With the release of Duelist Saga and a new Forbidden & Limited list, it was unclear what would take the top spots at YCS Denver. The previous format had been interesting, to say the least. Zoodiacs seemed to be the one dominating force at first glance, but we quickly saw just how well Paleozoics could combat them. As the weeks went on 60-Card strategies continued to gain momentum; That Grass Looks Greener was practically a one-card win condition, generating a ton of free resources as long as your opponent played fewer cards than you.
The first reaction to the Forbidden & Limited list was that Zoodiacs would simply no longer be the best deck in competition. Without a third Zoodiac Ratpier the strategy looked significantly weaker than, and if it was already having trouble against Paleozoics and 60-Card strategies in the previous format then there was no way it could be the best strategy in the new one. But not everything had been fully explored in terms of Zoodiac combos, and new discoveries had a big impact on not just Zoodiacs, but every strategy that ran Zoodiac Ratpier. Couple that with new minimal combos that can be performed with just two Ratpiers, and Zoodiacs are still a top contender.
If that wasn’t enough, the erratas from Duelist Saga introduced some pretty crazy stuff. Cards that were once so powerful they needed to be Forbidden now worked in totally different ways, so you basically have to assess them like brand new cards. But even despite that, some of those cards still had a ridiculously high power level.
Here are the top trends that emerged from YCS Denver.
Prior to YCS Denver, many would’ve considered Paleozoics the true best deck of the format. It won YCS Atlanta, YCS Prague, and nearly took down the UDS Invitational in Las Vegas as well.
Toadally Awesome allowed the control strategy to quickly change gears as needed, snowballing out of control with free Frogs and easily disrupting your opponent. We hadn’t seen such a successful trap strategy in what felt like an eternity, but Paleozoics completely changed the game. Paleozoics were different because the source of their disruptive interaction with opponents was also the source of their win condition; the Paleozoic traps disrupt your opponent in the early stages of the game, but then act as Rank 2 Xyz Materials in the mid-game. And with traps at an all-time high in power level, Paleozoics were a real force to be reckoned with.
So what happened? Only three Paleozoic Frog decks made the Top Cut at YCS Denver, and I think there are lots of reasons for the stumble. The first is adaptation. It takes a while for everyone to get adjusted to new strategies, and while many duelists had come prepared for Paleozoics in the past, I think we just saw more preparation at Denver.
Some Side Decks in the Top Cut had as many as nine or more cards dedicated to the Paleozoic matchup, and that’s deadly since the kind of cards that are sided against Paleozoics tend to shut them down completely. Denko Sekka’s a very good example, and it was tremendously popular at Denver along with other mass backrow hate like Jinzo and Royal Decree.
You can also factor in the shape of the Paleozoic strategy and its most common play patterns. Disrupting Paleozoics is very easy because they need to chain their Paleozoics directly on top of their traps so that they can Special Summon them, so if you have any response you can often stop them from swinging the duel in their favor. Simple things like activating a Zoodiac Drident that was negated with Lost Wind can stop Paleozoics from taking over the game. Since Paleozoic Frogs had seen repeat success, duelists were more likely to be exposed to the strategy and would better understand how to beat it.
Will Paleozoics continue to lose ground? I think the big thing to look out for is that once players start dedicating fewer Side Deck slots to the matchup, we could see the trap strategy sweep tournaments once again.
With the decline of one strategy came the rise of another, as Metalfoes seemed to gain the most ground at YCS Denver. The number of Metalfoes I saw in the tournament was absurd, and I think there are several reasons for that. The first is simple: the Forbidden & Limited list turned duelists away from standard Zoodiac lists. Metalfoes is another heavy combo strategy, so anyone who favored Zoodiacs for that reason could latch onto Metalfoes. We also saw a bit more success for the combo-based Zombie Lightsworn deck, but not nearly as much as we saw with Metalfoes. Combo strategies have long been considered the most powerful way to approach the game, so it makes sense why duelists would favor them.
Baobaboon was a huge factor too, fresh from the Raging Tempest Special Edition. It’s an absolutely absurd card that pretty much breaks Metalfoes. A single Baobaboon and a Metalfoes Pendulum Monster can open up a Zoodiac combo thanks to M-X-Saber Invoker, while netting you a Metalfoes spell or trap and three Baobaboon activations. The card selection tied to Baobaboon is on another level, and it’s really powerful here since combo strategies tend to run as many copies of their combo-starting cards as possible. Baobaboon lets you take those combo starters and turn them into trap protection to seal the deal on a game; anytime you go off with a Baobaboon your end hand is dramatically better than it would’ve been before.
I think the popularity of That Grass Looks Greener also contributed to the rise of Metalfoes. You want to avoid drawing the Metalfoes spells and traps, which is why we typically see them slimmed down to one-ofs or see deck counts increase in order to mitigate the likelihood of drawing them. Pushing the strategy all the way to 60 cards decreases the odds of drawing those spells and traps substantially, while also giving you a good way to combat Greener. Leonard Anaya took a pure Zoodiac list all the way to the finals with a similar strategy, playing a full 60 cards. While it didn’t quite work out for him in the finals, the fact that Metalfoes can easily play 60 cards and remain consistent gives them a big edge against That Grass Looks Greener strategies.
Three of the new erratas impacted the tournament in a much bigger way than the rest.
Imperial Order seemed like the obvious best errata from Duelist Saga. Turning off all Spell Cards from a strategy is very powerful, especially when the strategy heavily relies on them like some 60-Card decks do. You can pair Imperial Order with a huge field to really back foot your opponent, but the big difference post errata is that you absolutely need to pair it with something that puts your opponent on the clock for it to be successful. If you can’t start attacking while Imperial Order’s up, the Life Point cost can get out of hand very quickly, and your opponent can simply come from behind and beat you. Zoodiac Boarbow’s very good at getting through damage, so you always need to be wary of how many turns you think it’ll take you to win the duel.
I think we’ll continue to see Imperial Order rise in popularity, and in certain formats it could be the strongest trap available. The biggest regulator to it right now is Zoodiac Drident, since it answers any face-up card. Obviously pairing Imperial Order with disruption – whether that be a monster or a trap – is more likely to yield success, but I like that Drident can sort of keep stuff like Imperial Order in check.
Future Fusion might not be as insane as it was before, but you get the same return as you did before with a little bit of patience. If Future Fusion can survive for just a turn you’ll get the benefit you want out of it, and with a strategy like Infernoids that payoff can be huge. Infernoid Tierra doesn’t limit how many materials you can use for it, so you can dump just about every Infernoid from your deck to the grave to take advantage of them. As we saw in the finals of YCS Denver, one unanswered Future Fusion can be an easy game over. It doesn’t take additional investment, so even if your opponent does deal with it, you don’t lose much.
Last but not least, Rescue Cat saw a surprising amount of play in Denver. The new Rescue Cat negates the effects of the monster it Special Summons, so you can’t abuse stuff like Neo-Spacian Dark Panther or Uniflora, Mystical Beast of the Forest. But Peropero Cerperus has a great graveyard effect, and you can get it off Rescue Cat to grift more value after you use it as a material.
Rescue Cat still represents a one-card Naturia Beast, which can win a game on its own, or an M-X-Saber Invoker to make a Zoodiac Ratpier combo, so it’s still really powerful. Having Peropero Cerperus after you pull that off means you get more protection, which is awesome. The best part about it is that a graveyard based strategy can yard Peropero Cerperus with That Grass Looks Greener, and that means even the worst part of the engine still has synergies. In addition, Summoner Monk gives you access to Rescue Cat as well as Fairy Tail – Snow.
In 60-Card strategies, Fairy Tail – Snow’s likely the most powerful card you have next to That Grass Looks Greener. Games can be defined by whether or not you see Fairy Tail – Snow in time, so the boosted access Summoner Monk grants you is great.
The Lunalight Black Sheep and Fusion Substitute combo changed how everyone saw Zoodiacs at YCS Atlanta. By the next event, it was an absolute staple in pure Zoodiacs since it gives you such a huge advantage when you’re going first. At YCS Denver almost every strategy that ran Zoodiac Ratpier also used Fusion Substitute, and even after the Forbidden & Limited List, a Normal Summoned Zoodiac Ratpier could deliver a Daigusto Emeral and two fresh draws.
But what really shook things up was how much bigger the combo could become if you ran more copies of Fusion Substitute.
With just one more Fusion Substitute in your Main Deck, duelists could repeat the combo and draw another two cards thanks to a second Daigusto Emeral and a second Fusion Substitute. Because Daigusto Emeral lets you recycle your combo pieces, you don’t even need a third Emeral or a second Black Sheep. You could also take things a step further than that with a third Fusion Substitute, boasting a full draw seven if your hand was good enough to pull it off.
Those combos were all technically available since the release of Raging Tempest, but it doesn’t seem like they were really worked out until YCS Denver. I love when stuff like that happens because it just shows how little we actually know, and how easy it is to write off a format as “solved” when there’s so much more that can happen.
We saw a huge jump in hand traps at the UDS Invitational in Las Vegas, and with Maxx “C” moving to one per deck duelists were looking for more hand traps to get an edge. D.D. Crow came out in murders at YCS Denver, being so well rounded that it could get you an edge in just about every matchup. Hitting a Zoodiac Ratpier with D.D. Crow is pretty big when your opponent only has two of them, and it’s obviously great against graveyard based strategies which make up a large portion of the field.
Not only does D.D. Crow hit a Paleozoic from the grave, but you can also chain it to a trap so it acts as double disruption. Hitting a key Infernoid is huge, and there are so many things you can banish in the Zombie Lightsworn matchup that D.D. Crow is an absolute all-star.
What was really interesting was the increase we saw in Retaliating “C”, even in the Main Deck. As I mentioned, the Black Sheep combo was played in just about every deck that had Zoodiac Ratpier, with some dedicating a massive five cards just to the combo. Getting hit with Retaliating “C” when your opponent activates Fusion Substitute can completely turn a game around, and with most decks being built to consistently perform the combo every Turn 1, that Retaliating “C” can be the difference between winning or losing a duel.
The fact that you’re also left with a Level 4 Material can make a huge difference as well; some strategies will just use it to help them Xyz or Synchro Summon, though a strategy like Metalfoes can just destroy their Retaliating “C” with a Metalfoes Pendulum and search their only copy of Maxx “C” to completely seal a duel.
YCS Denver definitely shook things up, and I think that the advances in the Lunalight Black Sheep Fusion Substitute combo alone shows there’s more to be discovered. Things will get even crazier with the Dinosmasher’s Fury Structure Deck even before we get hit with Maximum Crisis, so who knows what will happen at YCS Bogota let alone YCS Pittsburgh.