Noble Knights are way better than they're getting credit for.

TCGplayer's YGO Series had its first-ever round of State Championships just a few days ago, and the results gave us an awesome perspective on competition in the new format. While we won't see any more YCS competition until YCS Toronto in September, the ARG Circuit Series Championship was a showcase event demonstrating some big strategies from some of the modern greats, while the State Championships gave us something we've never had before– a multi-faceted snapshot of one precise moment in dueling, subdivided across dozens of different metagames. Since all the State Championships were held on the same weekend, you can actually go through the deck archive and look at all the regional differences between metagames across the United States. Taken together, the ARG Championship and the YGO Series State Championships kicked out an unprecedented amount of information, right at the beginning of the new format.

A lot of that information will help guide well-studied competitors in making decisions about big, expected issues. Examples? We now know for a fact that as many predicted, Karakuri Geargia is once again the dominant variant of the Geargia theme, ousting the Pure version and proving vastly more popular than any new variants. We also know that in the wake of a massive showing at the North American WCQ, Traptrix Hand Artifact (HAT) decks aren't just wildly popular and leading competition in most areas, but new variants and new tech choices are emerging to create consistent trends. Think Traptrix Artifacts with Kuribandit, and the sudden upswing in the use of Doomcaliber Knight.

But beyond those big issues there were also some rogue strategies that competitors didn't see coming. While each of these surprise successes were very localized, the best of them are just as grounded in solid fundamentals as they are in specific anti-meta trends, and that means they could be transplanted nearly anywhere else. I want to spend some time over the next few days talking about some of the decks from the State Championships, and today we'll start with a major standout.

Not one, but two Noble Knight decks made the Top 8 in Nevada, and this is the version that won Andrew Ocheltree the title of Nevada State Champion.

DECKID=100787If Andrew Ocheltree's name sounds familiar, that's because we zeroed in on him last year as a trend-setting competitor in the early days of Dragon Rulers. This is a player with a proven track record, and more than that he's not some esoteric dreamer that runs rogue decks all the time. Dragon Rulers. That's what this dude's known for. And yet, Noble Knights were his deck of choice for the State Championship. That begs certainly begs one question: why?

I think there are really two big answers to that quandary: metagame trends, and new cards that most players aren't familiar with. Those two factors made Noble Knights an attractive choice. While Noble Knights have cropped up in Regional Top 8's all across 2014, the deck's also been quietly gaining power from some key new releases that don't seem to be getting the full press they deserve. With the new Noble Knights of the Round Table Box Set waiting on release in November, I want to talk about where the Noble Knight theme is now, and why it's a better choice for competition than you might think.

Plate Armor? Riding Boots? Surprisingly Trendy This Season…
Our friends over at The Organization dropped a massive Noble Knight guide a few days ago, making a ton of great points and observations about the deck's positioning in competition. One of the biggest things that piece emphasized is the incredible strength of Gwenhwyfar, Queen of Noble Arms, and the advantages she grants you against the current top decks. While Gwenhwyfar's ability to keep your Noble Knights equipped so you can abuse their effects is her most-lauded use, her ATK boost is really noteworthy too.

More than that, Gwenhwyfar, Queen of Noble Arms' destruction ability is a huge gem in the current format. Since it destroys an opposing monster before damage calculation it lets you attack and destroy Geargiarmor without triggering its effect; it wrecks Bujingi Turtle and Bujingi Crane; and since Gwenhwyfar sends herself to the graveyard as the last part of her effect's resolution, cards like Fire Hand and Ice Hand have no opportunity to activate. That's huge. If we're to accept that the two biggest match-ups in the game right now are HAT variants and Geargia decks – a statement that would be supported by the numbers coming out of the State Championships – you can quickly see that Gwenwhyfar gives you key advantages against the two biggest strategies in the format. She's one of the most underrated cards in the game right now.

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Timing tricks and effects aside, you also shouldn't underestimate the impact of big monsters alone. A single Noble Knight boosted with something like Noble Arms – Gallatin and Gwenhwyfar, Queen of Noble Arms can break the 3000 ATK threshold with ease. Once you control a monster that big there's virtually nothing seeing play right now that can attack over it. Add in the protection of Noble Arms – Excaliburn and Noble Arms of Destiny and you can see how virtually any Noble Knight can play the role of Leo, the Keeper of the Sacred Tree.

Note too that since many of your Noble Knights don't have to activate their effects when they're equipped, they can outplay common removal cards like Black Horn of Heaven and Traptrix Trap Hole Nightmare. I'm actually a big fan of Noble Knight Peredur right now, solely because it's so solid with a simple ATK boost and creates virtually no risk thanks to its recursion effect. With such a strong ability to field simple attackers, Ocheltree ran a full three copies of Breakthrough Skill to keep his less invested monsters even safer from stuff like Artifact Moralltach. In the process, he created another line of defense against Geargiarmor, Traptrix Myrmeleo, and other highly popular cards that could create card advantage and momentum otherwise.

Moving along, it's no secret that big backrows are even more popular in this format than they were in the last one. While Mermails, Sylvans, and Lightsworn run few to no trap cards, all three decks seem to be on the decline; meanwhile decks like HAT and Karakuri Geargia are indisputably top picks, while Infernities and Bujins are gaining ground as well. All four rely on giant backrows, which means a carefully maneuvered Artorigus, King of the Noble Knights can dish out utter ruin. Trap Stun and Forbidden Lance are both popular for their ability to force through Artorigus' backrow-wiping ability, and Ocheltree mained a full three copies of the latter.

In short, some of the biggest trends of last format are continuing to grow in this one, and Noble Knights are perfectly positioned to take advantage of that.

Newcomers To The Table
At the same time, Ocheltree took advantage of a couple new cards as well, and while they may seem like subtle additions they actually have a tremendous impact. Noble Knight Brothers is the obvious one, filling three very different roles with one high-utility monster card. A 2400 DEF monster you can set without jumping through any hoops is nutty. That much defense stops literally any Main Decked monster in HAT and Geargia, and it's even big enough to brickwall numerous Xyz and Synchros.

More than that, Brothers' Pot of Avarice-type effect keeps your card economy healthy while letting you recycle monsters. Ocheltree's slim monster lineup clocks in at just thirteen cards; he's running only one copy of Noble Knight Gawayn, a card most Noble Knight decks max out on. Stuff like Noble Knight Gwalchavad and Noble Knight Artorigus didn't even make the cut, since Ocheltree was looking for a very focused range of plays and wanted to make them as frequently as possible. He could do that for two reasons: first, he had the extra precision and consistency offered by a second copy of Reinforcement of the Army. Combined with two Upstart Goblin and triple Pot of Duality, he had unprecedented reliability that just didn't exist last format. But at the same time he also had the assurance that despite his minimal monster line, he wouldn't run out of options. The Brothers make all your best plays repeatable while giving you free cards in the process, and that's nuts.

But more than anything, Noble Knight Brothers is all about fixing bad hands. There used to be a wealth of dead draw monster combinations that plagued the Noble Knight duelist, bogging you down in Normal Summons and restricting your plays. Throw Noble Knight Brothers into the mix and suddenly those mis-matched hands become instant Rank 4 Artorigus plays or better, giving you a swift chance to recover from situations that were death sentences before. If you've played Noble Knights in the past you know exactly what I'm talking about; those awful openings might've kept you from ever wanting to play the deck again. Now there's a solution.

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In fact the other big addition to the deck operates on much the same level: Tsukuyomi' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Bujintei Tsukuyomi">Bujintei Tsukuyomi. It might seem like a strange choice since it's so off-theme, but Tsukuyomi' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Bujintei Tsukuyomi">Bujintei Tsukuyomi's an exceptional fit for Noble Knights, and especially Ocheltree's monster-light variant in particular. Digging through your deck is exceptionally important and that's precisely what this card does with its first effect: it gets you to the plays you need to see if you want to win.

But the real strength lies in the finer details. Because Ocheltree ran so many spells and traps that he could so easily place on the field to save for later, it's a simple matter for him to make fair trades or even pluses off of Tsukuyomi's ability. Got a handful of cards? Play as many as you can, keep one, and huck it to get two more with Tsukuyomi' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Bujintei Tsukuyomi">Bujintei Tsukuyomi. And remember: since this deck thrives on placing Noble Arms in the graveyard, the card you pitch could be a non-factor anyways. Tsukuyomi' rel="https://yugioh.tcgplayer.com/db/WP-CH.asp?CN=Bujintei Tsukuyomi">Bujintei Tsukuyomi's tremendously underrated right now. I sincerely think it's one of the big keys to this strategy's success moving forward.

Note that there are numerous possibilities for Noble Knights right now. With Goyo Guardian back in the game, there are lots of ways to leverage Lady of the Lake into a free 2800 ATK beatstick if you're playing the right cards. Thanks to Soul Charge, some of the deck's biggest combos with cards like Noble Knight Eachtar and Ignoble Knight of Black Laundsallyn are hugely accessible. But for now, Andrew Ocheltree's proven that a more conservative build of Noble Knights – one that deeply prioritizes live draws in the early game – can be successful. And that drive for consistency could lead the way for big victories from Noble Knights in the second half of this year.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer