The Road to Nationals: Becoming a Ruler of Dragons

frazier smithI had been talking with Steve Silverman and Patrick Hoban every day for a month leading up to Nationals. Everyone else was so scatterbrained over what they were going to use, and I was tired of hearing the nonsense from several others about Prophecy. Though I knew the deck was good, I had played it for one weekend, and one weekend only since the release of [ccProd]Spellbook of Judgment[/ccProd]. In that one weekend, I drew at least 4-5 hands that were literally unplayable. This bothered me, especially since I was a Dragon user, and every time I played against the best Prophecy players at my local, Mark Valez and Luke Feeney, I would get destroyed by them. It seemed like Dragons couldn’t possibly deal with Prophecy, but if that were true then why hasn’t it been winning everything or even taking up the most spots in the Top32/64 at all the other Nationals around the globe? This was a question that boggled my mind. It did not make sense to me. How could a deck have a great matchup against the most popular deck in the format, and a great matchup against every other relevant deck—Evilswarm, Constellars, and Mermails—but still not be considered the best deck?

Eradicator Epidemic VirusI began to attribute this to how the deck performs in games two and three, when [ccProd]Eradicator Epidemic Virus[/ccProd] and Droll & Lock Birds come into play. However, I couldn’t trust my own theories on those cards because I had lost games even after resolving them. How frustrating, I thought. I was being torn apart in the sense that I wanted to play Prophecy so badly, but I knew that there had to be something wrong with the deck, or else the best players would not be all playing Dragons. It’s the same way I felt about 2011 Plants and Agents. The best of the best were all using Plants, so I highly doubt they could all have gotten it wrong.

In any event, I was desperate for ideas and ways to beat the Prophecy matchup. I knew I’d face a couple at Nationals, and I didn’t want to just accept losing to the deck on the basis of a “bad matchup.” I started contacting every good player I knew, asking them all one thing and one thing only: how do you beat that deck? The answers were always the same. It was either, “I just Eradicator them and win,” or “I was wondering the same thing, I can’t beat it.” I didn’t like those responses. I needed something I could really trust in. And to make matters worse, everyone was all over the place with their side deck options against Prophecy. You had some people trying the Horus package, which I tested awhile back and didn’t like because I kept getting caught by traps, or the ideal situation of being able to tribute summon would never present itself. After that didn’t work out, I tried using Horus in conjunction with [ccProd]Puppet Plant[/ccProd], but it became even more of a gamble since some of them were siding [ccProd]Dimensional Fissure[/ccProd]s and [ccProd]Mind Drain[/ccProd]s. I was just about to try [ccProd]Spell Canceller[/ccProd] until I watched someone at my local get demolished after summoning it. Unfortunately, the deck played Kycoo, so that was an inherent out to the card. Some of them also kept in one High Priestess just in case you caught them with a [ccProd]Light and Darkness Dragon[/ccProd], [ccProd]Spell Canceller[/ccProd], or Horus.

psi-blockerThere was even a period when I thought Psi-Blocker or [ccProd]Prohibition[/ccProd] would be the end-all-be-all  because they could stop [ccProd]Spellbook Magician of Prophecy[/ccProd] from coming out, which is the only searchable Spellcaster in the deck—not including [ccProd]Spellbook of Judgment[/ccProd]’s effect on the End Phase. The problem with those cards was [ccProd]Spellbook of Fate[/ccProd]. That card single handedly deals with everything continuous that you would side against the deck…or so I thought. The bright idea of using [ccProd]Prohibition[/ccProd] to call [ccProd]Spellbook of Fate[/ccProd] popped into my head, but then I realized that I would have to first force the activation of the card, then activate [ccProd]Prohibition[/ccProd] afterwards, then find a way to deal with Jowgen, then find a way to deal with Kycoo, and all without losing the game in the turns that transpired.  That was far too much work. And as for me, well, I was back to the drawing board.

I absolutely did not want to start using Droll & Lock Bird again. I noticed that the OCG had been maining the card for months, and for good reason, too, but I had tried that and it made my hands too cloggy with hand traps. I attended several iPad tournaments, Dracossack tournaments, and standard locals just to test new ideas. I was not as concerned with winning them as much as I was concerned with using them as simulations for what could happen at Nationals. I topped every single one despite losing in the top cut to the weirdest situations. It was also around this time when I realized just how absurdly slow the format was. Games were taking too long, and I already play slow enough when I really get into it. This is largely due to the fact that control of the game can switch between players on each turn, but not a single point of damage can be dealt most of the time. The moves that would deal damage were usually the horrible ones. Knowing how to play in time would be an even greater obstacle in this format than it had ever been before. I made it a priority to play faster, but that only worked about half of the time. Some games will just take years no matter what you do, and rushing could lead to outright losses. I decided to start scooping it up when things got way too out of hand. I hated staring at a Prophecy player touch themselves for ten minutes while I sit there and wait for my turn to do nothing because they have a Jowgen on the field.

At this point, Euros had come and gone and I was anxious to see what and who did well. Obviously, it was the same as all the other Nationals; Dragons and Prophecy had completely dominated the majority of the top spots and the Top4 was split evenly between the two. There was also a scandal coming out of that event that pertained to one of the more recently popular players, Simon He. He had been accused of a form of cheating that was so powerful and so scary that we all knew it would cause paranoia at our own WCQ. There were several jokes about people drawing terrible hands and saying they got “Simon He’d.” As funny as it was, we also thought about how scary it would be if someone just marked their own cards and claimed their opponent stacked them. We all made a note to not pile-shuffle anyone’s deck. It wasn’t a big deal anyways. I usually just cut the deck or shuffle without ever picking the deck up off the table. Still, this was annoying to think that someone might try to mimic that form of cheating.

Super RejuvenationMy travel arrangements had finally been finalized and it was decided that we would be driving to Nationals. That meant a whopping 12-hour car ride from where I lived in Philadelphia. Since the drive would be so lengthy, we also thought it would be best to leave earlier in the week so that we can get acclimated and really enjoy Chicago. The last local I attended, Silverman and I decided to try an idea that I had been discussing with Hoban for a bit—playing zero copies of [ccProd]Super Rejuvenation[/ccProd] in the main. It was ballsy, but the logic behind it was sound, or at least it sounded good, and when you’re desperate for ideas almost anything will sound amazing. The rationale behind the “no Rejuvenation” idea was simple: the card was not good in most problem scenarios—you’d much rather have cards that are playable and help to dig you out of tight spots at that moment. For instance, we started testing three copies of [ccProd]Sacred Sword of Seven Stars[/ccProd]. The card was absolutely amazing and it occurred to us that we always want to open with it. Everyone who played the card would only use one copy of it, and the more daring would try their hand at two. We took it a step further. The counter argument was also invalid for running three, which was, “Well what happens when you draw two copies of it?” And my response to that was always, “Well the card is a +1 so you end up with seven cards in your hand. That second Sword is your seventh card. The last time I checked, you only begin the game with six cards in hand, but I’d be happy to take seven if the only drawback was that I had to wait a turn to use that seventh card.”

skill drainThe next thing was trying out some European tech—maining copies of [ccProd]Skill Drain[/ccProd]. The card is actually good against everything. All of your bad matchups become way easier when you have [ccProd]Skill Drain[/ccProd] on the field. Just think about it, what can Evilswarm and Constellars do while you have a Redox or a Blaster sitting on the field with Skill Drain face-up? Even if you just have [ccProd]Skill Drain[/ccProd] with one of the other Dragons, it’s still extremely hard to deal with without monster effects. Those decks also do not run [ccProd]Mystical Space Typhoon[/ccProd]s, so there’s a high chance that they will have zero outs to it, too. So basically, resolving the card is literally game over against anything that isn’t Dragons or Prophecy. And against Prophecy, it can be devastating if you set it up first turn. The opponent would have to use [ccProd]Spellbook of Fate[/ccProd] on it to get Jowgen’s continuous effect turned back on, but then you could attack over it, and this is all assuming that he or she was still able to play [ccProd]Spellbook of Judgment[/ccProd] for 3 after you’ve negated the effect of [ccProd]Spellbook Magician of Prophecy[/ccProd].

In the Dragon mirror match, you could use [ccProd]Skill Drain[/ccProd] when the opponent inevitably tries to use Dracossack to destroy something on your side of the field by tributing a token, rendering the Dracossack unable to attack this turn and unable to protect itself from Blaster attacking over it. It can lead to a major swing in momentum. One of the trick plays with [ccProd]Skill Drain[/ccProd] is to summon a Redox and a Blaster, or two Blasters, and then end your turn with Skill Drain set, and then when the opponent goes to end their turn, you flip up the Drain and they will stay there. This usually leads to a lethal attack next turn.

vanity's emptinessFusilier Dragon, the Dual-Mode Beast was another card that we tested. Since it was a 7-star, easy to summon monster, and a target for [ccProd]Eradicator Epidemic Virus[/ccProd], it seemed fair to at least test it. I’d seen some successful decks in the OCG and the TCG maining the card. Fusilier happens to compliment [ccProd]Skill Drain[/ccProd], too, which can abruptly turn the 1400 machine into a 2800 beatstick. Silverman and I joked about using [ccProd]Beast King Barbaros[/ccProd] instead because it was an earth monster and it would be bigger than Blaster, but it wasn’t a 7-star or a target for Eradicator. There were just so many ideas, and so little time. The ideas were all cool, but space in the deck was tight. We wanted to run the Light and Darkness package as well because of how broken it was with [ccProd]Skill Drain[/ccProd] and Vanity’s Emptiness, especially since one of the only outs to it was [ccProd]Book of Moon[/ccProd]—a card that you could only use one of. Here’s the list we came up with:

Monsters: 28

3 Blaster, Dragon Ruler of Infernos

3 Tempest, Dragon Ruler of Storms

3 Tidal, Dragon Ruler of Waterfalls

3 Redox, Dragon Ruler of Boulders

3 Maxx “C”

2 Burner, Dragon Ruler of Sparks

2 Reactan, Dragon Ruler of Pebbles

2 Stream, Dragon Ruler of Droplets

2 Fusilier Dragon, the Dual Mode Beast

1 Light & Darkness Dragon

1 [ccProd]Eclipse Wyvern[/ccProd]

1 Lightning, Dragon Ruler of Drafts

1 [ccProd]Dragunity Corsesca[/ccProd]

1 [ccProd]Effect Veiler[/ccProd]


Spells: 7

3 [ccProd]Sacred Sword of Seven Stars[/ccProd]

2 [ccProd]Gold Sarcophagus[/ccProd]

1 [ccProd]Book of Moon[/ccProd]

1 [ccProd]Dark Hole[/ccProd]


Traps: 5

3 Vanity's Emptiness

2 [ccProd]Skill Drain[/ccProd]


Side Deck: 15

3 [ccProd]Swift Scarecrow[/ccProd]

3 [ccProd]DNA Surgery[/ccProd]

2 [ccProd]Mystical Space Typhoon[/ccProd]

2 [ccProd]Electric Virus[/ccProd]

2 [ccProd]Eradicator Epidemic Virus[/ccProd]

1 [ccProd]Lightning Vortex[/ccProd]

1 [ccProd]Infestation Terminus[/ccProd]

1 [ccProd]Heavy Storm[/ccProd]

EffectVeiler-ORCS-EN-SR-LEAs you can see, the deck doesn’t use a full set of [ccProd]Effect Veiler[/ccProd]s. This is because [ccProd]Skill Drain[/ccProd] already provides the same function, and you don’t want too many cards that do the same thing unless we’re talking about the Dragon Ruler effects. Silverman and I both used this deck on the Sunday before Nationals, which was our last chance to play in a local tournament, and we both made Top4, beating a couple of Prophecy and Dragon Ruler mirror matches on the way. Afterwards, we expressed how we didn’t miss Rejuvenation, and those players who managed to resolve the card against us would just lose because of Vanity’s Emptiness or [ccProd]Skill Drain[/ccProd]. We agreed that we needed to test a little more, but the idea was great already.

I had two more days of work before we could leave on Tuesday night, and obviously they passed as slow as possible because I had something great to look forward to. In that little time frame, we started hearing about an answer to Prophecy that could completely shut the deck down and provide the function of Prohibition and then some. I was convinced that we had already been through all the possibilities, but apparently not. The worst part was that almost no one in our group had copies of the card. Why is it always like that, I thought. Whenever you really want to try something out or find a new piece of tech, you can never find it, yet you know you have a million copies somewhere in your abyss. Since I refuse to playtest on Dueling Network 99.9% of the time, I figured I would leave it up to Silverman to test the card out for the both of us, and I trust his judgment. While we packed the car to hit the road for Chicago, I became too anxious to wait.

“How’d your testing go?” I asked Steve. “The card is broken. I was styling on everyone last night. I asked Wiggles who the best Prophecy players were so I could run some games against them. I then proceeded to cream all of them. It’s too real,” he exclaimed. “Wow, that good huh?” “Yeah, I’m definitely siding three of it. Not even a question. It’s just better than all the other cards.” I could feel a sense of relief building up. Maybe we had finally found the answer to the dreaded Prophecy matchup.

“Well then it’s settled, we need six copies of [ccProd]DNA Surgery[/ccProd].”

“The doctor is in.”

Frazier Smith

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