The Problems With Nekroz

Whether they are playing for the prizes, the glory, for fun, or just for a seat at the table, duelists from across North America are toiling away in preparation for this weekend’s World Championship Qualifier. The winner will be forever immortalized next to dueling legends like as Theerasak Poonsombat, Adam Corn, and Chris Bowling, who have previously emerged victorious and earned a spot at the coveted World Championship. Two years ago I became the North American Champion, but after a disappointing performance at Worlds and being one round short of re-qualifying last year, I want nothing more than to earn my invitation for a shot at redemption.


Nekroz is the obvious frontrunner headed into this weekend’s qualifier. Since its release Nekroz has not taken less than half the top spots in any premier tournament. It has utterly dominated previous top-tier strategies like Shaddolls, Satellarknight, Qliphort, and Burning Abyss. Despite the deck’s power and consistency in comparison to the field, you must have a way to outdo any mirror matches you play, as well as having a consistent game plan against these other strategies if you hope to earn the prestigious invitation to the World Championship. Between the variety of matchups in the field and internal flaws in the deck’s engine, the deck is far from perfect. The first step at perfecting the Nekroz deck is to identify the problems in the Nekroz deck. That’s why I’m back this week with an article identifying the problems within the Nekroz deck.


I have written three very similar articles within the last year. The first one identified the problems within Shaddolls. Having identified the problems allowed me to fix them and it resulted in me winning the next YCS with a Shaddoll deck that had improved on the deck’s problems. The second article identified the problems with Burning Abyss. As fate would have it, I won back-to-back events (for me, having not attended Seattle) at the following ARG Circuit Series Raleigh and YCS Anaheim using a deck that addressed the problems identified. The third article addressed the problems that existed in the Burning Abyss deck the following format. I made it to the finals of the following YCS in Charleston using a Burning Abyss deck that attempted to overcome these problems that I had identified. That being said, believe me when I say that effectively dealing with the problems identified in today’s article will give you the best chance to go to Japan.


Before we get started, I’d like to give a big congratulation to the 2010 World Champion, Galileo De Obaldia, for going 16-0 in matches and winning the Central American WCQ, earning an unprecedented third invitation to the World Championship. I consider Galy to be easily one of the best players to ever play the game and it is truly inspiring to see him succeed on such a high level!


Let’s go ahead and jump right in!


danteThe Ceiling Problem


A deck’s ceiling is simply how much the deck can do. It’s the power of the deck. The deck with the higher ceiling is the bigger deck and the golden rule of deckbuilding is that bigger really is better. Whoever has the bigger deck, or the higher ceiling, wins, it’s as simple as that.


How would you determine what the bigger deck was? For any two decks just think about what would happen if they played each other and were allowed to do what they were supposed to do, completely unstopped by the opposing deck. If we looked at Nekroz and Burning Abyss, for example, Burning Abyss’ core would consistently put up multiple Dantes. Nekroz would have no trouble dealing with these Dantes with Brionac, Valkyrus, or Trishula. Burning Abyss, on the other hand, would have trouble dealing with any monster over 2500 attack. They might be able to make Virgil to out one threat, but it would be very difficult for Burning Abyss to deal with two Nekroz monsters using only their core engine. For this reason, Nekroz is the bigger deck.


Now wait a minute, that doesn’t quite seem fair. We wanted to know what would happen if the cores went head to head, but that’s hardly realistic as Burning Abyss have plenty of trap cards at their disposal. Defensive cards, like most trap cards as well as cards like Effect Veiler and Maxx “C,” serve to lower the opponent’s ceiling. A Burning Abyss deck aims to lower Nekroz’s ceiling below that of Burning Abyss’ ceiling, so that it may be the bigger deck. It is my experience that raising your ceiling higher than your opponent’s is more effective than attempting to lower your opponent’s ceiling below your ceiling. The short explanation as to why is that in order for you to continue lowering your opponent’s ceiling, you must continue to have defensive cards whenever your opponent pushes. Since only some of the cards in your deck are defensive, it’s unlikely that you’ll draw them every turn. When you stop, their ceiling is raised back higher than yours. The second reason is that defensive cards cannot attack for game. You must have a way to do that in addition to any defensive cards you may have. While they may help, the core engine cards do not have this problem and you are able to attack for game if you only have them.


Great, so we’ve established that Nekroz has a higher ceiling than Burning Abyss. You don’t have to think very hard to come to the conclusion that Nekroz currently has the highest ceiling in the game. Why can’t we just stop here?


Well what happens when you play against a Nekroz mirror match? Even if you have a higher ceiling than Shaddolls, Qliphort, Burning Abyss, and Satellarknight, you’ll have to overcome something close to a dozen mirror matches on your way to Japan. All of these mirrors will have a very similar ceiling to you.


nekroz of TrishulaThe problem is that the Nekroz mirror match is significantly different than pretty much every other mirror match in the history of the game. The reason for this is Nekroz of Trishula. The deck is limited to a maximum of three ritual spells per turn and, with the exception of Trishula, nothing you can do with any of those ritual spells and nothing that can be summoned off of them will end a game in the mirror match by itself. When Trishula resolves, however, it will almost single-handedly end the game every time. You banish a card from each zone. If we are to assume that the card on the field you banish is a ritual monster, you must have at least one spell card in grave. That makes hitting all three cards devastating as the ritual spells could be used in grave, making them real cards. If you were to banish a Graff from Burning Abyss’ grave, they lose a card that they’ve presumably already used and won’t have value without them using an additional card to give it value. They aren’t losing any advantage from the card banished from the grave when you banish a random BA monster, but if you banish a ritual spell you do lose a card that can be used independently of other cards.


Trishula hitting three real cards is most definitely game ending because of how much it lowers your opponent’s ceiling in comparison to the other Nekroz monsters. The fact that Trishula is so searchable that almost any hand can summon it means that it dictates the entire matchup. You must either find a way to raise your ceiling high enough to take it or stop them from lowering your ceiling by stopping Trishula.


This is really the most basic level of the mirror match. Djinn lock is only powerful because your opponent cannot special summon monsters to get over it. It wouldn’t be difficult to attack over a Djinn locked Clausolas if you had a Valkyrus already on the field when they summoned the Clausolas.


nekroz of valkyrusIdentifying Engine Problems


To avoid getting Trishula’d, the Nekroz player typically attempts to attack, tributes his field away to draw cards, and then searches for a Valkyrus to protect from an OTK. This creates some interesting interactions for how the Nekroz cards interact with one another.


Most higher-level Nekroz monsters are not actually very similar to engine cards. They don’t contribute to advancing your game state in a meaningful way. Decisive Armor, Trishula, and Gungnir all take away from your opponent. Remembering back to the beginning of the article, I find it better to take a +1 by giving yourself an extra card than taking away an extra card from your opponent. That being said, let’s focus on the cards that advance my game state rather than hindering my opponent’s.


Brionac and Shurit have a really interesting interaction. If you have to Brionac into Shurit, when you tribute that Shurit you can’t get another Brionac and go into Valkyrus. In order to not get Trishula’d in the mirror, you must get rid of your field, but you must also search Valkyrus so you will not get OTKed. That means that having to go Brionac -> Shurit is much less effective than going Shurit -> Brionac. The latter allows me to search Valkyrus and not get OTKed. The former does not.


If I want to clear my field in the mirror, I want to be using that Shurit to summon Valkyrus. What happens if I have Shurit in my hand with Unicore and no Valkyrus though? Any time I have the Shurit, but not Valkyrus, it doesn’t flow as well.


What does it take to make the Unicore good? It takes Kaleidoscope and either Manju or Senju. Seeing that Manju and Senju get Kaleidoscope, that’s not inherently difficult to accomplish. But what happens if the Kaleidoscope was a Mirror instead? Now the Unicore doesn’t flow nearly as well, even with a Senju or Manju. It takes being specifically able to access Kaleidoscope to make Unicore useful to accomplish the task of summoning Valkyrus, clearing your field, and adding a Valkyrus to hand. When dealing with Shurit and Valkyrus, the ritual spell was less specific to accomplish that task. All of them can tribute the in hand Shurit to summon Valkyrus, add Brionac that adds Valkryus.


These are all for basic three card combinations as they are the bare minimum. To summarize:


  • Valkryus and Unicore are at odds. What makes one good in a three-card combo does not make the other one good in a three card combo.
  • Shurit into Brionac accomplishes more than Brionac into Shurit.
  • Valkryus with Shurit requires any ritual spell.
  • Unicore requires specifically Kaleidoscope.


vanity's emptinessNo Real Win Condition


Excluding things like Exodia, there are only three ways to win a game. You can either establish a semi-soft lock (such as Vanity’s Emptiness or Djinn), attack to reduce their life points to 0, or out resource them in an attrition war. The current Nekroz strategy is flawed as it does not have a win condition in the mirror match.


On the most basic level, you will have difficulty reducing the opponent’s life points to 0 because of Valkyrus stopping your attacks. Djinn, Emptiness, and various other semi-soft locks lose you the game if they are outted, due to the power of Trishula. Djinn is roughly a coin flip as to whether or not you will be able to out it, but I wouldn’t count on winning seventeen coin flips in a row to make it to Japan. Emptiness isn’t strong because Mystical Space Typhoon is a main deck staple as a concession to rogue decks. If they Typhoon your Emptiness, the Trishula will soon follow.


The final option is the attrition war. This is what a Nekroz mirror typically turns into. They try to grind the other player out of all of their resources through cards like Maxx “C” and Shared Ride. Trishula is once again the problem with this strategy, as it is so powerful that it dictates you must clear your field every turn to avoid it and if you do not you will likely lose. It’s difficult to end with a clear field and think an attrition war is the dominant strategy as you must rebuild your field every turn. Why does it matter if you have eight in hand off of Shared Ride/Maxx “C,” when you are going to end with six in and including Valkyrus regardless? It really becomes about playing a forty-card deck rather than a six-card hand, in that you must run your opponent out of resources in their deck before you win the attrition war, not just run them out of the cards in their hand since most cards in their hand are any card in their deck.


mistakeDifferent Types of Opposing Floodgates


The two strategies headed into the WCQ are Nekroz and beating Nekroz. Nekroz utilize Djinn as their attempt at a semi-soft lock. The remaining decks try cards like Mistake, Anti-Spell Fragrance, Skill Drain, Lose 1 Turn, and so on to lock Nekroz out of the game. If we disregard these floodgates, Nekroz is the bigger deck and would beat all other decks in the field. These floodgates lower Nekroz ceiling down to nothing, thus making it a priority for a Nekroz opponent to out them and re-raise their ceiling back above that of the opponent’s.


The problem now becomes, how do you do that against every floodgate? If you add Mystical Space Typhoon to chain to Anti-Spell Fragrance or Mistake, you now are playing cards that don’t out Djinn when you play a mirror match. Floodgates in monster form have different outs than floodgates in trap form, yet they are both played. If you play one out, but not the other, you lose when you have Book of Eclipse against their Mistake or Mystical Space Typhoon against their Djinn. If you play both of them, you now have to deal with drawing Mystical Space Typhoon regardless of whether or not your opponent is even playing a floodgate in trap form. When you have Typhoon to a Djinn lock, you’ll wish the Typhoon was any other card. How do you deal with the problems across the board, while avoiding having too many dead draws in your deck?


I may not have the answer to these problems, but if you are able to correct them in time for this weekend’s World Championship Qualifier, you will have a better chance at earning an invitation to the World Championship than any other player who has not corrected for these problems. Identifying what’s wrong is the first step to fixing it. You have the tools at your disposal. Who will make best use of them? Until next time, play hard or go home!

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

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