Solving the Trap Card Paradox

In my last article, I talked about how the two best decks in the format created a paradox with which type of trap card is most effective. I came to the conclusion that floodgates and chainable removal have a dominant advantage over battle traps and anti-establishment removal, but the format left us with no dominant strategy to pick between floodgates and chainable removal. Floodgates are likely to be effective against Shaddolls, but not against Burning Abyss. Chainable removal was likely to be effective against Burning Abyss, but not Shaddolls. Since neither deck is significantly better than the other, there is no dominant strategy to use when picking your traps, which leaves us with the trap card paradox. You can read that article here. This week, I’m going to make an attempt to solve the trap card paradox.

phoenix wing wind blastThe Impact of New Challengers on the Paradox

This coming Friday, New Challengers becomes legal. Burning Abyss and Shaddolls both gain new support and Qliphorts are released. Let’s start out by looking at how the new release will affect the paradox.

Shaddolls were given El Shaddoll Fusion and a couple of new toys in the extra deck. The new fusion spell means that on any given turn they can special summon more than they previously have been able to. Since chainable removal is only good on a single threat, cards like Phoenix Wing and Karma Cut are going to be even worse against Shaddolls. Stop one summon and they can just do something else. This is magnified by the fact that a Shaddoll player can chain El Shaddoll Fusion to a chainable removal card, which means they not only special summon more in a single turn, but they don’t lose out on value from their initial investment.

Burning Abyss were weak to chainable removal cards because if you stopped their Tour Guide summon, they couldn’t keep going. It seems that most people are only playing Rubic from the three new main deck monsters available to them. Rubic doesn’t seem do a whole lot by himself in the way of Burning Abyss’ inherent weakness to chainable removal cards. If you summon Tour Guide and he is stopped, Rubic isn’t going to let you do more. You’ve made yourself slightly stronger against these traps as an extra Burning Abyss means that you will be able to special summon two Burning Abyss monsters more often than you previously could, which will allow you to make a second play that turn.

It may be a little premature to say for certain exactly how Qliphorts release impacts the trap card paradox. It is largely going to depend on how much of the meta the deck takes up. I’d say that before New Challengers, Burning Abyss and Shaddolls had a roughly even amount of representation. Let’s say instead 90% played Shaddolls and only 10% played Burning Abyss and all other decks in the meta. Here you aren’t likely to play against the decks that chainable removal is good against, but you’re very likely to play against the deck floodgates are good against, so floodgates have a dominant advantage over chainable removal.

Qliphorts are going to split this meta share as some Burning Abyss duelists and some Shaddoll duelists will retire those decks in favor of Qliphorts. It is important to note that this is not necessarily a 33%, 33%, 33% split among the top 3 decks. It’s entirely possible that Qliphorts may represent only 20% of the meta early on for a number of reasons ranging from them being costly to potentially being a worse deck. This would leave something like 40% BA, 40% Shaddoll, 20% Qliphorts. These numbers are arbitrary and really could shift the meta composition either way, it’s just to note that just because there are three top decks, they are not necessarily all equally represented.

My initial thought is that floodgates are inherently weak against Qliphorts. You can’t Vanity’s Emptiness a Tool’s search effect. They’ll break your soft lock and overwhelm you. It seems just dealing with Tool outright is a better strategy, which means chainable removal will likely be better against them (perhaps we’ll see a shift to Raigeki Break instead of Karma Cut to compensate). If Qliphorts take up a sizeable percent of the meta, it may tip the balance of which type of trap is better against more decks enough to break the paradox.

Tour GuideA Purposed Solution

Instead of waiting to see how the meta develops and see if the paradox takes care of itself, is it possible to avoid it altogether?

The trap card paradox exists because neither chainable removal traps nor floodgates have a dominant advantage over the other for the category of best type of defensive card. Is it possible to reduce the focus on the paradox by shifting away from an emphasis on traps in the first place? If playing different types of trap cards creates a problem, we could avoid this problem by playing fewer traps. Once we take a closer look, we’ll see that this idea has some additional benefits to it as well.

If you’ve ever spent a considerable amount of time playing the Burning Abyss mirror or even talked to anyone who has, you more than likely know or they’ll more than likely tell you that it isn’t a very good mirror match. Why do we think that might be the case?

It’s because we’re playing a game of trading resources. I’ll stop you, you’ll stop me. Eventually, someone has got to draw a Tour Guide or Burning Abyss for turn and won’t have a trap card to stop the other back. Then whoever runs out of traps first won’t be able to stop the opponent’s push. Burning Abyss couldn’t really deal with established fields, so they’ll more than likely lose at that point. This type of strategy seems as if you’re flipping a coin; who will run out of defense first? Heads or tails? Me or you?  That doesn’t seem like a very good strategy if I’m trying to win a tournament. I’m not likely to flip heads all day. So what’s the alternative?

If you’ve played a Shaddoll mirror match or talked to people about the Shaddoll mirror match, you’ll know that it’s regarded as a good mirror. Why might that be the case?

Let’s take a look at how a Shaddoll mirror match is played out. You’ll do whatever you want and I won’t stop it, then I’ll do whatever I want and you won’t stop it. Eventually someone will make a huge push and win or someone’s push will be accompanied by a floodgate to end the game.

And how does the Burning Abyss vs. Shaddoll mirror match play out? It’s essentially Shaddolls throwing stuff into Burning Abyss’ traps. If Shaddolls have more things to throw than Burning Abyss have traps, Shaddolls will win. If Burning Abyss has more traps to stop them with than Shaddoll has things to throw, Burning Abyss will win. This seems comparable to the first scenario that was somewhat like a coin flip outcome, which is why neither deck consistently beats the other deck.

Super PolymerizationTraditionally that kind of scenario is counteracted by the bigger deck being more powerful than the small deck to the point that they can consistently throw more stuff into backrow than the little deck will have backrow. This results in the big deck winning out over the small deck. This can be seen with Water consistently beating Fire (barring Floodgates from Fire), Shaddolls consistently beating Satellarknight and Burning Abyss before Super Polymerization got limited, Dragon Rulers consistently beating every deck that wasn’t Dragons last September, and Sylvans consistently beating HAT. Big decks, the deck that can do more, beat small decks.

This format, Shaddolls have taken the role as the big deck. The problem is they weren’t big enough to consistently beat the small deck (Burning Abyss). If you make the big deck bigger and allow it to do more things, it will have a dominant advantage over the small decks of the format. What’s about to happen come Friday? New Challengers and the release of El Shaddoll Fusion. The big deck gets bigger.

That leads me to think that Shaddolls will consistently beat Burning Abyss from this point on, if Burning Abyss continues to take the roll as the little deck of the format. Is it possible that Burning Abyss does not have to take this role? Could Burning Abyss be played as a big deck? I’d like to say I think people are severely undervaluing the other new Burning Abyss monsters that aren’t Rubic. Alich and Calcab allow the deck to take a bigger deck role. You can do more with your plays and your turn doesn’t have to stop after Tour Guide gets stopped. You can start with Dante before ever summoning Tour Guide. I’d say that the ability to special them from your hand is enough to make them worthwhile additions, even if you never use their other effect.

So it’s seemingly like big decks have a dominant advantage over small decks, as long as they are big enough. Before New Challengers, Shaddolls weren’t really big enough, but it’s likely that they are now. So how does this relate to the trap card paradox?

  • Burning Abyss was the little deck. It played a lot of traps. Shaddoll was the big deck. It played few traps.
  • Fire Fist was the little deck. It played a lot of traps. Mermails were the big deck. It played few traps.
  • HAT was the little deck. It played a lot of traps. Sylvans were the big deck. They played few traps.

Are we beginning to notice a pattern here? There seems to be a correlation between the number of traps a deck plays and the number how big or little a deck is. The more traps, the smaller the deck. The fewer traps, the bigger the deck.

So why might that be the case? Why would a big deck not want to play a lot of defense? The answer is simple; for every trap card you have in your hand, you have one less card to do something else with. If you’ve got a six card hand and three of them are traps, you’ve only got three cards left to make plays with.

History shows us that big decks have a dominant strategy over small decks so long as their strategy is big enough. This format up until new challengers has proven to be an interesting exception because Shaddoll decks weren’t able to consistently overpower Burning Abyss’ traps. That’s about to change with El Shaddoll Fusion.

So how do we actually solve the trap card paradox? If the meta is 50% Burning Abyss and 50% Shaddoll, chainable removal will still be good against half the decks and bad against the other half and floodgates will still be good against half the decks and bad against the other.

The solution is to simply play a big enough deck. Big decks have the an inherent advantage over small decks. It’s why Water beat Fire, Sylvans beat HAT, Shaddolls beat Satellarknight and BA before Super Polymerization was limited, and why Shaddolls will consistently beat Burning Abyss if Burning Abyss does not adopt a bigger deck strategy.

By playing the bigger deck, you’ll consistently beat the smaller decks anyway. Therefore you only have to worry about the other big decks. Since floodgates are the dominant strategy against big decks and since big decks beat small decks regardless of the type of trap used, you can play the bigger deck with floodgates and beat the paradox. When playing a smaller deck, you’ll win because you are more powerful than them. Monsters trump backrow is a truth in this game that I don’t expect to go away. You’ll have more things to throw at them than they will have backrow. Then when playing against another big deck, floodgates have a dominant advantage over the other type of traps available.

A big deck with floodgates has a dominant advantage over all other possible combinations of deck type and trap type.

And with that, we have solved the trap card paradox. We now have a way to consistently beat all other decks. New Challengers makes Shaddolls a much bigger deck, which leads me to believe that they will consistently beat Burning Abyss if they maintain their current little deck status. It’s possible that Burning Abyss can be played as a big deck, which I see as their best hope of competing. It remains to be seen how Qliphorts fit into all of this, so that’s something to be watching out for. Here are some of the predictions I have for after the new set is released.

  • Shaddolls will consistently beat Burning Abyss if they maintain their spot as a little deck.
  • Burning Abyss will still be played as a little deck early on.
  • It’s possible for Burning Abyss to be played a big deck. Even if it’s possible, it’s something that will come with time. Shaddolls will probably take significantly more spots in top cut than BA as BA won’t have yet adapted (if it’s even possible).
  • When Burning Abyss beats Shaddolls, it will be because of floodgates, not chainable removal.

I’m gearing up for an exciting weekend in Raleigh at the ARG Circuit Series. I’m interested to see if my predictions hold true and looking forward to seeing how Qliphorts fall into all of this. I hope to see you all there this weekend! Until next time, play hard or go home!


Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

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