The Newest Set of Problems with Burning Abyss

Hello duelists! Next weekend starts a series of three back-to-back-to-back weekends of premier tournaments all across the country beginning with YCS Charleston, followed by ARGCS Dallas, and then finally YCS Seattle. Since the last major tournament in Orlando, the set Secrets of Eternity has been released. While the Forbidden and Limited list technically changed with the calendar year, its impact on the meta of the previous format proved to be relatively nonexistent. It is much more likely that Secrets of Eternity will have a much greater impact on the format than the list did.

Ever since the release of the last set, Burning Abyss has been the dominant deck, winning every single North American event, with Qliphort and Shaddolls on its heels with a multitude of spots in the top cut of each tournament. All three decks got more support from the new set, but Burning Abyss still seems to be the frontrunner. That isn’t to say that Burning Abyss is without its problems. If these problems didn’t exist, we wouldn’t see Qliphort or Shaddoll making top cut at all. We can take their presence in the meta as a sign that there is room for improvement in Burning Abyss. The best starting point for improving a deck is to identify the problems the deck has in the meta, which is exactly what I’m going to be talking about in today’s article. There’s still some time before Nekroz get released, so this is going to focus on the meta before their release.

I’d like to set the record straight with something before we begin. This is the third article I’ve done that identifies the problems a deck has within the meta; first with Shaddolls and then again with Burning Abyss before Virgil, Rubic, and Lake. Some took these articles as an attempt to deceive people, as I won a YCS with Shaddolls shortly after my article on their problems and an ARGCS and a YCS with Burning Abyss shortly after my article on their problems.

Those articles were in no way me saying that if a deck has problems, that the deck was bad or that the problems cannot be fixed. If anything, those articles gave you exactly what you needed to go out and fix those problems. That goes for this article as well. In fact, take this article not as a statement that Burning Abyss should not be played, but as a challenge to solve the problems.

With that, let’s jump into what I have identified as the problems for Burning Abyss in the meta.

A Triangle Meta


A three-deck format gives the idea of a rock, paper, scissors scenario. Rock > Scissors, Scissors > Paper, and Paper > Rock. I published an article last format about all the other factors that go into a triangle meta and how you can gain an edge over the other sections of the triangle meta based on a number of factors, but this point is more generic. Regardless of how likely you are to face one deck at different parts of the tournament, how played each deck is, how bad the matchup of rock really has against scissors is, and so on, at the end of the day, there are still three main decks.

This often leads to a scenario where your card choices are very strong against one deck, but often subpar against the other legs of the triangle. There are very few cards that are actually good against all three decks, which can make card selection a nightmare for an upcoming tournament. You’d love to play Maxx “C” against Burning Abyss, but against Qliphort you’ll hate yourself if you draw it and praying for it to be a Jar of Greed against Shaddolls. I hear people say that it’s almost like an Upstart. It’s not. Jar of Greed is far more accurate. There’s a reason that card won’t ever see competitive play. If that’s all Maxx “C” is doing for you, you might need to reevaluate your card choices.

That’s just one example. When it plays out, essentially every card you can choose from is bad against at least 1 of the 3 top decks.

The Paradox of Traps in the Mirror


Trap cards are incredibly strange in the mirror match. If you go first, you’re practically guaranteed at least 1 Dante and often times you will open 2. In this scenario, you’d love to open a trap card or two. It doesn’t really matter which trap, they’re all good; Vanity’s Emptiness, Fire Lake, Phoenix Wing, Karma Cut, it doesn’t matter. You can stop your opponent from making a play and continue to develop your board the following turn.

The utility of trap cards gets much more complicated going second in the mirror match. If your opponent doesn’t open a trap card of their own, but they do open a field, you are going to want to have a trap card if you can create a field of your own. The idea is that you can use your monsters to get over their monsters and then set a trap card to protect yourself from them reestablishing a field.

But what happens when they go first with a field of Dante(s) and open a trap card? It’s far too common of a scenario to ignore and it creates a lot of issues with trap cards. We’ll look at the three different types trap cards you can open and explain why there is a problem with each.

If you open Vanity’s Emptiness in this scenario, your opponent is going to stop your field with their trap, but they will still have a field. Vanity’s Emptiness is hardly a good card to use when your opponent has a field and you don’t.

If you open a Fire Lake, they’re going to stop your field with their traps and then you aren’t going to have Burning Abyss to tribute with your Fire Lake.

A discard trap seems like the card you’d want. In theory, it’s good against an established field. Well, that’s elementary level theory. In actually, Phoenix Wing Wind Blast and Karma Cut are bad against established fields in the mirror. That’s a pretty strange claim on the surface, but I assure you there is reason behind it.

If you throw your monsters into their field, but then they have the trap to stop them, the monsters won’t immediately replace themselves. They’ll have dealt with your monsters, but then now your monsters are gone and you won’t have a card to discard for your discard trap that will replace itself because you committed all the good cards to discard to the field already.

If in fact you do still have a good monster to discard for the trap, it doesn’t make too much of a difference. They used their trap to stop your field. Now they have a field that they have made entirely of free cards that have already replaced themselves. Even if you make the discard for Phoenix Wing or Karma Cut negligible through discarding a card that replaces itself, your discard trap will not replace itself. It still cost you one card, the actual Phoenix Wing or Karma Cut.

Phoenix Wing on Dante is almost irrelevant to the opponent. Burning Abyss essentially have unlimited resources until they have summoned 3 Dante. You putting back the Dante doesn’t really take away a Dante as they can just summon it again at almost no cost. If you look at Phoenix Wing as getting rid of a Dante, you have to look at it as if they have 4 Dante.

Karma Cut is slightly better in this scenario as it actually does get rid of 1 of the 3 Dantes (we’re specifically dealing with the first turn, so there’s not much of a chance of hitting Dantes in grave). Unfortunately, the Dante has already replaced itself via a Scarm, Graff, or Cir. Even if you’re dealing with 1 of the 3 Dantes for good, you’re doing so at the cost of a real card (your discard trap) and only getting rid of a card that they got for free and has already replaced itself. In this case, it’s likely they already had a second Dante on their field to begin with. You now have no field since they stopped it with their trap, you’re down a card (the discard trap), they potentially are starting with another Dante on the field, and it’s their turn so they’re free to continue steamrolling the advantage. In these scenarios, your life points don’t really have to have hit 0 for you to have lost the game. You’re playing from really far behind the entire rest of the game and in almost every case; you’re going to lose. The Karma Cut doesn’t actually solve the problem it just prolongs it.

One time when Phoenix Wing and Karma Cut are effective is when the trap that your opponent opens with their field is Vanity’s Emptiness. Here, you can get rid of a Dante and any Graffs or Cirs under it without them being able to use it.

This is because of a paradox that exists with Vanity’s Emptiness in the mirror. Of all the traps that you want to open going first with a field in the mirror, Vanity’s is the most awkward. It seems like a no brainer to just flip it with a field, but in actuality there are two conflicting forces at work.

You’re inclined to flip Vanity’s when they first special summon a Burning Abyss because if you allow it to be summoned, they can just normal summon a Burning Abyss and set Fire Lake to get rid of your field any time you flip Vanity’s after that. If you play around Fire Lake and go ahead and flip it the first time they reveal a Burning Abyss, you now get the scenario where discard traps are good against your field as you’ll lose a Dante and any Graff or Cir under the Dante without being able to use the effect. You essentially have to pick one and hope they don’t have it.

There are a couple of ways to tackle this issue, but they all come with their own set of problems. You can run Mystical Space Typhoon or Night Beam, but what happens when you go first? Now it is essentially a dead card for your first turn so you’ve only actually got 4 cards to combo with. Even if you get it in the more advantageous scenario of going second, what happens if your opponent has multiple traps or no traps at all? You again risk the card being subpar.

Then there is the option to run cards that are good in these scenarios. Two cards that come to mind are Maxx “C” and Enemy Controller. Maxx “C” is good going first and second in the mirror and Enemy Controller is better going second, but if you take this route, you now get back to the first problem we identified with the triangle meta as these cards are bad against the other top decks in the format.

Minimizing Traps In an OTK Format and another Paradox


As the paradox of traps in the Burning Abyss mirror has become better understood, there has been a shift towards running fewer traps in an attempt to avoid the aforementioned problem altogether. This solution comes with its own set of problems.

The first problem created in running fewer traps is that every deck in the format is trying to OTK you. Shaddolls max out on Enemy Controller and put lots of monsters on the board to try and end the game in a single turn. Qliphort can Pendulum summon a field full of monsters from the extra deck or drop a Disk to summon them from the deck, both of which also try to end the game in a single turn. In the Burning Abyss mirror, we’ve got Virgil and the newly released Farfa to clear opposing monsters for the all too easy field of Dante, Virgil, Acid Golem that total to the convenient number 8000.

If you start taking out traps, you only make yourself more susceptible to each of the three top deck’s strategy of ending the game in a single turn. Leave them in and you’re stuck with the paradox from the section above.

Minimizing traps actually creates its own paradox as well. If you try and keep some number of traps, you make yourself that much more susceptible to the backrow removal that is dominant in the format. Burning Abyss and Qliphort play a minimum of three Mystical Space Typhoon. They both often play Night Beam and Qliphort also commonly plays Storm to ensure that they can OTK. If you run fewer traps, you are maximizing the chances that the ones you do play won’t survive. Let’s say you play 6 defensive cards when the conventional Burning Abyss deck plays 9-10. Whenever you do draw into one of your 6 traps, your opponent won’t have had anything to use their MSTs, Night Beams, or Storms on, as you haven’t set anything for them to use them on. The first thing you do set after a couple turns of not setting is likely to get hit by one of these cards that had previously been dead. If you played a higher number of defense, you’d be more likely to have two together to make their Typhoon or Night Beam less effective, or, at the very least, you’d be more likely to draw into a second defensive card after your first one got hit with an initial removal card.

Satellarknight Constellar Diamond


This card is so good, that it can have its own section. This card is quite literally an anti-Burning Abyss card. All three effects are amazing against the deck and it has a high enough attack to beat over any monster BA plays.

Satellarknights are not capable of keeping up with Burning Abyss on any consistent basis without this card. However, this card may be so powerful that it singlehandedly puts Satellars back on the competitive map. You’re going to need a way to deal with this card if you plan on attending any of the upcoming tournaments.

The Number of Burning Abyss to Run


The release of three new Burning Abyss raises the question of the ideal number of Burning Abyss to run. Obviously you’re running 3 Graff, 3 Cir, 3 Scarm, and likely 3 Rubic, but which Burning Abyss are you including after that and how many of each of those is optimal?

There was already roughly a 92% chance of opening with at least a Dante if you were running 3 additional Burning Abyss (previously some combination of Alich and Calcabs). Do you continue to add more Burning Abyss just because more came out?

You’re going to run into the concept of diminishing returns. Yes, adding a fourth extra Burning Abyss to your deck would continue to raise that 92% closer to opening a Dante every game, but each additional Burning Abyss you add isn’t going to increase the number by as much as the last Burning Abyss you added. Perhaps (I say perhaps because I haven’t done the math for 4 extra or 5 extra, I just want to illustrate the concept and exact math isn’t necessary to do that) adding the fourth extra Burning Abyss increases your chances of opening at least a Dante from 92% to 94%. That’s a 2% increase over 3 extra Burning Abyss. If this were the case, adding a 5th Burning Abyss might only increase it an additional 1% to 95%. Yes, you’re still getting an increase, but you’re not increasing by as much on the next copy as you did on the previous copy.

Now if this didn’t cost anything, I wouldn’t care how little the percentage increased by, I’d just take the higher chance of opening Dante. Unfortunately, it does cost something. When you have that additional Burning Abyss in hand that allows you the hypothetical 95% chance of opening Dante, you are giving up whatever card you would have had in hand instead of that extra Burning Abyss. In reality, you had a pretty good chance of getting at least a Dante anyway and it’s likely that the extra Burning Abyss could have been a more useful card, such as a defensive card or spell/trap removal.

This is one of the mistakes that I think a lot of people made in Orlando. Many well-known players were maxing out on Alich and Calcab to “maximize” their chance of opening Dante. Sure, they were doing that, but I think the cost of getting that extra few percent was pretty high and that the chance of opening Dante was already high enough. I think as we move forward into these next few weeks and the first batch of tournaments in this format, this is a mistake that people will continue to make, but could easily be avoided.

That brings me to the end of this week’s article. I believe that these problems are solvable and that anyone who manages to do so will have a huge edge over the competition in the upcoming weeks. I should be at all three of the upcoming tournaments, YCS Charleston, ARGCS Texas, and YCS Seattle, and I look forward to seeing what everyone comes up with to solve these problems. Until next time, play hard or go home!

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

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