If you predicted back in September that this card would become a defining meta force for this format, then congratulations to you. I don’t think most of us thought that Thunder King Rai-Oh would move out of it’s staple side-deck role after the ban list neutered Samurai and the Tour Guide/Sangan xyz ruling was reversed at the beginning of this format. It’s no secret that Thunder King has been a competitive card since it’s release, but until now it typically wasn’t thought of as a main-deck option. Rai-Oh has always been one of those cards like Cyber Dragon: You put 2 copies in your side deck and didn’t even think about it. You just did it – that’s the way it worked. But recently, and in a large part due to Billy Brake’s win in YCS Toronto, Thunder King has stepped out of the side deck and into the limelight.
What exactly makes Thunder King Rai-Oh so good? To begin with, it’s a LIGHT monster with 1900 attack. Being LIGHT means that a spent Rai-Oh can be used to fuel Black Luster Soldier-Envoy of the Beginning or Chaos Sorcerer. It also means that it’s compatible with Honest – a feature that may not be so relevant now, but is always something to keep in mind. Its attack score is what really makes it shine as a first-turn summon, however. 1900 ATK has always been the maximum for a 4 star monster with a good effect; Rai-Oh is no exception. Its 1900 ATK has more implications than are immediately apparent. To begin with, most decks right now aren’t playing 4-star monsters with 1900 attack (other than their own Rai-Oh). The top decks – Synchrocentric (plants), Karakuri, Dark World, Dino Rabbit, and agents have few or no first-turn summons that can contest turn 1 Thunder King. Dino Rabbit has perhaps the best play of summoning a Sabersaurus to crash, and Dark World has the option of playing Gates and summoning Snoww, but in either case the opponent has been forced into a sub-optimal play that you can capitalize on. Thunder King Rai-Oh’s 1900 attack trumps other turn-1 summons like Tengu, Tour Guide, Dimensional Alchemist, and Genex Neutron. This means your opponent is almost certainly going to have to play a spell or trap card, which means they have one less card to use against you later in the duel when they need it most.
Thunder King also has two incredible effects that can dictate the course of a duel. To begin with, Thunder King prevents players from adding cards to their hand from their deck. This means Rai-Oh prevents Gold Sarcophagus, Pot of Duality, Genex Neutron, Karakuri Merchant, all T.G. search effects, Snoww, Sangan, The Agent of Mystery – Earth, Red Eyes Darkness Metal Dragon, and some other less-relevant cards including Reinforcement of the Army, Shien’s Smoke Signal, XX-Saber Darksoul, Black Whirlwind, Wind-Up Factory, Gadgets, and Ancient Fairy Dragon. This ability is perhaps why Thunder-King became so big at the start of this format: Its popularity increased in direct correlation with Tour Guide’s increased play. Tour Guide has become such a defining part of the format, that it’s no surprise Thunder King moved out of the side-deck to combat it. Thunder King is able to shut down Sangan search, and depriving a plant player of their expected search for Lonefire Blossom or Maxx C can leave them open when they least expect it. Thunder King wrecks not only the tour guide play, but, when played properly, it can also shut down entire decks that search a lot, like Karakuri and T.Gs.
Thunder King’s other effect is the third reason why it’s the best first-turn play in Yu-Gi-Oh right now. The easiest way to deal with a monster is to summon a bigger one and attack it, right? Thunder King shuts this play down. XYZ summoning is quickly becoming as powerful as synchro summoning, and Rai-Oh is one of only a few playable cards that can combat this. As long as you have a Thunder King on the board, your opponent can’t summon ANY xyz monster, ANY synchro monster, or strong monsters like Black Luster Soldier, Chaos Sorcerer, Cyber Dragon, Dark Armed Dragon, Archlord Kristya, or Master Hyperion. This means Thunder King Rai-Oh shuts down every boss monster of every top deck right now, save Dark World (and even there, TKRO can stop Grapha from coming out for a turn). This is why Thunder King is also extremely good in the late game, when your opponent has used some monster removal cards and is ready to drop their boss monsters to go for game.
These two effects mean that Thunder King shuts down key searchers in most decks, and also stops dozens of boss monsters. Add the 1900 attack, and it’s no wonder that Thunder King is the scariest card to see across from you on the table when you’re about to begin your first turn. It almost begs the question, why hasn’t Thunder King been main-decked before now? The answer to that most likely lies with decks like Monarchs, Gravekeepers and T.Gs, which were good last format but have since fallen out of favor. Decks with powerful monsters that are normal summoned spell doom for Rai-Oh, but at this moment in time there’s no popular deck like that. Add in factors like Dimensional Prison and Mirror Force falling out of play, and the pieces all fall into place for TKRO.
At YCS Toronto, the first event of the format, 3 copies of smashing ground were mained in the top 32 decks. Fast forward to YCS Kansas City, and we see 8 copies were included in duelist’s main deck, with 10 more copies sided. This increase in Smashing Grounds can partially be attributed to the Dino Rabbit deck’s introduction, but Smashing Ground is also arguably the best way to handle a first-turn Thunder king Rai-Oh. It may be especially important to note that Derek Rouse, the Karakuri player in the top 4, main-decked 2 copies of Smashing Ground, and sided 2 copies of Smashing Horn. Thunder King Rai-Oh rips apart the Karakuri deck when played correctly – if a Karakuri player is deprived of Genex Neutron, Karakuri Merchant, and their ability to synchro summon, their only out is Cyber Dragon. It comes as no surprise that Rouse played 2 copies to deal with Rai-Oh and other threats, and it seems to have paid off. When building Karakuris, consider this as a main deck-option.
Despite Call of the Haunted being at two copies, it hasn’t seen much play this format. This is probably due to the backrow hate this format offers, but Call of the Haunted is poised to be extremely relevant once again. To begin with, Call of the Haunted is great bait for any deck playing Tour Guide from the Underworld. If your opponent targets your Call with their Space Typhoon, chain it to grab Sangan for a plus. Call is also good for bringing back synchro monsters and Black Luster Soldier, but using Call of the Haunted to bring back a Thunder King Rai-Oh is an incredibly effective play to stop an opponent. The control that Thunder King offers is practically unrivaled, so bringing back TKRO again and again means you’re able to control the duel for longer periods of time. When your opponent thinks they have an opening, they’ll typically attempt to synchro summon or xyz summon. When they have two weak monsters on board, flip Call to grab Thunder King, and now your opponent is stuck – it’s almost like chaining Maxx “C” in the way your opponent is immediately forced to stop their play in a vulnerable position. It’s a good play against the new Dino Rabbit deck, especially if they grab 2 Kabazauls with Rabbit’s effect. Even if they go for 2 Sabersaurus instead, chaining Call of the Haunted to Rabbit’s activation means your opponent won’t be able to go into Laggia or Dolkka until main phase 2, at least. The Dino Rabbit deck is extremely easy to read as well, so if your opponent has a banished Rabbit and they summon Tour Guide, flip Call of the Haunted and now they’re stuck. Tour guide is incapable of destroying TKRO by battle, and they will be unable to xyz summon Leviair with Rai-Oh on the field. This is also an effective (and unexpected!) play when your opponent activates the effect of something like Pot of Duality mid to late game when they’re searching for answers. Thunder King will negate the Duality, and since Duality was activated (just not resolved) your opponent will be unable to special summon for the rest of the turn. The brutal play can cripple an opponent and decide a duel. Call of the Haunted may not be making a comeback quite yet with MST and Heavy around, but it’s something to keep in mind when you’re playing Thunder King and Tour Guide.
For the remainder of the format, expect to see Thunder King everywhere. Even decks where it seems to be out of place, duelists are playing it. Thunder King won’t be going anywhere as long as Tour Guide is around to fetch Sangan and make xyz plays. Add that to the fact that TKRO both feeds your BLS and stops your opponent’s, and it becomes quickly apparent that in this boss-monster and search-prevalent format, Thunder King truly is the king of the meta. If you aren’t playing him, either get on board or start including some outs when deck building, because Thunder King Rai-Oh is here to stay.