A Post-Unicore Meta

Hey everybody, I’m back for the first time in a couple of weeks. Now that the ban list is officially in effect we’ve got a lot of things that we can talk about. Given that the format has changed so little since Nekroz came out in February, the game has been kind of bland for a couple of months. I think that the absence of Nekroz changes format more than the entire rest of the ban list does. Allow me to explain:


Let’s start by asking why exactly were Nekroz such a good deck? They had a somewhat high ceiling, but certainly nothing like many decks of the past. They had a maximum of three plays per turn, each of which could have a decent amount of impact on the game. Other decks in the meta had a comparable amount of plays and Nekroz weren’t so over the top more powerful than everything else. Other decks could still compete and that’s why we saw decks besides Nekroz still topping, even though Nekroz was pretty clear-cut the best deck.


nekroz of unicoreThe real power of Nekroz was derived in how it restricted the metagame. Specifically I mean how it restricted the extra deck. Every single card in Nekroz was designed to make the extra deck irrelevant. Unicore negated, Clausolas negated, Brionac bounced.


This puts some serious restrictions on the ceiling of the format. I’ve had tons of ideas with incredibly high ceilings that were still terrible in the context of that particular format, because even though I can do absolutely anything and everything that I want with my extra deck, the Extra deck is inherently weaker than all Nekroz cards. It doesn’t matter how much you could do with the extra deck or how consistently you could do it, because Nekroz will be better than every single extra-deck strategy. In a head-to-head bout between Nekroz and an extra deck strategy, Nekroz would win every time. This makes the ceiling for a format with Nekroz in it have a cap. Where traditionally deckbuilding has been about how much you can do and how readily you can do it, the presence of Nekroz in the meta capped that at how much you can do and how readily you can do it with your main deck, since extra deck options were weaker than all Nekroz cards.


DarkHoleSYE-NA-C-1EUnicore was particularly troublesome because it stopped all extra deck effects from killing it before the battle phase and every time you put it on the field with Kaleidoscope you could search Valkyrus to protect it outside of the battle phase. This makes any deck relying on the extra deck so much worse, because decks don’t just have engine outs in their main deck that can remove Unicore from the field. That’s usually the job of the extra deck, the exact thing that Unicore made irrelevant. If you can’t use your extra deck to clear Unicore and you can’t attack over Unicore, you aren’t getting over Unicore without a card like Dark Hole.


Burning Abyss cards work well with other Burning Abyss cards. Nekroz cards work well with other Nekroz cards. Shaddoll cards work well with other Shaddoll cards. No matter what deck I’m playing, I want my engine to be able to address the issue, but every deck that relied on the extra deck could not do that when the issue was Unicore. They can’t bounce it away with Castel or attack over it with Virgil.


Having to resort to cards like Dark Hole is an inherently inferior strategy to being able to deal with problems by using engine cards like Virgil in Burning Abyss. Why? Because I don’t have to draw Virgil. If my Burning Abyss deck is doing what I built it to do then I can access Virgil. It’s very generic and highly accessible. Contrast that with something like Dark Hole. I have to draw that specific card if I intend on outing Unicore.


Doesn’t it just sound like you’re going to be in a bad position if you have to draw a card in order to out a card that they can just readily search? If, for arguments sake, they can always search Unicore and put it on the field and you need to draw a specific card that can’t be searched then sometimes you’re going to get it and sometimes you’re not going to get it. They’re inherently in a better position coming in because they can search something at any point that you can’t search an out to and have to hope to draw into one.


The other problem with cards like Dark Hole is that they themselves are inferior cards. Cards like Dark Hole don’t advance my game state. I care about detaching Graph or setting Falco because they put me further ahead in the game. Cards like Dark Hole only take away from your opponent. Yes, by comparison you’re getting ahead either way, but specialing a Burning Abyss or summoning a Construct is inherently better than clearing your opponents field.


mirror forceAll plus 1s are not created equally. Destroy an opponent’s monster is not as good as me having an extra monster. They both give me one additional card, but having an extra monster is better. Why? You can’t attack for game with Mirror Force. You can clear their field, but can never attack for game by flipping Mirror Force on their monsters (well, maybe with the new Ring of Destruction-like Mirror Force, but you know what I mean). The opposite isn’t true. If I give myself an extra monster on the field, I am getting closer to actually winning and reducing my opponent’s life points to zero. They have to deal with the threat of dying from it over X amount of turns, whereas flipping Mirror Force for a plus 1 doesn’t have the same threat. That is to say, it’s better to have an extra card than to take away an extra card from your opponent.


Bringing that back to the problem that Unicore created, Unicore forced all decks relying on their extra deck into running inherently subpar alternatives since Unicore couldn’t be outted with an engine card. Dark Hole or any replacement that outs Unicore takes away from my opponent, something that is inherently worse than giving to me. Dark Hole or any replacement that outs Unicore must also be drawn, whereas Unicore can be searched. Sure, you’ll draw the out sometimes, but it also means that there will be a certain number of games where they can search Unicore and you won’t have drawn the out and do not have a way to search an out.


The resulting effect is that Unicore’s mere presence in the format made all decks relying on the extra deck worse than all decks not relying on the extra deck because decks that relied on the extra deck were forced into making inherently inferior deck choices to Nekroz, because outing Unicore was a necessity to play the game.


So what are the implications of a Unicore-free meta? First of all, the ceiling of the upcoming format should be much higher because you can effectively use your extra deck again. It’s back to being about how much you can do and how readily you can do it, not how much and how readily with your main deck. This has serious implications and I think most people are undervaluing the potential impact this will have. We haven’t been able to effectively use the extra deck in nearly a year. Being able to use it again might mean that all sorts of older strategies may be able to unexpectedly do well.


The other implication is that decks will be better built. You won’t be forced into running subpar cards like Dark Hole just to be able to play the game. You can focus on advancing your game rather than stopping your opponent. This is a stronger strategy and one that those who pick up on it and drop cards like Dark Hole and focus on outing problems with engine cards instead will be rewarded for.


The sky is the limit on a deck's ceiling with the Unicore being removed from the meta and I couldn't be more excited to play in a post-Unicore game! I hope to see everyone next weekend in Anaheim for the first Circuit Series in California! Until next time, play hard or go home!

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

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