There are very few things I hate in life: Mondays, spiders, water slides, the color "chartreuse" and Doug Zeeff when he eats the last of my cereal. That's about it. The last one happens way too often, but none of the items on that last can rival my hatred for one particular deck in Yu-Gi-Oh: Gladiator Beasts.

Sure, it sounds fun to have all your cards be destroyed at the hands, fins and wings of Gladiator Beast Murmillo, Gladiator Beast Bestiari, and Gladiator Beast Gyzarus, but in reality it's a different story. My distaste began at YCS Nashville years ago and would take a while to explain. But the point is that I swore that I would never, ever (insert a few hundred more "evers") touch those cards again unless it was with a flamethrower.

Hell has truly frozen over if I'm playing Gladiator Beasts.

DECKID=99495The trendy thing to do with Gladiator Beasts is to fuse them with Fire Fist cards for one giant deck of doom and destruction. The Fire Fist Fraternity only lets Beast-Warrior monsters into the family, and it just so happens that the backbone monster of the Gladiator Beasts is also a Beast-Warrior: Gladiator Beast Laqauri. With this synergy, the Fire Fist Gladiator Beast deck can use Fire Formation - Tenki, Fire Formation - Tensu and the Fire Fist Xyz monsters together. While novel and powerful, there's nothing really interesting about that deck that hasn't been done before. Instead I wanted to breath life into a strategy that's been collecting dust for years, thanks to a few new cards.

Francesco Pellino recently wreaked havoc in an Italian Regional with his Gladiator Beast deck, but he omitted Test Tiger and Onslaught of the Fire Kings. I was happy to see Pellino also included a few tech choices that resonate with my crazy strategies, but I don't think he used Gladiator Beast Gyzarus quite as much as I do in this build.

Lions And Tigers And Bea-… Never Mind
Since I didn't play Inzektor Green Gadget, or as some people call it "Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Bear," I can't really say my deck has lions, tigers and bears. Oh my. The Gladiator Beast archetype is a barnyard explosion; it's home to every type of weird anthropomorphic creature imaginable. In fact, I recently visited the Colosseum in Rome and accidentally learned something on my vacation: the weird humanoid animals are all futuristic representations of either people, gladiator classes, or something pertaining to that Roman era where a giant stone theater housed entertainment in the form of murder and bloodshed.

I miss the good ol' days.

For example, Gladiator Beast Alexander is named after Alexander the Great, the Macedonian King with a bad reputation thanks to that awful excuse of a movie in 2004. Gladiator Beast Bestiari is probably linked to the historic title of Bestiarii, which was reserved for gladiators that fought animals in the arena. Whatever the name, each of the Gladiator Beast monsters has some connection to the mighty stone building where man fought man, beasts, and even fought to the death on sailboats. That's right - they filled up the basin of the arena and had some wicked pirate fights. This actually happened.

Fun and games and brutal bloody gore aside, let's talk about a different children's card game for a while. The Gladiator Beast archetype heavily relies on something called "tagging out." Remember that game we all used to play as kids? Now imagine it with swords and human entrails. "Tagging out" means after battling on the field, whether attacking or being attacked, the Gladiator Beast monster will return to the deck and bring out another Gladiator Beast. This happens at the end of the Battle Phase, so if you got your hopes up that you could have infinite attacks, well, life is hard for you.

Typically, a Gladiator Beast monster gets an awesome effect when it comes out of the deck thanks to one of its teammates; I omitted any that don't follow that play pattern. I also skipped a few of the Gladiator Beasts that "tag out" because their effects are downright subpar. For example, Gladiator Beast Torax seemed like it could've been one of the best cards for the theme… until we all read the last part of the effect. When Summoned thanks to another Gladiator Beast, you get to draw one card… at the cost of returning Torax to the deck with no added benefit. I'll explain why that card was so close to amazing a bit later.

Fall In, Troops!
Looking at the monster lineup, you're probably really confused why there are so few monsters here. I never thought I'd create an aggressive strategy with only eleven monsters in the Main Deck, but I also thought I'd have destroyed every Gladiator Beast card on the planet by 2014. This strategy really only uses one monster at a time; clogged hands with multiple monsters don't help your strategy much, with the exception of Test Tiger, which is more or less a hand trap. While you control a face-up Gladiator Beast, you can summon Test Tiger from your hand, Tribute it and send your Gladiator Beast back to the deck. In return you get to Summon any Gladiator Beast to the field, treating it as if it was Summoned by a Gladiator Beast effect. Test Tiger helps speed the deck up considerably, and it gets your effects rolling even if you can't mount an attack. A Gladiator Beast's worst enemy is always a bigger monster.

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That can be a problem because the monsters I'm using here, while packing some powerful effects, often fall short in the ATK department. Gladiator Beast Laquari's the strongest Gladiator in the Main Deck, but 1800 ATK isn't really impressive if that's the most attack you can muster. That said, when Laquari comes out of the deck by the effect of a Gladiator Beast monster, its effect triggers. It jumps to a comfortable 2100 attack points, meaning it can actually survive on its own against stuff like Thunder King Rai-Oh, Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Dragon and Sabersaurus. Laquari's the easiest Gladiator Beast to fetch from your deck because Gladiator Proving Ground, Onslaught of the Fire Kings, and Fire Formation - Tenki can search it as needed.

Gladiator Beast Darius is the next strongest from your ranks, but 1700 ATK isn't all that impressive. Its effect is rather novel and lets you Special Summon a Gladiator Beast from your graveyard when Darius tags in. Yes, the revived monster does lose its effect, but you can use it for a Fusion Summon or Xyz Summon.

Gladiator Beast Equeste actually makes me angry for existing, but not for any sensible reason. The monster type we refer to as "Winged Beast" in the TCG is actually kind of a bad translation from the OCG, where the matching term more relates to birds and other avian creatures. Typically, cards that are the definition of "beasts with wings," like Crystal Beast Sapphire Pegasus, Chimera the Flying Mythical Beast, Gallis the Star Beast, Gladiator Beast Alexander and Fusionist, are actually Beast-types instead of Winged Beasts. However, Equeste is an exception to that rule. It's literally just a beast with wings, and for that, I will be annoyed forever. Ranting aside, Equeste snags you back a "Gladiator Beast" card from your graveyard. In this deck, that means Gladiator Beast monsters or the theme-stamped Counter Trap version of Effect Veiler, Gladiator Beast War Chariot. Equeste's very particular in what it can grab back. It doesn't retrieve a "Gladiator" card, just a "Gladiator Beast" card. The searcher for the deck, Gladiator Proving Ground, sadly doesn't fall into that category.

The only Gladiator Beast to ever be Limited is Gladiator Beast Bestiari. Forbidding it would completely crush this deck like every F&L list has crushed my dreams for Fableds since 2011. After tagging in, you can pop a spell or trap on the field, but the Mystical Space Typhoon on legs isn't Limited for that reason. With Bestiari and any other Gladiator Beast you can contact fuse into the stupidly powerful Fusion Monster, Gladiator Beast Gyzarus. If you've heard of this card, you can start crying right now. If not, I'll save your innocence for another few paragraphs while I distract you with the fair and balanced Gladiator Beasts.

Moving along, I'm a huge proponent of high rarity cards and Gladiator Beast Retiari is a card you simply shouldn't use in any other rarity beside its original print, Secret Rare. With only 1200 ATK it won't survive many battles, but its effect banishes a monster from your opponents graveyard. The Hieratic Ruler deck that's been making some splashes in tournaments the past few weeks is just one of the decks that relies on cards in the graveyard. Banish your opponent's one Labradorite Dragon from their graveyard and you cut off a lot of their combos. Banishing your opponent's Fire King High Avatar Garunix, Treeborn Frog, or World of Prophecy can cripple the strategies that depend on those cards, too.

The weakest of the useable Gladiator Beast monsters is an 800 ATK monster that laughs in the face of Gorz the Emissary of Darkness. Gladiator Beast Murmillo swims around and destroys your opponent's monsters when a Gladiator Beast calls him from the deck. You'd think a walking and talking (or… glubbing? Whatever fish do) Soul Taker would be an all-star in this strategy, but the reality's actually a bit different than you might expect. It's rare there are monsters left after any given Battle Phase, and thus Murmillo is more of a passive threat shaping your opponent's plays rather than an actual source of consistent destructive power.

Kids These Days Call It Contact Fusion
The Gladiator Beast Fusion monsters were groundbreaking when they were first released, because they were Fusion Monsters that didn't require Polymerization to Summon. By returning your Gladiator Beast monsters from your field to the Main Deck, you get to Summon your Gladiator Beast Fusion without any extra spell cards.

The biggest, scariest and ugliest of these Fusions is Gladiator Beast Heraklinos. With 3000 ATK, it's by far the strongest Gladiator Beast, and its effect is like a poor man's Six Samurai - Shi En. By discarding one card from your hand, you get to pretend like you'll win the game with every spell or trap effect you negate. Any card in your hand becomes a Seven Tools of the Bandit or Magic Jammer. Heraklinos takes three Gladiator Beasts to Summon, but one of them has to be Gladiator Beast Laquari. That's where Darius comes in handy: if you manage to get two Gladiator Beasts on the field and you have a Laquari in graveyard, you can use Darius to revive the fallen Laquari and return all three to your deck for Heraklinos. Unlike your other Gladiator Beasts Heraklinos can't tag out, so you're stuck with a 3000 ATK beater than can negate most cards in the game. Shucks.

Gladiator Beast Essedari doesn't have as much ATK as Heraklinos nor does it have a game-ending effect. It actually doesn't have any effect whatsoever. However, it has one niche use that Gladiator Beast players everywhere should appreciate: it gives you backup plan if you need to summon your weak Gladiator Beasts so that monsters like Murmillo and Retiari won't just be food for your opponent come the following turn. I can't count the number of times where I've needed to both destroy a monster on the field and banish a card from my opponent's graveyard, but would be left stranded with weak monsters on the field if I didn't have Essedarii. With 2500 ATK, you can abuse some of the smaller Gladiator's effects and then return them to the deck to keep those options open. See how Torax would just be the bee's knees right here?

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Since Essedari's a Gladiator Beast, it'll keep a facedown Gladiator Beast War Chariot live so you can nullify opposing monster effects. If you need to put a Gladiator back in the deck that's fallen in the graveyard, just bring out Darius, summon your dead Gladiator Beast, and then retreat both of them to safety and get Essedari as a wall. Essedari's the fusion of any two Gladiator Beasts, so it's a great way to reclaim lost options.

Everything else I've described thus far has been child's play compared to the final and best Fusion Monster. Gladiator Beast Gyzarus only takes two monsters like Essedarii, but Bestiari must be one of the Materials. Whisk away your Gladiator Beasts and Gyzarus comes to the field to ruin your opponent's day; whenever you Special Summon it, you'll target two cards on the field and your opponent kisses them goodbye. If your opponent isn't crying yet, attack with Gyzarus, destroy a monster, and then tag out your Fusion into two more Gladiator Beasts. With a Gladiator in your graveyard to revive with a Darius, I've ruined my opponent's hopes and dreams many times by nuking the field with Gyzarus and then putting a nearly indomitable Heraklinos on the field. Without Gyzarus, Bestiari wouldn't be Limited and Gladiator Beasts would be pretty worthless.

Pop Goes All Of Their Cards
It never saw a lot of tournament play, but a version of Gladiator Beasts emerged a few years ago focused on Icarus Attack. By tributing your Winged Beast, you get to destroy two cards, a luxury normally reserved for Blackwings, Gustos and Harpies. The best part about Gladiator Beast Gyzarus besides sending your opponent into anaphylactic shock is its synergy with Icarus Attack. If you're going to be destroying a few of your opponent's cards, why not destroy all of them? My favorite combo can take out nearly ten cards. First, contact fuse your two monsters into the destructive Gyzarus and pop two cards your opponent controls. It'll work in your favor if your opponent tries to stop your play with a Bottomless Trap Hole or Fiendish Chain, because then you can chain your Icarus Attack and blow up two more cards. You're still not finished, though. Use your Call Of The Haunted to summon Gyzarus back and then destroy two more cards: its effect triggers whenever it's Special Summon, not just as a Contact Fusion. While you're at it, tag out your Gyzarus after you attack, possibly destroying another monster and then piling up card advantage by summoning Gladiator Beast Equeste and getting something back from the graveyard, or banishing a monster with Gladiator Beast Retiari.

It may be curious for me to use so few monsters, but as I said, you have so much search power with Fire Formation - Tenki, Gladiator Proving Ground and Onslaught of the Fire Kings. I won't say I've always had a monster in hand, but in the dozens of matches I've played with this deck, I've never been hard-up for a useable monster. As long as you're not opening with Murmillo and Retiari in your opening hand, you can generally work with your six cards and keep the complaining to a minimum. Note that while I mentioned using Call Of The Haunted to bring back Gyzaurs and kick your opponent while he or she's down, and the best time to do it is during his or her End Phase, Call also acts as another monster when your forces are depleted. As long as you have one Gladiator Beast to your name, you'll have a chance at winning.

Just remember, beat your opponents before they beat you.

-Loukas Peterson
Article Aftermath #7