Since their release in February, Nekroz have utterly dominated the competitive scene. They have accumulated at least half of the spots in top cut of every single tournament leading up to last weekend’s North American World Championship Qualifier. Despite being more powerful and more consistent than every other deck in the game, it was a Burning Abyss mirror match that would determine the champion of the third largest tournament in this game’s history. The tournament, format, and season are over, but it’s important to reflect on previous events to see what might hold true for tournaments that have yet to come. Let’s see if we can find an explanation for this seemingly surprising outcome.
Before I begin I’d like to give a huge congratulations to Noah Greene, the 2015 North American Champion! Here are some of the reasons I have found in my analysis for why he set himself up for success with his deck choice.
To become the North American Champion, Noah had to survive 17 rounds of tournament play. In order to do that, it’s necessary to minimize the number of hands where you can’t play because your cards just didn’t go with one another. While Nekroz may be the best at this given their ability to search any card they are missing in almost every hand, Burning Abyss certainly aren’t too far behind in this respect. Any two Burning Abyss monsters will put a Dante on board, which is likely enough to get you going. Since this is so easy to accomplish, it makes sense that Burning Abyss is a deck that can survive 17 rounds. Even though Shaddolls managed to just take top honors at the European Championship this weekend, it makes sense that we see fewer of them overall in the top cut of either World Championship Qualifier, as they have difficulty making any worthwhile plays if they do not draw one of their six fusion spells. You are certainly more likely to draw two of any Burning Abyss than you are one of just six fusion spells.
While Burning Abyss may be nearly as consistent as Nekroz and explains why you might choose Burning Abyss over some other non-Nekroz strategy, it doesn’t give an explanation for why you would actually choose to play Burning Abyss over Nekroz. What might be some reasons to have played them over Nekroz?
I believe this to be the single biggest factor in Burning Abyss’ recent success over Nekroz. Similar to how it is mandatory that the cards in your hand consistently agree with one another to accomplish what your deck is trying to do, it is also important that your opponent cannot entirely cut off your plays with a single card that you may not be able to out a significant portion of the time.
I know my three losses at the WCQ were to Mistake, Mistake, Necrovalley (in the mirror). These commonly played cards make it so that a Nekroz deck can’t play until they have gotten them off of the field. Not only do these cards not hurt Burning Abyss nearly as much as they hurt Nekroz, there are practically no floodgates that can shut down Burning Abyss. Of the few that exist that are capable of reliably shutting down Burning Abyss, almost none are commonly played.
Where the powerful, searchable, and heavily played Djinn, Releaser of Rituals can leave the Nekroz mirror up to fate and whether or not you had the roughly 50:50 out, it does next to nothing to Burning Abyss. Between Effect Veiler and Breakthrough Skill preventing the setup, a mixture of traps ranging from Karma Cut, Raigeki Break, and Phoenix Wing Wind Blast as well as an engine out that is searchable in Farfa, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss, BA has a plethora of ways to deal with the most common floodgate in the game. The commitment that would be required to send Djinn off of Lavalval Chain will consistently come up short against BA, as they will almost certainly be able to out it.
Not dropping games because you couldn’t out a card that wouldn’t let you play is a huge factor in Burning Abyss’ success. This works doubly in the deck’s favor as not only are they immune to most cards trying to cut off all player interaction, these cards are commonly played across the board and your opponent will often have dead cards that were in their deck to give them an edge in the Nekroz matchup. This gives you an inherent advantage as cards like main decked Mistake won’t do anything to take away from you, but many people will still draw them before having a chance to side them out against you.
Nekroz have been out since February and at this point people know all the tricks up their sleeve. Since it’s the most represented deck and has been that way for quite some time, everybody knows how to get around them and have been practicing to beat exactly what they’re doing. Burning Abyss was the dominant deck for several months before Nekroz release, but a solid five months has passed and people have had time to forget how to play against Burning Abyss. You see things like people summoning Trishula against Burning Abyss, hoping to hit their one card in hand, only to get stopped when it is discarded to activate a trap card. While it is likely much more effective to keep Trishula in hand against Burning Abyss so that you can use it to negate discard traps on other Nekroz monsters, that’s not necessarily inherently obvious to everyone. The way Burning Abyss plays allows people a chance to mess up. Winning tournaments is more about getting good at being consistently not stupid and less about being very smart. Not everyone will mess up, but some will and they’re much more likely to make a mistake if you make it easy for them. This is something Burning Abyss does very well given the way it plays with discard traps and people’s understanding of these interactions due to the amount of time that has elapsed since it was the most dominant deck.
With the decision tree any given Nekroz turn being hundreds of branches but only forty minutes per round, end of match procedure is a common occurrence when playing against Nekroz. Burning Abyss naturally plays well under these conditions. In addition to the newest Malebranche that allows them to burn for damage without attacking, Burning Abyss have Angineer that allow them to press for damage through a Nekroz of Valkyrus and Nightmare Shark to disregard the field and attack directly. These are huge advantages as the nature of time means that it is likely the third game when it occurs. This means that they will often win you not just the game, but also the entire match.
These factors combined with one another to set our latest North American Champion up for success, earning him a seat at the World Championship. Best of luck to him and all of the other competitors who will battle it out in Kyoto, Japan later this summer for the coveted title of King of Games! Until next time, play hard or go home!