycling key cards and helping you make your best plays.

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The abilities of each Spiritual Beast is tied to the ability of its connected Tamer, as reflected in the art for their Fusion Monster counterparts. For instance, Spiritual Beast Pettlephin is associated with Wen, so while Wen Special Summons a banished monster, Pettlephin lets you banish a Ritual Beast card from your hand to bump an opposing card back to your opponent's hand.

It's a valuable field clearer and helps set up plays with Wen. Its 2000 DEF can also brickwall attacks in the early game.

#####CARDID= 17936#####

Spiritual Beast Apelio has a solid 1800 ATK on its own, and banishes a Ritual Beast card from your graveyard to set a condition that boosts your Ritual Beasts by 500 ATK and DEF until the end of the turn. That effect works on either player's turn, too.

While Apelio's stat boost is valuable, its real worth is arguably its ability to banish a card from your graveyard. This contributes to the big payoff I mentioned earlier with Ult-Cannahawk. To put it all together, you need one more ingredient.

#####CARDID= 17938#####

That being Spiritual Beast Cannahawk. Its ability basically makes it a Gold Sarcophagus on legs, banishing a Ritual Beast card from your deck so you can claim it two Standby Phases later. That's great. Like Apelio, you'll totally use that effect for its actual purpose as presented at least some portion of the time. But also like Apelio, the real asset here is its ability to get another Ritual Beast monster loaded to your removed zone.

So, what's the big play? Starting from nothing but an on-field Ritual Beast Tamer and Spiritual Beast, you can abuse Ritual Beast Ulti-Cannahawk to make two searches in one turn: more as the game progresses. By doing so you'll get to toolbox for the effects of your Spiritual Beasts and Ritual Beast Fusion Monsters as needed, building free card advantage while picking apart your opponent's plan and building your options. You can do that as early as Turn 1, provided you start with Ritual Tamer Elder or Emergency Teleport, plus Spiritual Beast Cannahawk.

-First, Summon your two monsters.

-Then, activate Spiritual Beast Cannahawk's effect to banish Spiritual Beast Apelio from your deck.

-Contact Fuse for any Ritual Beast, banishing Cannahawk and your Tamer.

-De-Fuse to Special Summon back your Tamer and Cannahawk.

-Use Cannahawk's effect again, this time banishing another Tamer.

-Contact Fuse your on-field Tamer and Cannahawk for Ritual Beast Ulti-Cannahawk.

You've now got two Tamers and two Spiritual Beasts banished.

-Time to cash in! Activate Cannahawk's search effect, targeting Ritual Beast Cannahawk and your new Tamer. Then chain the De-Fusing ability, to Special Summon the new Tamer and Apelio. You still get to search, even though Cannahawk's the only monster that'll hit your graveyard.

-Banish Cannahawk for Apelio's boost effect, just to get Cannahawk loaded into your removed zone.

-Contact Fuse your Tamer and Apelio for Ritual Beast Ulti-Cannahawk again. Use its search effect to place a Tamer and Apelio into the graveyard, getting a second search.

That combo takes two cards from your hand, delivering two searches, a free Ulti-Cannahawk, and leaving you with a Tamer and a Ritual Beast banished so you can De-Fuse as needed. What are you searching with Ulti-Cannahawk?

#####CARDID= 17943#####

Ritual Beast Steeds is your go-to, acting as quick 1-for-1 monster removal when you control one Ritual Beast, or destroying more cards if you control more Ritual Beasts. It doesn't target, so it gets around some of this format's bigger problem-cards especially in the Nekroz match-up. It won't count the number of Ritual Beasts you control until it resolves, either. That's cool, because it means you can activate Steeds with a Ritual Beast Fusion on the table, then chain your De-Fusing ability to turn one Ritual Beast into two – scoring up to two monster destructions in the process.

If you search Ritual Beast Steeds coming off the above combo, you'll have an initial plus that can turn into more card advantage if you 2-for-1 two monsters with Steeds. Since you nabbed two searches, you can even search a pair of Steeds to protect yourself for two turns against four monsters or more. Killer. Especially since you'll make more searches the longer you protect your set-up.

#####CARDID= 17942#####

Finally, Ritual Beast's Bond is a fast, speed-driven assault card that lets you Fuse with any two Ritual Beasts at Spell Speed 2. That means more flexibility. It also means more attacks in a single Battle Phase, and the ability to Fuse little guys on your opponent's turn almost as easily as you De-Fuse big guys.

Usage of this card has varied across the successful builds we've seen, and it's a tough call deciding how to balance your build between control cards – starting with three Steeds – and win-more cards like Bond. Test and see what's right for your metagame; as the shape of competition adapts, changing how you use Bond is a great way to adapt with it. It's not useful in the early game when you're trying to establish your board and build your toolbox, but it's great at sealing the deal once you get going.

So there you have it! We've now looked at every new card in The Secret Forces for the Yosenju and Ritual Beast themes, both of which have competitive advantages that could let them hang tough with the biggest strategies today. And they're cheap! With all the hype around Nekroz right now, these cards are severely underrated and getting tossed to the secondary market like chum to sharks, so if you're looking for a new strategy to play on a budget, these two new themes are it.

See you in Part 2, where we'll get familiar with the new Nekroz cards, and we'll look at the set's best reprints with a careful eye for their impact in the new post-THSF environment. Don't miss it!

-Jason Grabher-Meyer