The North American World Championship Qualifier. For me, there's never been – and likely never will be – a more prestigious and important tournament.

The WCQ has historically been the largest, or almost largest tournament of the entire year. Players spend countless hours researching, practicing their matchups, honing their skills, refining their play, and trying to get an edge all for one competition. There's never been a bigger prize in my view, and today I want to talk about the deck I used to finish among the top duelists of the weekend!

With Zoodiacs realistically shaping the entirety of the competitive landscape, I did what I felt any reasonable duelist would do: I sleeved up my Zoodiac deck, practiced the mirror match more than anything, and mentally steeled myself to go twelve rounds neck-and-neck against decks that would've been nearly the same as mine. But dissatisfied, I reached out to some players I respect, looking for something to play – anything really! – other than pure Zoodiacs.

A good friend of mine, Ed Acepcion, was working on a 60-card Zombie Zoodiac Lightsworn variant and was kind enough to allow me to see it. After a few hours of trying it out, I felt it wasn't going to work, abandoned the idea, and continued to practice with Zoodiacs. It wasn't until I was at the event the weekend of, that I decided I was so dissatisfied with the results I'd seen so far, that I'd go with the 60 card deck you all saw me play.

DECKID=107744With Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring trending down in Main Deck Use, as well as Zoodiac's tendency to rely on a small number of summons per turn, I realized that you could put together giant blowouts if you could create a deck that had a higher number of summons, even if those summons came at the cost of making opposing Ash Blossoms stronger. That thought process was what inspired this strategy.

 

Botany And Reanimation All The Rage
I streamlined the deck to consistently hit all of the classic combos Zombie Lightsworn variants are known for, as well as the more powerful Zoodiac Combos.

 

Your opening turn has to create an almost unbreakable set up, or break through multiple spells and traps as well as Zoodiac Drident. Lonefire Blossom's the most powerful starter card in your arsenal; simply burning through three copies and Grabbing Predaplant Orphys Scorpio to continue your combo can be so strong that your opponent can't keep up and the game typically ends a turn or two after.

From there, your best combos revolve around the zombie package, with Shiranui Solitare being yet ANOTHER way to rip through your deck, feed Fairy Tail - Snow, and progress your position in the game. I'd often lead with Lonefire Blossom, grab my Brilliant Fusion, and from there I could summon Shiranui Solitare for more deck thinning. That would let me summon multiple PSY-Framelord Omegas and surge so far ahead that by the time my opponent's turn came up, they didn't have any real ability to play anymore. The Zombie engine and the Plant monsters tend to be your most powerful avenues to victory; Mezuki and Uni-Zombie are such a flexible duo, and their value for your opening plays can't be overstated.

Like many duelists, I found I had to run Zoodiac monsters in my otherwise-non-Zoodiac strategy. That was unfortunate, because I didn't want to make my deck weaker by opening it up to cards that are commonly played to counter Zoodiacs; I was already banking on Ash Blossom being underplayed, so I didn't want to make opposing copies of Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries better too! But in the end, consistently summoning Bujintei Kagutsuchi and Bujinki Amaterasu was too appealing to pass up, as both monsters are almost win conditions on their own.

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The Zoodiac engine let me summon both monsters in a single turn, as well as a Zoodiac Drident, off of the normal summon of a single Ratpier! Who could pass that up!? Between Zoodiac Barrage, the Predaplants, and Fire Formation - Tenki, you can pull off that combo with relative ease. Of course, that line of play assumes you don't start with any other power plays, which is unlikely.

Zoodiac Chakanine also gets a vigorous nod of approval, being another extender to Sychro Summon with. It was extremely valuable over the course of the tournament. All of those plays make your opening turn excellent and powerful on a consistent basis, which was of course the goal heading into this event.

Mid-Game? Late Game?! THIS IS 2017!
All of those crazy combos? They're great at starting you off, but if your opponent manages to get you past Turn 3 or 4, that's where this deck truly shines.

 

By that point your graveyard's fully loaded, your Fairy Tail - Snow is never ending, and the game is simplified with fewer cards involved. Most games should never get to this point; most duelists will recognize that they can't win, and simply elect to scoop an move on. But note that in this stage of the duel, attack points are king, with protection being your queen.

Knowing when it's time to do some off the wall combo, or simply summon a Raiden, attack, and pass, is absolutely key. Your deck can do a lot, but you have to weigh the risk versus the rewards. This is also the stage of the game where many duelists can be caught off guard by Black Rose Dragon and Michael, the Arch-Lightsworn. The option to either reset the field or pick apart their defenses comes up here a lot.

If by some unfortunate chance you make it to a late game scenario, you're likely playing against someone who made it through all six seasons of LOST and lived to tell about it. They're not human (seriously, we aren't people), and your deck has fewer options at this point than Locke did. The deeply simplified late game is where the deck struggles the most; you empty your tank so quickly that by this point you're running on fumes, topdecking. I honestly conceded those games, rather than get to the point where I would be wasting time staring at blank draws.

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Once you hit Games 2 and 3, that's where your good buddy Flying "C" gets to shine! Much like its limited brother Maxx "C", Flying "C" can be an absolute game ender in the pure Zoo match up, and should be treated like gold. Save it for once your opponent's resolved Zoodiac Barrage, and you're in it to win it.

Twin Twisters is obviously for going second, as most players were bringing in a lot of spell and trap protection. The only cards that I'd bring in going first or second were Dimensional Barrier and Imperial Order. Essentially skipping your opponent's turn, or shutting off their avenue to recovery, was too strong. The main cards I would often side out were Fire Formation Tenki, My Body as a Shield, or additional copies of Left Arm Offering or Shuffle Reborn, since I played three copies of them.

Once you get to Games 2 and 3 the entire strategy shifts, as your priority changes from going for a giant blowout with PSY-Framelord Omega and Zoodiac Drident, to trying to grind with multiple Xyz Summons and using Flying "C" and Fairy Tail - Snow to chip away at your opponent's options.

Many of the same extremely powerful moves are there, but you have to play with more caution as Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring, Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries, and Flying "C" often come in against you. There isn't too much to say on the subject, as you're really just changing from a full sprint to a steady jog. Reminding myself not to overextend my plays and pace the game carefully to have a follow up proved to be the most difficult aspect of piloting this strategy.

Against True Draco decks your only real hope is Gameciel, the Sea Turtle Kaiju, or Twin-Twisters to destroy your opponent's traps. Unfortunately this was a concession I'd made, hoping I simply wouldn't be paired with enough Draco decks to punish my focus on the Pure Zoodiac matchup. It ultimately proved fatal, and knocked me out of the tournament when the eventual champion summoned a Master Peace, the True Dracoslaying King, and I couldn't answer the threat. Live and learn!

There isn't much more for me to say, other than a thank you to Jason, for allowing me to have this opportunity to showcase this crazy cool deck, and hopefully inspire players to play what they want, not what they feel they're required to. Especially at a larger scale tournament, you've really got nothing to lose by just trying. Lastly, a thank you to each and every person who reached out to me both in the venue and online to congratulate me. This was an INCREDIBLE experience and I can't wait for more!

-Zach Butler