Crossed Souls feels like a very different beast from the rest of the Arc-V booster sets. Previous releases over the past year largely served to introduce, and then establish and grow, a handful of core strategies: Shaddolls, Satellarknights, Yang Zings, Qliphorts, and Burning Abyss first, swiftly followed by Nekroz, Yosenju, and Ritual Beasts.

Theme support has been a huge focus for the competitive end of design, bolstered by more frequent Forbidden & Limited Lists which were often characterized by stabilizing tweaks, instead of big shake-ups. That means the shape of competition has been slower to change than in previous eras, like the 5D's and Zexal periods.

So it's interesting that to some degree, Crossed Souls throws all that out the window. While Duelist Alliance, Secrets of Eternity, New Challengers, and Secret Forces all operated within a defined framework, Crossed Souls looks to break those boundaries and unleash new concepts that reach in different directions. Five core competitive themes all get Pendulum Monsters for the first time, collectively called the Zefra, introducing that mechanic to the biggest strategies in the game. That's complicating enough, but the Zefra themselves can be played as their own strategy independent of their name-stamped themes, and the Zefra deck's quite complicated – there's a very good chance no one will even try to play it, despite the theme's high power level.

On top of that we've got more meaningful generic and splashable cards than any set in the Arc-V series, with stuff like Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit, Lose 1 Turn, Clear Wing Synchro, Jar of Avarice, and Galaxy Cyclone all taking center stage. Even themed cards like Tellarknight Ptolemaeus are surprisingly flexible. And then there's straightforward support for Fluffals, Yosenju, Raidraptors, and Infernoids, as well as legacy support for everything from Deskbots to Harpies. Synchros on the whole get a push, with two boss-level Synchro Monsters; three new Tuners, each twisting the Synchro mechanic in new ways; and at least one monster that turns other monsters into Tuners.

So we've got Synchro Summoning and Pendulum Summoning; weird theme support and simple theme support; strong legacy cards, splashable themed cards, and a whack-ton of purely generic power cards. Crossed Souls is the same size as any other core set, but it feels so much bigger. Will all these ambitions succeed? That's up to us as players, so let's get started on Part 1 of our CROS Giant Set Review.

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As par for the course for the Arc-V boosters, the set opens with Performapals, most of which are terrible. While one or two Performapals actually wound up being quite useful… we're all big fans of Performapal Trump Witch here at TCGplayer… Performapal Elephammer isn't one of them. Instead, it slips into that special category of Performapal cards that seem to have been created as examples of purposefully bad design, each bearing a key weakness that's impossible to overcome in return for a nerfed payoff; cards that read like they had good effects in some previous version, but were hammered into dust during development.

Performapal Elephammer has all the makings of a promising monster: it's a Level 6 with 2600 ATK, and its effect Giant Trunades your opponent whenever it attacks. You don't even have to Tribute for it! But of course it's a Performapal, so inevitably it all goes south.

To Summon Elephammer without Tribute you need to control two Performapal cards, all of which are awful. The effect-driven Summon would be a Special Summon in any other theme, but here it's a Normal Summon instead to restrict your plays. You could run Elephammer in a different deck with Tribute support, but it would be useless, because it can't attack unless you control another Performapal card.

If there were better Performapals this card might be better, but it still wouldn't be a Special Summon, so it would only be "less awful" instead of good.

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Performapal Lizardraw makes for a great discussion because it's bad, but if you play a bad Performapal deck, you can destroy it and draw a different card. Except the card you draw could be a Performapal, because you have to play Performapals to use this card's effect.

To recap: "This card's bad, but it lets you draw more cards, but those cards are going to be bad, too."

Lizardraw has a monster effect as well, which lets you draw (bad) cards whenever one of your other (bad) Performapal cards gets run over. That only happens if you control two Performapal monsters at once and your opponent's so clueless that they attack something else before running over your 1200 ATK Level 3. Remember, Performapal Lizardraw won't even let you ram your monsters into bigger ones to draw cards; your opponent has to look at the field, nod in comprehension, and decide to make the wrong play just for you to have a chance at drawing something.

Note that while there are two more Performapals in the core set, Performapal Bowhopper and Performapal Springoose are only "normal bad" and not "amusingly atrocious, " and as such they're not worth the cost of ink for the printing of this article.

And remember, ink on the internet is free.

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Now we're getting somewhere! The New Challengers introduced a bunch of new Superheavy Samurai monsters that reward you for playing a deck with few or no spell and trap cards – monsters that would unlock more effects and abilities if your graveyard was empty of non-monsters. There was some groundwork there, but there wasn't really anything approaching a playable strategy.

We did get Superheavy Samurai Warlord Susanowo, a supplementary boss monster that doubled for Superheavy Samurai Big Benkei. But with no way to use its effect it was really just a backup plan. Crossed Souls changes that by fleshing out the no-spells no-traps Samurai strategy.

First up, Superheavy Samurai Big Waraji serves as a Level 5 you can Special Summon if your graveyard's compliant. While it's not supremely useful for Synchro Summoning Warlord Susanowo, you can use it for both Big Benkei's Tributes. Previous versions of the Big Benkei strategy tried to Special Summon it from the deck with Giant Rat, and drawing it was often a hindrance, Big Waraji's a big solution to that problem, giving you a quick way to Tribute Summon Benkei when it shows up in your hand.

Pretty solid.

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But let's forget "solid" and move on to "stupendous." Want to Synchro Summon Superheavy Samurai Warlord Susanowo?! Superheavy Samurai Battleball's a Level 2 Tuner that effectively uses your opponent's monster as Synchro Material. If your opponent has a face-up Level 8, you send it to the graveyard and pop out your boss monster as a straight +1. Warlord Susanowo then wrecks face and swipes cards from your opponent's graveyard.

There are catches, but they're pretty fair. You're limited to Superheavy Samurai Synchros, which right now means Warlord Susanowo and nothing else. It comes out as a Special Summon that counts as a Synchro Summon, which is why you can ignore the specific Synchro Materials it would normally demand. Battleball's effect targets, it only works when you don't have spell or trap cards in your graveyard, and you can only use it once per turn.

That said, Superheavy Samurai Battleball takes your opponents' El Shaddoll Construct, Nekroz of Valkyrus, or Qliphort Stealth and turns it into your boss monster, which then steals a spell or trap every turn (on each player's turn). It's a +1 that immediately becomes a +2 and grows from there, swinging from defense position at 3800 damage a shot.

That's the kind of simple play sequence that makes an all-monster strategy attractive. And if your opponent doesn't have Level 8's? Battleball can still be played for regular Synchro Summons anyways, and it's searchable with Superheavy Samurai Soulpiercer.

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Superheavy Samurai Gigagloves might be just as good, working to solve fundamental challenges to all-monster Samurai strategy: namely the lack of defense. When Gigagloves is sent to the yard and your graveyard's free of non-monsters, you can peek at the top five cards of your deck and rearrange them. Then, when your opponent makes a direct attack, you can banish Gigagloves to excavate the top card of your deck. If it's a Superheavy Samurai you add it to your hand and drop the attacking monster to 0 ATK.

So Gigagloves sets up its own effect, protects your Life Points to compensate for your lack of traps, and replaces itself with another monster. It also stacks your top five cards, letting you choose your upcoming draws while you lock in its ability. Gigagloves is a very cool defensive card with plenty of side benefits; I feel confident that All-Monster Samurai wouldn't be worth considering without a card like this. In combination with Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit this entire concept is much more approachable.

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Superheavy Samurai Soulbuster Gauntlet rounds out the quartet of new Superheavy Samurai, equipping to Superheavy Samurai Warlord Susanowo to make it into a two-turn win instead of a three-turn win. That 400 DEF boost might not seem like much, but pumping Warlord Susanowo from 3800 damage to 4200 is a game-changer.

The hand trap effect is even better, solving the problem of What To Do When Your Opponent Controls Monsters, and you don't get to make direct shots with your 3800 DEF behemoth. Again, this is a card that saves massive time and serves to address one of the biggest challenges to the strategy.

The fact that it can be played with any Superheavy Samurai, to both save field presence and deal damage, is huge too. This strategy's very focused on dealing damage in measured amounts as quickly as possible, and Soulbuster Gauntlet gives you two big ways to accomplish that. Played in tandem with Superheavy Samurai Soulpiercer – which searches monsters and grants piercing damage when your opponent turtles up – it's a tremendous force that helps you compete in a much wider array of match-ups.

Except to see me building this deck some time in the coming weeks. It's so cool, and it finally has all the parts it needs to at least be theoretically possible. I'm pretty jazzed.

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After meandering in a few different directions with no real plan, the Melodious monsters get a new end game in Crossed Souls: Fusion Monsters that offer new options plus synergies with past cards. Soprano the Melodious Songstress is all about supporting those Fusion Monsters with smart card economy, while at the same time making your Xyz plays easier.

Both effects are simple enough: Special Summon Soprano and you can get another Melodious monster back from your graveyard as an immediate plus. That makes Soprano free, which means any Rank 4 Xyz Summons become 1-for-1's. You can Special Summon Soprano straight from your deck for an immediate +1 with 1st Movement Solo, then make an Xyz, Tribute, or Fusion play. You'll also get that plus any time you bring out Soprano with Mozarta the Melodious Maestra or something more simple like Call Of The Haunted, and you can field more Level 4's via Canon the Melodious Diva and Serenade the Melodious Diva.

Fusion Summoning is always tricky, because it usually requires Fusion Materials and a Fusion Spell. The Contact Fusion mechanic is the most popular solution to that problem, and while the Melodious monsters aren't Contact Fusions, Soprano lets you Fusion Summon a Melodious monster using monsters you control – no Fusion Spell needed. If you can Special Summon Soprano and you have at least one Melodious in your graveyard to retrieve, and you can Normal Summon or Special Summon it, you'll 1-for-1 into a Fusion.

The Melodious strategy will likely blend well with Star Seraphs, another fast Fairy theme that focuses on Special Summoning. The Star Seraphs combo with key cards Melodious monsters just couldn't make the most of before CROS – chiefly Honest and Archlord Kristya. Kristya becomes easier to use because you can now make faster plays to fill your graveyard, often at better rates of card economy, any time after Turn 1. And with Kristya to recycle Soprano, you start creating looped plays and powerful redundancies.

This is another deck I can't wait to tinker with. I don't think Melodious decks are ready for true competition, but just like Superheavy Samurai, there's now a viable direction to explore.

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Fluffal Dog's free search effect makes it the lynchpin of the Fluffal strategy. The new Fluffal Sheep can drop into play as a Special Summon, then bump Dog back to your hand for reuse. That would been enough to make the Sheep worthwhile on its own, but when you make that play, you also get to Special Summon an Edge Imp monster from your hand or graveyard as another free plus. That creates immediate plays. There are other uses for Fluffal Sheep, but that's going to be the main reason to play it; ensuring that you can #FreeMyFluffalStratos every turn.

While a Level 2 chump Blocker doesn't convert well into an Xyz Summon with many of the Fluffal or Frightfur monsters – at least not the ones you're likely to play – the Sheep instantly sets you up for a Fusion Summon by landing you with the Materials for Frightfur Wolf, Frightfur Sheep, or Frightfur Leo. It wins you card advantage on both ends of the equation, while feeding into immediately aggressive plays, providing the thrust that Fluffals just didn't have in The New Challengers.

So what can it Summon? Edge Imp Sabres is still part of the picture, but Fluffal duelists get four more Edge Imps to take things to the next level….

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The first, and I think inarguably the best, is Edge Imp Chain. When it attacks you grab another copy from your deck, so if you've got nothing going on it's still a potential 1200 damage and a free +1 that thins you toward cards you need.

More importantly, when Edge Imp Chain's sent from the hand or field to the graveyard you can search your deck for a Frightfur card, all three of which were released here in Crossed Souls. So if it dies? Free card. But if you Fusion Summon with it? You still get a free card. These new monsters take that signature Fluffal concept of grifting card economy through Fusion Summons to new heights.

Especially because the card you'll search the most is undoubtedly Frightfur Fusion, a Miracle Fusion for Frightfurs. For those not familiar with Miracle Fusion, it fuses from the graveyard, which is to say it fuses stuff for free. Edge Imp Chain is nuts because it's an incredible fit for your combos, but even when you don't have plays it still just gets you free stuff. You can only use one of its effects once per turn, but if you can swing with it, get a free copy, and then let your opponent run it over, you're still scoring a free +1 and searching a self-replacing Fusion Material plus a free Fusion card that fuses for free, in return for not having a combo.

That's dumb. The word "free" was used an uncomfortable number of times in the last three paragraphs. The fact that Edge Imp Chain happens to have its own exclusive Fusion Monster, which is likely the best of the Frightfur Fusion monsters, just makes it even crazier. More on that later.

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And there are still three more Edge Imp monsters to discuss. Edge Imp Saw is a Foolish Burial on legs that yards Fluffals for combo set-ups. It also lets you draw two cards, then place one from your hand on the top of your deck to set up future draws (or Toy Vendors). Or if the card's useless, stick it on the bottom of your deck because all the new Fluffal cards are nuts, and why the heck not.

While Edge Imp Saw has weak stats on its own, it gets you an immediate +1 by grabbing you two cards and then establishes further plays. Again, it's free, and while it could be run over you could also use it for Fusion plays, either from your field or your graveyard.

Or from your field and then your graveyard, again.

And yeah, it's got an exclusive Fusion Monster that might be even better than Edge Imp Chain's. Because why not.

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Edge Imp Tomahawk feels like the odd man out from the new Edge Imp cards: it doesn't have its own Fusion yet, and it's more combo-driven than the others. Its damage effect is nice and it packs a very solid 1800 ATK to compensate, making it a simple beater in a deck that doesn't have many beatsticks. At the same time though, the deck doesn't cry out for them.

That said, it sets up plays with Edge Imp Sabers and Fluffal Sheep by loading your graveyard, which is alright. Sadly it's a nonbo instead of a combo with Edge Imp Chain, which needs to go from your hand or field to the graveyard to search a Frightfur card, not from your deck. That's probably for the best. Its name mimicry can let it stand in for any of your specific Fusion Materials, and it works well with our next entry.

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Edge Imp Frightfuloid is considered a Frightfur monster, which makes it useful for Summoning Frightfur Chimera – a new three-Material Fusion Monster that unlike the rest of the Frightfurs, requires Frightfur Materials. Frightfuloid can mimic the ATK and DEF of any Frightfur you control, or any Frightfur in your graveyard, so it lends power to a specialized Fluffal deck built around the Chimera.

Sending it to the graveyard with Edge Imp Tomahawk gives you one Frightur on the field and another in your graveyard, and since Frightfur Fusion can banish Materials from your graveyard and hand, that puts you two thirds of the way to a Chimera play. Once the Chimera hits the field, future Frightfuloid's can copy its stats from the field or yard sitting pretty at 2800 ATK.

It's a tricky strategy that takes time and precision to set up, but the high-powered mid-game is a clear strength. Is it the best way to run Fluffals? It's the most complicated, so probably not, but it's at least another option to explore. Fluffals went from having very few clear strengths contributing to their direction, to having numerous modes and paths to victory. How you choose to run them is perhaps the biggest decision to make when you sit down and build the deck.

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The Raidraptor's debuted in Secrets of Eternity with only four cards – like the Superheavy Samurai, they just weren't playable with so many of their cards unreleased. Raidraptor – Vanishing Lanius; Raidraptor – Rise Falcon; Raidraptor – Nest; and Raidraptor – Readiness had clear potential, but Crossed Souls finally introduces enough cards to constitute something resembling an actual strategy.

To understand where Raidraptors are now headed, you need to read Rank-Up-Magic Revolution Force. It has two effects: the first Ranks Up a Raidraptor Xyz into another Raidraptor one Rank higher. The second effect Ranks Up an opposing Xyz Monster with no Xyz Materials, taking control of it and then using it as Xyz Material. So you've got this card that turns your Xyz into a bigger Xyz, and as a bonus it can punish opposing Xyz strategies by taking their stuff and letting you jump the line. That's the long story short, but we'll talk about it more later on.

Placed in that context, your goal with Raidraptors is to make Xyz Summons to either control and win the game with, or to Rank Up into bigger Xyz. Raidraptor – Vanishing Lanius laid the groundwork for that, a Level 4 that lets you Special Summon another Raidraptor from your hand to work toward an Xyz. Raidraptor – Rise Falcon started the chain of Xyz by being a three-Material Rank 4 that demanded Winged-Beasts, letting you play a dedicated Raidraptor deck while branching out into similar monsters as well. Rise Falcon's not great: it's capable of taking down all of your opponent's monsters on attack and it keeps its ATK boost past the end of the turn, but it's a conditional card that's easy to wipe away when you're on defense. If you can field two Raidraptor monsters you can get your third as a +1 with Raidraptor – Nest, but those can be tenuous circumstances.

Enter Raidraptor – Sharp Lanius. With 1700 ATK and an effect that switches a monster's battle position, it's a clever attacker that can make a press when other cards couldn't. When you attack with it, you get to revive a Raidraptor monster from your Graveyard. That gets you to those two Raidraptors you need for Raidraptor – Nest, which in turn gets you into a free card and a big Xyz play, without demanding a second card from your hand. Note too that Sharp Lanius can revive a Raidraptor Xyz if Summoning conditions allow, delivering a free beatstick or free fodder for Rank-Up-Magic Revolution Force.

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Next up, Raidraptor – Mimicry Lanius boosts the Levels of all your Raidraptors by 1, helping you hop the Rank-Up queue to make bigger plays… or just bigger off-theme Xyz. Then, the turn it's sent to the graveyard, you can banish Lanius to grab another Raidraptor card from your deck. That means you can snag a monster, or get Raidraptor – Nest or Raidraptor Readiness to get everything set up. While Lanius won't get you an immediate plus the moment it hits the field, it gets you another card on the back end to effectively serve as a free Xyz Material. Whether you're just blocking with it for its 1900 DEF, or putting together a two-Material Xyz play, it can fill the gaps in your early game and help you build momentum.

It also has nice synergy with a bunch of old Winged Beast cards: think Icarus Attack and Swallow's Nest. More on those Raidraptor Xyz Monsters later in the discussion.

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Yosenjus get a big boost from this release: Lose 1 Turn has reignited interest in the theme, since it's one of the best strategies in the game today to rely on Normal Summons over Special Summons.

That said, I feel like the two new Yosenju monsters are hugely underrated. Yosenju Kodam and Yosenju Oyam are vastly different from previous Yosenju monsters: Kodam, shown above, is a support card for a support card nobody was playing in previous Yosenju builds – Yosen Training Grounds. Tributing Kodam puts enough Yosen counters on Training Grounds to search any Yosenju card from your deck. It replaces itself when played in tandem with Training Grounds.

From that null exchange you can then banish Kodam from your graveyard any time you want to get another Yosenju Normal Summon. That means you can use it to search out and then Summon any Yosenju you need without disrupting the flow of your turn, or you can get your search, wait, and press even harder than usual on a successive turn. It's cooler than it looks.

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Yosenju Oyam is the second piece of the puzzle, and like Superheavy Samurai Gigagloves it's all about adding more layers of defense to a deck that would lack certain defensive aspects otherwise. While the Superheavy Samurai deck needed a defensive card to compensate for its lack of backrow, Yosenju Oyam is effectively a free Gorz the Emissary of Darkness in a deck that could never run Gorz due to its heavy trap lineup. It's very good in a strategy that clears its field of monsters every turn.

Oyam can block pretty much anything and often survive, thanks to its effect. Tossing Yosenju Kama 1, Yosenju Kama 2, or Yosenju Kama 3 might be a hefty cost, but since Oyam likely survives the battle phase in which it's Summoned, that minus can be worthwhile. Then when it's destroyed, it searches another Yosenju from your deck anyways, so it's rarely worse than a -1 overall. Not great, but if it saves you from losing it's worthwhile.

Since Yosenju Oyam remains on the field, brickwalling your opponent can expose them to more damage if you bounce away whatever was threatening Oyam with Yosenju Kama 1: Oyam becomes the requisite for Kama 1's effect. It can help you search with Yosenju Kama 3 by dealing damage, and it can put Yosenju Kodam into the graveyard to create more Normal Summon opportunities on later turns. With Oyam's potential attack and an extra Normal Summon, more complicated plays and more damage are possible. I don't know if that's worth reallocating card slots for, but I think the new monsters are interesting at the least.

That's it for Part 1, but check back tomorrow for Part 2 as we dive into some of the meatiest cards in the set – the Zefras!

-Jason Grabher-Meyer