The Problems with Burning Abyss

patrickhobanHey everybody! Last format I wrote an article highlighting the problems that I had identified in the Shaddoll deck. I concluded the article by saying “I don’t necessarily think I have the answer to several of these problems, but to come up with a solution you must first pose a question of “what’s wrong?” Whoever is capable of solving this puzzle will definitely see great success with the deck this weekend in Toronto and in three weeks in Indianapolis.” My next article was a first place YCS Toronto tournament report.

Instead of arguing over minor card choices like two Hedgehog or three, I find it much more effective to look at the big picture and identify the overall problems in the deck. This is the blueprint for successful deckbuilding. Today let’s see if we can’t replicate what we did with Shaddolls last format with Burning Abyss. Here are the problems that I’ve found with the accepted build of Burning Abyss.

Low Ceiling

When we talk about the ceiling of a deck or how big or small a deck is, we’re just asking the question “How much can a deck do in one turn?” If the answer is a lot, it’s a big deck or has a high ceiling. If the answer is not a lot, it’s a small deck or has a low ceiling. It makes sense that being able to do more gives you a better deck, thus having a high ceiling is desirable.

An example of a high ceiling deck is Dragon Rulers with baby dragons. You’ve got a ton of options in a single turn and can pretty much do whatever you want to do. An example of a low ceiling deck is Fire Fist. You’re limited by the cards you’ve drawn, not the cards in your deck. If you’ve got Wolfbark and Bear in hand, you can summon Wolfbark or Bear. That’s not a huge decision tree. If whatever you summon is stopped, the other is no longer even part of the decision tree as you’ve already summoned for your turn and can’t use the other monster until the following turn.

As this relates to Burning Abyss, it may seem like Burning Abyss has a high ceiling when you first think about it. If you summon Tour Guide, you’ve got a huge decision tree and tons of options at your fingertips. You’ll likely get Graff, Cir, or Scarm off of Tour Guide so you’ve got three main options. Then you’ve got close to a dozen different options that you can XYZ summon. Then you’ve got more options as to what to special with Graff or Cir or what to search with Scarm. That’s a huge decision tree for one card.

The problem is that if that decision tree is stopped via Breakthrough Skill or Solemn Warning on Tour Guide, your turn is pretty much over. You can set whatever traps you have in your hand, but you’re extremely limited. You can’t summon a bunch of other monsters that same turn.

Shaddolls countered this problem by including a bunch of cards that would let them special summon. If you stop Shaddoll Fusion, they can still normal summon, use BLS, Chaos Sorcerer, White Dragon, Black Dragon, or Soul Charge.

Since Burning Abyss’ turn ends if Tour Guide is stopped, the deck currently has a very low ceiling. I question why Burning Abyss players do not use Soul Charge as it significantly raises the ceiling of the deck.

Tour GuideMust Use the Extra Deck

Burning Abyss is a rank 3 toolbox deck. It’s great how many options Tour Guide gives you, but they’re all monsters in the extra deck. Since Shaddolls are heavily played, Shaddoll Fusion can pretty easily punish this strategy. The Shaddoll player can gain a huge advantage if they resolve Fusion by sending from deck. Yes, traps can stop the monster, but Vanity’s is the only good out. Even using a costless Wing Blast on Construct isn’t very good. They’ve taken away a card from you (the Wingblast itself, but possibly a second if you don’t have a Burning Abyss monster to discard) and given themselves two extra cards triggering two Shaddoll monsters. That’s certainly not an ideal interaction and being completely reliant on the extra deck is an issue.

No Good Win Condition

Tour Guide is certainly a great card, but it’s not a win condition. Rank 3s are pretty underwhelming and the best thing your deck can do, even if your play is completely unstopped, is make two of them. I’ll come back to why rank 3s are underwhelming in a minute.

Many have turned to Monarchs as a win condition. This gives you the bonus of not relying on the extra deck as much so your deck is also better against Shaddoll Fusion.

I have a rule of thumb for deckbuilding that says cards that replace themselves by giving you an extra card are better than cards that replace themselves by taking away a card from your opponent. Cards that take away an opponent’s card rely pretty heavily on the cards you’re given. If you take away their Winda via Raiza, they can either do more or they can’t. You don’t have any control over which one it is. However if your Dante goes to the grave and adds you back a monster, you can keep going. You don’t care if they get over Dante because you can just do something else. It’s not reliant on what cards are available to the opponent.

Monarchs also conflict with the idea of “summon Tour Guide every turn.” You can tribute Burning Abyss that replace themselves for a Monarch all day, but that’s not really adding anything to Burning Abyss’ strategy. That Burning Abyss monster already gave them access to Tour Guide, which is typically sufficient in that you already have a normal summon power play available to you. And much like the earlier Fire Fist example with Bear and Wolfbark, if you draw Tour Guide and Raiza together, you can still only use one on that turn so the other one doesn’t do anything.

number 30Difficulty with Established Fields

Getting back to the idea that rank 3s are underwhelming, they struggle a great deal with overcoming established fields. You’re establishing a 2500 cap for monsters that you can deal with (or forced into clearly disadvantageous cards like Acid Golem). It’s also better to be able to get rid of monsters during the main phase, which is why a card like Castel is so powerful. Dante requires you to go to battle phase to deal with opposing threats.

An inability to deal with established fields is furthered by the inclusion of cards like Trap Stun and Mind Crush in the standard build. If you draw either of these cards when your opponent already has established their board, you’re not going to get any value from Mind Crush and there’s no guarantee you’ll have the luxury of being able to wait a turn to turn Trap Stun on. I prefer cards like Phoenix Wing to Solemn Warning as Phoenix Wing is good to stop them from establishing a field and dealing with an already established field, but Warning is only good at stopping them and doesn’t do anything once it’s already happened. I disagree with the inclusion of Mind Crush and Trap Stun on the same basis.

The Defense Problem

                                People tend to try to compensate for the above problem with cards like Phoenix Wing and Karma Cut. This makes you very reliant on drawing defense turn after turn. When you run out of defense against a bigger deck, you’ll fall behind.

The alternative to this is to create your own defensive cards. This is something that the best deck is usually capable of doing because it’s clearly advantageous to be able to create your own defense when your deck works the way it’s supposed to. When Mermails special a bunch of monsters, those monsters become Gaios to give it defense. When Sylvans would Soul Charge back a field of plants, they’d end with Felgrand to protect it. Shaddolls have built in protection with Winda limiting how much the opponent can special summon. Rank 3s don’t have any defensive options available to them, so Burning Abyss is severely limited by not being able to create its own defense.

The alternative is running more defensive cards so that you can protect your setup. This isn’t ideal for two reasons. Firstly, you’re reliant on actually drawing defense. The other decks that make their own defense produce it whenever their deck does what it is supposed to do. Making Dante doesn’t guarantee you have a defensive trap to protect it like making Winda does for itself. Making your deck have to consistently draw defense means that you have to play more defense.

The second problem with playing more defensive cards is that you’ll draw them more often in multiples which weakens your engine. Every defensive card in your hand is a card that does not further your engine. If you’ve got two defensive cards in a five card hand, you’ve got three cards for your engine to work to do what your deck is supposed to do. Your engine is going to work better the more cards you have to further it. Therefore drawing multiple defensive cards is not ideal, but having defense is still necessary. If you can create your own defense, you can maximize the number of cards you have working toward your engine since your engine will produce defense.

The one advantage to a deck not creating its own defense is that it encourages a better mirror match if it becomes the meta. Anything that creates its own defense locks its opponent out of the game when their deck does what it’s supposed to do. This takes away any interaction and results in a bad mirror match.


A friend of mine made the claim “defense is only good when you’re winning.” Thinking about it, that’s a very true claim. Both of the best decks play with free cards. I don’t want to use defense to get rid of something they made for free. Having to run so many traps because you don’t create your own means that you’ll draw them before you can establish yourself in a winning position quite often.

Additionally, several cards get a lot worse as the game progresses. Mathematician is good to get you started, but has very little use once you get your engine going. Graff is much the same and once you’ve started going Cir does everything he does, but more. Some compensate for Mathematician’s decreased utility with Shaddoll Dragon, but he’s awkward to draw as he doesn’t have any synergy with your deck.

That wraps up all the problems I’ve identified with Burning Abyss. Just like last time, I don’t necessarily think that I have the answers to these problems and it’s even possible that some of them are inherent underlying problems with the deck that cannot be fixed, but anyone who is able to solve these problems will certainly see great success. I hope you all come out to the Circuit Series this weekend in Columbus, Ohio and next weekend in Des Moines, Iowa and can show off how you solved these problems. Until next time, play hard or go home!

'Fixed it.'

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

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