Thursday, July 22, 2010

Deck Essay #4: DARK Monarchs

The Traditional Format, by its very nature, lends itself very well to very fast strategies; decks built using such strategies most often fall into one of two categories: the first is the One-Turn-Knockout deck, which is designed to set up some kind of battle-oriented win condition on the first turn, which will then be executed on the following; the second is the First-Turn-Knockout deck, a deck that is constructed for the sole purpose of creating an alternate win condition (the most common and consistent of which is based around depleting the opponent’s Life Points through Direct Damage) to claim victory on the very first turn. However, the overall strength and speed of the Traditional Format can also, contrary to the stigma of popular belief, be used to ameliorate the abilities of slower, more control-based decks, to the point of a competitive prospect. In this essay I will be examining one of such decks, which has, in the first instance, been long since considered the ultimate control deck: Monarchs.

The central win condition of the Monarch deck is a rather complicated one to explain. In a single word it is called ‘tempo’, but simply giving this term is insufficient: the concept of tempo is the given ability to apply constant pressure to the opponent through the gaining of advantage every turn, which thus means, in the sense of this discourse, two things: the first is the summoning of extra monsters and the drawing of extra cards; and the second is the converting of those free cards into the summoning of Monarchs, which then in turn take cards away from the opponent. Over the course of several turns, in which time multiple cards have been gained and multiple Monarchs have been summoned, one will find a distinct gap in card presence between oneself and the opponent, up to the point where the opponent has very little to no usable cards left to play.

The Monsters: 19

2 Caius the Shadow Monarch
2 Raiza the Storm Monarch
2 Thestalos the Firestorm Monarch
2 Gravekeeper’s Spy
2 Mask of Darkness
2 Dekoichi the Battlechanted Locomotive
2 Cyber Dragon
1 Dark Magician of Chaos
1 Destiny Hero – Disk Comander
1 Treeborn Frog
1 Dark Armed Dragon
1 Gorz the Emissary of Darkness

Within a forty card deck, which also boasts a high count in the department of draw cards, there is no need for more than six Monarch Monsters (and, indeed, I would struggle to find room for more should I be so inclined). One will be able to find them easily enough. Having said that, the major question here was which Monarchs should be included. To my mind, the ideal line-up of Monarchs should be able to control the opponent in three ways: the first being the field, the second being the draws and the last being the hand. Having decided this early on, I settled on the following three Monarchs: Caius the Shadow Monarch, Raiza the Storm Monarch and Thestalos the Firestorm Monarch.

Caius the Shadow Monarch was, to be honest, a simple inclusion; it is undoubtedly the best Monarch in the game, for it allows for instant control over the opponent’s field, and, furthermore, does so by removing cards from play, whence they cannot under normal circumstances return. The usefulness of this ability is found when faced with Set Monsters, which could be anything from Sangan or Witch of the Black Forest to Cyber Jar or Sinister Serpent, and also when faced with large Monsters alike to Chaos Emperor Dragon – Envoy of the End or Dark Magician of Chaos; removing any of these Monsters from the game, instead of merely destroying or spinning them, defeats the threat entirely and prevents Graveyard-based effects. The possible subsequent burn damage, while not overwhelmingly powerful, is not a disagreeable feature either. Only two copies of Caius the Shadow Monarch were included in order to make more room for other Monarchs.

Next, wishing to have more control over the field, and also wishing as I did to have some control over the opponent’s draw phase, I decided to include Raiza the Storm Monarch at two copies – again, only two copies were included to allow room for the last Monarch to be included at two copies also, in order to give the deck a versatile spread of effects. Often times, it can be found that the spin effect of Raiza can be better than the removal effect of Caius, for one can spin something alike to Dark Armed Dragon (with less or more than three DARK Attribute Monsters in the Graveyard) in order to have them redraw it dead during their subsequent draw phase.

Finally, wishing as I did to have control over the opponent’s in-hand options, two copies of Thestalos the Firestorm Monarch were included. This Monarch is generally retained in the hand, with the summoning of other Monarchs taking precedence over it, until the opponent is sufficiently low on card presence, at which point the discard effect of Thestalos can be used to its fullest extent. Doing so will allow for the removal of any possible remaining threat the opponent may be holding. One the contrary, one can summon Thestalos the Firestorm Monarch in the early game in order to prevent the opponent from making certain plays. Doing so on the first turn can indeed slow many decks down. The burn effect is, again, not bad either.

Thus the thrice control aforementioned is accomplished.

There exists many disparate variations upon the Monarch theme, with each approaching the generation of the necessary free cards in unique ways. However, out of these, I find the DARK variant to be the fastest, most powerful, and overall most consistent build. In the above list one can see a total of six Monsters with flip-effects: the first is Gravekeeper’s Spy, which, when flipped, Special Summons another Gravekeeper’s Spy from the deck, instantly creating a second Monster to then be tributed for a Monarch; the second is Mask of Darkness, which is used to add any of the nine Trap Cards back to the hand (the reason for this will become more apparent when the Trap line-up is discussed); the last is Dekoichi the Battlechanted Locomotive, which, upon being flipped, allows the drawing of one card. All of these Monsters have the DARK Attribute, and thus allow the use of DARK Attribute support.

From there, Dark Magician of Chaos and Destiny Hero – Disk Commander are included, not only for their DARK Attribute, but also for their powerful effects. They can each be revived from the Graveyard using Monster Reborn or Premature Burial to trigger their effects (gaining more free cards), and Dark Magician of Chaos can easily be Normal Summoned with the amount of tribute support herein. Gorz the Emissary of Darkness is then included for its use as controlling Monster Card, easily shutting down large attacking turns and offering an opportunity for a counter-offensive. And it is, of course, DARK.

With so many DARK Attribute Monsters in the deck (the cornerstone of the strategy), Dark Armed Dragon becomes a simple inclusion. It is undoubtedly one of the most powerful Monsters in the game, having such high ATK, being able to be Special Summoned so easily and destroying cards for free, so it is far too good not to play when given the chance. And lastly, Treeborn Frog and two copies of Cyber Dragon are included for their ability to create instant tribute fodder.

The Spells: 12

1 Pot of Greed
1 Graceful Charity
1 Painful Choice
1 Foolish Burial
1 Change of Heart
1 Snatch Steal
1 Raigeki
1 Monster Reborn
1 Premature Burial
1 Harpie’s Feather Duster
1 Heavy Storm
1 The Forceful Sentry

The Monster Cards and Trap Cards are where the true intricacies lie, and, as such, the Spell line-up is rather simple and requires little justification. Pot of Greed and Graceful Charity provide the much needed draws, and Graceful Charity has the added ability in this deck (as it does in most others) to discard needed cards to the Graveyard (that is, in this case, Dark Magician of Chaos, Destiny Hero – Disk Commander and Treeborn Frog).

Next, Painful Choice and Foolish Burial are included to compliment the Monsters with Graveyard-based effects: with the former, one will be able to search for Dark Magician of Chaos, Destiny Hero – Disk Commander and Treeborn Frog, with the last two slots being used for cards within the deck that are no longer needed (the Foolish Burial, for example, will be dead after using Painful Choice) or more DARKs for Dark Armed Dragon; with the latter, one will be able to search for the correct Monster for the situation (for example, Treeborn Frog to set up the summoning of Monarchs on the following turn, or either Dark Magician of Chaos or Destiny Hero – Disk Commander for revival). To further enhance this suite of Graveyard effects and create extra Monsters for Tribute Summons, Monster Reborn and Premature Burial are also included.

A full set of Traditional Format field-control cards is included: Heavy Storm and Harpie’s Feather Duster for the destruction of the opponent’s Spell and Trap Cards to clear the way for the summoning of Monarchs, Raigeki for the destruction of the opponent’s Monsters, and Change of Heart and Snatch Steal for the removal of an opponent’s single Monster. These latter two cards do, however, have an extra layer of synergy within this deck that is worth mentioning: they can be used as yet another means to create free Monsters for the summoning of a Monarch, controlling the opponent’s field as well as supplementing one’s own at the same time. The only card not included here was Dark Hole: to be honest, I required the room for another card, and I deemed Dark Hole to be of little use due to the already high amount of field control. This is a decision that, although undoubtedly somewhat controversial, I stand by.

Lastly, The Forceful Sentry was included as a way to remove a threat from the opponent’s hand before they have a chance to use it. This is undoubtedly the best card to draw on the first turn, for many opponents find it nigh impossible to recover from the removal of their best card. It was an easy inclusion, although the slot could very well be used for the above omitted Dark Hole.

The Traps: 9

3 Threatening Roar
3 Reckless Greed
1 Crush Card Virus
1 Ring of Destruction
1 Imperial Order

As a control-oriented deck, there is a much higher need here for Trap Cards than in most conventional Traditional Format strategies. The central quarry is, of course, One-Turn-Knockout decks, for very few people, I have found, have the skill-set necessary to pilot a First-Turn-Knockout deck to any kind of successful finish (and, furthermore, many people quite simply prefer playing battle-oriented decks). Ergo, Threatening Roar is included as the most consistent and powerful answer to these types of decks, allowing for the Battle Phase of the turn in question to be shut down completely and buying time for one to begin controlling the opponent. Furthermore, Threatening Roar also functions to protect one’s smaller free card generating Monsters, such as Dekoichi the Battlechanted Locomotive and Mask of Darkness, in order that one may be able to gain their effects on one’s turn and subsequently tribute them for a Monarch.

To complete the Mask of Darkness line-up, and also to be able to keep up with other decks that may have specialised draw power (for example, Destiny Hero-based decks or strategies using many Level Eight Monsters), three copies of Reckless Greed are included. This creates a much faster set-up, giving one the ability to find key cards, such as Painful Choice and the like, much quicker and more consistently. One will also have a greater access to the six Monarchs, which allows the deck to play this smaller number in favour of other cards. Most often, when one flips Mask of Darkness, the effect will be used to add Reckless Greed back to the hand in order to create even more draws and even higher consistency; with this engine in place, one will have no trouble whatsoever in finding answers to any play the opponent may make.

From there, the final three slots in the deck are very simple inclusions: Imperial Order is used to shut down an opponent’s use of Spell Cards for a turn, although, due to the small amount of Spell Cards this deck itself contains, one will indeed be able to successfully continue the use of Imperial Order past the generally played single turn; Ring of Destruction is included as another way to remove a Monster from the opponent’s field; and Crush Card Virus, another card supported by the DARK theme, is included as a definitive way to control the opponent’s moves.

Control strategies are an oft-maligned aspect in the Traditional Format, and are, further intensifying this, sometimes not even considered at all, due to the general acceptance that they are too slow and too weak to compete with the usually played decks. In summing up, however, I must stress that this is not in fact the case. As I have shown in this essay, the Monarch deck, through the use of a line-up of DARK Attribute Monsters that generate a multitude of free cards each turn, the added power and versatility of DARK Attribute-specific support cards, the inclusion of the most powerful generic support cards for stability, and a suitable draw engine for speed and consistency, has the ability to control almost every play a conventional Traditional Format deck might make. Through the generating of one’s own card presence and the removing of the opponent’s card presence, a nigh unstoppable tempo is achieved, in which one will control and hold many cards and the opponent very few, up to the point where they will quite simply run out of options.

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