There was no way we weren’t gonna talk about this one.
One of the cool things about tournament play since October is the sheer variety in the top decks-to-beat. While Nekroz builds were usually pretty uniform week to week, and small variations were a big deal, we’ve seen way more creativity since Nekroz got the boot. As much as Pendulum decks have often felt cookie cutter, the opposite’s actually been true; while those decks had a definite core of important three-ofs, we saw lots of different decisions about card counts and specific tech choices.
We saw drastically different variants of Draco Pals all through the last format; engines like Guiding Ariadne with Archfiend Eccentrick, Armageddon Knight plus Dark monsters, and even offbeat variants with Magicians and weird Performapal choices were all popular. Numbers varied wildly: some people played three Vector Pendulum, the Dracoverlord while others played two, with or without Painful Decision or Rescue Rabbit; some players totally ignored Performapal Silver Claw and Performapal Secondonkey, while others played three of one or both; Twin Twisters, Trap Holes, and Vanity’s Emptiness were all widely debated.
Fast forward to now, and we have a similar situation with Burning Abyss. Pure Burning Abyss decks and Burning Phantom Knight builds are still neck and neck, both are played with and without Speedroids, and it’s still not unheard of to see Emergency Teleport and Super Quantum Blue Layer make an appearance. Trap lineups are all over the place, and while triple Twin Twisters and Foolish Burial are must-runs everything else is up in the air when it comes to spell cards.
There’s no consensus agreement on which Malebranches are optimal, nor how many of each is best, and the doors feel really wide open for innovation. A couple weeks ago I wrote on that shocking Booby Trap E build played by Taylor Wallace at the Oklahoma Regional at the end of March, and as stunning as that deck was, we’ve seen so much creativity from Burning Abyss in the past that it was clearly just the first original build of many to come.
Now, two weeks later, YCS Houston gave us another killer Burning Abyss deck to consider. Jesse Flores’ Top 32 finish spotlighted Sky Scourge Norleras as a sort of modern day Chaos Emperor Dragon, and drove that card from a buck-fifty to thirty dollars literally overnight. And that’s awesome. Norleras is a killer card, and while Flores played it in the final days of the previous format, it could do a ton of work in this format as well. But if you look beyond that one sensational choice there are actually at least five big tech picks that made Flores’ deck unique, as well as some interesting numbers that gave his strategy a different slant.
Check it out for yourself, and then we’ll talk about everything point by point on the other side. Take your time giving this one a read – there’s more going on than you might suspect.
Jesse Flores’ Norleras Burning Abyss
Top 32, YCS Houston 2016
3 Alich, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss
1 Barbar, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss
3 Calcab, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss
2 Cir, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss
3 Farfa, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss
3 Fiendish Rhino Warrior
1 Graff, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss
1 Libic, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss
3 Maxx “C”
1 Rubic, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss
3 Scarm, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss
2 Sky Scourge Norleras
2 Speedroid Taketomborg
3 Speedroid Terrortop
1 Tour Guide From the Underworld
1 Foolish Burial
1 Monster Reincarnation
1 Soul Charge
1 Speed Recovery
2 The Beginning of the End
3 Twin Twisters
Extra Deck: 15
3 Beatrice, Lady of the Eternal
2 Dante, Pilgrim of the Burning Abyss
3 Dante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss
1 Gaia Dragon, the Thunder Charger
1 Leviair the Sea Dragon
1 Number 47: Nightmare Shark
1 Number F0: Utopic Future
1 Super Quantal Mech Beast Grampulse
1 Totem Bird
1 Virgil, Rock Star of the Burning Abyss
Side Deck: 15
1 D/D/D Duo-Dawn King Kali Yuga
2 Effect Veiler
2 Enemy Controller
2 Flying “C”
3 Fog King
1 Mischief of the Gnomes
1 Stellarknight Constellar Diamond
1 System Down
2 Xyz Universe
It’s always good to start with the elephant in the room. Sky Scourge Norleras is a tremendous monster that’s appeared in a variety of strategies in the past. It’s usually played with Phantom of Chaos, sending it to the graveyard and then mimicking its effect.
That combo’s been a part of many different strategies, from Hopeless Dragon variants dating back almost nine years, to recent builds of Fluffal Burning Abyss in just the past few weeks. But this might the first time that I’ve ever seen someone run Norleras without Phantom, looking to actually Summon it. While the Fluffal BA deck could pull that off on rare occasion, it never actually planned to do it, and that makes Jesse Flores’ build unique.
The other factor that sets Flores’ deck apart from the rest is that it’s actually been proven to work. We’ve seen Fluffal Burning Abyss win WCQ invites and almost top Regionals this year, but that kind of performance is miles behind a Top 32 showing at a big YCS. Look closely and you’ll see that Flores did a lot of things differently from his contemporaries; those finer points were really what made this deck successful.
But First, The Basics
Special Summoning Sky Scourge Norleras means jumping through a few hoops, namely loading your graveyard. You need to banish three Dark Fiends and one Light Fairy from your yard to unleash the beast, and for Flores that would usually mean three Malebranches. Tour Guide from the Underworld fits the bill as well, and with Foolish Burial, Dante, and Beatrice sending cards to the graveyard, accruing three Dark Fiends is no problem.
Historically it’s always been the Light Fairy requirement that keeps Norleras off the table, but Beatrice fixes that. A Light Fairy herself, she also draws in Dante, Pilgrim of the Burning Abyss, ensuring an ample supply of Fairy fodder. Flores could’ve run Mechquipped Angineer as a backup plan, but he didn’t, and that speaks volumes about his confidence in Beatrice and Pilgrim. Though Flores couldn’t drop Norleras until he Summoned Beatrice and then lost her to the graveyard, it’s interesting to consider what that means for this strategy in relation to other Burning Abyss builds.
With Burning Abyss variants seeing more and more play every week since Beatrice was released, any chance to either out-speed or outlast your opponent in the mirror is a big deal. We’ve seen Burning Abyss duelists go the distance with The Traveler and the Burning Abyss, played to resurrect a full field of Malebranches when your opponent actually manages to push through Beatrice. It’s a good plan, and can win games outright by demolishing your opponent in resources and card advantage. But you can only use Traveler to maximum effect in very specific situations and it’s generally only useful when you’re losing. Since it needs to be set and then needs to survive past the loss of your field to really be worth anything, your opponent can cut it off with Mystical Space Typhoon or Twin Twisters. It either hits big or fizzles out entirely.
Norleras occupies a similar space: since you can’t Summon it without a Beatrice or a Pilgrim in your graveyard it’s effectively a backup plan for when your opponent breaks through Beatrice. You wait for your opponent to expend their resources, set up with some Malebranches, and then blow up the world with Norleras. From there you draw a card and claim any of your Malebranche and Dante effects you triggered, and usually dominate the game from that point forward as your opponent struggles to topdeck.
It’s not even a bad plan in the mirror match, because if you present a Beatrice there’s a good chance your opponent will need to waste several Malebranches to push through it. That free draw and your ability to make decisions before choosing when to crack off Norleras’ ability all works in your favor to create a one-sided effect.
And while The Traveler and the Burning Abyss needs to be activated under specific conditions to really work, you can hold Norleras until its ability’s favorable, or you can chuck it to the field as a 2400 ATK beater to close out a longer game. It’s got arguably much higher utility since it’s not limited to being used as a “ break glass if you’re losing” type contingency card. But it’s not a simple comparison. Part of Flores’ brilliance was that he took special measures to support Norleras, leveraging smart card choices that worked not just with his Sky Scourge, but also the rest of his deck.
Holding It All Together
Two cards really let Flores lean into the Norleras game plan: Monster Reincarnation’s the obvious one, but Gaia Dragon, the Thunder Charger’s the more subtle back-up.
Using Foolish Burial or Beatrice, Lady of the Eternal to send Sky Scourge Norleras to the graveyard, Flores could Monster Reincarnation to get it to his hand whenever he wanted it. Reincarnation’s great here because you can mitigate the impact of its cost, just by discarding a Malebranche and triggering its effect. There are actually countless situations where that discard could work in Flores’ favor by triggering a needed ability, and in a pinch it could even set him up with a third Dark Fiend to banish. It’s great for reusing Tour Guide from the Underworld and Speedroid Terrortop, too, and Flores could abuse that Terrortop search effect a second time since he played two copies of Speedroid Taketomborg.
But the entire plan falls apart if you can’t stick Beatrice or Dante, Pilgrim of the Burning Abyss in the graveyard, and it’s really no secret that lots of players are searching for ways to remove Beatrice without triggering her effect. One of the most common ways to achieve that in the mirror match is to Enemy Controller your opponent’s Beatrice and then overlay it with Gaia Dragon, the Thunder Charger so you don’t have to give it back. At that point it doesn’t matter what your opponent does; even if they had some way to destroy Beatrice as an Xyz Material, her effect wouldn’t go off because she’s no longer in your opponent’s “possession.”
But Flores flipped the script, running a Gaia Dragon of his own to protect his Beatrice much like how Downerd Magician is often played to protect the Rank 3 Dante. By turning Beatrice into an Xyz Material you may lose out on her effects, but you guarantee that she’ll hit the graveyard no matter what happens to Gaia Dragon; valuable if you’ve got Norleras in hand. Meanwhile Gaia Dragon, the Thunder Charger also brings piercing damage to the strategy when Beatrice can’t get the job done alone, adding yet another win condition to the Burning Abyss arsenal. Flores did a great job ensuring that his Norleras would be live.
But that wasn’t all. He made more innovative choices packing Speed Recovery and two The Beginning of the End as well, making the most of his Speedroids and really playing that second Taketomborg to the hilt. As a Monster Reborn With Benefits, Speed Recovery nets you a second search with Terrortop and lands you with another 1-for-1 Rank 3 play that won’t eat your Normal Summon. Then it gets you another free card a turn later with its banish effect, and if you happen to mill it with Dante it’s more free card advantage.
The Beginning of the End seems ambitious in a deck that already wants to banish trios of Dark monsters for Sky Scourge Norleras, but you can see what Flores was going for. In any matchup where the opponent has graveyard-live cards and might out-resource you off your own Norleras, The Beginning’s going to do one of two things: it either gives you an alternate use for all the Burning Abyss monsters you’re stacking up, offering you a sheer volume of cards that wins the game then and there; or it gets you so much card advantage that it digs you toward Norlers, and grants you more trigger effects to combo with it and make a win.
I think two copies of The Beginning in a 42-card deck might have been a bit much, and it might’ve kept Flores from an even better finish. But at least one copy seems worth considering, especially since players are getting better and better at teching against Burning Abyss and games are going longer. It’s a great contingency plan in a competitive scene where your opponents are getting smarter about beating Beatrice – if their plan is to run the game out and play to a slower pace that mitigates the explosive play patterns of the average Burning Abyss deck, then The Beginning of the End reverses that momentum like a judo throw.
From there it’s worth noting a few of the specific card counts Flores played. Triple Farfa, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss is becoming a staple, and I personally wouldn’t imagine playing any BA deck with just two copies; it’s handsdown the most valuable Malebranche for Beatrice plays, deflecting threats and clearing the field for your attacks. The one-ofs and two-ofs are all axiomatic choices too.
More interesting is the trio of Calcab, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss, and the three copies of Alich, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss. Though Flores’ deck is unique in that it runs absolutely no trap cards, bigger backrows are becoming the new norm, and Calcab’s ability to punt an opposing trap off the field is often key to a Burning Abyss duelist’s success. Combined with a single Twin Twisters you can knock out three backrows before making a game-winning push, and all it takes is one specific card from your hand since Calcab’s so easily searched.
Running three copies of Calcab makes it much easier to just draw into it, so you can use it as an Xyz Material for Dante, then Beatrice something else from your deck. Generally speaking we’re seeing a trend where Burning Abyss duelists have a higher chance to win the more they can resolve Farfa, Calcab, and Alich effects.
Speaking of, Beatrice turns Alich into a free Effect Veiler, and that’s often more useful than Calcab’s backrow hate. Flores effectively maxed out on the nine Malebranches that tend to win the most games off of Beatrice, hence his specific counts of Burning Abyss cards. With triple Maxx “C” and six Malebranches that turn Beatrice into monster hate, he could afford to skip trap cards and know he wouldn’t cost himself many games in doing so.
Packed with surprises and playing a better long game than virtually any Burning Abyss variant out there, Jesse Flores’ Norleras Burning Abyss feels a few weeks ahead of its time. This one might actually get better with time, so if you’ve been experimenting with Burning Abyss variants yourself you should definitely give it a shot. There’s a lot of cool stuff in the mix, and even if you don’t want to play all of Flores’ tech choices you can pick and choose the ones you want and probably wind up with an edge over more conventional builds.
Is this a smart new version of Burning Abyss, or is Norleras simply inferior with more players running Burning Abyss themselves? Let me know your thoughts down below.