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Dragon Rulers – Making Main Deck Decisions!

Contrary to what you may have heard, building a Dragon Ruler deck isn’t easy. Sure, the first twenty cards are no-brainers: you’re extremely likely to run twenty Dragon Rulers, maxing out on the Level 7’s and running two each of the “babies” at Levels 3 and 4. Beyond that, you’re probably going to run triple Super Rejuvenation and Gold Sarcophagus, too.

But that leaves fourteen card slots, and almost everything from that point forward is variable. Part of last week’s discussion revolved around cards you can run to add unexpected sources of damage to your Dragon Ruler deck. We’ve seen dozens of individual tech cards appear in Regional Top 8 builds as well, and we’ll break those down next week. But beyond customized tech choices, just the commonly played cards in the Dragon Ruler Main Deck are surprisingly flexible. Today I want to analyze recent Top 8 Regional builds from the past few weeks to give you an accurate picture of what your options are as a Dragon Ruler player, or what you might come up against if you’re playing against Dragons.

We’ll start with the single biggest decision Dragon Ruler players have to make.

Light and Darkness Dragon Versus No Light and Darkness Dragon
There are largely two variants of the Dragon Ruler strategy: the pure build, and the Light and Darkness Dragon version. Whether or not you choose to run Light and Darkness Dragon (LADD) is the first big decision guiding your card choices. It doesn’t just determine certain strengths and weaknesses when you sit down at a tournament table; it also determines your priorities for decisions down the line.

Around the time between the Sneak Peek and Lord of the Tachyon Galaxy’s official release, the competitive community largely seemed to agree that despite some success in Japan, the LADD version of Dragon Rulers was inferior to the pure build. I think alot of people, myself included, figured the LADD deck wasn’t really going to see play. I had no strong opinion about its performance, but the sheer disregard for it seemed like it would kill LADD from the get-go.

But then the results came in, and now we have actual numbers to deal with instead of just speculation. And the results are kind of surprising! Of the revealed Regional Top 8 lists we’ve seen so far, about a third of the Top 8 Dragon Ruler builds run at least one Light and Darkness Dragon – some run more. Those decks usually play Eclipse Wyvern, combining with the search power of Tempest, Dragon Ruler of Storms to get to LADD reliably. Some builds even go so far as to run Foolish Burial to load Eclipse Wyvern.

In a nutshell, the Light and Darkness Dragon variant is sort of the high-risk, high-reward version of the Dragon Ruler strategy. Summoning the Dragon eats resources, even if all you’re giving up are two Dragon Rulers you Special Summoned for free, or a pair of Mecha Phantom Beast Tokens. LADD can be a rough topdeck in the wrong situation, and the biggest problems can crop up after you Summon it. If your opponent plays through or negates LADD’s negation effect, then they can turn it face-down with Book of Moon, Book of Eclipse, Tsukuyomi, or Spellbook of Fate. From there they can take it and turn it against you with Number 11: Big Eye. An ill-considered over-extension can even see LADD’s effect wipe your field. Finding room for LADD, Eclipse Wyvern, and other support also means forgoing other cards for lack of room: measuring the worth of the LADD suite against extra hand traps, Sacred Sword of Seven Stars, or trap cards is no easy feat.

On the other hand, dropping Light and Darkness Dragon in the mirror match can quickly strip your opponent of options and force them to waste cards – either from their hand or their graveyard. The Dragon Ruler mirror is often a war of attrition, and forcing your opponent to burn cards can be a sweet shortcut to victory. At the same time, LADD’s Special Summon effect provides additional defense and resiliency when your opponent can force LADD off the table. An early game LADD against Prophecy can devastate your opponent’s ability to make a Spellbook of Judgment play, and there are plenty of rogue strategies that just can’t deal with the Dragon.

So there are advantages and disadvantages to each variant. Right now the pure Dragon Ruler deck is undeniably more successful at the Regional level, but that may just be a result of its popularity. The jury’s still out on whether the LADD version is the kind of envelope-pushing strategy that successfully trades a little consistency for the advantage of standing out from the pack, or if it’s truly inferior. There’s no solid winner yet since both decks performing well in Regionals.

But there are some definite conclusions we can draw. For instance, playing LADD and Eclipse Wyvern will influence how you approach the rest of your deck, starting with…

Red-Eyes Darkness Metal Dragon
I looked at more than thirty Top 8 Dragon Ruler decks to research this article, and while Red-Eyes Darkness Metal Dragon (REDM) was only played in five of them, it was still a presence. It was most popular in LADD variants, where it too can be searched by Eclipse Wyvern. However it also saw play without LADD and Wyvern, largely on the strength of its 2800 ATK and its ability to make wins.

Again, there’s an element of risk versus reward here. On one hand, REDMD is often a +1 that puts 5000 or more damage on the field. You can Special Summon a Dragon Ruler for free from your graveyard, banish it for REDMD, then Special Summon something else. Red-Eyes Darkness Metal Dragon is largely unpopular right now, which means you can steal surprise wins with that strategy. At the same time, its Dark attribute means it isn’t compatible with many of your Dragon Ruler effects. More importantly, it’s highly susceptible to Monster Reborn. There’s virtually nothing your opponent would rather take from your graveyard, and while some regard Reborn as a dated card that’s no longer ideal for competition, we’ll discuss the numbers in a little while. Spoiler: it’s still wildly popular.

The use of REDMD with LADD suites has the effect of making Eclipse Wyvern a stronger card, and creating more risk for the LADD Dragon Ruler player. Keep in mind that there are differing degrees of risk here, and you don’t have to take every precarious opportunity. You can play LADD and REDMD on their own, with or without Eclipse Wyvern, so experiment and see what works best for your metagame. Whatever you choose, keep in mind the basic truth that these cards open up more risks for you, and more opportunities for your opponent.

Dragunity Corsesca Versus Flamvell Guard
Out of the thirty or so decks I looked at, about half of them ran a Level 1 Dragon Tuner. Two thirds of those played Flamvell Guard, and the remaining third ran Dragunity Corsesca. While Guard has a bit more utility as a defensive wall thanks to its 2000 DEF, that’s largely irrelevant. What really matters is each Tuner’s Attribute: Guard’s a Fire monster, so it can be searched with Blaster, Dragon Ruler of Infernos or discarded for Blaster’s destruction effect. Corsesca can be searched with Tempest, Dragon Ruler of Storms, and pitched for Tempest’s search effect.

The decision of which one to play largely comes down to two conflicting factors: which of those two effects you like the most, and which of those Dragons you want on the field more frequently. If you run Flamvell Guard, you can pitch for Blaster more easily: that’s an important problem-solving opportunity, and it can be especially useful if you’re being aggressive. If you run Dragunity Corsesca you’ll have a slightly easier time searching with Tempest’s effect: that’s especially valuable if you’re playing LADD, but can also work well with tech picks ranging from Exploder Dragon to Yamata Dragon.

The flipside is that to search your Tuner, you have to banish the matching Dragon Ruler. Since you’ll usually want your Tuner in the mid or late game, that generally means banishing a Dragon Ruler from your graveyard, not using Gold Sarcophagus. In the case of Blaster, that means removing a monster with 2800 ATK that you might have wanted for a game-ending attack. In the case of Tempest things are easier, because Tempest’s weak 2400 ATK is rarely a priority when you’re trying to make a kill turn. There’s more depth to this situation than, “I like Blaster’s destruction effect better, I’ll play that one.”

Whichever searchable Tuner you prefer, it’s probably a smart decision to run one of the two. While the Regional field so far is split right down the middle – half are running a Dragon Tuner and half aren’t – more and more games are coming down to who can make a successful attack with Crimson Blader. A searchable Tuner goes a long way towards making that happen.

Dark Hole, Heavy Storm, and Monster Reborn
As I’ve said before, the widespread prediction that these cards were going to disappear from competitive play has yet to materialize. Whether or not they should see competitive play is certainly up for debate, but right now they’re still a common sight. That said, not all one-time “staple spells” are seeing equal play in Dragon Rulers.

While almost every deck I looked at was playing Monster Reborn and Heavy Storm, fewer than a third were playing Dark Hole. I don’t think it’s true that Dark Hole is a bad pick for every deck, but with easy access to monster destruction via Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossack and Blaster, Dragon Ruler of Infernos, plus the much harsher effect of Number 11: Big Eye, Dark Hole is certainly less important here than in other strategies. The main argument against it on a format-wide level is simply that the three most popular decks right now have numerous answers: Dragon Rulers have disposable monsters and the protection of Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossack; Prophecy have Spellbook of Wisdom; and Evilswarm have Infestation Pandemic, Forbidden Dress, Forbidden Lance, and Safe Zone.

It’s important to recognize that Dark Hole is very likely a sub-par pick for Dragon Rulers in particular. At the same time, that conclusion may not be universal in theory, and certainly isn’t the norm in reality.

Meanwhile, Heavy Storm and Monster Reborn might not be ideal either, but you can expect most players to still be running them. Examine them yourself and weigh them against your other options. I don’t suggest crossing the 40 card minimum when you build Dragon Rulers, because cards like Super Rejuvenation boost your win ratio so drastically. You want to see Rejuvenation early and often. So really think about the value of each card you consider. Heavy Storm and Monster Reborn are hugely popular in Dragon Rulers right now, but they aren’t forgone conclusions.

Sacred Sword of Seven Stars
Moving on, I was kind of surprised to find that Sacred Sword of Seven Stars was just as popular as Heavy Storm and Monster Reborn. Almost every Top 8 Dragon Ruler deck played it, despite the widespread sentiment that it isn’t necessary.

There are a few caveats to Sacred Sword. First, you usually don’t want to draw more than one since you can only activate one per turn. While a few Top 8 lists ran two or even three copies, most ran just one. That way it’s a nice bonus when it shows up, but you aren’t stuck clogging your draws with it. In addition, using Sacred Sword to banish a Dragon Ruler will eat that Dragon’s effect for the turn, potentially slowing your aggression.

At the same time though, it’s a plus! Whether you banish Dragons to Special Summon a Dragon Ruler and remove that for Sacred Sword of Seven Stars, or you banish one from your hand to get a free search effect, you either get two cards for one or three cards for two. Since so many Dragon Ruler games come down to a thirty minute grind, those little +1’s can add up to a win over time. Combined with the hand-fixing and search abilities Sacred Sword offers, it’s easy to see why it’s a popular pick at one per deck. You don’t have to run it, but it certainly has merit.

Card Destruction
The last commonly-played spell card in successful Dragon Ruler builds is another high-impact pick that competitors are largely divided on. Nearly half of the Top 8 lists I perused played Card Destruction. Like Light and Darkness Dragon, there’s an element of risk and reward here.

There are many benefits to Card Destruction. It’s a fast and easy way to load your graveyard with Dragon Rulers, giving you access to more free Special Summons. The cards you pitch are formally “discarded,” so any Dragons you lose count towards Super Rejuvenation. Dumping your whole hand to get five more cards can help you find Super Rejuvenation in the first place too, and it makes drawing Side Decked cards easier in Games 2 and 3.

The main drawback is twofold: Card Destruction can be pretty useless if you draw it in the mid or late game with an empty hand, and it’s a tricky card in the mirror match. On one hand, Card Destruction is an inherent -1: your opponent gets to fill his graveyard for free, while you lose Card Destruction. That’s enough reason for many duelists to avoid playing it. On the other hand, it’s important to note that when you activate Card Destruction, you can play Super Rejuvenation that turn and your opponent can’t. As soon as Rejuvenation comes into the picture you break the symmetry of Card Destruction’s effect. You virtually guarantee that you’ll get a much bigger graveyard benefit than your opponent, setting you up for a huge following turn. Again, there’s an element of risk here, but you can mitigate it by playing extra draw power. A single Sacred Sword of Seven Stars combined with Upstart Goblins really powers things along.

Remember that the risk of this card can be influenced not just by your own deck building decisions, but also by your metagame. If there are lots of Dragon Ruler decks the risk factor goes up. If there aren’t many, then Card Destruction becomes a better card. Look at what’s going on around you, and let your metagame read inform your decision.

Vanity’s Emptiness Main Decked
With more and more players running Vanity’s Emptiness in the Side Deck, we’re starting to see it creep into the Dragon Ruler Main Deck as well. The question on some minds harkens back to the TeleDAD era: is Vanity’s Emptiness + Dracossack the new Royal Oppression + Stardust Dragon?

I think the answer could be yes. Emptiness is a hugely powerful card in the Dragon Ruler mirror match, where it locks down your opponent’s ability to Summon anything but chump blockers. Emptiness can be a minus for you if your opponent can 1-for-1 a card to your graveyard – that triggers Emptiness’ self-destruction effect. But those opportunities are rare in the Dragon Ruler mirror: most Dragon players don’t run easy 1-for-1’s like Mystical Space Typhoon, and even if they did, the Dragon Ruler deck runs very few backrow cards anyways. Both the means and the opportunity are lacking. If your only monster is Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossack protected by Mecha Phantom Beast Tokens, not even the destruction effect of Blaster, Dragon Ruler of Infernos is going to destroy Vanity’s Emptiness without your opponent taking a minus.

And that’s harsh, because a skilled player with a bit of luck is generally going to 1-for-1 or plus as soon as they activate Vanity’s Emptiness in the first place. If your opponent discards for a baby Dragon Ruler effect and you chain Emptiness, they get nothing but a swift -2. Making a Blaster play at that point is just digging the hole even deeper.

Emptiness can keep your Prophecy opponent from making Special Summons with Spellbook of Judgment or High Priestess of Prophecy as well, and can even fend off rogue threats like A Hero Lives or any number of Karakuri moves. It’s a great pick for the Side Deck, but I think it’s going to wind up being even better as a Main Deck choice – particularly in tournaments that are heavy on Dragon Rulers, like the North American WCQ.

So there you have it. If you accept that Heavy Storm and Monster Reborn are likely choices for Dragon Rulers, you only really have to pick twelve cards when you’re building your deck. But those twelve cards are really important; you can use those slots in a ton of different ways, and just three or four cards totally change the risk level of your strategy, as well as some of your tactics. Experimentation and careful metagame reads are key. Don’t take this process for granted, because there’s alot more to it than you might suspect.

Next week we’ll go even deeper, looking at the tech choices some Top 8 duelists have found success with! But for now, what do you think of the cards we discussed today? Is Card Destruction too symmetrical for your metagame? Would you run Dark Hole? Tell us your thoughts in the Comments below!

-Jason Grabher-Meyer

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