December's Forbidden & Limited List set out to destroy the FirewallFTK, rein in one particularly strong engine of Dark monsters, and performthe usual F&L List housekeeping of returning cards to Unlimited that nolonger justified restriction.

Even with just six changes the competitive scene saw a major shake-up:Goukis had to go back to the drawing board – for however briefly – andevery Firewall-dependent FTK vanished overnight. Sky Strikers and ThunderDragons emerged as the clear winners out of the gate, but that wasn'tterribly surprising given their prior successes.

The shakeup wasn't a real refresh of the format, and it did essentiallynothing to affect the competitiveness of Sky Strikers and Thunder Dragons.I think it was broadly understood that the current F&L List wasn'tdesigned to even the playing field as other – significantly larger – Listshave in the past. Instead, the small number of changes and relatively shortminimum duration of just two months should make it obvious that this Listis more temporary than normal.

That's admittedly a big assumption, but I think it's backed up by previousF&L List trends.

I'm predicting that we'll see a major reshuffling early this year as afollow-up to the current F&L List. I think the latest OCG List gives ussome clues as to what we should expect through 2019, and this week I wantto spend some time explaining my predictions for this year.

Keep in mind that this isn't a rundown of things I want to happen.Instead I'd like to focus on the factors the TCG needs to consider whenbuilding their F&L List update, and how upcoming releases will shapetheir decision making.

Tackling The Decks To Beat
Sky Strikers are the elephant in the room for any 2019 Forbidden &Limited List discussion. It's the most successful deck in the TCG by a widemargin and its overwhelming dominance last year should leave it with amassive target on its back going into 2019.

So far Sky Strikers have been hit with a single restriction: a Limit on SkyStriker Mecha - Hornet Drones. But the limit on Hornet Drones wasn'texplicitly an attempt to balance Sky Strikers. There were dozens ofstrategies at the time that teched Hornet Drones to bolster their Summoningpower. A playset of Hornet Drones and a copy of Sky Striker Ace - Kagari inthe Extra Deck had become a near-staple of Link spam strategies likeGoukis.

So what's the next step for Sky Strikers? It's clear that the engineoutperforms nearly every other competitive strategy, so it's not a stretchto imagine that Konami will take a swipe at it early this year. We can lookto the OCG for clues here: Sky Striker Mobilize - Engage! and Sky StrikerMecha - Widow Anchor are currently Limited there alongside Kagari andHornet Drones. It's still the second-best performing deck at OCG events,but it's overshadowed by Salamangreat. It's hard to know what that match-upwould look like in the TCG without any further hits to Sky Strikers.

That said, decks aren't balanced solely based on their comparative standingin Top Cut breakdowns. I've argued before that analyzing the state of thecompetitive scene through Top Cuts at YCS and Regional events is incrediblyflawed, but it's essentially the only tool that those of us inNorth America have access to. But Konami – potentially – has access to farmore data that isn't made public, including entry numbers and exact cardcounts in decklists. It's extremely difficult to predict any decision madeby the TCG team when we're working with different sets of data.

Ultimately I think Sky Strikers are heading for a severe hit with at leasttwo more themed cards ending up on the Limited List. That's consistent withwhat other top themes have experienced in the past, and even withSalamangreat on the horizon there's a good chance Sky Strikers will eat arestriction despite that. The cynical view here is that Sky Strikers havehad their run, and the upcoming release of Sky Striker Ace - Kaina isn'texpected to be a set seller anyways. A hit to Widow Anchor will make theThunder Dragon match-up significantly more difficult, and two more copiesof Engage will hurt the deck's performance at large, lengthy events whereconsistency is king.

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Meanwhile Thunder Dragons are also on the chopping block. The OCG bumpedGold Sarcophagus back up to Limited, but personally I'd much rather see adifferent approach. There's some bias there: Gold Sarcophagus is anecessary card for Metaphys – an admittedly rarely-played theme withlimited competitive prospects – and a Limit would probably encourage me todrop the deck entirely even at the casual level.

Still, restricting an off-theme consistency tech with potentially bustedapplications in the future is hard to object to. There are so many cardsthat benefit from being banished straight out of the deck, and any newcards with that mechanic need to be balanced around the fact that GoldSarcophagus exists.

Thunder Dragons are currently trailing Sky Strikers in third place inoverviews of OCG events – mirroring their performance in the TCG. There areother factors influencing their competitiveness in the OCG, however, thatdon't exist in the TCG. I'm talking about Maxx "C", of course, theformat-defining hand trap that's miraculously still Unlimited in the OCG.It's a game changer for their competitive scene and a serious threat todecks that need to Special Summon more than a couple of times each turn.It's one of the reasons why Sky Strikers have been so successful whiledecks like Thunder Dragons have had their potential reduced.

If there's a problem card in Thunder Dragons it's easily ThunderDragon Colossus, a game-winner via its floodgate effect. Halting searcheffects is enough to single-handedly swing match-ups in your favor, or evenwin them outright if your opponent happens to open with a particularlysearch-heavy hand.

I think a Limit on Colossus is worth considering at some point, but I havemy doubts that it would happen soon. It makes double Colossus fieldsimpossible, and as a result if you can answer the first Summon you'll havea much better shot at winning the duel. For now I would expect a Limit onGold Sarcophagus, but when – or if – Konami decides to really hurt the deckI imagine that pain will come in the form of a Colossus Limit.

Further Dealing With Alternate Win Conditions
Two of the most discussed Extra Deck monsters this year were TopologicGumblar Dragon and Number 86: Heroic Champion - Rhongomyniad.

Both cards fueled built conditions by either emptying the opponent's handor, in the case of Rhongomyniad, locking players out of their Summons. Wesaw plenty of players make Top 32 and Top 8 finishes with Gumblar loops andRhongomyniad lockdowns in the months leading up to 2019, and there's goodevidence that at least Rhongomyniad's popularity will carry over into thenew year.

Konami already hit the Dark Link engine by Limiting Armageddon Knight andSemi-Limiting Destiny HERO - Malicious, but the decks that can SummonGumblar and Rhongomyniad consistently have largely shrugged off thechanges. Another hit against the key Link Monsters would cripple Goukis andDark Warriors, and as a result I think Isolde, Two Tales of the NobleKnights or Summon Sorceress are likely to end up on the Forbidden Listsometime this year.

Summon Sorceress is particularly vulnerable: it's already Forbidden in theOCG, but its recent reprint will probably keep it safe this round. The besttime to tackle Summon Sorceress will probably be in May or early June, butit's entirely possible it sticks around until later in the year.

Floating Needlefiber In The TCG
The biggest surprise of 2018 may very well be thatCrystron Needlefibernever saw a TCG release.

In fact, there are still a handful of cards from the initial OCG-onlyLINK VRAINS PACK that never arrived here, although most of thoseremaining cards will finally debut inDuel Powerin April. Could Needlefiber be tucked away in there amongst the other OCGimports? Possibly, and that would give Konami just enough time to sneak inone last F&L List update before the WCQs begin. Duel Power might revitalize a few rogue strategies by finally delivering their themedLink monsters, but I wouldn't expect decks like Heiratics or Aromage tosuddenly start topping tournaments.

2019 is another full year of Link releases and likely a steady stream ofimports from LINK VRAINS PACK 2, which debuted in the OCG latelast year. I think everyone's expecting a natural power creep of LinkMonsters through this year and half of 2020 as the Link era continuesonward, but with each release more and more previously-Unlimited cards arelanding on the F&L List.

Cards like Scapegoat, Dandylion, and Blackwing - Gofu the Vague Shadow haveall met their demise by being too effective at generating Tokens, and it'sprobably only a matter of time until we see even more cards end uprestricted due to their interactions with the Link mechanic.Crystron Needlefiberwould be the death of numerous Tuners as Konami attempts to balance it inthe TCG. Glow-Up Bulb and Blackwing - Steam the Cloak were just Forbiddenin the OCG explicitly because of Needlefiber.

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For a long time Konami has had an approach where they've restricted thecards surrounding an obviously overpowered release rather than releasingmore balanced cards. Dragon Ravine was Forbidden – utterly cripplingDragunity – to keep the Dragon Rulers legal for another format. Even afterthe Dragon Rulers were Forbidden, Dragon Ravine was stuck in the limbo ofthe F&L List for years.

Last year the release of Heavymetalfoes Electrumite prompted Konami to banDouble Iris Magician and Performapal Skullcrobat Joker. The existingPendulum Magician decks were entirely destroyed as a result, and the deckhad to be built around Electrumite. The cynical view here is thatPendulums were broken purely to sell the 'fix' of Electrumite. That said,sometimes older cards will need to be exchanged for new releases anyways toavoid power creep. It's impossible to expect increasingly better cardswhile not addressing broken interactions in the existing card pool.

Speculating On Tech Choices
I have no idea what hand trap decisions will be made for the TCG this year.Will Maxx "C" return? Is Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring too strong? IsDroll & Lock Bird finally going to see a restriction to slow theTrickstar Reincarnation hand disappearing act?

It's hard to know how the TCG is interpreting hand traps in today's game.They're so vital to the competitive scene that changing any of them wouldhave massive repercussions, and I'm not sure the TCG wants to engage inthat battle just yet. I'm of the opinion that the game would be in a muchhealthier place if it didn't need hand traps, but for now I'msettled on them being a necessary evil to combat the snowballing momentummost decks accrue when playing first.

I've been keeping my eye on a few tech picks that I think are seeing enoughplay to catch Konami's attention. Mind Control, Magical Mid-Breaker Field,and Instant Fusion are at the top of my list alongside Gold Sarcophagus.Those cards are insanely strong right now and restricting any of them couldhelp to balance the TCG without directly going after themed cards.

Floodgates like Rivalry of Warlords or Gozen Match are much safer in myopinion, and I don't think we'll see any traps take a hit early this year.These floodgates have been around for a very long time and have had periodsof much more intense play. I also think Evenly Matched and InfiniteImpermanence are safe for now, especially since both cards are excellentset-selling tools.

Moving Off The List
Is it time to return the Dragon Rulers to the game? Tempest, Dragon Rulerof Storms is currently Limited in the OCG, and Number 95: Galaxy-Eyes DarkMatter Dragon was just Forbidden. Assuming we get the same changes there'sa fair chance that the other Dragon Rulers could return to the game.

They'd be fantastic and widely played, but they'd be nowhere near their oldpower and simply not exist in a dedicated way. I don't think a "DragonRuler Deck" would be topping, but decks packing Dragon Rulers would getincredible value out of the relatively free Special Summons.

The OCG's definitely been more liberal about moving cards off the ForbiddenList. Denglong, First of the Yang Zing is back to Limited along with ElShaddoll Construct and Wind-Up Carrier Zenmaity. Pot of Avarice isUnlimited, which is mind-blowing enough, and most of the Nekroz andInzektor themes are restriction-free.

Not all of these moves would be appreciated by the TCG, and many of themexist in the context of other restrictions the TCG doesn't have. Still,it's worth point out that Shaddolls, Nekroz, Wind-Ups, and Yang Zing aren'tdominating tournaments right now. These decks are still antiquated comparedto Thunder Dragons, Sky Strikers, and Salamangreats.

There are lots of opportunities for Konami to balance out the format andthrow a bone to fans of older themes by making ambitious moves in 2019. Westill don't know what the World Premieres and OCG imports will look likefor Savage Strike, and the second half of 2019 is a total mystery.A solid follow-up to last year's F&L List changes will go a long waytowards making the competitive scene a bit less lopsided for ThunderDragons and Sky Strikers, but it's the Link toolbox that I'm primarilyconcerned with.

There are many new Links on the way this year, and balancing themall will be a nightmare for the R&D team. Here's hoping they can pullit off.

Until next time then

-Kelly


Kelly​​​ ​​​Locke​​​ ​​​is​​​ ​​​a​​​ ​​​West​​​ ​​​Michigan​​​​​​gamer and writer. You​​​ ​​​can follow​​​ ​​​him​​​ ​​​on​​​ ​​​​​​Twitter​​​​​​for more updates ​​​and​​​ ​​​check​​​ ​​​out​​​ ​​​his​​​ ​​​​​​Youtube​​​ ​​​channel​​​. He​​​ ​​​also studied marketing at Western Michigan University.