Crazy For DUEA: Black Garden Benkei

In two weeks the Advanced Format will roll over into the October 1st list, but as I’m writing this we have no idea what that new Format will actually look like. I’m personally expecting the next play environment to look a lot like this one: right now we’ve got three top decks, none of which are degenerate and all of which emanate from Duelist Alliance. If I was calling the shots, I’d be pretty happy with the state of things – I wouldn’t be rocking the boat too much come October.

But that said, I’m a little reluctant to write about killer competitive strategies right now anyways, before we see the next F&L List. While I don’t anticipate major disruptions to the Shaddoll, Satellarknight, or Burning Abyss themes at their core, I do think we could see changes to format-defining off-theme cards: something like a tweak to the number of Vanity’s Emptiness we can run wouldn’t surprise me. And in that case, fine-point analysis of the data generated by YCS Toronto and YCS Madrid could become irrelevant moving forward. Cards like Emptiness and [ccProd]Soul Charge[/ccProd] have a huge influence on the shape of competition.

So I want to hold off on that kind of deep analysis for a while, and in the mean time I want to show you another of the casual strategies I’ve been having a blast with as I wait to see the new list. By now you’re probably quite familiar with the big cards from Duelist Alliance, but it’s ridiculously easy to lose sight of some of the more niche highlights from that set, including one of the coolest new themes we’ve seen this year – the Superheavy Samurai!

Why Why, Samurai?
The Superheavy Samurai theme gets more support in the upcoming New Challengers booster set, but for now it doesn’t have anywhere near the level of direct support as other big themes from Duelist Alliance. While Shaddolls, Satellarknights and all the rest are very open-ended and can be played to create a lot of different results, the Superheavy Samurai largely do one thing and one thing only: they sit in defense position and swing on your opponent.

Each of the three Superheavy Samurai monsters from DUEA wield an ability that turns them to Defense Position whenever they’re Normal or Special Summoned. That’s useful because they all have high DEF, and their boss monster [ccProd]Superheavy Samurai Big Benkei[/ccProd] has an ability that lets all of your Superheavy Samurai attack from defense mode. When they do, you apply their DEF in battle instead of their ATK.

The ability to attack from defense position and use your defense points instead of your attack points twists some of the basic rules of Yu-Gi-Oh. And no matter what strategy you’re playing, one thing is always true: any time you change the rules of the game and force your opponent to play along, you can get unique opportunities while your opponent struggles to play catch-up. That’s fun because it takes the game you know, shifts it into something different, and forces both players to approach competition a new perspective. It’s potentially competitive because you can prepare to play that very different game, while your opponent gets no warning and struggles to adapt.

And that’s the situation we have here. While attacking from defense position doesn’t really change much about the game all on its own, the Superheavy Samurai strategy offers two major opportunities for competitive advantage. First, since DEF numbers are often bigger than ATK numbers at comparable monster Levels, your numbers can outmatch your opponents’. At the same time though, the fundamental division between ATK and DEF gives you a chance to use global effects that would reduce both player’s ATK, and suddenly tilt them in your favor by letting you ignore them entirely. That’s what I wanted to abuse when I started working with the Superheavy Samurai; in part because it’s a smart idea, and in part because it lets me leverage one of my favorite cards of all time.

Also, One Of The Most Annoying Cards Of All Time!
Straight up, few cards in Yu-Gi-Oh! have created more confusion than [ccProd]Black Garden[/ccProd]. If you’re not familiar with it give it a read, mull it over, and then let me break it down for you piece by piece.

-When Black Garden’s on the field, every Normal or Special Summon results in the activation of a trigger-like effect that halves the ATK of the monster being Summoned.

-That same effect also Special Summons a Rose Token to the opposite side of the field with 800 ATK. (The Summoning of the Rose Token won’t trigger [ccProd]Black Garden[/ccProd], so the Token stays at 800 ATK and won’t set off a flurry of field-filling Token Summons.)

-In addition, [ccProd]Black Garden[/ccProd] also has an effect that lets you target a monster in your graveyard with ATK equal to the combined attack points of all Plants on the field. Including the Rose Tokens! When that effects resolves you destroy the Garden and all Plants on the field, then Special Summon the monster you targeted.

The attraction here is just what you think: throughout history, the best [ccProd]Black Garden[/ccProd] decks have revolved around dodging the ATK-halving effect in various ways, so your opponent’s monsters are weak and yours stay strong. In the past we’ve seen that happen in a number of ways: Flip Summoned monsters are immune, and monsters that jump out of play and are then “returned” to the field without being Special Summoned – like [ccProd]Wind-Up Rabbit[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Evilswarm Thunderbird[/ccProd] – are also unaffected.

But we’re going to abuse [ccProd]Black Garden[/ccProd] in a different way, largely by ignoring it entirely. Since [ccProd]Superheavy Samurai Big Benkei[/ccProd] doesn’t care about its attack points it can swing with its full 3500 DEF, while your opponent’s monsters hit the field in shrinky-dink mode. And while some Superheavy Samurai decks try to use cards like [ccProd]Shooting Star Bow Ceal[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Twin Swords of Flashing Light Tryce[/ccProd] to help Big Benkei deal more damage, [ccProd]Black Garden[/ccProd] comes with a solution built right in. Since every Summon you make is going to Special Summon an 800 ATK Rose Token to your opponent’s side of the field, Big Benkei can swing over each Token for 2700 damage every time. That means game in three attacks.

Supporting Something Superheavy
So the goal is play [ccProd]Black Garden[/ccProd] as early as possible and Summon [ccProd]Superheavy Samurai Big Benkei[/ccProd], then grind out a win in one to three turns. While there are lots of ways to get Big Benkei to the field, I found three methods to be particularly choice: Normal Summoning it by Tributing excess Rose Tokens; reviving it from the Graveyard; and Special Summoning it straight from the deck with [ccProd]Giant Rat[/ccProd].

The Normal Summoning methods are pretty obvious: if you draw Big Benkei you can Tribute Summon it by sacking off two Rose Tokens. That’s not always possible because you might not always control [ccProd]Black Garden[/ccProd], and your opponent might not let you have a bunch of Tokens they just leave on the field. But it happens, and if your opponent decides to be clever and lock your field with five Rose Tokens it’s deeply satisfying to pitch two for your win condition and turn the tables. Alternatively you can also discard Big Benkei from your hand if a Tribute Summon’s not possible: I opted to pair it with [ccProd]Machina Fortress[/ccProd] to make that happen, and sending Big Benkei to the graveyard gives you the opportunity to revive it with [ccProd]Call of the Haunted[/ccProd], [ccProd]Soul Charge[/ccProd], or [ccProd]Redox, Dragon Ruler of Boulders[/ccProd]. Benkei’s also a valid discard for Redox, building synergy and opening up more plays.

Giant Rat’s awesome in any Superheavy Samurai Deck: we’re only playing Big Benkei in this version, but it can Special Summon any of the Superheavy Samurai right from your deck when your opponent runs it over. When you bring out Big Benkei with [ccProd]Giant Rat[/ccProd] you’ll trigger Big Benkei’s effect to turn it to defense mode, instantly securing it on the field and opening up attacks. It’s especially cool here because you can activate [ccProd]Black Garden[/ccProd] and Normal Summon [ccProd]Giant Rat[/ccProd] at 700 ATK. When you do, you’ll load the opponent’s field with an 800 ATK Rose Token. You can smash the Rat right into it, trigger its effect to grab Big Benkei, throw it in defense position and then swing for your first 2700 damage immediately.

There’s a lot of synergy here. Every monster in this deck is an Earth for Redox, and you can even Main Deck Maxx “C” and continue building that synergy – I’ll leave the tech picks up to you. Since Big Benkei’s Level 8 it’s a one-card Special Summon if [ccProd]Machina Fortress[/ccProd] is in your graveyard. You can search [ccProd]Machina Fortress[/ccProd] with [ccProd]Machina Gearframe[/ccProd], and in doing so you thin your deck and get one card closer to [ccProd]Black Garden[/ccProd] and other important cards. With a minimal monster lineup you’ve got lots of room for support, and that helps mitigate some of the bigger challenges to this strategy. After a bunch of playtesting here’s what my current build looks like:

Black Garden Big Benkei – 40 Cards
Monsters: 12
3 [ccProd]Superheavy Samurai Big Benkei[/ccProd]
3 [ccProd]Giant Rat[/ccProd]
3 [ccProd]Machina Gearframe[/ccProd]
2 [ccProd]Machina Fortress[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Redox, Dragon Ruler of Boulders[/ccProd]

Spells: 17
3 [ccProd]Black Garden[/ccProd]
3 [ccProd]Supply Squad [/ccProd]
2 [ccProd]Terraforming[/ccProd]
3 [ccProd]Mystical Space Typhoon[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Book of Moon[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Foolish Burial[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Soul Charge[/ccProd]
3 [ccProd]Pot of Duality[/ccProd]

Traps: 11
3 [ccProd]Breakthrough Skill[/ccProd]
2 [ccProd]Call of the Haunted[/ccProd]
2 [ccProd]Fiendish Chain[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Torrential Tribute[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Bottomless Trap Hole[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Compulsory Evacuation Device[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Solemn Warning[/ccProd]

Extra Deck: 15
1 [ccProd]Number 11: Big Eye[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossack[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Number 74: Master of Blades[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Number 101: Silent Honor ARK[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Castel, the Skyblaster Musketeer[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Gear Gigant X[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Number 50: Blackship of Corn[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Abyss Dweller[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Number 80: Rhapsody in Berserk[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Photon Papilloperative[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Evilswarm Exciton Knight[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Diamond Dire Wolf[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Daigusto Emeral[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Cairngorgon, Antiluminescent Knight[/ccProd]
1 [ccProd]Gagaga Cowboy[/ccProd]

There are two factors that keep this deck in the casual-but-really-freaking-fun bucket, and that keep it from being reliably competitive. The first factor is [ccProd]Black Garden[/ccProd]: you tend to win games where you get to [ccProd]Black Garden[/ccProd] early, and you often lose games where you struggle to find it. The second factor is also [ccProd]Black Garden[/ccProd]: it throws a giant monkey wrench into virtually any strategy right now, but if your opponent destroys it you lose your biggest advantages. This deck depends on seeing one card as early as possible, and unfortunately there’s no great way to protect it from the vast array of threats once it’s on the field. That said, the bulk of this deck is designed to get to your key cards as fast as possible, then protect them long enough to make a win.

Terraforming’s obviously great because it gets you to your clutch Field Spell. [ccProd]Pot of Duality[/ccProd] gets the nod here over [ccProd]Upstart Goblin[/ccProd] because while it can help you find [ccProd]Black Garden[/ccProd], it also gets you to [ccProd]Giant Rat[/ccProd] and the cards that revive Big Benkei. Your needs can be dynamic in this strategy: Pot of Duality’s a flexible card that offers you a strong element of card selection at the cost of some aggression. As much as this deck relies on Special Summoning for the majority of its damage, losing your Special Summoning for one turn isn’t as bad as it might sound. Provided you can protect [ccProd]Giant Rat[/ccProd] from stuff like [ccProd]Ghostrick Alucard[/ccProd] when it’s face-down, [ccProd]Castel, the Skyblaster Musketeer[/ccProd] when it’s face-up, or [ccProd]Stellarknight Delteros[/ccProd] in general, you can play the Rat out and create stalemates.

This build runs a lot of [ccProd]Breakthrough Skill[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Fiendish Chain[/ccProd] to accomplish that, and it helps you handle everything from [ccProd]Black Rose Dragon[/ccProd] to [ccProd]Number 50: Blackship of Corn[/ccProd]. Alternatively you can always just hold back on [ccProd]Giant Rat[/ccProd] once you bring your combo pieces together anyways, since that “Black Garden into Giant Rat” play creates a Rose Token as a suicide attack target, which means you deal damage in the same timeframe as if you’d fielded the Rat without a Special Summon on your Duality turn anyways.

All that said, [ccProd]Supply Squad[/ccProd] can be one of the most powerful cards in this deck. Since you draw for its effect any time a monster’s destroyed – not when a monster’s sent to the graveyard – you can create situations where your opponent refuses to play aggressively into your Rose Tokens (because each one they destroy becomes a hard +1 for you). [ccProd]Supply Squad[/ccProd] also combos beautifully with [ccProd]Giant Rat[/ccProd], giving you a free +1 when your opponent attacks it, or whenever you suicide it into an opposing monster. Beyond those basic functions it also draws out [ccProd]Mystical Space Typhoons[/ccProd], which can be tremendously important as you fight to keep [ccProd]Black Garden[/ccProd] alive. While [ccProd]Breakthrough Skill[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Fiendish Chain[/ccProd] can counter all sorts of monster threats, there just aren’t many answers to [ccProd]Mystical Space Typhoon[/ccProd] here, and many of options I tested proved to be underwhelming.

[ccProd]Cairngorgon, Antiluminescent Knight[/ccProd] is huge for that, and the more you play this strategy the more you’ll probably find yourself using your [ccProd]Soul Charge[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Call of the Haunteds[/ccProd] to field that monster; it might be the biggest argument for playing a second [ccProd]Soul Charge[/ccProd], something I’ve gone back and forth on. But regardless, the importance of Cairngorgon should guide how aggressively you play your [ccProd]Giant Rats[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Machina Gearframes[/ccProd], and a big part of winning with this strategy can come down to how well you use that card. While [ccProd]Stardust Dragon[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Stardust Spark Dragon[/ccProd] would be hugely welcome, Tuners just didn’t seem to fit here.

Flexibility And Cards That Didn’t Cut It
There are some flexible card slots in this strategy and you may want to tweak the build depending on your metagame. Dimensional Prison’s gaining a lot of popularity in some metagames, while it’s largely still obscure in others; this build runs triple [ccProd]Mystical Space Typhoon[/ccProd], but you could flip those out for [ccProd]Forbidden Lances[/ccProd] if you find you’re losing your [ccProd]Giant Rats[/ccProd] and Benkeis too often. As noted previously, you may also want to Main Deck [ccProd]Maxx C[/ccProd] if Burning Abyss and Satellarknights are the top two strategies in your area. Keep an eye out for [ccProd]Karma Cut[/ccProd]: while you can deal with the Burning Abyss’ [ccProd]Phoenix Wing Wind Blasts[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Raigeki Breaks[/ccProd] pretty easily, those banishing effects can be a real pain. That said, remember that the bulk of your monsters scoot under [ccProd]Bottomless Trap Hole[/ccProd] – [ccProd]Giant Rat[/ccProd] only has 1400 ATK, and Big Benkei’s 1000 attack points is just another advantage of the Superheavy Samurai gameplan.

The Extra Deck’s pretty flexible too. The more I find myself focusing on [ccProd]Cairngorgon, Antiluminescent Knight[/ccProd], the less I tend to Summon the really niche Rank 4’s like [ccProd]Gear Gigant X[/ccProd]. In addition, due to how this deck deals damage I’ve never won a game with [ccProd]Gagaga Cowboy[/ccProd]. If there’s something else you want in those slots – other Rank 4’s or even Xyz at higher Ranks – you have the wiggle room to make those changes.

On the flip side there are some cards people often like to pair with Superheavy Samurai that I’m not running, the most notable of which are the rest of the Superheavies. [ccProd]Superheavy Samurai Blue Brawler[/ccProd] is a nice wall, but it doesn’t advance your strategy: it stalls, but it won’t actually help you win until you have Big Benkei backing it up so it can make direct attacks. It doesn’t search anything and even when Big Benkei’s around, it only changes a three-turn process into a two-turn process (making three attacks with Big Benkei versus two). That’s not great value. [ccProd]Superheavy Samurai Swordsman[/ccProd] works in tandem with Blue Brawler, which you’re not running, to destroy opposing monsters and clear the way for attacks, which is something you don’t need to do thanks to [ccProd]Black Garden[/ccProd]. So neither monster makes the cut.

Off-theme, it’s very common to see Superheavy Samurai played with [ccProd]D2 Shield[/ccProd]: working at Spell Speed 2, it doubles Big Benkei’s ATK and speeds up your victory by a turn. It’s a really fun card that can definitely win games, but it doesn’t help much in your fragile early game which is what you’re really concerned with. By all means, give it a shot if it looks good to you! But in trying to make this strategy as consistent as possible, I found it was another conditional card that could clog up your opening hands without solving your biggest problems.

[ccProd]Shooting Star Bow Ceal[/ccProd] is popular with [ccProd]Superheavy Samurai Big Benkei[/ccProd], because it lets Benkei attack directly; Ceal’s ATK reduction means nothing here, because Big Benkei uses its defense points in battle, not its attack points. You don’t need it in this build because you can Summon those Rose Tokens in attack mode and just swing over them. Whether you’re attacking through three Rose Tokens for 2700 damage + 2700 damage + 2700 damage, or making direct attacks for 3500 damage + 3500 damage + 3500 damage, it’s still a three-turn clock.

[ccProd]Twin Swords of Flashing Light Tryce[/ccProd] is another popular equip spell meant to speed things up, and you again get to ignore an ATK reduction. That card will speed up your win by a turn, but since it comes with a discard cost at activation it essentially accomplishes the same thing as [ccProd]D2 Shield[/ccProd] at a greater cost.

So there you have it! I’ve played a lot of different versions of the Superheavy Samurai strategy, and so far this is my favorite. Forcing your opponent to “think different” is a ton of fun, and challening yourself to do the same can be a valuable exercise. It’s great to stretch your mind to its limits and practice lateral problem solving; those kinds of exercises will benefit your instincts and observation skills no matter what you’re running. With just a couple weeks left in this format, and very few big tournaments left, now’s a great time to kick back with something fun that offers new challenges.

Speaking of, New Challengers will bring more cards for the Superheavy Samurai theme when it drops on November 7th. What do you think of the future of the Superheavy Samurai? For now this deck’s clearly casual – it’s a little too dependent on a fragile set-up to be viable beyond locals. But could the Big Benkei fare better as the year draws to a close? Let me know what you think down in the Comments.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer

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