The Top 5 Coolest Decks To Win Nationals So Far

The WCQ season is always a high point in the dueling year.

Sure, it represents the payoff to a year’s worth of work for tens of thousands of competitors worldwide. There’s a ton of drama and emotion tied up in that, and that makes for some of the year’s biggest moments. But it’s also the one point in the annual competitive schedule where we see players pull out all the stops across the globe, unleashing their secret tech and challenging accepted conventions in one last bid to outwit, outskill, and outplay their opponents.

That means that every year around this time, we get to see some really cool ideas in action; the kind of stuff people hide for weeks, just waiting to spring it on their opponents. Every serious competitor wants to throw down at the World Championship this August. And seeing what tricks the world’s best duelists pull out of their sleeves isn’t just fun; it can shape the direction of competition moving forward.

This year the early National Championship events – tournaments that feed into continent-wide WCQ’s as we’re more familiar with here in North America – are more relevant than ever before. The reason is two-fold: first, we’ve seen even crazier innovation than usual; and second, we’ve got a new format going into effect tomorrow, meaning a brief power vacuum that creates a window of opportunity.

There’s some really fantastic stuff going on right now, and at the very least, you should know about it so it doesn’t surprise you when it pops up in your tournaments – especially if you’re going to a WCQ yourself. And beyond that, you might find inspiration in these cutting-edge techniques; concepts that can help you capture victory too.

With those points in mind I want to take some time today to look at what I consider to be the five most notable decks to win National Championships so far. While the deck lists themselves are out there and you may have seen them already, there’s not a lot of actual discussion going on, and I think that’s a missed chance to talk about valuable ideas.

Let’s start with the deck that hits closest to home, and one of the first big winners from this WCQ season.

Herman Hansson’s Surprisingly Pure Zoodiacs
1st Place Swedish Nationals – 43 Cards

Monsters: 20

3 Flying “C”
3 Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit
3 Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries
1 Maxx “C”
2 Zoodiac Ramram
2 Zoodiac Ratpier
3 Zoodiac Thoroughblade
3 Zoodiac Whiptail

Spells: 18
1 Book of Moon
3 Cosmic Cyclone
2 Dark Hole
3 Fire Formation – Tenki
3 My Body as a Shield
3 Pot of Desires
3 Zoodiac Barrage

Traps: 5
3 Dimensional Fissure
1 Imperial Order
1 Torrential Tribute

Extra Deck: 15
1 Brionac, Dragon of the Ice Barrier
2 Daigusto Emeral
1 Zoodiac Boarbow
3 Zoodiac Broadbull
2 Zoodiac Chakanine
3 Zoodiac Drident
1 Zoodiac Hammerkong
2 Zoodiac Tigermortar

Side Deck: 15
1 Gadarla, the Mystery Dust Kaiju
1 Gameciel, the Sea Turtle Kaiju
2 Interrupted Kaiju Slumber
1 Kumongous, the Sticky String Kaiju
2 Mirror Force
1 Radian, the Multidimensional Kaiju
2 Retaliating “C”
2 Solemn Strike
1 Solemn Warning
2 Twin Twisters

The term “Pure Zoodiacs” has been tossed around a lot since the theme debuted in Raging Tempest, but it was largely used to draw a line between Zoo variants that ran Kaijus, and the “pure” Zoo decks that didn’t. Nowadays it also sets dedicated Zoodiac builds apart from True Draco Zoodiacs, Artifact Zoodiacs, and other builds with splashable engines. For months it was simply a given that any Zoodiac variant was going to play Speedroids, and later Lunalight Black Sheep for the Fusion Substitute Elder Entity Norden combo.

So it’s kind of ridiculous, but at the same time wholly necessary, that Herman Hansson’s winning deck from the Swedish National Championship gets a “Really Pure” or “Seriously Pure” moniker, so players inundated with Speedroid Terrortops and Elder Entity Nordens would know that hey, yes, this is a Pure Zoodiac build, but it’s actually doing some very different stuff.

YCS Pittsburgh was notable for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the rise of True Draco Zoodiacs as a Championship-winning strategy. And that’s huge, don’t get me wrong; True Draco Zoo has seen a massive upswing in Regional play since that event, and that’s had a big impact in the way players are approaching competition this WCQ season. But to me, the most interesting thing to come out of that tournament was the widespread understanding of the negotiation going on in the minds of Zoodiac players, regarding various deck building decisions and the sheer power of the Lunalight Black Sheep combo.

On one hand, we saw players running second and third copies of Fusion Substitute to take what’s usually a winning opening play to even greater heights, creating combos that can be so ridiculous in terms of card economy that “plus seven” is actually a phrase that pops up in everyday discussion. There were players who Top 32’d that tournament running three Substitutes to ensure that when they went off in Game 1, they were going to head straight to Game 2.

Abuse of the Lunalight Black Sheep combo was so widespread that Dale Bellido remarked post event that he made the conscious decision to Main Deck Droll & Lock Bird, knowing that better competitors would play around it in later rounds, because he felt it would practically guarantee him a seat in Day 2. So on one hand you had players willing to trade utility and risk brick hands, just to push their combos even further into win-more territory, effectively negotiating a higher risk for higher reward. And then on the other hand you had an almost similar negotiation going on with top competitors, consciously weakening themselves in Day 2 just to ensure that they’d get through Day 1 in an environment where anybody can solitaire their way into ridiculous card advantage.

In the end a lot of players chose to run Droll & Lock Bird at Pittsburgh, and while it had already seen some play in the current format, Pittsburgh was really a breakout event for it. And in the fallout of that tournament, lots of top finishers remarked that the incredible volume of hand traps played to tackle the combo specifically, might actually lead them to abandon Black Sheep, Substitute, and Norden in future events.

So fast forward two weeks to Sweden, and suddenly we see Herman Hansson win the National Championship by doing just that and then some. While other players were siding out Lunalight Black Sheep and Fusion Substitute in Games 2 and 3 to get an edge, Hansson just skipped them entirely. His answer to the Black Sheep problem was to simply not negotiate at all, giving him a huge advantage over anyone playing cards like Retaliating “C” and Droll & Lock Bird in Game 1. The best part is that his opponents would have to carefully examine a Game 1 situation and make the leap to the unlikely conclusion that he’d decided not to run the combo, or else face the same disadvantage in Games 2 and 3 as well.

It was a surprising move that forced his opponents into unfamiliar territory, whether they realized it or not. And we’ve actually seen it work out at least once since – Melvin Torres took a similar approach at the Kissimmee Regional just a week later.

Both players opted to pass on Speedroid Terrortop as well, opting to run more copies of Zoodiac monsters and more hand traps instead. Hansson and Torres both played ten Zoodiacs total, maxing out on Zoodiac Whiptail and Zoodiac Thoroughblade, with two copies each of Zoodiac Ratpier and Zoodiac Ramram. Both played double Zoodiac Chakanine and twelve Zoodiac Xyz, tripling up on Zoodiac Broadbull and Zoodiac Drident. That decision, arguably made possible by the release of Chakanine and Zoodiac Hammerkong, actually softened the importance of Speedroids in this strategy.

There’s been a lot of talk about what will be “the next Speedroid Terrortop” in competition, with Baobaboon, Predaplant Ophrys Scorpio, and Windwitches all presenting different advantages. Baobaboon has been especially relevant as an aggressive answer to an opposing Zoodiac Drident over recent weeks. But it’s now looking more and more possible that the Speedroid role will simply disappear from Zoodiacs altogether. Food for thought as we count down the hours to the new format tomorrow.

Next up, something entirely different.

Nikola Mitic’s 60-Card Fire King Zoodiac Kozmos
1st Place Serbia Nationals – 60 Cards

Monsters: 35

3 Baobaboon
1 Fire King Avatar Garunix
1 Fire King Avatar Yaksha
3 Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit
1 Kozmo Dark Destroyer
1 Kozmo Dark Eclipser
1 Kozmo Delta Shuttle
1 Kozmo Farmgirl
2 Kozmo Forerunner
2 Kozmo Landwalker
3 Kozmo Sliprider
2 Kozmo Soartroopers
2 Kozmo Strawman
1 Kozmo Tincan
1 Kozmoll Dark Lady
1 Lunalight Black Sheep
1 Maxx “C”
1 Speedroid Taketomborg
3 Speedroid Terrortop
2 Zoodiac Ratpier
2 Zoodiac Whiptail

Spells: 23
2 Dark Hole
1 Emergency Teleport
2 Fire King Island
1 Fusion Substitute
3 Kozmotown
2 Pot of Desires
1 Raigeki
3 Set Rotation
3 Terraforming
3 Twin Twisters
2 Zoodiac Barrage

Traps: 2
1 Dimensional Barrier
1 Kozmojo

Extra Deck: 15
1 Cyber Dragon Infinity
1 Cyber Dragon Nova
1 Daigusto Emeral
1 Elder Entity Norden
1 Leviair the Sea Dragon
1 M-X-Saber Invoker
1 The Phantom Knights of Break Sword
1 Totem Bird
2 Zoodiac Broadbull
1 Zoodiac Chakanine
2 Zoodiac Drident
1 Zoodiac Hammerkong
1 Zoodiac Tigermortar

Side Deck: 15
1 Dimensional Barrier
1 Dogoran, the Mad Flame Kaiju
3 Flying “C”
1 Imperial Order
2 Interrupted Kaiju Slumber
2 Kozmo Dark Planet
1 Kumongous, the Sticky String Kaiju
1 Radian, the Multidimensional Kaiju
2 Solemn Strike
1 Solemn Warning

It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen a competitive finish from Kozmos here in the TCG, but the deck saw considerable play in the OCG at various times over the past few months. With the expectation that Kozmos weren’t viable in current competition, Nikola Mitic managed to turn a lot of heads when he used a Fire King Zoodiac variant to win the Serbian National Championship; and with a 60-card build no less.

There are a lot of observations to make about this strategy, as well as a few questions that we’ll get to in a bit. The deck effectively uses some new-ish tricks to smoothly unite Kozmos and Zoodiacs, as it looks to accomplish two goals: it presents bigger Fields on Turn 1 than either strategy could alone, and it presses through backrow with a longer string of aggressive moves.

On the set-up side, this deck is optimized to start its plays with Special Summons instead of Normal Summons – a necessity if it’s going to do everything it sets out to accomplish. On the Kozmo side that’s achieved with Fire King Island, and on the Zoodiac side the deck uses two copies of the expected Zoodiac Barrage, but skips Fire Formation – Tenki in favor of triple Baobaboon.

Destroying Baobaboon from hand with Fire King Island to make M-X-Saber Invoker is a more complicated play than searching Zoodiac Ratpier with Fire Formation – Tenki and then Normal Summoning it, but it opens up the chance to spend that Normal Summon on Kozmos instead. The end result is a deck that can make traditional Zoodiac fields like Zoodiac Drident plus Daigusto Emeral, and then add a big beater or Kozmo Tincan for more free cards over time, protecting it with Drident. Cyber Dragon Infinity’s a possibility as well, so the deck can make a wider range of controlling openings than standard Zoo, or a pure Kozmo build.

The strategy runs 60 cards in large part to fit everything needed to make that happen, though I think Mitic was also preparing to see decks with That Grass Looks Greener – his tournament report included Paleozoic Frog matchups, which he would’ve had an advantage against. While those decks are largely dead and gone in North America, they were clearly still a concern in Serbia. But Mitic needed some extra enablers to make his ambitious strategy consistent with a 60-card deck size.

That largely manifested in his spell lineup, where he ran triple Kozmotown and double Fire King Island, backed by triple Terraforming and triple Set Rotation. It helped to ensure that he’d get to the right Field Spells at the right time, offering almost as much of a chance to open with one of those cards as a deck running five Field Spells and just three searchers in 40 cards, but also offering greater precision in choosing between the two. Set Rotation and Baobaboon are really the glue that holds this thing together.

Set Rotation works especially well here for other reasons as well. It was commonly played in Kozmos in the OCG since it has synergy with Kozmotown; if you stick your opponent with a copy and then destroy it, you get the search. It even thins an extra card from your deck, helping to compensate for that 60-card deck size. The deck’s actually more consistent than it looks.

Which all begs the question: would this strategy be worth playing in a format where there’s no Elder Entity Norden to draw extra cards with, and no That Grass Looks Greener to outplay by running 60 cards? On one hand this deck is being hailed as an example of a 60-card deck not running Greener, giving hope for 60-card decks post-Monday. But it hinges on Speedroid Terrortop’s Special Summon, and to some lesser extent the draw power of the Lunalight Black Sheep combo and the advantage of playing against That Grass Looks Greener.

At the very least, many of the ideas here can carry over to the new format. There’s a lot of merit to the combination of Zoodiacs and Kozmos by way of Baobaboon and Fire King Island, and at the same time the use of Set Rotation to support that combo vouches for that card’s merit too, in a very general sense. Set Rotation could be really powerful in a format that may wind up being dominated by Dragonic Diagram (which Set Rotation can preempt). The deck’s low reliance on both conventional traps and hand traps is notable as well, and its ability to push harder and more repeatedly than anything else out there suggests an approach to competition that’s very uncommon these days.

Is some form of this deck viable in the next format? That’s up in the air. But it’s packed with tiny lessons and proofs that seem valuable. Let’s take a look at something a little more conventional for our next one.

Eder Alonso Vinagre’s True Draco Zoodiacs
1st Place Spain Nationals – 43 Cards

Monsters: 22

3 Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring
1 Dinomight Knight, the True Dracofighter
3 Flying “C”
1 Lunalight Black Sheep
3 Master Peace, the True Dracoslaying King
1 Maxx “C”
1 Speedroid Taketomborg
3 Speedroid Terrortop
2 Zoodiac Ramram
2 Zoodiac Ratpier
1 Zoodiac Thoroughblade
1 Zoodiac Whiptail

Spells: 18
3 Dragonic Diagram
3 Fire Formation – Tenki
1 Fusion Substitute
1 Instant Fusion
1 Raigeki
1 Soul Charge
3 Terraforming
2 True Draco Heritage
3 Zoodiac Barrage

Traps: 3
1 Imperial Order
2 True King’s Return

Extra Deck: 15
1 Abyss Dweller
2 Daigusto Emeral
1 Elder Entity Norden
1 M-X-Saber Invoker
1 Tornado Dragon
1 Zoodiac Boarbow
2 Zoodiac Broadbull
2 Zoodiac Chakanine
2 Zoodiac Drident
1 Zoodiac Hammerkong
1 Zoodiac Tigermortar

Side Deck: 15
3 Anti-Spell Fragrance
3 Cosmic Cyclone
2 Dimensional Barrier
3 Droll & Lock Bird
2 Gameciel, the Sea Turtle Kaiju
2 Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit

True Draco Zoodiacs have been everywhere since Aaron Furman won YCS Pittsburgh, but they’ve been pretty formulaic across the board: they’ve all played two, maybe three copies of Master Peace, the True Dracoslaying King, backed up by triple Dragonic Diagram, a True Draco Heritage, and a True King’s Return. Sure, we’ve seen flex spots used for different cards: Baobaboon, Blackwing – Zephyros the Elite, and a wealth of different hand traps have all been popular. But the core Draco engine has been pretty static.

Eder Alonso Vinagre threw those norms out the window when he won the Spanish National Championship, running an extra copy each of True Draco Heritage and True King’s Return, triple Master Peace, and then going so far as to run a Dinomight Knight, the True Dracofighter – a card we almost never see outside of more dedicated Demise True Draco variants.

The use of Dinomight Knight and the addition of more cards for it to search makes the True Draco engine more robust in the face of disruption, offers more longevity for your disruptive plays by giving you more ammo, and opens up the possibility of more diversified plays. The philosophy here is kind of similar to the Serbian Zoodiac Kozmo deck, just offering more sheer power to press through disruption so you can be sure that your plays will stick. The overall cost of three deck slots isn’t all that high: Vinagre literally just ran 43 cards to make room for what he needed, and the result was essentially a Championship win.

As more and more True Draco Zoo decks start to see high-level play, the ability to outperform in the mirror and defy your opponent’s expectations in other matchups becomes more and more important. It seems that Vinagre found an incredibly simple way to accomplish that, and I expect to see the technique mimicked in the future. There was an upswing in sales of all three cards this past week, and while that suggests more people may be building Demise True Dracos, it could also demonstrate some interest in decks like the Spanish Champion’s.

Filippo Pura’s Yang Zing True King Dinos
1st Place Swiss Nationals – 45 Cards

Monsters: 30

3 Babycerasaurus
1 Bi’an, Earth of the Yang Zing
1 Bixi, Water of the Yang Zing
2 Chiwen, Light of the Yang Zing
1 Dogoran, the Mad Flame Kaiju
3 Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit
2 Jurrac Aeolo
1 Maxx “C”
3 Miscellaneousaurus
2 Petiteranodon
1 Retaliating “C”
3 Souleating Oviraptor
1 Suanni, Fire of the Yang Zing
1 True King Agnimazud, the Vanisher
1 True King Bahrastos, the Fathomer
3 True King Lithosagym, the Disaster
1 Ultimate Conductor Tyranno

Spells: 14
2 Cosmic Cyclone
1 Dark Hole
3 Dragonic Diagram
3 Fossil Dig
1 Instant Fusion
3 Terraforming
1 Yang Zing Path

Traps: 1
1 Nine Pillars of Yang Zing

Extra Deck: 15
1 Abyss Dweller
1 Ancient Fairy Dragon
1 Baxia, Brightness of the Yang Zing
1 Crystal Wing Synchro Dragon
2 Denglong, First of the Yang Zing
1 Elder Entity Norden
1 Evolzar Dolkka
1 Evolzar Laggia
1 Herald of the Arc Light
1 T.G. Hyper Librarian
1 Tornado Dragon
1 True King of All Calamities
1 Ultimaya Tzolkin
1 Yazi, Evil of the Yang Zing

Side Deck: 15
1 Dark Hole
2 Dimensional Barrier
2 Droll & Lock Bird
2 Flying “C”
2 Forbidden Chalice
1 Gameciel, the Sea Turtle Kaiju
1 Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit
1 Interrupted Kaiju Slumber
1 Kumongous, the Sticky String Kaiju
2 Xyz Encore

Doug Zeeff has hosted some great discussions lately discussing the inherent challenges facing True King Dinosaurs, and how the addition of a Yang Zing engine solves them. The argument makes a lot of sense and goes something like this: True King Dinosaurs already make Denglong, First of the Yang Zing on a regular basis, because they use it as Xyz Material for True King of All Calamities. That’s a fact; the play of Souleating Oviraptor into Miscellaneousaurus for Jurrac Aeolo to make Denglong is extremely common, and it’s a great way to get that extra Level 9 you need to make Calamities. The premise is that right now, True King Dinosaur players are making Denglongs all the time and not taking full advantage of it. Playing a Yang Zing engine corrects that.

When Denglong hits the field it can search a Yang Zing card from your deck, and it can also Special Summon a Yang Zing monster when it leaves the field. But you can’t use either of those abilities if you don’t run any Yang Zings. Meanwhile True King Dinosaur decks lose because they run a ton of potentially dead cards, some of which aren’t even necessary but see play for lack of other options. Conventional builds focus on a very limited spread of plays on Turn 1, and if they can’t hit those combos it just throws up its short little t-rex arms and flails around.

The addition of more Synchro plays with a small Yang Zing engine and some Synchros opens up a wealth of options, helping the deck stay nimble, reactive, and more consistent in its openings. Filippo Pura won the Swiss National Championship by recognizing that, playing one copy each of Bi’an, Earth of the Yang Zing; Bixi, Water of the Yang Zing; Suanni, Fire of the Yang Zing; and two Chiwen, Light of the Yang Zing. Throw in a copy of Nine Pillars of Yang Zing and a fistful of Synchros, and suddenly you have a strong set of alternative plays that can reinforce or even replace True King Dinosaurs’ usual combos.

True King Lithosagym, the Disaster has remained one of the bestselling cards in the game, and it’s no secret that there are tons of Dinosaur duelists champing at the bit to recommit themselves to the strategy when Elder Entity Norden and Speedroid Terrortop are gone. Filippo Pura had to contend with a metagame where those cards were still available, and he STILL won his Nationals! If that’s not testament to the potential here, I don’t know what would be.

Finally, one of my favorite Nationals-winning decks may be one of the least relevant moving forward, but it’s still worth a nod.

Noah Assouline’s Awesome Zoodiacs
1st Place Malta Nationals – 43 Cards

Monsters: 30

3 Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring
3 Droll & Lock Bird
1 Gameciel, the Sea Turtle Kaiju
3 Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit
2 Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries
1 Kumongous, the Sticky String Kaiju
1 Lunalight Black Sheep
1 Maxx “C”
1 Speedroid Taketomborg
3 Speedroid Terrortop
3 Tin Goldfish
1 Zoodiac Ramram
2 Zoodiac Ratpier
2 Zoodiac Thoroughblade
3 Zoodiac Whiptail

Spells: 13
1 Dark Hole
3 Fire Formation – Tenki
2 Fusion Substitute
3 Instant Fusion
1 Raigeki
3 Zoodiac Barrage

Extra Deck: 15
1 Bahamut Shark
2 Daigusto Emeral
1 Elder Entity Norden
1 M-X-Saber Invoker
1 Toadally Awesome
1 Tornado Dragon
1 Zoodiac Boarbow
2 Zoodiac Broadbull
1 Zoodiac Chakanine
2 Zoodiac Drident
1 Zoodiac Hammerkong
1 Zoodiac Tigermortar

Side Deck: 15
3 Cosmic Cyclone
1 Dark Hole
3 Dimensional Barrier
3 Flying “C”
1 Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries
1 Imperial Order
1 Interrupted Kaiju Slumber
1 Jizukiru, the Star Destroying Kaiju
1 My Body as a Shield

A lot of these winning strategies have revolved around a philosophy of more consistent openings that pack more variety and more power. Nowhere was this more evident than the Malta National Championship, where Noah Assouline added three cards to an otherwise standard Pure Zoodiac deck and instantly opened up the chance to make superior Turn 1 fields.

The secret ingredient? Tin Goldfish.

Like Nikola Mitic’s Zoodiac Kozmo deck, this strategy aimed to exceed the expected power level of a standard Zoodiac build. By using Tin Goldfish and Elder Entity Norden as Level 4 Water monsters, Assouline could make variations on standard Zoodiac plays and then roll in a Bahamut Shark and Toadally Awesome. He could end with fields of Zoodiac Drident, Shark, and one of the best control cards in the game, and because he relied on Tin Goldfish to do that, he wasn’t really sacrificing anything in the process.

While some alternative plays might consume a Normal Summon and force a player to Special Summon their combo-starting Zoodiac by way of M-X-Saber Invoker or Zoodiac Barrage, Tin Goldfish comes packed with a Special Summoning effect. So if you have to Tenki into Zoodiac Ratpier, you’re still making your regular plays; you’re just ending with a way better field. Add in triple Instant Fusion – a card that isn’t bad in the first place – and Assouline had a ton of access to his extended combos. He gave up trap cards = to make that happen, but in the end, a Bahamut Shark and a Toadally Awesome’s going to be more effective than something like Dimensional Barrier in virtually every matchup anyways. It’s almost a wonder that nobody tried it before.

With Elder Entity Norden Forbidden as of this week, would it be worthwhile for Zoodiac players to continue running Instant Fusion for cards like Thousand-Eyes Restrict and Sea Monster of Theseus, and then run Rare Fish to take the place of Norden as a Level 4 Water? Maybe not. But Assouline deserves a tip of the hat for taking this format all the way to the brink and finding some killer innovation at the end of the ride.

So what do you think? We’re going to see even more Nationals results as soon as tonight, including decks from this weekend’s UK Championships. Which Nationals decks do you think are the most relevant heading into the new format? Which ones impressed you the most personally.

Let us know down in the comments, and good luck in the new format!

-Jason Grabher-Meyer

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