People these days tend to forget about the complete dominance Mermail decks had over competitive Yu-Gi-Oh! for nearly a year. Mermails captured roughly two thirds of YCS Top 32 spots for five events before finally taking home first place, but they kept their lofty throne even as new cards were released and the deck had to evolve. Dino Rabbit, Wind-Ups, Fire Fists, Fire Kings, Madolches and everything else fell short against Mermails in the long run. It wasn't until Tachyon Galaxy that two new decks, Spellbooks and Dragon Rulers, were able to become the new kings of the hill.

But new decks weren't as lethal to Mermails as the Forbidden and Limited lists have been. Limits to Deep Sea Diva; Mermail Abyssgunde; Stream, Dragon Ruler of Droplets; Atlantean Dragoons; Soul Charge; and Tidal, Dragon Ruler of Waterfalls kicked the teeth out of Mermails. Overnight, speed and explosiveness seemed gone, maybe the final nail in the coffin for a deck of yesterday. But if Inzektors could win a YCS after Inzektor Dragonfly and Inzektor Hornet were Limited to one, I'm convinced any deck can do anything. I picked up the Mermail Core from a friend for a low price and went to work.

DECKID=101226I've always been one to shy away from the popular decks of any given format; no surprise, but I played Mermails for about ten seconds before giving them up. It's not that I inherently dislike popular choices or refuse to play them for the sake of rebellion, it's just that I'd rather have a chance to win with something innovative.

For example, which is more interesting: Patrick Hoban's YCS Toronto win with Dragon Shaddolls or Billy Brake's YCS Dallas win with "60-Card Artifact Shadolls Burning Abyss That Main Decks 3 Copies of Beginning of the End Because Why Not"?

Mermails, Mermails, Swimming In The Ocean, Causing A Commotion
It took me a long time to appreciate Mermails as a deck because the first seventy-six million times I played against them I was OTK'd. Deep Sea Diva and Mermail Abyssmegalo is lethal damage against an open field, and for a month I thought the deck only played about seven cards; at least, that's all I ever saw. Since Atlantean Dragoons and Deep Sea Diva went to one, the combo isn't as consistent but it's still scary nonetheless.

You start by Normal Summoning Deep Sea Diva to Special Summon Atlantean Marksman from your deck in attack mode. Next, Special Summon Mermail Abyssmegalo by pitching irrelevant cards and searching even more irrelevant cards from your deck to your hand (I'm not knocking those cards, I'm just noting that what inputs you use for Abyssmegalo bear no weight on the OTK). Tribute the Diva for 'megalo so your big shark can attack twice, and then swing in with Megalo and Marksman for 6200 damage. When Marksman deals damage, its effect triggers and Special Summons Atlantean Dragoons from your deck for the last 1800 points. It's flashy and fast, and at the very least enough to pique your interest, right?

While that OTK was brutal, it wasn't really what gave Mermails the dominating edge on other decks of the time. The initial Mermail build revolved around Genex Undine, triggering Atlantean Dragoons as fast as possible so you could search Moulinglacia, Deep Sea Diva and Mermail Abyssmegalo. In tandem with your other Mermails, you could create unbreakable fields and devastating frontal assaults even when an OTK wasn't possible. Then once Mermail Abyssteus came out in Cosmo Blazer, the deck became even more consistent and combo-oriented because Rank 7 Xyz were now a factor. Atlanean Dragoons, Mermail Abysspike, Mermail Abyssmegalo and Mermail Abyssteus combined could search for almost every monster in your deck, allowing you to fan out all your cards and choose whatever you needed for that given turn.

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That consistency paved the way for constant nutty fields that were all clutch in the early, mid and late game. For example, say you had Mermail Abyssteus and Mermail Abyssgunde in hand. Pitch Abyssgunde for Abyssteus to Special Summon your big fish and keep the plusses going. Abyssgunde can bring back Abyssmegalo or Abyssleed to put two huge beaters on the field while you also get to thin your deck by searching with Abyssteus. Basic pairings like that can put a lot of pressure and damage on the board and then finish things off with a Mermail Abyssgaios.

As flashy and devastating as Mermails can be, they also have a ton of great cards that don't need combos to work. Mermail Abysslinde, by the way, searches all of your Mermails from the deck when it dies, and if that's not good enough Mermails have their own way to Special Summon Linde in Abyss-sphere… which can be searched by Mermail Abyssmegalo. Worst case scenario, your Linde can Special Summon a huge 2700 ATK beater in Abyssleed, putting monsters like Mother Grizzly to shame.

Despite some builds dropping it, I think Genex Undine's still surprisingly useful because that simple Normal Summon puts you two cards ahead. Tidal, Dragon Ruler of Waterfalls puts pressure on your opponent, so why not yard it ASAP while also getting the highly versatile Genex Controller for free? By the way, Genex Undine's also searchable by Mermail Abysspike, despite seeming like the black sheep of the deck.

First Things First I'm The Fishiest
I mentioned earlier that a handful of monsters search out the entire deck, but I didn't really describe why you try to do that. It's pretty simple: you want to get to your combo pieces early and create massive OTKs or impenetrable defenses. The search power only adds to the consistency of your goal.

Opening with one of many cards starts you off in the right direction, but all roads will lead to similar places. Mermail Abyssteus and Genex Undine are two of the first monsters you want to see. Let's say you open with them. Normal Summon Genex Undine, yard Genex Controller and add Atlantean Marksman to your hand. Follow that up by pitching your Marksman for Abbysteus, popping a set card and finally searching a Mermail Abysspike from your deck to your hand. Without adding any other pieces to the play sequence, you put two monsters on the field, thin your deck and retained hand presence. Abyssteus has 2400 DEF, so barring a big monster like El Shaddoll Construct or Satellarknight Delteros, you'll probably keep your defender and your Life Points safe. Next turn, Summon Genex Controller and Synchro Summon Leo, The Sacred Keeper of the Trees!

Keep in mind that above combo isn't, well, actually a combo. It was just an example to showcase how even your "useless" hands devoid of combo pieces are still pretty great. You didn't really do anything flashy but you still mounted a defense, thinned your deck and searched out future combo pieces. Even if the only monsters in your hand are Mermail Abysspike or Mermail Abysslinde, chances are you can back them with traps and set up for your Undine play the following turn.

But Speaking Of Big Combos…
…A Mermail deck is all about just that, and my eighth favorite Synchro Monster really pulls through for some blowout plays in this strategy: Dewloren, Tiger King of the Ice Barrier. Maybe the kitty isn't the best monster to claim as king of the ocean (yeah, I didn't try on that one), but my favorite moves are centered around Dewloren. Say you started the duel with a Genex Undine and an Abyss-sphere. Summon your Undine, yard a Tidal, and set your Sphere. If your opponent doesn't kill your Undine, then you can make Dewloren and swing the game in your favor!

Start your next turn by making Dewloren with Controller and then activating Abyss-sphere to Special Summon Abyssteus. Now with Dewloren, you can bounce your Mermail Abyss-sphere and Abyssteus to your hand to nab free cards. That example's pretty simple, but Dewloren combined with Abyss-squall is certified Kelly Locke "neat."

In my very first game of testing, my opponent had the drop on me; I'd saved an Abyss-squall facedown, but all I had in my hand was Genex Controller. For my turn, I drew the sole copy of Salvage, and I decided to put everything on the table. I Normal Summoned Genex Controller and used 'squall to revive Mermail Abyssleed, Mermail Abyssgunde and Mermail Abysslinde. I Synchro Summoned 'linde and Controller together for Dewloren and bounced 'leed and 'gunde with its effects. Salvage brought back two Atlantean Marksman, and then I actually (heaven forbid) Summoned Abyssleed with its own ability, returning 'squall to my hand! Marksman and Abysslinde did their things, bringing back Mermail Abyssmegalo and popping all my opponent's facedown cards (which was just a Dimensional Prison, but hey, why not?). Dewloren was great in that example because it allowed for an explosive turn and an avenue for follow-up the turn after.

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Don't even get me started on Soul Charge here, either. Mermail decks are by and large combo decks, and Soul Charge is a substitute for several combo pieces. However, with its new Limitation I thought that I needed the Abyssquall back here. In fact, there are a ton of "odd" choices that are pretty unconventional, but that I thought necessary. Glow-Up Bulb, for example, provides a route to Level 8 Synchros like Thought Ruler Archfiend and Stardust Spark Dragon that really put pressure on the Burning Abyss match-up. Additionally, it help you keep Tidal on the field when bereft of a Genex Controller. Additionally, Glow-Up Bulb's the perfect monster for One for One when you don't need a Beautunaful Princess. Yeah, I actually ran Beautunaful Princess; not only does it speed through your deck with Abysspike, but it puts a Fish on the board for Fish Depth Charge and immediately fulfills the requirement for a certain Counter Trap as well.

A lot of Mermail builds have been cutting back on Mermail Abyssmegalo, which was once a must-run at three. With one Dragoons, one Abyssgunde and one Atlantean Heavy Infantry, I didn't have the resources to constantly be pitching two Water monsters left and right while keeping card advantage. I'm personally a huge fan of Mermail Abyssturge because it lets you get away with running fewer copies of Marksman and Heavy Infantry; don't get me wrong, those cards are great but simplifying the game state ASAP is not how you should be winning with Mermails.

Gone Fishin'
If you know my play style at all, then you know that I can't run a deck without trying to cram something crazy that'll fly under the radar and pull its weight for a surprise attack. Keep in mind, I like "unconventional and surprising," not "bad." I'd never be so failingly ambitious as to put a Flying Penguin in Dragon Rulers at a Regional, but a Gagaga Shield in Spellbooks to protect my Jowegen the Spiritualist? Why not? At first I started throwing Fish-themed cards in here as a joke, but then… well they proved to be really useful in testing.

Like, really useful.

Fish Depth Charge is a poor man's Gemini Spark. I mean, it's literally the trap version of Gemini Spark. Tribute a Fish, destroy a card on the field and draw a card. If you've never played a Gemini deck, let me tell you that Gemini Spark's the absolute bee's knees there: spot removal and deck thinning rolled into one card is great, but Fish Depth Charge goes one step further.

Unlike Gemini Monsters, your Fish monsters Mermail Abysspike and Mermail Abyssturge actually have effects; with Depth Charge, you can rob your opponent of even more advantage. If your opponent tries to negate the effect of your Fish with Breakthrough Skill, Fiendish Chain or Effect Veiler, Fish Depth Charge takes that Fish off the field to dodge the negation. Sure, traps take a turn to set up, but pushing through for your plays is really helpful.

Additionally, I often find myself with a leftover Level 4 Mermail on the field. If you didn't draw an Aqua Spirit for a Rank 4 play, or Tributed off the Mermail for Abyssmeglo or Abyssleed, you're sometimes left with an awkward and semi-useless Abysspike swimming around. Fish Depth Charge takes over there and gives you a versatile rebuttal on your opponent's turn that's hugely unexpected. I can almost guarantee you that every opponent you flip this on will have to read it, glare at you and mutter something about you being a "scrub."

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And speaking of confusing the bananas out of your opponent, play the wonderful Counter Trap Oh F!sh! Yes, you read that right; it has an exclamation point in place of an "i," a play on words I feel Beau Butler would appreciate a lot. Oh F!sh! (I die a little on the inside every time I type that) is one of the most effective forms of negation. I mean, it's literally Divine Wrath sans the heavy cost of pitching a card. When an effect monster's effect activates anywhere, whether it's Maxx "C," Satellarknight Altair or El Shaddoll Construct, flip over your giant middle finger and cancel the effect.

The card's only downside is shuffling back a banished Fish, Sea Serpent or Aqua monster back to your deck. At first I thought I'd never have the requisites for that, but between Beautunaful Princess, Aqua Spirit and Tidal, Dragon Ruler of Waterfalls, Oh F!sh! has been dead roughly no times. Trust me, that cards's really inconvenient for all parties involved that aren't you.

Lastly on this Fish hype train, I included Fish and Swaps, having overlooked this card altogether in the past. Like Oh F!sh!, Fish and Swaps works with Fish, Sea Serpents and Aqua monsters, meaning virtually everythings in this deck. Paired with Tidal, Dragon Ruler of Waterfalls, Fish and Swaps acts as a Salvage for anything you've banished. Genex Undine, Mermail Abyssteus, Aqua Sprit – everything can come along for the ride thanks to Fish and Swaps.

Just remember, beat your opponents before they beat you.

-Loukas Peterson