It's that time again! This weekend the North American World Championship Qualifier will take place in Detroit Michigan – my home state! I'll be there, so please come by and say hi if you get the chance.

The WCQ this year promises to be substantially more varied than last year. Geargia is still the top deck, but Lightsworn Rulers, Sylvans, Mermail, Mythic Rulers, and Spellbooks have been seeing success at major events over the last few weeks. With so many potential match-ups it's hugely important that your Side Deck is as versatile as possible. Cards with high utility have a better chance of being useful than more narrow options. This week we'll take a look at some of the most widely-played Side Deck cards of the format and discuss how how they'll impact the WCQ.

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Fire Hand and Ice Hand have seen no shortage of play this format: they're a crucial component of strategies like Geargia, Traptrix Hands, and HAT. Card removal attached to replaceable monsters is too good to pass up, especially in a format that's packed with floodgates and continuous negation effects. Skill Drain and Vanity's Emptiness do nothing to stop Ice Hand, and Fire Hand eliminates any monster that's lacking some sort of protection or immunity. These things have a ridiculous amount of match-up utility – a quality that makes them equally good for Main Deck play. They're also great when you need cards to side out. By playing four Hands, you'll have four monsters that you can easily replace with match-up specific tech.

Decks that rely on creating set-ups with monsters that aren't immune to Fire Hand will be at a distinct disadvantage to Lightsworn, Mythic Rulers, and other strategies that can easily work with an open field. Evilswarm Ophion is particularly vulnerable to Fire Hand, so while its strong match-up against Lightsworns and Mythic Rulers makes Evilswarm a tempting pick, the Hands might just keep them off the top tables entirely. You should expect to see Hands all weekend; they're simply too widespread to ignore.

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Geargia, Madolche, and Fire Fist will habitually put multiple Rank 3 and 4 Xyz Monsters on the field at the same time. Xyz Universe sucks up those monsters like a giant vacuum cleaner and spits out a Rank 6, 7, or 8 from your Extra Deck. The exchange leaves your opponent down two cards while you come out ahead with a Divine Dragon Knight Felgrand or Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossack. It's a big, tempo-changing +2 that'll leave you in an excellent position for your next turn. Xyz Universe brings Geargia and Madolche combos to a screeching halt–forcing them to consolidate and make an attempt next turn.

That's especially the case if Universe brings a Felgrand to your field. It's an often-unexpected card that can quickly steal games, and it's something to be very concerned about if you're using a deck that needs to Summon multiple Rank 3 or 4 Xyz Monsters in a single turn.

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For the last couple of months trap-heavy strategies have opted to forgo Main Deck Typhoons in favor of other counters to backrow cards. Blindly targeting face-down backrow cards can Backfire when you're up against Artifact variants, and the popularity of Breakthrough Skill makes Typhoon a Gamble during Game 1. But during Games 2 and 3? That's where Typhoon really shines. Counter siding removal to Continuous Traps is almost a necessity in this floodgate-packed format. Even if Typhoon is weak in some match-ups, players can't afford to let Macro Cosmos, Soul Drain, or Light-Imprisoning Mirror keep them out of the duel.

You'll want to keep your opponent's siding habits in mind when you build your Side Deck. Plan for a Game 2 where Typhoons are everywhere, and choose cards accordingly. Dimensional Fissure might be stronger against Lightsworn or Bujin than D.D. Crow, but it's also a huge target for the three Typhoons they'll be siding in after Game 1. Choosing to side hand traps and Normal Spells over Continuous Traps can seriously pay off if your opponent doesn't have an out to them.

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Geargiagear isn't Limited yet, which means Geargia will still be a top pick for the weekend. Nobleman of Crossout is easily the single best card to side for the match-up, pulverizing Geargiarmor and banishing set Hands. As a Normal Spell it's untouchable by Wiretap or Seven Tools of the Bandit, so your opponent won't have an out to it even in Games 2 and 3.

If you're playing Geargia yourself you might consider Mind Control over a copy of Nobleman. It's a slightly more useful card in the mirror match since you can steal opposing Geargiarmors. Other than that, Nobleman is almost a must-run given how popular Geargia is.

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I've been hyping Debunk for weeks and I still consider it a must-run along with Nobleman and Typhoon. Not only is it excellent against Mythic Rulers, Bujin, Mermail, and Sylvan, Debunk's also effective in nearly any game involving Hands. You just can't beat Debunk's overwhelming match-up versatility this format. As a counter side, you can play Debunk to answer Effect Veiler, Maxx "C", Swift Scarecrow, Battle Fader, Rainbow Kuriboh, and D.D. Crow. Whether your opponent's siding in Hands or hand traps, Debunk's an awesome solution to a ton of commonly sided cards. It's an obvious pick for this year's WCQ.

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Royal Decree is a perfect fit for this trap-heavy format, but until recently it wasn't seeing much play. Most decks are playing lots of traps, making cards like Wiretap and Trap Stun much more popular than Decree. On the other hand, Sylvan and Lightsworn builds might run only a handful of traps...or none at all.

Once Decree is up those decks can launch aggressive plays with impunity, ignoring opposing backrow – a big deal for explosive strategies with major OTK potential. Floodgates like Macro Cosmos or Light-Imprisoning Mirror force players to carefully manage their Typhoons, but Decree puts that pressure back on the opponent. It's also useful against Burn, which is a surprisingly relevant match-up right now.

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Two of the best decks in the format are Light themes: Bujins and Lightsworn. Light-Imprisoning Mirror cripples both. Without access to themed removal from Bujingi Quilin or Lyla, Lightsworn Sorcereess, it's difficult for either deck to take Mirror off the field; your opponent has to rely on sided cards and Extra Deck monsters – cards like Royal Decree, Mystical Space Typhoon, Diamond Dire Wolf, and Black Rose Dragon.

While counters certainly exist, Mirror's ease of use and its often one-sided effect make it the best choice for either match-up. You can win games simply by protecting Light-Imprisoning Mirror, especially if you can lock it in with Stardust Spark Dragon or Number 66: Master Key Beetle.

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The 'Limited Trio' of Macro Cosmos, Dimensional Fissure, and Soul Drain shut down your opponent's graveyard and deprive many strategies of their best cards and effects. One of Geargia's biggest strengths is its ability to side into all three of these cards. If you're going up against Machines you need to expect to see these things after Game 1 and side accordingly. Otherwise you run the risk of losing games to a Macro Cosmos you just can't get rid of.

On the other hand, using a strategy with little reliance on the graveyard allows you to side anti-graveyard cards yourself. Like Light-Imprisoning Mirror there are plenty of match-ups where you can score an easy win by holding onto a Macro Cosmos or Dimensional Fissure.

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Crow is another Side Deck card with a stupid amount of match-up utility. While weaker than Ally of Justice Cycle Reader, D.D. Crow banishes much more than just Light monsters. Against Traptrix variants Crow removes targets for Traptrix Dionaea's recursion and Artifact monsters that are trying to trigger; against Madolche, Crow gets rid of monsters before Hootcake can target them; and against Mythic Rulers you can banish a Dragon Ruler immediately after it activates in the yard.

Crow's a bit weaker than Cycle Reader against Light themes, but it can still banish monsters targeted by Lumina, Lightsworn Summoner; Sylvan Princessprout; and Bujingi cards. Depending on what you're already siding Cycle reader might be the better card. However, if you're unsure on which one you should side, D.D. Crow definitely has higher utility.

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Life Points are a lot more valuable than they used to be. Soul Charge allows for strong comeback plays after your field is wiped away, and 1000 LP increments become real resources during the late game, so protecting them has a much greater importance. Lightsworn's aggression is a serious threat to those resources, which is where Battle Fader and Swift Scarecrow come in. Both cards are cheap, reliable, and can often end the Battle Phase unexpectedly to keep Soul Charge – and your shot at winning the game – alive.

Lightsworn players won't hesitate to rush in for the kill when they have the opportunity to Summon Judgment Dragon and clear the field. That game-ending play is an overextension your opponent can't afford not to make. Unless they intend to beat you with just Lumina and Dragon Ruler plays, they'll eventually play one of their nuclear Dragons. Possibly two.

Probably two.

Hitting them with a Battle Fader not only buys you a turn, but it also exposes their monsters. The most successful Lightsworn builds aren't playing cards that recycle monsters right now; once a Judgment Dragon is spent, it's gone forever. If you can stop your opponent's push, clearing away their monsters will leave them in a weak position for the remainder of the game.

This year's North American WCQ happens to be the final major tournament of the format; it's an interesting change from previous years. Normally we'd have another month and a half of the current environment, but instead we'll be entering a new format almost immediately. Major rule changes, a new card type, and a fresh Forbidden and Limited List will make the Monday after this weekend feel like an entirely new game. I'm excited for the rest of this year, and hopefully you are too.

Until next time then

-Kelly