As we close in on the last week of Kaijudo Master Challenges and little more than a month until the very first North American Championship in Seattle, I'm going to take a step back and look at how we got to where we are. Articles like this were a common topic for the ARG Kaijudo Article Contest, but I feel like adding my two cents. Besides, looking back at past strategies that have dominated can give a lot of insight as to why the current meta-defining decks work so well.
Rise of the Duel Masters
The first real set, Rise of the Duel Masters, released in September, preceded only by the Battle Decks and Dojo Edition of the Summer of 2012. The player base was still generally small and there was no organized play, but there were still groups of very dedicated players who worked to find the best decks possible. My personal favorite deck from this time period was LWDF "[ccProd]Keeper of Dawn[/ccProd]" control. Imagine a typical LWD control deck (trimmed down since we didn't have cards like Andromeda and [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd] to max out) with a Fire section for added removal and finishers. The Fire section was small, but necessary as cards like [ccProd]Lyra, the Blazing Sun[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Andromeda of the Citadel[/ccProd] didn't yet exist. Finishers generally consisted of [ccProd]Bolt-Tail Dragon[/ccProd], [ccProd]Tatsurion the Unchained[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Moorna, Gatling Dragon[/ccProd]. Re-using spells with Keeper of Dawn gave this deck a lot of power, as the metagame was very attrition-based - every +1 and -1 mattered. Even the "boss monsters" of the time like Unchained only generated a +1 or required setup like Moorna, making the late game of a control mirror very different (and some might say very preferable) to a control mirror with 6 copies of [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd] involved.
Of course, this isn't to say aggro couldn't compete. Without [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] and a plethora of playable giant creatures, decks couldn't be "Shield Blasts+Finishers," leaving some room for early Rush attempts to take form. In addition, I saw some tempo strategies focused around Drakons using Water for [ccProd]Rusalka, Aqua Chaser[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Aqua Seneschal[/ccProd], two major powerhouses of the time, even in control decks. Dragons were actually very playable as well, thanks to [ccProd]Hyperspeed Dragon[/ccProd] being released. Going into [ccProd]Bolgash Dragon[/ccProd] after Hyperspeed, perhaps after early mana-ramp with something like [ccProd]Sprout[/ccProd], was devastating, and Dragons were a very common sight because of it.
...And just like that, Dragons were gone. Actually, this might be the only time in the game's history since Rise that Dragons weren't tier-1. With Evo Fury's release, aggression and tempo took a strong hold of the metagame. Though I had my small gripes with the meta when it was current, I actually really enjoyed it and it's a shame there were no big tournaments during its time.[ccProd]Aqua Seneschal[/ccProd] and Rusalka still defined the early game, and thanks to [ccProd]Emperor Neuron[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Hydra Medusa[/ccProd], a deck was created that was probably the most dominant a tempo strategy has been in a Kaijudo metagame so far. Blurple phased out the Rise-era Dragons, as it could combine early aggression with card draw and very efficient removal to banish even the most dangerous of threats. Dark Saber-Bolt was another of the big contenders during this time, featuring strong aggression with the likes of [ccProd]Bronze-Arm Sabertooth[/ccProd] and finishers like [ccProd]Bolt-Tail Dragon[/ccProd], allowing the deck to ramp and maintain a strong board position throughout the duel. Mono-civ decks such as mono-Darkness also saw some play thanks to [ccProd]Scavenging Chimera[/ccProd], as well as decks utilizing the powerful [ccProd]Flamespike Tatsurion[/ccProd].
These aggressive strategies really took hold of the game, and the Rise-era control was still attempted, but mostly fell short. The one control deck that achieved success was based around an Enforcer lineup with [ccProd]Cobalt, the Storm Knight[/ccProd]. Cobalt allowed the deck to have a better matchup against Blurple decks, since it attacked over everything the deck ran. This could halt the momentum of the Blurple player while regenerating a shield to make up for the early aggression Blurple had no doubt brought to the table. Remember, regenerating one shield was still a big deal; the days of Andromeda battles and players going through nine to eleven shields were still a set away.
Dragons finally got their revenge on the tempo strategies that phased them out one set earlier. It didn't help that the aggressive strategies like Blurple and Saber-Bolt didn't really get anything new to play with. [ccProd]Emperor Dendrite[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Infernus the Awakened[/ccProd] really weren't enough to help them maintain their top spots, especially in Blurple's case. Sure, it could still bring some mild early game annoyance to the then-omnipresent LWD Dragon Control and Greed Dragon decks, but let's face it; once multiple [ccProd]Lyra, the Blazing Sun[/ccProd]s and Andromedas began hitting the board, the game was over.
With only a little more than two months between DSI and Clash of the Duel Masters, this was the game's shortest meta so far. This is probably for the best; in my eyes, it was the meta most dominated by one type of deck, and it was mostly because Dragons simply outclassed everything that came before then. This could be due to DSI being designed after Clash (according to Wizards of the Coast). By this time, KMCs started and the top eight deck lists from these events attested to Dragons' dominance. Between LWD Control and Greed Dragons (which was the standard Dragons + Shield Blast + Fire Birds deck which came to be thanks to [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] and all the new Dragons), the VAST majority of top eight spots at the KMCs were taken up.
Present Day - Clash of the Duel Masters
When Clash was released, people were worried. The set was bigger than most, at 120 cards, but people were still concerned upon seeing the spoilers that it didn't bring enough to the table to counter Dragons. [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] had begun to be universally detested for its luck factor, and while I and many other players still believe that card is a definite problem that needs to be answered, I also believe the meta has evolved in a positive way since Dragonstrike Infernus.[ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd], possibly the most ridiculous finisher we've seen to date, is allowing late game-focused control decks to have answers to decks that aim to simply abuse Dragons. It is allowing control mirrors to be decided by things like +5s and -5s, as opposed to the +1s and -1s of the Rise meta, but by answering Dragons, it's also allowing more decks to compete. For example, with control decks having answers to the Dragon decks that typically run a lot of Shield Blasts, and since control decks focus so heavily on the late game currently, Rush has seen a resurgence. Mono-Fire in particular has won more KMCs than I ever thought Rush would be capable of, but it makes sense; it's a deck where a lot can go wrong, but betting everything on the first four or five turns when everyone else is betting on turns six and later is a recipe for potential success.
Tempo and midrange decks have actually also been able to compete recently, with the mindset that if they can get the best progressions against control, they can maintain constant advantage throughout the game. A notable example of this is the LWN "Leap of Faith" deck by Preston Brimage that won the Colorado KMC. It can't compete in the late game against control, but a progression like [ccProd]Essence Elf[/ccProd] to [ccProd]Sword Horned[/ccProd] to [ccProd]Starseed Squadron[/ccProd] is simply hard to beat. Megabugs have also seen a rise in popularity as I mentioned in a previous article, using the same idea. With the right progressions, control and Dragon decks simply can't always have answers for the field presence. Cards like [ccProd]General Finbarr[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Homunculon the Blaster[/ccProd] have given these types of decks a huge boost, as well. Control's still at the top of its game, but I'm certainly pleasantly surprised to see them functioning as well as they are.
Hopefully you've all enjoyed reading this; I know I've enjoyed writing it, but I just love looking back at previous trends in the meta and trying to see how it will go forward. With a month left before the Championship, there's still time for the meta to evolve even without any new set releases, and it's sure to make for a very interesting tournament. As always, leave a comment down below with your thoughts, and until next week, Play Hard or Go Home!