A new structure deck was recently released and has already affected the outcome of premier events around the world. I speak, of course, of Realm of Light. I’m going to discuss some of the dynamics when it comes to Lightsworn in this article. First, some history.
The concept of a starter deck has come a long way. I remember in the early days of the Pokemon TCG, every starter deck was quite bad (that is, from a competitive standpoint, though I still bought them anyway). When I made the switch to Yugioh, I wasn’t surprised to see the same issue with Upper Deck’s product. For the first five years of the game’s existence in the TCG, starter and structure decks were very undesirable in terms of competitive play (great for collecting though). If you look back at those early structure decks, none of them remotely reflected what the actual game was like at the time, the cards people actually used.
This gradually changed, as Konami strategically included more and more attractive goodies in these pre-packaged decks. Sometimes it was a reprint of a hard-to-get staple, like the common Dimensional Prison from Machina Mayhem that went for $8. In more recent years, we have seen that these goodies often come in the form of structure deck-only printings of never before released cards. Caius the Shadow Monarch, Grapha, Dragon Lord of Dark World, Machina Fortress, Dragon Shrine, and now Raiden, Hand of the Lightsworn are but a few of these structure deck exclusives that have shaped the trajectory of this game. Today’s structure decks reflect competitive play a little bit better and are guaranteed to come with useful staples and reprints, if nothing else. Heck, someone from my locals once bought 3 Machina Mayhem structure decks, put them together, changed a few things here and there, and then topped a YCS with it.
Realm of Light has given us three new cards in the TCG.
Michael, the Arch-Lightsworn is a synchro monster with a number of purposes. It ignition effect tends to force the good backrow that would otherwise be saved on Judgment Dragon. Its trigger effect in the grave puts you at a safe life point range (like after a Soul Charge) and more importantly, prevents you from decking out. Beating Chain Burn has become easier than ever.
Raiden, Hand of the Lightsworn is a 4-star tuner that can mill a total of four cards on the first turn. In a vacuum, this means that Raiden is the best turn 1 normal summon apart from Kuribandit, as the previous maximum one Lightsworn milled on its own turn 1 was 3 cards.
Minerva, Lightsworn Maiden is a 3-star tuner. Like Jain, she mills 2 in the end phase. Minerva also has a trigger effect that nets an additional mill from time to time. The distinguishing feature between Minerva and Raiden is their levels. The attack points don’t matter because in 90% of games you don’t attack with Lightsworns anyway and always leave them in defense (more on this later). The real difference is that Raiden can make Scrap Dragon, and Diamond Dire Wolf to clear backrow for the OTK, whereas Minerva can’t. Minerva can make Ghostrick Alucard, which is partially redemptive, though oftentimes a good player just lets you summon Alucard and play guess-and-pop. After all, why spend Black Horn on your Alucard if there’s a chance you’ll hit Geargiagear or Wiretap instead? Both Raiden and Minerva can form the backrow-clearing 7-star synchro monsters: Arcanite Magician, Michael, and Black Rose Dragon. However, only Raiden can do this with Lumina + any one card.
Unfortunately, Realm of Light did not give us a Needlebug Nest reprint. This is odd because it was reprinted in the OCG version of the structure deck. Konami didn’t have a profitable reason to exclude it since it’s not like they’re still selling packs of TDGS.
How Lightsworn Plays in the Current Format
Historically, Lightsworn has been on the receiving end of a lot of jokes. Lucksworn is a deck not very respected, particularly because game outcomes depend on what you mill off the top. I said a couple months back, “Why will there be no Lightsworn players at YCS Las Vegas? Because they’ll all be playing the slot machines.”
However, Lightsworn is now more serious than it has ever been before. This is because it has evolved from a midrange deck into a late stage deck. It would be too much of a tangent to explain the jargon I just used, so I’ll summarize with an example. When Chris Bowling was topping and winning premier events, his Lightsworn deck played the beatdown game. Judgment Dragon was often not even dropped. Celestia was good because the format favored midrange play. Lightsworn is an entirely different deck today. The transformation didn’t actually just take place; it took place a couple years ago during one of the Heavy Storm formats after Photon Shockwave. No one noticed it or bothered to point it out because there were no well-known players playing Lightsworn, and also players in general don’t tend to see decks as midrange vs. late stage, etc. In a future article, I’ll explain this in so much detail that you’ll get sick of it. For now, just think of it this way: there are Celestia/Ryko formats (where you win by attacking with Lightsworns), and there are JD formats (where the correct play is often to not attack until your last turn). If you’re counting your opponent’s total cards and your total cards to see who’s “winning,” then you are playing midrange (like Dino Rabbit). This format’s Lightsworn, you don’t do that (except for Exciton Knight’s effect).
Every card leading up to that last turn is essentially “free” to the Lightsworn player. Card advantage is a non-issue. I don’t mind throwing three monsters into Needle Ceiling, or trading two to make a Dire Wolf to pop one set s/t, or Black Rosing for one card. All of the mid-stage plays are trades of fake monsters for real traps. That means there is one thing that receives the highest importance: getting out of stage 1, the early game. It isn’t like Bowling’s format, where you were content to mill 2 or 3 here and there, trade some cards, attack with a Wulf, pass on a Gorz bluff, etc. Decks put you on too short of a clock for that right now. You need to get out of stage 1, and fast. The limiting restraint isn’t how many cards you have, but how may normal summon monsters you can stick.
In the mid-stage, you’ll witness hilarious things go down. Cards that are absolutely frustrating to play against for interactive decks, such as Black Horn, Dimensional Prison, Hands, Dark Hole, Torrential Tribute, and Supply Unit (if you play in OCG) are completely free trades for you. This is because your deck is degenerate. This is largely thanks to Soul Charge. They can only play 1 Torrential Tribute, and maybe Needle Ceiling, but you threaten with any of 3 Soul Charges and 3 Lumina, plus Dragon Rulers, which are infamous for making free trades.
It’s important to note that stages are NOT turns. There are not opening turns, mid-stage turns, and late-stage turns. Stages are better characterized by the actions you are doing at the moment. If you open Solar Recharge, Needlebug Nest, and Kuribandit, there is a good chance you will play your midgame and your endgame on the same turn when you deal 8000 next turn. Side note: If your deck is not milling into a second turn OTK at least a good percentage of games you go first, you need to swap some cards out.
You should win every game you’re supposed to win. This sounds redundant, but what I mean is that it’s bad enough that you will lose some games because you opened dead. The only way to minimize your losses is to play correctly and take every game where your opening hand gave you the adequate engine cards to win. The name of the game here is backrow destruction. Generally, you do not try to do cute things like attack Geargiaccelerator with Ehren, Lightsworn Monk, nor do you attempt to attack with Lyla and then pop off in Main Phase 2. These midrange tactics were great in the Celestia days, but are terrible right now. Use Lyla to trade for backrow, XYZ with it into Dire Wolf to trade again, or sync with it into any 7 to trade again. Take advantage of trades with Fiendish Chain to XYZ summon into additional destruction. Avoid situations where you have use Michael’s effect on a monster (outside the mirror). This can be an indication that you took a wrong turn in a long line of plays, or that your opponent has shortened the clock on you and is cutting off your chance at arriving at your endgame. Michael is pretty amazing, as it gets a name in grave AND trades with backrow at the same time. If they don’t resist it, then it trades with backrow and you can still go for game or pass on 3 mills and virtual invincibility (summon Michael in defense so that they have to destroy it, not 101 it).
While I haven’t been able to attend premier events lately, I did get to send my ideas to one through Patrick Hoban at the most recent ARG Circuit in Philadelphia. The night before the tournament, Pat (the master procrastinator of deck building) started working on a Lightsworn list, and we went through several card proposals, discussing their merits, and then either adding them to the deck or dismissing them. I’ll explain some of the details in question-answer form.
Why 3 Needlebug Nest and 3 Kuribandit? If you’ve tried these cards, you’ll know that they are complete -1s once you’ve escaped stage 1. Nest does nothing in the late game, and Bandit can at best turn into an Angineer or Leviair, but he usually isn’t worth the normal summon by your second turn. If you open two Bandit, it is very unlikely that the second one will ever see the light of day. So why do we max out on these cards? The reason we don’t care about any of these drawbacks is that none of these drawbacks are stage 1 related. The only way Lightsworn should lose, normally, is because it got stuck in stage 1. Needlebug Nest bothered me at first because it interacts with Wiretap. But I came to warm up to the reality that you have to take that risk. Nest is the only card that drives you out of stage 1 without using your normal summon besides Solar Recharge/Charge of the Light Brigade.
Why Allure of Darkness and Upstart Goblin? If there aren’t other cards that are just as good as the other 37 or so cards you run, then you run Upstart, which just duplicates the mean power level of the rest of your deck. I’ll demonstrate this with math in a future article. But basically this is why Upstart is good even in mill decks and even in traditional format. The model also partially explains why a deck with 10 cards and 30 Upstarts isn’t good (barring alternate win conditions).
Why Foolish Burial? It’s a boss monster, name, dragon, or Gardna rolled into one card.
Why no Reinforcement of the Army? ROTA for a 3-card split is good in theory, but not if you don’t want to draw any of those cards under normal circumstances. If you don’t want to see the first copy in hand, then you certainly don’t want to see the second copy.
Why so many Spells and Traps? Let 1 S/T be a “good” mill, 0 S/T be a “bad” mill, and 2+ S/T be a “bad” mill with Kuribandit. The ratio of good to bad Bandit mills is the probability of the first scenario divided by the sum of the probabilities of the second and third scenarios. If you calculate this ratio for various S/T numbers, you will find the “best” ratio at 29 Monsters and 11 Spells/Traps. The list Pat topped with had a good deal more. The main issue is that there just aren’t other monsters that advance from stage 1 without requiring a normal summon. I tried hard to brainstorm for one; I even considered Gallis the Star Beast. Also, Needlebug Nest doesn’t have to count as a S/T since you don’t want to Bandit for it ever.
Why 3 Lumina? Ok, no one’s really asking this, but we had a legitimate debate over this. Lumina was once on the forbidden/limited list because she broke the deck in the midrange version. In this version, the normal summon is a price you generally can’t afford, and passing turn 1 with 2 Lumina + a name on board is just as much an autowin as passing turn 1 with 3 Lumina + a name on board. If you recall Pat’s article about 3-ofs being cards you want to see in every opening hand, well…Lumina actually isn’t. The third Lumina was another Upstart, but it became Lumina #3 as a last minute change.
What’s up with the side? Mind Control can “hide” names in the mirror and also get rid of Thunder King Rai-Oh and Kycoo the Ghost Destroyer. If they run Ryko (poor chap), you can get a ton of value out of that. It also makes Rhapsody. Kycoo the Ghost Destroyer is a debatable choice. It can be really good or really bad. While it clears names and pins Necro Gardna, it also soaks up a precious normal summon and doesn’t mill anything for you. Basically you take a gamble by playing a bit of midrange if you side Kycoo. One Day of Peace was in my main deck for a good while. It turns games around, as the card is essentially Pot of Greed in degenerate decks (or it’s Upstart+Double Summon rolled into one, depending on how you want to look at it). However, you don’t get to play it immediately like you do with Upstart, so we moved it to the side for the mirror. Fiend Comedian seems really good in theory, as it is a card practically designed for going 2nd (aka being in a losing position), but we didn’t get around to testing it. Threatening Roar is in the main deck now. It was in the side for the mirror because it’s the closest thing to Electromagnetic Turtle (which the TCG doesn’t have yet), a card that enables you to have another chance at getting out of stage 1. If you played against Lightsworn in the 2009 format, you’ll remember how crucial those turns can be. Lastly, 3 Decree to steal it going 1st. No MST because there’s nothing important to hit. You really only sacrifice Kaiser Colosseum by not siding MST. You don’t side MST for floodgates because MST makes it a fair trade, and like we just went over, you want free trades not fair ones. If you have Light-Imprisoning Mirror, I’m going to try to Dire Wolf, Dracossack, or Black Rose it for free.
Why Book of Moon? Book has always been one of the best cards ever. It can undo negation or turn a Gigant face down. These are two very different things from the same card. Someone should write a book on how good Book of Moon is and call it Book of Book of Moon.
Why Honest? I’ve since cut Honest for Threatening Roar. Honest is a midrange card and Threatening Roar does the same thing for a combo deck, except it allows you to save more than one monster for endless mills. Playing Honest isn’t necessarily wrong, but there aren’t a whole lot of good arguments for it when you have the 3 Gardnas and Threatening Roar.
Why so few boss monsters? I see people do things like pack their deck with special summons, but once again, that goes against the core mantra, which is to get out of stage 1. Holding bosses in hand is one of the unfortunate paradoxes of running a deck like Lightsworn, so you should at least do your best to mitigate this paradox by running as few as possible. One attractive mistake I’ve seen is running Black Luster Soldier – Envoy of the Beginning, which doesn’t clear backrow and consequently is wasting a card doing fair, midrange things you shouldn’t be doing like getting over monster threats. Other big monsters that used to neatly fit into Twilight suffer these same weaknesses, such as Gorz the Emissary of Darkness and Tragoedia. Even if these cards said "You can special summon this from your hand without any requirements," what would you do with them? They can't adequately stall, since stalling should involve protecting Lightsworns as they mill cards. They can't adequately progress the game, since your opponent would have to be an unusual position to depend on a trap in order to trade with these monsters. They don't mill on their own either.
Why these particular Lightsworns? I don’t agree with running Jain, as he only mills 2, and Minerva outclasses him in every relevant way. Ehren’s effect will go unused for the most part, but she still mills 3, which is why I keep her in. Wulf, and consequently Felice, are not as great as people make them out to be, since you cannot summon either of them from the hand turn 1 and get out of stage 1. They are midgame consolations to the dismal fact that every good Lightsworn is a normal summon. The lack of an Abyssgunde-like mechanic is one of the things I think Konami does to purposely keep the deck in check, and why I still consider Lightsworn a fair deck, even as powerful as it is now. Ryko is just the worst because he doesn’t mill turn 1, has no level synergy with backrow-clearing extra deck monsters, and gives your opponent infinite ways to prevent him from milling for you.
Why no Maxx “C”? I mained Maxx and Redox for a while because Maxx would serve as Threatening Roar in hand and Ruler fodder in grave. It also opened niche applications, like re-summoning Michael against Chain Burn. However, Maxx doesn’t preserve your Lightsworns in the battle phase to mill another day, it simply discourages your opponent from continuing his Main Phase. In the mirror, this is absolutely pointless, as I would win countless games just giving my opponent 5 cards and then killing him. You also may have noticed that wins/losses aren’t decided by how many cards you drew, rather much more just whether you got out of stage 1 in time. For that reason, Pat convinced me that Threatening Roar is a better Threatening Roar than Maxx. That also made running Redox pointless.
Why Tempest? You don’t attack, so Tidal’s 26 over Tempest’s 24 doesn’t come up. Tempest banishes Dracossack while Tidal banishes 101, but you make Dracossack a lot more.
What’s with the Extra Deck? I’ve heard some pretty kooky ideas for the Lightsworn Extra, mainly just cards that sound good because they do stylish and adorable things, but in the end, do not get you to the endgame. Cards like Ancient Sacred Wyvern, either Stardust Dragon, Angel of Zera, Starliege Paladynamo, a second Michael, Leo, and Star Eater all do marginal things at best and shouldn’t be attempted in the vast majority of games. The monsters I named are, for the most part, open invitations to your opponent to play interactive Yugioh, when the best thing Lightsworn has going for it is non-interaction. I saw someone say on Dgz that space in the Extra is so tight, and this is simply untrue. You could comfortably play through a premier event with 10 in the Extra, and it would make little difference. Because space is so open, I included the following fringe-application cards: Leviair for Gardna and Rhapsody’d names, Rhapsody for the mirror, Starliege for Ophion plus it floats in a pinch, Lavalval Chain to get Rulers and names in grave, and Star Eater to get names in grave when you’re flooded by your own Lumina setup. There’s actually one more monster that belongs in the Extra, it’s an oldie Six Samurai players used to use to steal games. You can blow the mirror and Bujin out of the water with this destructive guy; it’s more terrifying than Dark Strike Fighter. Can you guess its name? =)
In summary, the best approach to tweaking choices here is to think about the central goal to get out of stage 1. There are viable options other than the ones mentioned, a few of them being Fiend Comedian and Hand Destruction. Whether it’s main, extra, or side, ask yourself whether the cards you pick get you out of a stage – either from the opening to the midgame where you clear backrows, or from the midgame to the endgame where you attack for 14000. Pop quiz. Here’s a card I saw mentioned on the forums. Breakthrough Skill (or Skill Prisoner). Correct or incorrect? Its ability to work even if it’s milled looks appealing at first glance, but having that versatility is meaningless because the card doesn’t drive you through any stages.
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Until next time,
Play Hard or Go Home.