Over the past several weeks, I have been quite busy trying to figure out my ideal build for Dragons for our upcoming regional. We have had a few large events recently such as ARG Columbus, YCS London, and a few regionals like LA to help see meta trends and tech choices, but I still have been racking my brain about what direction I should take my build. While Dragons is still the top deck like it was last format, one huge difference is the variance in builds. What I mean is last format there was basically a standard 35-37 cards that composed the main deck, while the rest boiled down to basically your decision to main Vanity's Emptiness or Eradicator. Other small things like if you mained 2 or 3 Veiler, how many Sarco you ran, etc, but 95% of the deck was pretty much built and established. This format, however, is certainly not the case and it has been something I've been struggling with pretty much all of this format. There has been much discussion of a lot of these topics across the forums, but in this post I'd like to highlight some of these issues, compare/contrast them, and basically bring them out into the light. I do a lot of research but I'd love to hear your guys' opinions on them! Constructive ones, and not just shit like "I hate Dragons they take no skill or thought to play", etc. If anything, this post should show that we actually have a shit load to think about, at least for deck construction, which then inherently affects how we play and deal with our match-ups.
1. Dragunity vs Standard
While the Blue Eyes build was a fun option I played with at a previous Regional, it has basically fallen off the map. In retrospect I wish I had played "Standard" Dragons at that Regional, although I did enjoy the draw power of the Blue Eyes build. It just sucked when you'd have a Consonance+Blue Eyes, or a Trade-In+White Stone. That didn't happen a whole lot and I think I still did well at that event, but I know I could've done better. I still think "maybe I could've done better with Standard", but who knows, maybe I would've done worse. Anyways, with Blue Eyes pretty much out of the picture, focus could be placed on Dragunity variants and Standard variants. Both Pat Hoban and Frazier Smith have posted recent articles on ARG as to why they think each build is better than the other; Hoban's signature deck at this point is Dragunity Rulers, while Frazier opts for Standard. Naturally after picking up the Dragunity Synchros and Phalanxes, I gave the deck a try to see how it compared with Standard Dragons, and it seemed alright to me. I only lost to someone that decided to side in 3 Royal Decree (and drawing into all 3), of all things, then missed out on top 4 cuz of being down-paired basically all day and having bad tie-breakers, finishing in 5th. I only played with it for that one tournament since I pretty much had to make a quick decision since Danny needed to obtain a Gae Dearg in some way if he was going to play it for the regional. I felt that I simply had much more experience with Standard so it was fine if he borrowed my Gae Dearg. I knew I wouldn't have a lot of time to learn a new deck so I just wanted to nip it in the bud and focus on Standard. However, to this day I still think about if Dragunity will be better even though I made my decision to not play it (deja vu with my conflict of playing Standard or BEWD at that previous regional).
2. Card Trooper
Card Trooper, for me, has always been the card I love to hate and hate to love. I've played with it in Lightsworn/Twilight, Chaos Dragon, Plants, Inzektors, and Dragons, and there have always been those times where it's both absolutely brilliant and utterly garbage for me. This format I've played 0, 1, and 2 Trooper builds and as always, usually I mill complete ass with it but in those rare instances when I can mill 2 or even 3 Dragons with it, it's damn amazing. There was one time I knew that Roy was going to summon a JD so I pre-emptively Maxx C'd, got the draw off the summon, he used JD's effect destroying my set Trooper, and I topdecked into a Scarecrow which saved me that turn from his JD+Blaster and I proceeded to win the match. In the online community, the major thing that gets brought up is "Crimson Blader bait". While many argue that the mirror match isn't really about Crimson Blader anymore and it's easier to deal with it due to Dragon decks playing more backrow now, it's still something that you can't simply ignore because backrows are still able to be played around. I do like Trooper vs rogue decks and the free draw is nice, and the Blader aspect can be mitigated if you opt to main 2 Scarecrow, as Merlin Schumacher and a few others have done recently. With my tendency of milling all spell/traps and then drawing into a Dragon though, Trooper is still something I am hesitant on maining even though I comprehend the advantages that Trooper provides. It gets you essentially 4 cards deeper into your deck, is a 1900 body that can apply some pressure, is Redox food, etc. I get it, I just don't know if it's good for me.
3. Cards of Consonance
Early in the format this card was basically a no-brainer in that mostly everyone mained 2 or 3 copies. Still to this day we see a lot of players maining 2 copies. However, both Billy Brake and Robert Boyajian stated after YCS San Mateo that they would cut Consonance completely from their decks in future events, even after dropping to 1 copy mained for that event. The theory behind it is that the benefit of having the tuner available to make a Synchro outweighed randomly drawing 2 extra cards. It was similar to those that simply splashed in Trade-Ins and level 8 Destiny Heroes back in the day. Drawing just to draw and not furthering your game state was not optimal. Do you make a Synchro play and potentially risk having that Consonance be dead in hand for the rest of the game, or forgo the move and play Consonance and hope to draw something equally relevant? There is also the issue that one must ponder if they want to potentially "turn off" a color to simply make Consonance live. What this means is for example should one banish Tempest to search Corsesca because you have Consonance in hand, or pitch Tidal to use Ravine to search Corsesca rather than making another live color? More available colors equals more options next turn, but if they MST it you might not have a way of searching a Consonance target later. These arguments are completely valid, while on the other end of the spectrum people argue that it is better to have it as an option to help draw into non-searchable cards (Return, Sword, Sixth Sense, etc) and side-deck cards instead of just hoping to naturally draw them throughout the match and via Sword. I have played around with 0, 1, 2, and 3 Consonance over the course of the format and all I know is I don't like 3 with 5 targets. I've played 2 for the longest amount of time, and I can see that sometimes it sucks having in hand but other times when I play Consonance, draw into a Sword, which draws into a Ravine or Return, it just feels so boss. Still I try to not let this cloud my judgment, as whether I should main this card or not is still something I think about.
Main decked MST, for the most part, was still a no-no in the early part of the format even with Heavy Storm no longer being around. The philosophy was expressed by Pat Hoban when he explained that MST is best when they bring in side cards for games 2 and 3, while for game 1 you should focus on doing Dragon-related things because those should win you game 1's since the things Dragons do naturally is better than things that other decks naturally do. Over time we saw an increase in main deck MST usage since Vanity's Emptiness was still very real and the field spell war became increasingly important. Billy Brake even went to maining 3 copies for San Mateo, with other players like Josh Graham saying, after the event, he should've mained all 3 even though he chose to ran 2 (or maybe this was at Toronto - I apologize but over time it's hard to discern what happens and who tops which events). Recently Trap Stun has been discussed and we saw the winner of YCS London main 2 copies and ran no MST's. This is because Trap Stun does a lot more vs a Return or Sixth Sense whereas with MST you would be hoping to hit it blind at an end phase. Theoretically it's easier to simply Trap Stun a field of 4 backrow and try to go off, rather than stare at your in-hand MST and try to push through that same field. MST is also not a "combo" card, for example if you opened with 2 MST that means you only have your other 4 cards to do combo-related things (like Dragunity wombo or Ravine->AFD-> Draco) and chances are you'll have a defensive card such as Maxx C or a trap in hand, essentially lowering your probability of performing your respective combo even more. Similar to Consonance, I have tried out maining all the different options. I started off at 0, and have tried 3 because I felt that I'd simply rather main cards that I have to always side in (because people go hammy on Dragon-hate around here) which would give me more sidedeck space. I hated losing to decks simply because I didn't have removal for their Soul Drain/Mind Drain/Iron Wall/Gozen/etc. Right now I'm torn between 1 or 2 copies mained. The issue is still very real because you can only run 3 MST, while they can run, you know, 10+ copies of those traps that essentially all say "you can't play Yugioh". People over-side, which should be costing them games, but sometimes they get rewarded and win out because of it. It seems like right after someone beats me at a local, they'll lose to Battlin' Boxer or some other deck piloted by a much less-experienced player. Oh ok. I guess Boxer is the true hotness.
5. Vanity's Emptiness
This card was a break-out star last format and over time catapulted to roughly $15, the most expensive common we've ever seen (until Sense came out). Players could be completely shut down from being able to summon, and then the person controlling the Emptiness could easily turn it off by playing a Sword and proceed to establish a field (unless the opponent had an Emptiness ready to go as well, of course). It became increasingly popular in rogue decks such as Constellars who could lock you down with Pleiades+Emptiness, or dark decks that could go Master Key Beetle+Emptiness. Then, in an instant, the notion that the card sucked became a discussion after Hoban and Graham said they wished they hadn't run it. Other players have also said the same thing in their deck profile videos. The argument was that Emptiness didn't do anything to help break up an already-established board. This is certainly true. It sucked to open both copies, and you had to play sort of awkwardly to both play around your own copy and make sure you wouldn't go minus by playing other cards (like Ravine). On the flip side, you still see people topping running 1 or 2 copies and in only a few days Stardust Spark Dragon will be released, and it, combined with Emptiness, could be even better than Pleiades or Beetle with the card. This is certainly an issue that will have to be acknowledged moving forward.
6. "Real" Traps
When the initial leak of the OCG list occurred, I opted to build a Dragon deck consisting of Cardcar D's, Pot of Dualities, Skill Drains, and real back rows like Solemn Warning and Mirror Force, going into a tournament that would be starting with this list (even though later in the evening that same day was the day the real TCG list was released). My philosophy was that Stardust+Skill Drain backed by backrow would be a good soft-lock, while Sword+Duality+Cardcar would provide me plusses, help me be ahead of my opponent, and most importantly dig for Return. I was criticized for this because it was a stark shift from the Dragon deck of the previous format that basically wanted to churn out pressure as quickly as possible and simply overwhelm the opponent. This criticism was valid, as we saw early in the format with Dragons running very little backrow besides Emptiness and Return. The emergence of usage of Raigeki Break and Phoenix Wing Wind Blast occurred, but this has shifted even more with Pat Hoban running many "real" traps such as Mirror Force, Warning, Compulse, Bottomless, etc in Dragunity. This trend is slowly being adopted into Standard Dragons as well now; Merlin Schumacher ran both Torrential and Mirror Force in his build, as did Frazier Smith, and many players from YCS London ran the lone Torrential. Perhaps I wasn't so far off the mark after all with my personal early-format philosophies ;) The current issue is which, if any, "real" traps do we elect to run? How does Stardust Spark impact this?
7. Raigeki Break vs Phoenix Wing Wind Blast
This is an age-old debate and one that I don't think will ever truly result in a final consensus. Historically the OCG has always preferred Raigeki Break, while the TCG has preferred Wind Blast. I have toyed around with Raigeki Break, as it was a good option to have to permanently deal with back-row threats or Crimson Bladers. Wind Blast has been great to turn off colors, be able to actually deal with a field that consists of a Stardust, and set my opponent behind a turn in spinning a set card. As to which one I prefer, it has actually been Raigeki Break simply because, like previously mentioned, all the hate people side in. Yes, being able to Wind Blast an Iron Wall is cool since theoretically you should be able to establish a field that would just make the Iron Wall dead for them next turn, but you know, Yugioh doesn't always pan out that way and it just so happened to be that their 3 other traps were enough to stymy my attempt of establishing a field and furthermore I have to deal with Iron Wall all over again next turn. If I had Raigeki Break, those other 3 traps still would've stopped my play and all, but at least I know I don't have to deal with that particular Iron Wall again (but chances are they would've just topped another hate trap card anyway so fml lol). However, I believe Spark+Emptiness will change the way we create our trap line-up. Many believe that Raigeki Break simply won't be a viable option once Spark is released; perhaps this is true, maybe it's not, I'm really not sure at the moment.
If there was one field spell I had to pick that defined this format, it would certainly be Dragon Ravine, followed by Grand Spellbook Tower. Ravine let you discard "free" Dragons to get even more free Dragons, thin your deck, and increase your odds of drawing power spell and trap cards. It also became a huge bane to Spellbook decks, which rely heavily on Tower to continue their flow of card advantage and loop plays. Once Trigon became more well known, Ravine's playability value increased even more. Terraforming comes into play in that theoretically 4, or 5, copies of Dragon Ravine should be better than just running the 3. After all we ideally would like to open the Trigon AFD combo, and by running more copies we'd increase our percentage of doing so. We have seen it all this format, with players choosing to run 0, 1, 2, and even 3 copies of the field spell searcher. Recently Claudio Kirchmair made an argument that Terraforming is not really needed, since we realistically don't need to "turbo" into an AFD play. The opponent could simply AFD back, get a free search, or simply play theirs over yours and result in your minus. And after you have gone through 2 Ravines via the combo, Terraforming is a fairly dead draw at that point. I have played 0, 1, and 2 this format. At 2, sometimes it plus a Ravine becomes cloggy, especially if you draw into another one later on. At the same time I've gone through games seeing 0 copies of Ravine or Terraforming. At 0, again, it's like "damn I wish I'd get my Ravine already" and you know you don't have a Terraforming to help search it. 1 has been OK, but I still see dabs of both issues from 0 and 2 while playing 1. Determining the right number has been an annoying issue.
9. The Extra Deck
In all honesty, I wish the "rule change" we were supposed to get was an increase in extra deck size. Throughout the course of the format, we've pretty much seen it all as far as extra deck options go. Plant versions (those that ran Dandylion and/or Scapegoat) would have to run Formula Synchron and Mist Bird Clausolas, which are both really great options, but naturally had to skimp on maybe an XYZ. Orient Dragon is a solid option but it's play has been rather sporadic since some believe there is always a better available play than simply banishing a Synchro. Two copies of Crimson Blader have treated me very well over the format, but I still see many decks just running 1 and many people saying "1 is all you should need", which sounds right, I wish I could just run 1, but for me people seem to always play around the first and having the second was what sealed the deal. Sometimes they even play around the 2nd, so it comes out a third time via Redox effect, or back when I ran DDR. Then we have other issues such as 2 vs 3 Dracossack and 1 vs 2 Big Eye. The standard is 2 and 1, but with the emergence of the Trigon + AFD combo, having 3 and 2 doesn't seem too bad. Frazier Smith made a remark after one of the ARG events that he wish he had ran a 2nd Big Eye since it would've made winning a particular match easier. We have other great cards such as Master of Blades which is great against rogue decks, but is basically a non-option since space is so very tight. Thought Ruler is in the same boat - the life gain has single-handedly brought me back into matches all on its own in the past, but is it good enough to keep in? If we still side Eradicator, is Red Dragon an option we'd want to have? Ideally you'd rather trib off an RDA instead of a Colossal, as RDA is a banish target and Colossal isn't. Ancient Fairy Dragon alone has taken away extra deck space, and now we have Stardust Spark to throw in. Does regular Stardust get cut, or is it too optimal to have for those certain situations/match-ups? One trend I noticed was that Angel of Zera has seen virtually little to no play in US events, but was incredibly popular among extra decks in YCS London. Is it's potential beefy attack too good to ignore and we should be running it, or does it just suck cuz it's not a relevant attribute or type? Should we play Darkspear so we can play Trident Dragion, a potential win-condition on its own, like Josh Graham did? There are a multitude of extra deck-related things we as the Standard Dragon player have to face, probably even more than the Rank 4 player has to face, at least until the new Nobleswarm guy comes out. I'm guessing the only other player that has to think about their extra so much right now is those still running Wind-Ups (#BoatToOnePlease).
10. The Future
If all these decisions weren't enough to think about (plus I intentionally skipped discussion on things like Fog King, Tetherwolf, DDR, Enemy Controller, Waboku, Dragon Shrine, Gold Sarc, Upstart Theory, Castle of Dragon Souls), we have cool Rank 8 options through Divine Dragon Knight Felgrand and Number 46 Dragluon. These are supported by the new Mythic dragons, Water and Tree. Simply adding 1 copy of each of these cards into our decks brings a slew of play-related questions we have to address. First, is the potential inconsistency Water and Tree impose worth it? How often should we cut off a color to search these guys and hope that our play sticks so it wasn't a complete waste? What extra and main deck cards get cut now? Do we actually have to play Battle Fader now, instead of Scarecrow, since Star Eater + Felgrand is a thing?
These are a lot of things to think about, and at times it can be rather stressful, but I have loved playing Dragons ever since last format. Unless they do something drastic like put each big dragon to 1 for next format, I do believe that some variant of dragons will be viable for next format. Even standard Dragunity has topped, so that should mean they'd have to hit Ravine as well, which I wouldn't think they would do. Like I mentioned before I'm not going to really speculate on that too hard though, as the whole list issue is pretty much up in the air especially when you take into consideration that the OCG didn't change a single thing in their November list, even though the games are completely different now due to the list differences.