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Sandstorm Disaster – An Interview With Richard Clarke

Both the forerunner and current innovator of the Disaster Dragon strategy, seasoned Dragon player Richard Clarke’s most recent incarnation of the deck uses the new Dragon Ruler toolbox. But unlike the conventional aggressive playstyle you’d normally associate with Dragon Rulers, Clarke’s managed to morph them to suit the primary function of the Disaster Dragon game plan: intricately controlling the game.

A brief background! “Disaster Dragon” is a years-old Dragon variant created by Clarke himself, that involves taking a delicate grasp on the flow of the game through hand traps and control-based cards like Koa’ki Meiru Drago and Exploder Dragon. Since Clarke first came up with it, the concept has gained a sort of committed cult following – message board threads, facebook groups, and Youtube channels emerged that were solely devoted to enthusiasts of this particular deck. And just like a Legend of Zelda fan screaming “Link isn’t Zelda!”, one of the most common phrases you might hear from a follower of the strategy is “Disaster isn’t Hopeless!”, the latter being another Dragon variant based on Dark monsters like Phantom of Chaos, Dark Grepher and Dark Simorgh.

The May 26th Regional in Norcross Georgia saw Clarke debut his newest take on Disaster Dragon, titled “Sandstorm”. With little time to test and prepare, and only two opportunities for a chance at earning his WCQ invite, Clarke managed to take a 15th place finish with this unique build on his first try, earning his seat in Chicago. On his second go at another Regional this past weekend in Talahassee, he ran into a major issue – the person he was relying on for Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossacks didn’t come through, and he couldn’t find a replacement in time. Turns out that wasn’t much of a hindrance though, as he still took a 10th place finish that day piloting a Dragon deck without Dracossack.

And today, we have the opportunity to pick Clarke’s brain about his process, his approach, and his experiences with it all! Here’s his latest build…

Richard Clarke’s 15th Place “Sandstorm”
Norcross Georgia, May 26th – 41 Cards
Monsters: 27
3 Redox, Dragon Ruler of Boulders
3 Tempest, Dragon Ruler of Storms
3 Blaster, Dragon Ruler of Infernos
3 Effect Veiler
2 Koa’ki Meiru Drago
2 Masked Dragon
2 Debris Dragon
2 Exploder Dragon
1 Lightning, Dragon Ruler of Drafts
1 Burner, Dragon Ruler of Sparks
1 Reactan, Dragon Ruler of Pebbles
1 Red-Eyes Darkness Metal Dragon
1 Yamata Dragon
1 Golem Dragon
1 Flamvell Guard

Spells: 10
3 Super Rejuvenation
2 Gold Sarcophagus
2 Sacred Sword of Seven Stars
1 Heavy Storm
1 Monster Reborn
1 Book of Moon

Traps: 4
3 Breakthrough Skill
1 Return from the Different Dimension

Extra Deck: 15
1 Ancient Fairy Dragon
1 Exploder Dragonwing
1 Black Rose Dragon
1 Stardust Dragon
1 Scrap Dragon
1 Crimson Blader
1 Red Dragon Archfiend
1 Gagaga Cowboy
1 Queen Dragun Djinn
1 Gem Knight Pearl
1 Gaia Dragon, the Thunder Charger
2 Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossack
2 Number 11: Big Eye

Side Deck: 15
2 Puppet Plant
2 Electric Virus
3 Droll & Lock Bird
3 Mystical Space Typhoon
2 Dust Tornado
3 Eradicator Epidemic Virus

Q: The first thing to note is that this deck deviates heavily from Dragon Rulers’ expected norms. What do you believe is the primary benefit this new version of Disaster Dragon holds over conventional Dragon Rulers?

A: I feel the concept behind Disaster is to adapt to the current shape of your metagame, and while doing so, force the game to be played to your own comfortable pace by finding common weaknesses. If it’s paired against a slower deck, it looks to force an aggressive pace; if matched against an explosive deck, it will force the game to a slower tempo.

If a deck plays out of its tempo or comfort zone, it loses control of the game as a whole. That being said, Disaster’s traditional grinding style of play can provide balance to the newer Summoning engine of the Dragon Rulers; it has an easier time fighting through lockout abilities like those of Evilswarm Ophion and Jowgen the Spiritualist. Also if I go first, the cards played in Disaster allow me a better Turn 1 play while giving me the opportunity to read what my opponent has, so I can plans for turns ahead.

Q: I’m personally curious – what were your opponent’s reactions when they went from seeing you play standards like Gold Sarcophagus, to you suddenly dropping cards like Masked Dragon?

A: There was a lot of confusion, actually! There were turns where my opponent would see the Gold Sarcophagus or Sacred Sword of Seven Stars, and expect me [to add a low Level Dragon Ruler to my hand], but instead I got a Masked Dragon, Exploder Dragon, or Koa’ki Meiru Drago instead.

The late game choices of what to banish built the confusion even further; I’d do stuff like search Yamata Dragon once I’d worn through my opponent’s Effect Veilers. Yamata allowed me to refuel my hand, so the additional options it gave me proved to be very beneficial. I also had a mental game plan for Side Decking based on tons of testing, in addition to being able to read deck strengths and weaknesses during Game 1’s. I think I got the most confused reactions out of people when I told them that there were zero copies of Tidal, Dragon Ruler of Waterfalls and no Stream, Dragon Ruler of Droplets in the build, and there were a few games where players were still on edge because “I hadn’t used Tidal or Stream yet.”

Q: In the past, Disaster Dragon was known for its heavier trap lineups. Would you suggest attempting to add more control-oriented backrow cards like Bottomless Trap Hole in here as a choice of preference, or are fewer traps optimal?

A: For me, it wasn’t based on the numbers, but what I get out of those numbers. Bottomless is still a good removal card, but against a matchup where a single card like Infestation Pandemic, Spellbook of Wisdom, or even Forbidden Lance can easily smear your plans, once you use it, there’s nothing left to look forward to. Plus, if a removal card was wasted by Mystical Space Typhoon or other forms of backrow removal, that would be it.

With the trap lineup I used, I wanted to make sure I always had “one more use” out of each card I activated. With Return from the Different Dimension, I was guaranteed a Dragon regardless if my opponent attacked or not, and with Breakthrough Skill I had one more negate to go.

Q: How well did the maxed Super Rejuvenations work with only three “Baby” Dragon targets? Were the effects of the higher Level Dragons enough?

A: I wanted to expand on the uses of the bigger Dragons, which meant getting benefits out of the individual Dragon Ruler effects in addition to banishing and Special Summoning. Also, I knew that Yamata’s effect wasn’t going to be the easiest method of drawing cards, so maxing out on Rejuvenation was another [way to get some card advantage], even if it meant only getting two draws out of a single copy. Frequency was also a factor, so if I opened with any copies of Rejuvenation, I could pair it with a baby Dragon Ruler’s Summon ability or a larger Dragon Ruler’s unique effect, just to keep the deck’s flow going.

Q: I feel like the main benefit to this strategy is that it does a better job addressing major Game 1 threats that Dragon Rulers normally have problems with, like Ophion and Jowgen. But what do you think is this variant’s strongest matchup?

A: The Sandstorm variant actually has a really good Evilswarm matchup thanks to the traditional Disaster pieces like Masked Dragon, Golem Dragon, and Koaki Meiru Drago, which thrive off of the grind game pacing. Out of the top decks, I was actually hoping to run into Evilswarm more than any other major matchup.

Q: And the weakest matchup?

A: Prophecy would be the toughest matchup since it’s equally versatile with a broad range of effects. In that deck, Spellbook of Fate is a much bigger threat than any other Spellbook spell due to its high versatility. The threat level that card has is on par with Red-Eyes Darkness Metal Dragon; if you have no response to it, you have to be ready for anything that’s about to happen. Add the fact that it can protect and back Spellcasters with freezing abilities like Jowgen and Kycoo, and it becomes a tougher battle. That’s not to say it’s an auto-loss, but you have to fight a little harder and play smart to break that setup.

Q: You mentioned that in Round 6 of Norcross, you were 2-0’d by a Dragon Ruler deck. What happened? Was there anything you could’ve played differently?

A: As with any Dragon deck, the key to winning is flexibility: the more different Dragons you see, the more options you have. That said, the Dragon Ruler decks only play eight primary Dragons, [so they can see all their options really early]. In Round 6, we both had a ton of counters for each other’s pushes and Extra Deck Summons, but the difference was that [he got to a wider range of options] before I did. I saw multiple copies of just one larger Dragon Ruler in Game 1 and none in Game 2, so that made things a bit difficult. As far as playing differently, I did make the mistake of siding in a card which didn’t help in that matchup, so that was an error on my part.

Q: Speaking of doing things differently, knowing what you now know post-event, were there any deck choices you would’ve changed?

A: I had nearly everything I wanted. There was one card I actually did want to fit in the side, but I couldn’t find room for it at the time.

Q: Any closing notes or other details you’d like to mention?

A: I’m just glad to bring my project back. Many felt it died when Future Fusion was Forbidden and Red-Eyes Darkness Metal Dragon went to one. Disaster Dragon is on its second wind now, so I’m excited to see how far this run can go, just like I was when it all started four years ago! Second chances are always a good thing.

A big thanks to Richard Clarke for taking the time to get in-depth with an interview. I hope to see more innovations from in the coming months, and I hope you guys enjoyed seeing a fresh new take on Dragons this format!

-Amanda

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