Beating Ice Hand And Fire Hand

Ice Hand and [ccProd]Fire Hand[/ccProd] were everywhere at YCS Philadelphia, and they’ve been everywhere since. The Hands can wipe an established field clean, create massive card advantage and opportunities for huge comebacks, and keep your opponent from attacking you. They buy you time to put together combos; they compensate for when you don’t hit those combos in your early game; and they do the precise opposite to your opponent: against bigger fields, the Hands can put your opponent on a clock by pressing for damage and threatening to take cards down with them.

Drew multiple copies? No problem! The Hands can still clog the field for at least one turn, maybe nab a quick plus or two in the process, and then you can overlay two of them for a Rank 4. Overlaying [ccProd]Ice Hand[/ccProd] and another Level 4 for an ATK-boosted [ccProd]Abyss Dweller[/ccProd] was one of the most brutal plays we consistently saw, time and again over the course of the YCS weekend.

On top of all their on-field uses, even Hands sitting in the graveyard can be valuable; while Mythic Ruler variants have adopted the Hands in part to banish them for the Special Summons of [ccProd]Tidal, Dragon Ruler of Waterfalls[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Blaster, Dragon Ruler of Infernos[/ccProd], a different use entirely was vastly more successful at the YCS – [ccProd]Pot of Dichotomy[/ccProd]. Since the Hands are Aqua and Pyro – two uncommon monster types not seen in most strategies – two Hands plus any other monster suddenly sees you activating [ccProd]Pot of Greed[/ccProd]. And that keeps your supply of Hands in deck strong, so that you don’t run out of walls, attackers, and free pluses.

They’re so good it’s ridiculous.

That said, the most successful duelists at YCS Philly came prepared to beat the Hands whenever possible. We saw countless Feature Matches where individual cards or just clever play techniques made the Hands virtually irrelevant, turning the tables on a player who was depending on [ccProd]Ice Hand[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Fire Hand[/ccProd] to keep their set-up secure. There are definite opportunities here, and since the solutions span both card choices and specific, flexible play philosophies, there are tons of things you can do to beat the Hands no matter what you play. Right off the bat? One of the biggest Hand plays was also commonly their own undoing.

Abyss Dweller Cuts The Problem Off At The Source
The effects of [ccProd]Ice Hand[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Fire Hand[/ccProd] trigger in the graveyard, so [ccProd]Abyss Dweller[/ccProd] can stop them from ever activating. Summon [ccProd]Abyss Dweller[/ccProd], activate its ability, and Dweller’s 1700 ATK is big enough to run over either of the Hand monsters immediately. If your opponent’s got no backrow to stop you from attacking that’s a fast way to turn the tables. If they’re dug in [ccProd]Abyss Dweller[/ccProd] can still be a tremendous help, stopping your opponent from playing their Hands aggressively for two consecutive turns: if you activate Dweller’s effect in the Draw Phase for two turns running, your opponent either has to give up their aims for aggression or consolidate into a Rank 4 like [ccProd]Number 101: Silent Honor ARK[/ccProd] to take control. That exposes them to stuff like [ccProd]Black Horn of Heaven[/ccProd], [ccProd]Compulsory Evacuation Device[/ccProd], and countless other solutions that put you a turn ahead and leave you free to swing against an open field on the following turn.

Abyss Dweller’s great right now all around, stopping a number of cards beyond the Hand monsters in addition. Bujingis, Dragon Rulers, and select monsters in the Geargia match-up all lose important abilities when Abyss Dweller’s effect is going. Rogue decks like Sylvans, Noble Knights, Plants, and a handful of others have big issues with it as well.

Dweller’s easily accessible, and it’s tremendously flexible in that it can stop the Hands regardless of what the field looks like. That’s important, because a lot of the technique-driven answers to the Hands rely on particular field set-ups – either on your side of the table, or your opponent’s. It’s a great first line of defense, and the fact that it exists is in my mind an automatic boost to any deck capable of making Rank 4’s this format. I spoke recently on the Geargia deck’s advantages over Traptrix Hand Artifacts, and it’s worth noting that Geargia’s easy access to Rank 4’s – and thus [ccProd]Abyss Dweller[/ccProd] – is just another awesome vote in that strategy’s favor.

Dimensional Prison And Compulsory Evacuation Device Rock
The above point should go without saying, but for some reason I saw a ton of comments leading into YCS Philadelphia that were bashing on these cards. [ccProd]Dimensional Prison[/ccProd] saw a huge resurgence in Philly: between Main Deck and Side Deck use, no fewer than ten of the fifteen Top 32 duelists we’ve got deck lists for opted to play it. All but one of them played two copies, too; only one person running it opted to play just a single copy.

And the big reason for that is clear: Dimensional Prison’s got high utility in most match-ups, since it’s a simple removal card that plays around destruction denial like [ccProd]Stardust Dragon[/ccProd], [ccProd]Stardust Spark Dragon[/ccProd], [ccProd]Number 101: Silent Honor ARK[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Bujingi Hare[/ccProd]. But more than that, non-destructive removal effects won’t activate the abilities of [ccProd]Ice Hand[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Fire Hand[/ccProd], giving you an easy out when your opponent tries to ram one of your monsters. That should’ve been hugely obvious heading into the weekend, and it clearly was to most of the Top 32 (and numerous other competitors who placed strongly in Day 2). And yet, I was watching noteworthy duelists with proven track records getting chewed out on their facebook walls the week before, for playing Prison. It was mindboggling.

So we can expect [ccProd]Dimensional Prison[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Compulsory Evacuation Device[/ccProd] to be even more popular moving forwad. At the same time though, that could have a spinoff effect that could see [ccProd]Forbidden Lance[/ccProd] become more popular as well, to outplay those cards. You won’t always be attacking a monster with [ccProd]Fire Hand[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Ice Hand[/ccProd], but when you do, you won’t care if it’s being destroyed; that’s kind of the whole point. That makes Lance an awesome answer, forcing through your plays and creating opportunities to make big pluses of card economy that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

As the format progresses you need to keep [ccProd]Ice Hand[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Fire Hand[/ccProd] in mind, both when you’re building decks and when it’s actually table time. Then you need to be thinking about non-destructive monster removal, both the threat of it against you and how you can be using it yourself. And from there you’ll now have to consider [ccProd]Forbidden Lance[/ccProd]. The rabbit hole goes pretty deep here, but if you can juggle all three levels of the trend you’re going to benefit long term.

So there are splashable answers to [ccProd]Ice Hand[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Fire Hand[/ccProd]; cards that can fit into all sorts of decks. But there are also just habits and tricks you can use to accomplish the same goals under the right conditions.

Dont Set Backrow
This was easily the number one way I saw people beating [ccProd]Ice Hand[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Fire Hand[/ccProd] over the course of the YCS Philly weekend. If their opponent was on [ccProd]Ice Hand[/ccProd], a learned competitor would play out their backrow as quickly as possible and simply leave their opponent with no targets to destroy. Remember, the Hands can’t Special Summon if they can’t destroy something, so at that point the solution’s as easy as running over a 1400 ATK monster. You force the Hand player to turtle up and try to outlast you, or commit to a Rank 4 to remain aggressive; while you can press on them with just about anything, at your leisure, so long as you don’t need a backrow to stay in the game yourself.

It’s a tricky balancing act, and it gets trickier the longer you try to ride that razor’s edge without eliminating the [ccProd]Ice Hand[/ccProd]. But it’s surprisingly effective, and you can do it with virtually any strategy. Decks that don’t commit as many cards to their backrow obviously have an easier job of it, while decks that have easily activated trap cards – think [ccProd]Artifact Sanctum[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Geargiagear[/ccProd] – can pull it off as a surprise technique. But really the only limit is your own field set-up and the pressure your opponent’s putting on you.

Note that because this technique’s directly dependent on your ability to defend yourself (or at least suppress your opponent’s aggression without resorting to backrow), alternative forms of defense become more valuable as well. Swift Scarecrow’s always been a go-to. Construction Train Signal Red’s a solid new addition, especially in Geargia where you can search it with [ccProd]Gear Gigant X[/ccProd]. But this trend may play into another one, in fascinating ways – the re-emergence of [ccProd]Gorz the Emissary of Darkness[/ccProd] in tournament Top 8’s. Gorz has been quietly picking up tournament tops for weeks now, including not one, but two Top 8 finishes at Philly: it was played in Adam Hutchinson’s Mythic Plant Rulers, and Chris Woolheater’s Mermails.

Gorz is awesome at punishing the Hands: it drops when your backrow’s empty and [ccProd]Ice Hand[/ccProd] can’t do any damage to your card presence, and it can come out in defense mode so as to not offer any potential suicide runs for either Hand monster. Since Gorz is an instant +1 it can give you two shots at taking out that [ccProd]Ice Hand[/ccProd] the turn following, and it’s a powerful attacker after the fact that can give any strategy trouble – especially Traptrix Hand Artifacts. Gorz has enough size to best most monsters that deck can Summon, again forcing Rank 4 consolidations. The buzz on Gorz is still pretty quiet, but with two YCS Top 8’s the word of mouth may finally spread; for the first time in ages, Gorz appears to be relevant to widespread competition again.

Putting Everything In Defense
It’s an obvious solution, but it bears discussion because like most of these points, it’s more complicated than it sounds: your opponent will struggle to get value out of their [ccProd]Ice Hands[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Fire Hands[/ccProd] if you only play monsters in defense position. The Hands just aren’t very impressive if they can’t destroy anything, and since they top out at Fire Hand’s 1600 ATK, it’s not a tall order to wall up against them.

Like I said before, Geargia are awesome at that: Geargiarmor’s always been a strong defender, and it shines in Hand match-ups. But at the same time, other strategies have plenty of defensive power too. While Bujins and Fire Fists are fairly low on DEF, Mermails have options if they want to break from their normal play patterns: [ccProd]Mermail Abyssocea[/ccProd] has the requisite 1900 DEF, while [ccProd]Mermail Abyssmegalo[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Mermail Abyssteus[/ccProd] have 2400 defense points, and Mermail Abysslinde’s a recruiter – one of the best ways to stall out against the pressure of the Hands.

On the rogue side of things there are plenty of options. [ccProd]Noble Knight Artorigus[/ccProd] nd [ccProd]Noble Knight Gwalchavad[/ccProd] have great big booties, while the new [ccProd]Noble Knight Eachtar[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Noble Knight Brothers[/ccProd] are even bigger. Eachtar’s 2000 DEF is great since you Special Summon it for free anyways; you risk absolutely nothing to brickwall the Hands, and you can ram them as needed with its 1600 ATK as well. And [ccProd]Noble Knight Brothers[/ccProd] has a shocking 2400 DEF, bested only by a handful of other Level 4’s that are completely devoted to defense or happen to be over-themed and essentially unplayable: think [ccProd]Big Shield Gardna[/ccProd], [ccProd]Giant Kozaky[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Super Crashbug[/ccProd].

[ccProd]Infernity Necromancer[/ccProd]; [ccProd]Inzektor Dragonfly[/ccProd]; [ccProd]Madolche Messengelato[/ccProd]; [ccProd]Debris Dragon[/ccProd]; Battlin’ Boxer Headgeared; Sylvan Komushroom… there are a ton of monsters in competitive decks or competitive fringe strategies that can hold off the Hands, and recognizing them can be exceptionally valuable. Let’s be honest; DEF is only rarely relevant in this game. But just as [ccProd]Soul Charge[/ccProd] has made Life Points a bigger part of competition, so have the Hands made DEF a bigger deal for astute competitors.

Do yourself a favor? Read the Feature Match coverage from YCS Philly. While YCS Las Vegas’ Feature Matches were filled with spectacular plays and odds-defying combos and comebacks, the Philly stuff isn’t as exciting. But, there’s a lot to be learned there when it comes to technique, especially in the matches where the Hands were a factor. Study up – it’s National Qualifier season, so the stakes really don’t get much higher.

How about you? How do you outplay [ccProd]Ice Hand[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Fire Hand[/ccProd]? Share your techniques down in the Comments.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer

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