The 'Big 5' | The Irish Duelist

The 'Big 5'

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In less than a fortnight the biggest weekend of the year will decide almost all of the qualification spots for this year's Yu-Gi-Oh! World Championship in Tokyo. With all the smaller National Championships out of the way since late April, the following events will add several names to the attendance list in Japan, with the US National Championship held afterward:

European Championship
Latin American Continental Championship
Australian National Championship
Canadian National Championship

Given the lack of large-scale tournaments and subsequent coverage in the aftermath of the legal battles between Konami and Upper Deck these events will show the world what decks are on top and greatly influence the remainder of the format.

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After over a year of 'run this or lose'-type formats we finally have a diverse meta with many decks capable of winning or at least topping a major tournament. According to most players, the meta is split five ways, with Blackwings, Lightsworn and Cat Synchro being the aggressors, Gladiators and Skill Drain being the more defensive and interruptive decks. The Synchro mechanic is still very potent in most of these and continues to swing games or even end them with Dark Strike Fighter, a card that has had as devestating an effect on the game as Cyber-Stein, according to some.

Counting Crows
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The deck that many have tipped for the top is Blackwings, recently given a huge competitive boost by Raging Battle. The archetype is home to the increasingly popular Blackwing - Gale the Whirlwind and aims to end games as swiftly as TeleDaD did in the previous format. While undeniably powerful in terms of aggression (and greatly assisted by Dark Strike Fighter) there are some downsides that can be taken advantage of. The deck is fairly limited in terms of construction options for the time being as, despite the addition of several cards from Raging Battle, there are still only 5-6 playable Blackwing monsters with only 4 of them (Gale, Shura, Kalut, Sirocco) worth running in triplicate most of the time. There is also the fact that any attempt to swarm the field will usually eat up your hand so most players will resort to Reckless Greeds and similar options in order to hopefully win the game before their opponent can mount a comeback. As a result, most decks will follow the same lineup which makes playing against them a little bit easier, and the mirror-match being less about skill than luck of the draw(s).

Bright Spark
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The next most popular deck in the game right now is Lightsworn, still considered by many to be the 'nearly there' deck as it has yet to win a major tournament on North American soil (despite winning many National Championships this year, and topping numerous other events aswell). It has replaced TeleDaD as the 'money deck' of the game but it failed to replicate the dominance that the decktype had over everything before being obliterated in the most recent banlist change. Lightsworn came out of that list unscathed and also added Chaos Sorcerer to their ranks. As a result, the deck has changed very little since the release of Charge of the Light Brigade last August. This is partly down to the unwillingness (or inability) of players to change and innovate but the main concern is the deck's inherent flaws regarding construction and actual play. In order to get the Lightsworn engine up and running anything up to 30 cards are needed, and that's before you add the 'staples' of Heavy Storm, Monster Reborn etc. Also, despite having the most reliable draw/search engine in the game and the ability to summon three of Yu-Gi-Oh!'s most devestating forces (Judgment Dragon, Dark Armed Dragon and Dark Strike Fighter) the inherent 'milling' power of the deck is both its greatest asset and its most crippling feature. Because of this milling, the deck can never be completely consistant and will always have to rely on both good draws and good mills to succeed. That being said, they can pull wins out of nowhere, dominate from the get-go and wipe the field clean at any given time.

Coming in from the East
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The latest powerhouse deck to hit the TCG is one that has been dominating in Japan for quite some time now: Synchro Cat. With the release of X-Saber Airbellum in the 2009 Starter Deck we finally have the tuner that 'breaks' Rescue Cat but as this is still a relatively new decktype in the TCG a lot of kinks have to be ironed out before it can replicate its Asian counterparts. For a start we are missing some of the key Level 5/6 Synchros that make the OCG version a real threat. There is also the problem of a lack of a pre-made 'engine' that can set things up and help with the deck construction process. Unlike Lightsworn and other decks, you are stuck with your opening six cards and can't really 'dig' into the deck for immediate answers by drawing, searching or 'tagging out'. The deck also doesn't aim to dominate with Level 8 Synchros like TeleDaD did, but rather with Level 7's, even if there are only 3 major ones in the TCG right now (Black Rose Dragon, Dark Strike Fighter and Arcanite Magician). However, even the basic OCG build minus the exclusive Synchros has many tricks up its sleeve with multiple Mind Controls and relatively easy access to Tuners through Summoner Monk and Rescue Cat. It can also function well under Cold Wave and take care of most opposing threats with its varied lineup. Only time will tell though if the deck can compete in its current incomplete state or if it will be brushed aside until new releases add more pieces to the puzzle.

De-throned again, but still fighting
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Before the release of Raging Battle, Gladiator Beasts were locked in a war with Lightsworn, with neither really taking the top spot in the format. The limitation on Gladiator Beast Bestiari has taken away the aggressive explosiveness that allowed it to decome one of the strongest decks in the history of the game and left it struggling for a slice of the top-table pie. Being the only major deck that is unable to abuse Dark Armed Dragon and Dark Strike Fighter on a consistent basis doesn't help either. The release of Gladiator Beast Samnite in Crimson Crisis has helped a lot though, and X-Saber Arbellum gives players another reason to main-deck as many copies of Rescue Cat (two) as legally possible. The deck is still the most controlling of the lot with quick and easy answers to every on-field threat and some of the most reliable support the game has ever seen but the game may have gotten too fast for them now. Stardust Dragon is still the ever-present threat it was, but you can only have so many answers before your opponent drops that one card you can't handle and takes the game away from you. Many experienced players have stated that the current form of Gladiators (Secutor-based, with reliance on Rescue Cat) is not the way to go and that the archetype needs to either be more aggressive (Gyzarus/Prisma-based) or less complicated and more of a controlling anti-meta deck which it is well capable of doing.

No lack of Skill
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The final major contender for tournament success is Skill Drain Synchro, which is essentially what's left of TeleDaD and the Destiny engine. Skill Drain first appeared in TeleDaD side-decks before being shelved for the superior option of Royal Oppression. With TeleDaD now just a distant memory and more monster-reliant decks in power, Skill Drain is back and capable of taking down everything. The other 4 decks all 'die' to Skill Drain in some way or other while this deck comes out relatively unscathed. It also helps that the two most prominent Level 8 Synchros in the game (Stardust Dragon and Colossal Fighter) are unaffected by Drain and offer built-in protection in addition to the usual set of Solemn Judgments and so on. Being a TeleDaD variant it can still occasionally do things that Konami tried to eliminate, albeit with far less frequency. The main problem that many have with the deck is similar to the one that Gladiator players have: the game is very fast right now. While Skill Drain Synchro is capable of stopping most rushes with the right setup, it can't really fight back a successful assault without putting itself in danger should the opponent have another wave ready. If it gets a good setup going though, it can be hard to break through.

With such a diverse meta anything can happen during that vital weekend in this year's tournament scene. It has been well established that players will most likely lose one match due to bad luck, an opposing 'God-hand' or Dark Strike Fighter, and one more on skill, most likely in the mirror-match. Because of this, and the fact that x-2 is usually not good enough at major events, players are trying to find that edge that can push them into the top bracket. Some are merging two established ideas (usually Skill Drain/Oppression + one of the top decks) while others are quietly keeping new tech under the radar but one thing is for certain, only the most skilled/stubborn players are confident enough to take a 'standard' variant to these events and expect to top.


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