From a top-down perspective, I think Legacy of the Valiant really raises the bar for set design. Judgment of the Light and Shadow Specters both presented strong theme support for existing decks, and put forth new themes that players quickly embraced – first Bujins, then Ghostricks. Both sets played with the idea of generic splashable cards as well, largely through Synchro Monsters in JOTL, and a few generic Xyz like Ghostrick Alucard and Divine Dragon Knight Felgrand in SHSP. Neither set really nailed that concept though, since few decks play enough Tuners to run those generic Synchros and not many strategies run Level 8's for Felgrand. But you could see that design intent.

Those three priorities all carry through in Legacy of the Valiant, but they reach higher levels of success. The new Sylvan theme's beguiling and filled with walls of text, but I think it's actually more competitive than Bujins or Ghostricks were in their first set's release. I think the support for existing competitive themes, ironically referred to as "legacy support" in the industry, is done better here than it was in Judgment of the Light and Shadow Specters: the Gravekeeper and Noble Knight support's really stellar, the new Bujin cards are solid, and even the Ghostrick stuff makes leaps and bounds toward fixing that theme's challenges.

And the splashable stuff? It's amazing. While Shadow Specters gave us a useful Rank 3 and a killer Rank 8, Legacy of the Valiant just goes whole-hog and gives us two Rank 4's that may change the course of competition as we know it. We also get new defensive hand traps, a new spin on Mistake and Maxx "C", and more accessible cards with high power levels.

LVAL takes what I believe were the three big ambitions of the last couple sets, and kicks them up a notch. It raises the stakes in those three fields. But at the same time, it also takes special care to lend a ton of support to a bunch of fan-favorite casual decks, and that's where it really got me. I've come off Legacy of the Valiant excited to rebuild some of my favorite decks of the past few years, because all of a sudden they can actually win tournaments, even if it's just locals. That's something I don't think we've really seen in recent sets; if the design priority was there, the focus and the follow through weren't.

On the whole, the general power level of Legacy of the Valiant is really high. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing here that seems broken like the Dragon Rulers: there's some borderline stuff, but none of it seems so overpowered that it's going to be an immediate problem. No, what I really mean is that on average, cards here are more worthwhile than in previous sets. You're going to see what I mean as we conduct our Giant Set Review: even the throwaway material's shockingly playable. The days of a Yu-Gi-Oh! set having five interesting cards – if that – followed by eighty to ninety pieces of filler are clearly in the past.

Are you excited? I am! But that's mostly because I'm writing this introduction after writing the actual card-by-card reviews, so I know how awesome all of this gets further down the line. Trust me; it's going to be worth the read. As always the usual disclaimer applies: the Giant Set Review is an arbitrary list of cards that tickle my dueling fancies. Your favorite cards may not have made the list, and if they didn't, it could be for any number of reasons: maybe I didn't notice how good that card was! Or maybe I just think it's awful. Regardless, your opinions are welcome down in the Comments. The dialogue these Giant Set Reviews tend to spawn are always really enjoyable, so let's get started.

#####CARDID= 14186#####

Let's kick it off small, with one of my favorite casual cards from the set. If you're not familiar with Dustons here's the skinny: your strategy is to control two cards at the same time, House Duston and Goblin King. You want to destroy House Duston with an opposing card to trigger its effect – usually by ramming it into something bigger – while your opponent controls only one monster. House Duston's effect lets you Special Summon Dustons from your hand and deck to both sides of the field, but it has to be the same number: you and your opponent both get four Dustons each. The goal is to bring out your opponent's Dustons in attack mode, so that Goblin King can push over one of them for game. Each Duston has 0 ATK, and Goblin King gains 1000 ATK for each other Fiend on the field. That means eight Dustons puts Goblin King at 8000 attack points, and one face-up Duston is all the opportunity you need to make a win.

The problem is that aside from House Duston, all the other Dustons have had big restrictions: Red Duston, Yellow Duston, Green Duston and Blue Duston can't be used for Fusion, Synchro, or Xyz Summons, nor can they be Tributed. Also, each of the colored Dustons have an effect that says you can only control one of each at any given time. That meant you got a Blue Duston, and your opponent got a Blue Duston; you got a Green Duston, and your opponent got a Green Duston; and so on. House Duston has no such restriction, but that only helped so much. You had to run a lot of different Dustons and hope you didn't draw them at the wrong time, and well… if you want to know the whole Duston rigamarole I wrote on them extensively over here. The number of Dustons you needed to play was inconvenient at best.

White Duston changes all that by being a Normal Monster. You can Tribute it, or use it for any sort of Summon you want. You can control more than one at a time, too, which is awesome because it means you can run fewer Dustons to save deck space, and Salvage situations where you're forced to set Dustons and lose them to the graveyard (the one place House Duston can't use them). This isn't an exciting card for the majority of the dueling population. But for Duston fans like myself? White gold!

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The dedicated Number 39: Utopia theme continues to grow, and ZW – Asura Strike's a solid addition. Boosting the basic Utopia to 3500 ATK, it packs a Diffusion Wave-Motion effect that's fairly threatening. While an equip-type effect would normally be unattractive since they invite opposing 2-for-1's, this one's not too shabby since Utopia can protect itself from attacks, and 3500 ATK's pretty enormous. There's definitely some potential for this card to end games, and since it's a Level 4 itself it's got solid utility. In combination with another protective Utopia support card like ZW – Lightning Blade, Asura Strike's a formidable threat that can quickly make OTK's. Remember, a dedicated Utopia deck is always just one V Salamander away from an on-field Utopia and 4000 base damage. It even works with the Number C39 Utopia monsters, and the new Number 39: Utopia Roots, which we'll discuss later in the Giant Set Review.

Is the Utopia theme competitive yet? Absolutely not. It probably never will be. But as a casual strategy it keeps getting better, and I think ZW – Asura Strike's the first real high-impact game-ender the theme has. Suddenly you can play V Salamander for Number 39: Utopia, make Number C39: Utopia Ray, attach Asura Strike and have a very real chance at ending the game with a simple two-card combo your opponents won't see coming.

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Rainbow Kuriboh's a fascinating new hand trap that works like a less absolute, but more diversified Swift Scarecrow. While you'd pitch Swift Scarecrow from your hand to block an entire turn's worth of attacks, Kuriboh' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Rainbow Kuriboh">Rainbow Kuriboh equips to a single attacker from your hand and then stops that monster from attacking, for as long as Kuriboh' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Rainbow Kuriboh">Rainbow Kuriboh's there cuddling the monster. It blocks just one attacker at a time, but it can protect you from that monster across several turns. When Kuriboh' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Rainbow Kuriboh">Rainbow Kuriboh inevitably hits the graveyard it has another effect: you can Special Summon it in response to an attack to trigger a replay and stop at least one opposing monster from getting at your Life Points. If you do that and Kuriboh' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Rainbow Kuriboh">Rainbow Kuriboh leaves the field, it's then banished.

So Kuriboh' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Rainbow Kuriboh">Rainbow Kuriboh's really good at blocking single attackers, with two effects that work together to save you from several attacks across more than one turn. What's cool is that its Level and attribute give it some extra uses, which has spawned at least one new strategy seeing play in the OCG. Because Kuriboh' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Rainbow Kuriboh">Rainbow Kuriboh's Level 1, you can draw an extra card when you reveal it with Mystic Piper. You can also Special Summon it with Kinka-Byo's effect, and while that was always a borderline-useful move in the past, the release of Number 39: Utopia Roots, Ghostrick Dullahan, and perhaps more importantly Downerd Magician, have made Rank 1 Xyz plays far stronger.

The result's a new breed of Mystic Piper deck that uses Kuriboh' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Rainbow Kuriboh">Rainbow Kuriboh and Level 1 Ghostricks to defend your Life Points and unleash powerful attackers. Bobby Kenny's going to be writing on the strategy in the near future, but for now, just understand that Kuriboh' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Rainbow Kuriboh">Rainbow Kuriboh can be key: it's another Level 1 defender, it places a Level 1 in the graveyard for Kinka-Byo, and it's a Light attribute for potential Chaos Summons. Very cool.

#####CARDID=14191#####

Following in the footsteps of cards like Solar Wind Jammer and Cyber Dragon, Overlay Booster's another easy-to-Summon Level 5 you'll generally play as Synchro or Xyz Material. The twist is that while you can only Summon Cydra and Wind Jammer when you don't control monsters, Overlay Booster is Special Summoned when you do control a monster, specifically anything with more than 2000 ATK. While it's not as good at the beginning of something like a Karakuri combo sequence for multiple Synchro Summons, it works better once those combos are in motion, and it's a superior topdeck when you've already got a monster on the field. In those situations a Cyber Dragon or Wind Jammer would be a dead draw, but Overlay Booster's a live play that keeps your options open.

In fact, Overlay Booster goes really well with Cyber Dragon since it has enough ATK to bring Overlay Booster to the field. While you could do the same trick with Instant Fusion, you can only activate one Instant Fusion per turn, and it costs you both Life Points and space in your Extra Deck (for the matching Level 5 Fusion Monsters). Overlay Booster can't be played in as many situations, but what you give up in utility you keep in costs. It's a Light monster for banish-costed Summons, and its 0 DEF means it works with Masked Chameleon for an instant Giganticastle.

Overlay Booster's a useful new spin on a proven combo concept, so it's bound to be useful in the right deck at some time. Seeing new tools for creative deck builders is always awesome, and that's precisely what Overlay Booster is.

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Sure! Easy discard-costed Level 9 Special Summoning. I'll take it.

We really have very little use for that as far as I can tell, since Number 92: Heart-eartH Dragon doesn't impress me much, but Deep-Space Cruiser IX could definitely be useful as more high-Rank Xyz are released. It might have some uses as Synchro Material, too: I could see playing it in Fableds for Fabled Leviathan, or in a variety of Synchro strategies to make T.G. Blade Blaster or Star Eater.

#####CARDID=14196#####

The new "Gorgonic" monsters in Legacy of the Valiant are to Reptiliannes what the Atlanteans are to Mermails; they stand on their own as a workable theme, but they also lend a ton of core support to Reptilianne monsters. Both themes revolve around the concept of reducing the ATK of opposing monsters to 0, offering benefits when you do. But while the Reptiliannes struggled to make those ATK reductions, the Gorgonics are largely better at it.

Gorgonic Golem is the first of the monsters in the family, and it plays a lot like a better Reptilianne Gorgon. While you had to run Gorgon into an opposing monster with an attack to make that ATK reduction… which cost you field presence and Life Points… Gorgonic Golem reduces the ATK of whatever destroys it whenever it's destroyed by battle, even when it's face-down as a defender. That means it can block damage or serve as a bluff, which Reptilianne Gorgon couldn't do.

In addition it's a Level 3 Rock for the Xyz Summoning of the Gorgonic Rank 3, Gorgonic Guardian. The Guardian has two effects, one of which is a key ATK reducer for the theme, the other being a big payoff for the ATK reductions you make. And Gorgonic Golem's secondary ability, which lets you banish it to stun a set spell or trap for a turn, gives you another way to play it once the Golem hits the graveyard as a chump Blocker, or you detach it as an Xyz Material. It's a really well-designed bit of support that can accomplish a lot for its theme.

#####CARDID=14197#####

All of the Gorgonics are Rock-types, and the Rank 3 payoff monster Gorgonic Guardian requires Level 3 Rocks for its Xyz Materials. You can Special Summon Gorgonic Gargoyle whenever you Normal Summon another Rock, so it gives you easy access to Gorgonic Guardian as a quick -1. The guardian's ability then gets you a free plus by destroying an opposing monster, balancing out the brief minus you took consolidating for your Xyz Summon.

It works with all the Gorgonics as well as any other Rocks you might be running, so it's a basic combo card with solid utility.

#####CARDID=14198#####

Gorgonic Ghoul's a bit more interesting. While the other Gorgonics are Level 3, Gorgonic Ghoul is Level 1, and lets you Special Summon more copies from your hand at the cost of 300 Life Points each. It doesn't seem tremendously useful since there's very little search support to help you put together those combos, but if you hit the right draws it can make a number of Rank 1's, an easy Downerd Magician, or it can combo with Gorgonic Cerberus for Rank 3 plays It can even make multiple Rank 3's in a single turn.

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While weak on its own, Gorgonic Cerberus combos with cards like Gorgonic Ghoul, or off-theme monsters like Gigantes, Gogogos, or Chronomalies for more Rank 3 options. Its value largely rests in its status as another Level 3 Rock that fits the Gorgonic theme: Cerberus makes it easier to play Gorgonic Gargoyle and you can pair it with Gorgonic Golem if it survives a turn face-down. It's a Rock for Gorgonic Guardian too, so it's largely an auto-include for any Gorgonic strategy.

It sort of falls into the same unfortunate pattern as Umbral Horror Will o' the Wisp and Star Seraph Sage; the odd card out in a new theme that you'd reluctantly play, but that you wouldn't actually run if you had any decent options instead.

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Onto the Sylvans! Sylvan Peaskeeper is an integral part of a surprisingly competitive new theme that most players have been happy to ignore. Let me get this out there right now: Sylvans are actually pretty good. You can use Mount Sylvania to guide your opponents' decisions, threatening to blow up their stuff if they play the wrong cards; they can rake in a lot of free card economy; they make great use of Plant control effects like Tytannial, Princess of Camellias; and their themed Synchro and Xyz are both quite powerful.

The Sylvan strategy's all about stacking the right cards to the top of your deck, largely with Mount Sylvania, then excavating them to the graveyard. Excavate the right cards and you'll trigger powerful effects, creating rolling momentum and building towards wins. The low-Level Sylvans all provide those triggered abilities: in the case of Sylvan Peaskeeper, you stack it and excavate it to your yard to revive a Level 4 or lower Plant. That lets you reuse Lonefire Blossom, Special Summon more Fluff Tokens with Dandylion, or make a Synchro Summon with Spore. It's really useful, and while the other low-Level Sylvan triggers are largely about blowing stuff up, Peaskeeper pressures your opponent in a different way, threatening big plays and combos.

As a bonus, you can also Normal Summon Peaskeeper to excavate and yard the top card from your deck, speeding your strategy along when you don't want to slowroll your excavations with Mount Sylvania. And it pairs with Spore to make Formula Synchron. It's responsible for a lot of your game-winning plays, adding that extra card to your field to put your Synchro Summon combos over the top.

#####CARDID=14201#####

Sylvan Komushroomo is the second low-Level Sylvan with a triggered effect that goes off when it's excavated and planted in the rich, nurturing soil of your graveyard. (Plant monsters make the best mulch.) When you bury it good and deep, Komushroomo can destroy a spell or trap card on either side of the field, so if you play it on your turn it can clear the way for big moves. Stack it and threaten to play it in your opponent's End Phase with Mount Sylvania, and you can keep them from setting cards altogether.

Komushroomo's one of the few cards that creates a legitimate luck factor when you're playing Sylvans. Like Sylvan Peaskeeper, it has an ability that can excavate the top card of your deck, which is generally very easy for you to manipulate. The catch? Komushroomo excavates the next four cards of your deck as well, so if you hit the right stuff you can trigger up to five Sylvan effects, or create plays with Dandylion, Spore, and Lonefire Blossom via Miracle Fertilizer. Generally, we found in testing that Komushroomo tends to hit two effects pretty reliably: even if your opponent swings over Sylvan Komushroomo, you'll often get a +1 out of the transaction and build your yard along the way.

The fact that Komushroomo's got a big butt means that your opponent's not even guaranteed to swing over it in the first place: 2000 DEF's a big booty in this format, blocking everything from Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Bear and Brotherhood of the Fire Fist – Dragon, to Mermail Abysspike and Bujin Yamato. It's a luck-driven card, but only in the context of, "If you get lucky, it might be even better than normal."

#####CARDID=14202#####

The last of the three big Sylvan triggers, Sylvan Marshalleaf may be the most powerful: when you excavate it and kick it to your graveyard you pop a monster of your choice. Again, that can clear an immediate threat if you trigger the effect on your turn, or you can slowroll it with Mount Sylvania and use it in your opponent's End Phase. That keeps them from committing monsters to the field. It's also Level 3: Komushroom's a Level 2 and Peaskeeper's a Level 1, so it completes a trio of options that help you make different Synchro Summons. Miracle Fertilizer's huge in this strategy, and easy access to a big spread of Synchros is one of the key reasons it's so good.

As for its Normal Summon effect, Marshalleaf's a star there too, letting you excavate and send up to two cards from the top of your deck to your yard instead of Peaskeeper's single excavation.

At this point I feel like it's a good time to make a comparison: the Sylvans all have excavating effects that send cards to the graveyard, but notice that those abilities only yard the card if it's a successful hit for your strategy – if it's not a Plant, it just goes back to the bottom of your deck so you can draw it again later. Think of Lightsworn, and then think of how strong that deck would be if you could put all of your missed mills back into your deck. Sylvans are really good at getting to their best spells and traps in the mid-game, because they quickly filter their monsters to the graveyard.

The theme's no joke. It just happens to be so freaking complicated nobody wants to play it.

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Sylvan Flowerknight doesn't really see play in the combo-driven Sylvan decks I've been using, but it's not bad. At 1800 ATK it's a solid beatstick; it excavates your next draw and yards it to speed things up; and if you happen to excavate Flowerknight, it establishes your next draw or preferred excavation depending on when it happens.

That said, the Sylvan strategy's packed to the brim with necessary combo pieces, and I've just never found room to play Sylvan Flowerknight. It's not that it's a bad card, it's just not the right time to play it. There could be a viable beatdown variant of Sylvans that I haven't seen yet, and Flowerknight could become more important in the future when new cards are released or metagame trends shift. But for now I'd recommend skipping it.

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Sylvan Guardioak drifts in and out of my Sylvan decks as a one-of. Since it's Level 6 it can help you make Synchro Summons; it's especially good for Summoning the new Leo, the Keeper of the Sacred Tree – you can make it with Guardioak and Spore. Excavating three cards is definitely useful, and can make Guardioak a powerful Turn 1 play off Lonefire in the right situations. In the early game you place a premium on just filling your graveyard en masse, and its triple-excavation helps you do that. Its own trigger effect when it's planted can be really good or downright useless: you can't get much out of it in the early game, but when it starts recycling Lonefire Blossoms business really picks up.

Still, you'll rarely bank on it, and it's not a must-play in my experience.

#####CARDID=14205#####

Sylvan Hermitree's awesome. You generally want to play multiples along with a Tytannial, Princess of Camellias as your big beaters, bringing them into play with Lonefire Blososm and recurring them over and over with Miracle Fertilizer. Both have high ATK and deadly effects. If you draw either Level 8, you just pitch it for Mount Sylvania so you can revive your monster later, and both cards contribute to your high-Level Synchro Summons and Xyz plays.

Sylvan Hermitree's a beast. With 2700 ATK it's really big, and its effect is one of the best excavation tricks the deck has: while everything else just excavates and sends a card to the graveyard for a potential +1, Hermitree does that and gets you a free draw in the process. It's a beating, and the longer it stays on the field the faster you generally win. Even its excavation trigger isn't bad, stacking the top three cards of your deck in any order to rig your next draw, your next excavation, or both. Mastering this card is key to succeeding with Sylvans.

So those are the Sylvans; it's a lot to take in, so we're going to hold the Ghostricks, the Bujins, and the rest of the effect monsters for Part 2 tomorrow. The back half of the effect monster lineup in Legacy of the Valiant includes some of the coolest and quirkiest cards in the set, so don't miss the continuation of our Giant Set Review!

-Jason Grabher-Meyer