Meanwhile a few flexible suites like Dragon Rulers and Artifacts, from LVAL and PRIO respectively, were the exception to the rule: they were new themes that instantly hit the ground running. Most new decks find their shape over time, and those that make a faster impact almost always owe their success to their synergy with existing cards, moreso than their own completeness at point of release. Dragon Rulers had Dragon Ravine and Super Rejuvenation to rely on, as well as Dragunity cards. Artifacts were mixed with Hands, Traptrix, Fire Fists and more the moment they dropped, and have never stood on their own.
Duelist Alliance is in some ways a tremendous departure from the slow-burn design of the Zexal era. Introducing four major new themes, DUEA's an explosive beast that even now, more than a week after the tournament legal debut, remains enigmatic. Shaddolls have made a big impact the last few days, not only winning TCGplayer's YGO Open in Orlando Florida, but occupying five of the seats in the Top 8. Satellarknights took one of the remaining Top 8 slots, while Yang Zings took several Top 16 finishes in that same event. Fast forward to this past weekend and Regional Qualifiers plus the ARGCS in Atlantic City was clash after clash between Shaddolls and Satellarknights. Local results seem to be the same: while we don't have hard numbers for tournaments at that level, the buzz on the TCGplayer feed is that all three themes are making an impression, with the new World Premiere Burning Abyss theme seeing success in some metagames as well.
That's an interesting departure, in part for what it might mean for the introduction of new themes in the future, and for how it compares to the lack of emphasis on Pendulum Summoning; what should be Yu-Gi-Oh's hottest new game mechanic. After a quiet debut in Super Starter: Space-Time Showdown, Pendulum Monsters get their first core set run in Duelist Alliance, but they're solidly overshadowed by the new monster themes. It's a straight reversal of what we'd expect: while Xyz and Synchros hit big right out of the gates and most monster themes take time to build into fighting tournament shape, Pendulum Summons are getting the slow-burn treatment.
The game has changed, but as always the proof of the design theory is in the cards! As always, our Giant Set Review will cover everything in the set that I arbitrarily feel to be intriguing: the list is mine and mine alone, so expect a mix of competitive cards, casual highlights, and just plain weird stuff. Each Part of the Giant Set Review will cover a specific range of the set numerically, so if you notice something that stuck out to you but didn't make my list do feel free to ask in the Comments. Sometimes there are cards I miss, but more often I simply had strong opinions about a card and felt it wasn't worth discussing.
Let's get started!
There are now eight Pendulum Monsters in the TCG, but only three can be Normal Summoned without Tribute and only one has decent stats. Clocking in at 1800 ATK, Flash Knight has no Pendulum Effect but trades the small buffs those kinds of abilities offer in favor of something else entirely: better utility. As a Warrior monster it's searchable with Reinforcement of the Army, and while its Pendulum Scale of 7 is strong and can serve as your upper end almost as well as Timegazer Magician's Scale of 8, its tremendously useful in monster mode as well. As a regular Normal Summon the Knight's a solid attacker, and as a repeatable Pendulum Summon it can be valuable Level 4 Synchro Material and a recurring threat, hopping in and out of the Extra Deck to take shots at your opponent.
While you'll generally play Pendulum Monsters to create Scales and Pendulum Summons, it's important to note that the longer the game goes on, the more valuable Flash Knight's simple beatstick qualities become. Already built your Scale? Flash Knight doubles as a valuable attacker, playable as either a Normal or Pendulum Summon depending on what best suits your situation. Lost your Scale to your opponent's destruction effects and now you're sitting in a simplified late game with no way to Pendulum Summon? A topdecked Flash Knight will outperform any other Pendulum Monster you could draw, simply because it's a useful Normal Summon. The concept of Pendulum Summoning twists our understanding of utility as we know it, but the fundamentals remain the same: ease of play plus maximum impact invariably equals a worthwhile card.
This thing's underrated, and could become much more important as the Arc-V era continues.
Approaching the issue of efficiency from a different angle altogether, Foucault's Cannon is a Level 5, so it can't be Normal Summoned without Tribute. Its 2200 ATK keeps it from being searchable with the next card on our list, but does make it a strong Pendulum Summon once you've locked in your Scale. It's also searchable with Summoner's Art, though the worth of that seems questionable.
The real strength of Foucault's Cannon lies quite obviously in its Pendulum Effect, offering a delayed +1 in the form of free spot removal. The Cannon's ability only works the turn it's activated, it can't destroy face-down cards, and it won't kick in until the End Phase, so it's not as useful as it might look. But it's still a free +1 in a fashion most Pendulum Monsters don't offer, and it sets the tone for a different take on the Pendulum Summoning mechanic. That said, it suffers a weird dichotomy between its attack power and this card…
Odd-Eyes Pendulum Dragon! It's a shame this thing is a Secret Rare, because as the game stands today, Odd-Eyes is the number one key to Pendulum Summoning in real competition. At least it has the cushion of also being Ultimate. While its Monster Effect and the damage reduction portion of its Pendulum Effect are usually irrelevant, Odd-Eyes' End Phase ability is what makes it a gem. While Odd-Eyes' Pendulum Scale is an awkward 4, you can blow it up to search out one of four different Pendulum Monsters: Stargazer Magician at Scale 1; Performapal Turn Toad at Scale 3; Performapal Kaleidoscorp at Scale 4; or Timegazer Magician at Scale 8.
While the ability to search Performapals is a nice bonus, this card's really all about the 'gazer Magicians: not only can it search them as needed to help you make your Scales, but it keeps both cards from reverting to Scale 4 via their Pendulum effects. That's not tremendously important with the Scale 1 Stargazer since a Scale of 1 and 4 only allows meager Pendulum Summons, but pair Odd-Eyes with Timegazer Magician and you can Pendulum Summon monsters of Level 5 through 7 – not bad.
Especially because Odd-Eyes is a Level 7 itself! Since Pendulum cards go to your Extra Deck whenever they'd be sent from the field to the Graveyard, you can pop Odd-Eyes Pendulum Dragon to search another Pendulum Monster, then Pendulum Summon it as a free Level 7 with 2500 ATK on successive turns. That's huge. A recurring 2500 ATK beater every turn is massive, and you can pair it with other Level 7's to make Rank 7 Xyz Summons. (Note that if you do, it goes to the graveyard for real – but, hey free cards in the mean time!) It works really well with stuff like Dragon Rulers, Mist Valley Apex Avian, and Machina Fortress. You can even use it with a Level 1 Tuner to make Level 8 Synchro Summons, or pair it with unique Dragon support cards like A Wingbeat of Giant Dragon or Burst Breath.
Like any flexible searcher card, Odd-Eyes Pendulum Dragon will only get better over time. As more cards are released that work with its search effect it offers more options. Now might be the time to snap this one up – Pendulum Summons have more potential than many thing, and it's all largely because of this card.
Performapal Kaleidoscorp isn't very good, but it's an example of a design element we're bound to see more of in the future: Pendulum Effects as low-impact Field Spells. The ability to boost your Light monsters by 300 ATK can get numerous beatsticks at the 1700 ATK to 1900 ATK mark over some important battle thresholds, and while Kaleidoscorp's Pendulum Scale of 4 dictates that you'll usually run it in decks packing Level 5 or higher monsters, the ATK boost can be valuable to those bigger monsters too.
Kaleidoscorp itself is Level 6, doubling over with the Level 6 Dragon Horn Hunter to create some synergies that are interesting at the very least. A wider breadth of scale between the two cards would've made them more alluring for competition, but the "attack all Special Summoned monsters" trick cries out for combo-driven abuse, so compromises assumedly had to be made. It's largely outclassed by its themed compatriot…
Performapal Turn Toad! Easy to handle at Level 2, Turn Toad has a Pendulum Scale of 3 that opens up flexible Pendulum Summons at Level 4 or higher. That's really useful, and its Pendulum Effect is a winner: the ability to screw with your opponent's ATK and DEF numbers can be tremendously powerful in the right match-ups since so many monsters have high ATK but low DEF, or high DEF and low ATK. You can even use Turn Toad's effect on your own monsters to turn big defenders into big attackers in a pinch. While it's unlikely you'd ever use its Monster Effect, that's a nice option to have too. Why not.
Turn Toad's a stellar card – if it were a properly themed Continuous Spell or Field Spell it could probably be worth playing, but strapping that effect to a Pendulum Monster with a healthy Scale number makes it a real gem.
Speaking of turning high-DEF monsters into big attackers, that's what Superheavy Samurai Big Benkei is all about! Sitting in defense mode with a hefty 3500 DEF it's almost impossible to attack over, and it carries the central ability that drives the Superheavy Samurai gameplan: it lets all your Superheavy Samurai attack with their Defense Points while they're in defense position. That means Big Benkei itself is a 3500 DEF beater that can end your opponent in just two or three turns. It also extends its attack ability to two more monsters in Duelist Alliance, and several others in the upcoming New Challengers.
As a Level 8 Big Benkei combos with stuff like Trade-In, but you can Special Summon it straight from your deck with Giant Rat or even Inferno Reckless Summon. And since it has an effect that lets you change its battle position when you Summon it, you can bring Big Benkei out in attack off Giant Rat's ability and immediately throw it to defense mode where your opponent will struggle to take it down. Add synergy with DEF buffs like D2 Shield and you've got a really fun strategy in the making.
All that said, the biggest reason I love this card so much is that it combos beautifully with one of my all-time favorites: Black Garden. While the Garden's effect reduces ATK, it won't touch Superheavy Samurai Big Benkei's DEF, so your opponent loses out while you're left sitting pretty. The string of Special Summon effects you'd play to bring Benkei to the field lets you clog your opponent's field with Rose Tokens to stop their plays, or you can bring them out one by one to stick your opponent with an 800 ATK monster in vulnerable attack position. Since Benkei swings for 3500 points it can force 2700 damage through a Rose Token, putting your opponent on a three-turn clock. There's tremendous synergy here and I'm eager to keep working on my build, even now before New Challengers arrives with the rest of the Superheavy cards.
Superheavy Samurai Swordsman is likely the weakest of the three Superheavy monsters that exist right now, but even then, it's got a solid 1800 DEF and an effect that can be used to take down bigger monsters, turning them into sitting ducks with 0 ATK and 0 DEF. That means you can eliminate those monsters with greater ease, or force damage over them with your Superheavy Samurai's attacks.
The Swordsman's effect works especially well with our next subject.
Since Superheavy Samurai Blue Brawler can't be destroyed by battle it's the perfect companion to Superheavy Samurai Swordsman: with Swordsman's effect active, you can run Blue Brawler into virtually anything without destroying your attacker, dropping the monster you rushed to 0 ATK and 0 DEF. As a 2000 DEF monster Blue Brawler would be tough to eliminate in any situation, but its immunity to battle makes it even trickier to handle.
Note that since both Blue Brawler and Swordsman can turn themselves to defense position off a Normal Summon, they're a great fit for the Black Garden deck; you can Summon either one to force a Rose Token to your opponent's side of the field, then turn them to their stronger defense position in order to keep them alive. That saves you cards and sets up potential Rank 3 and Rank 4 plays, all while feeding Superheavy Samurai Big Benkei free shots at your opponent's Life Points. How cool is that?
…That was rhetorical, but for reference the answer is "super-cool."
The new Melodiuous theme doesn't really do much until New Challengers, but Mozarta the Melodious Maestra is an all-around solid card that works neatly in pre-existing Fairy decks. For years now there's been a tradition of two different high-Level Fairy strategies: one that hinged on The Dark Creator, Special Summoning Darklord Superbia into Darklord Zerato to storm the field and wipe away opposing monsters, and another that played Valhalla, Hall of the Fallen with monsters like Athena, Tethys, Goddess of Light, and Archlord Kristya. There was some inter-mingling between the two at times, and the result was always a swingy and exciting strategy that was more about thrills than consistency.
Enter Mozarta, and suddenly we have a Level 8 Fairy that can be Special Summoned with Valhalla to bring out Athena or Tethys from your hand; it can even unleash Archlord Kristya or Master Hyperion. While Mozarta's restriction limiting your Special Summons to Light monsters puts a damper on any Dark Lord cross-pollination, a 5600 ATK field of Mozarta and Kristya together is nothing to sneeze at. You could even Mozarta into Hyperion without playing Agents, then Special Summon Kristya with her own four-Fairy ability to knock out an opposing card and then lock down the field.
While Mozarta will become more important to its own theme later on, it's still a fun card right now and I'm eager to tool around with it in casual rush decks. It works with some of the most powerful boss monsters of all time, and that lends it promise.
Let's plunge into the big new themes! Satellarknight Deneb is Elemental Hero Stratos for "tellarknight" monsters, grabbing you any of the core effect monsters for the theme as a free +1 of card economy. That would be huge in any strategy – free search power's universally amazing, granting you card advantage to overwhelm your opponent and an element of selection that lets you tailor your plays to beat opposing set-ups. Need to fix your hand? Don't have the one card you need to make a game-winning combo? Cards like these are the solution.
But all that said, this kind of search effect is even better in Satellarknights than it might be elsewhere. The reason? Satellarknights are all about Rank 4 Xyz Summons, which means you'll often have to consolidate by overlaying two Materials for just one Xyz. Those kinds of minuses can add up quickly and leave you vulnerable… if you're not searching free cards as you go. Thanks to Satellarknight Denebt you will be, so those aggressive moves are much easier to make. This card's fantastic and ridiculously strong on basic, fundamental levels.
Speaking of free +1's to help you make Rank 4's, Satellarknight Altair revives a "tellarknight" from your Graveyard for free, allowing 1-for-1 Rank 4 plays and easier consolidations into Stellarknight Delteros. 1-for-1 Rank 4's are amazing, and while Altair brings with it a restriction that would keep you from attacking with numerous Xyz Monsters you might like to make, cards like Gagaga Cowboy and Number 50: Blackship of Corn don't need to attack anyways.
A 1-for-1 Rank 4 enabler would be more than strong enough to be competitive, but note too that all the Satellarknights' effects work whenever they're Summoned: not just when they're Normal Summoned. That means you can Altair back Satellarknight Deneb for a +2 total instead of just a +1; fill your graveyard with Satellarknight Unukalhai; create more Special Summons with Satellarknight Vega; or burn your opponent out with Satellarknight Alsahm. That's nuts. Throw in that 1700 ATK attack score and you've got another incredible card for the Satellarknight theme.
Satellarknight Vega only packs 1200 ATK, and in any other theme it would be disregarded as a waste of card economy: when you Summon Vega you can Special Summon another "tellarknight" from your hand, allowing you to commit more cards to the field for more Rank 4 plays. That would be too risky for tournament play if Satellarknight Deneb and Satellarknight Altair weren't grabbing you free cards all over the place.
But they are, so it isn't.
Summon Vega, plunk down Deneb for a search, and you can 1-for-1 into a Rank 4 with no restrictions (like those restrictions that complicate Altair). That play then sets you up with the graveyard you need to make the most of Altair's recursive effect, and everything flows really naturally. Your big kill turns with Satellarknights will often hinge on the use of both Altair and Vega in one play sequence to blow out your opponent in a single big push.
While Satellarknight Unukalhai may be the most limited of the Satellarknights in the scope of its effect, its searchable with Satellarknight Deneb and you can thus get away with playing just one copy if you want to run it. It's got the strongest ATK of the bunch, too, clocking in at 1800 attack points, so it can be a strong opener to set up Altair plays off a Reinforcement of the Army.
Worth playing? I think that's debatable, actually. Unukalhai's by no means a weak card, and it performs a very useful function in the Satellarknight early game. But it's so outclassed by the sheer awesomeness of the rest of the theme that it's tough for it to stand out. I expect it to see play and it was run in the Top 4 Satellarknight build from last weekend's Open in Orlando, but I'm not sure how long that's gonna last.
Finally, Satellarknight Alsahm burns your opponent to death 1000 Life Points at a time, while acting as a Level 4 Xyz Material. Personally I think this card's wildly underrated: the Satellarknight decks we're seeing right now run just one copy if any, searching it out during big play patterns to make win scenarios a little bit easier. But I think the sheer damage this thing can do – especially in conjunction with other burn effects like Gagaga Cowboy, Ceasefire, and Battleguard Howling – could actually be really competitive.
Regardless, let's take a second to acknowledge just how precise the Satellarknight deck can be. Since they're all Warriors they're all searchable with double Reinforcement of the Army. Combined with Satellarknight Deneb's Stratos effect and Satellarknight Unukalhai's work in the graveyard, paired with Satellarknight Altair's recursion, the deck's ridiculously consistent. I think the only thing keeping this strategy from doing even better than it has so far is the threat of another, perhaps even deadlier new deck.
You know the one I mean. And we'll talk about it tomorrow, in Part 2!