I’m always disappointed when someone tells me he or she is going to play a cool deck at a Shonen Jump Championship, and then that person switches decks at the last minute. I was expecting Paul Levitin to be running an innovative Zombie build here this weekend, packing Goblin Zombies and Dragon Ice to really abuse Card of Safe Return — I’ve been running it myself, and it’s a very powerful strategy. So when Paul told me this morning that he had in fact decided not to run Zombies this weekend I admit I felt let down.
. . . For all of about five seconds. Paul gave one of his signature grins, and then revealed what he was playing. “I’m running Gladiator Beasts. But not a bad version like Jake McNeely.” Big words, but after years of seeing Levitin’s tough-to-take-seriously smack talk gracing the top tables, would we expect any less?
So, how different is Levitin’s Gladiator Beast build? And how could he be so confident as to slam McNeely’s groundbreaking build? Take a look at what Levitin’s betting his reputation on:
If you’re reading this coverage live then you can’t see the decklist yet and won’t immediately appreciate just how different this deck is from the one McNeely played (and played pretty darn successfully, I think) in Houston. So, let me break down some of the bigger twists Levitin has put on McNeely’s permission-style theme.
While McNeely depended on three copies of Rescue Cat to deploy multiple copies of Test Tiger reliably, Levitin is using only a single copy of the adorable kitten. As such, he doesn’t have to run any copies of Test Ape, and is free to run Sangan and a third copy of Gladiator Beast Hoplomus. The result is a deck that may not go off quite as quickly in some cases, but one that can defend itself better.
It also gives Levitin space to play a pair of D.D. Crow, and, while McNeely, Evan Vargas, and Alex Cheruvelil made pioneering appearances with heavily focused Gladiator Beast builds, Levitin’s gift to the archetype might be his penchant for metagame-oriented tech calls. Waboku? Defensive Tactics? Not here! I’m not really sure how Levitin intends on keeping his monsters on the field, per se. He’s running a grand total of zero cards that prevent battle damage to his monsters, instead choosing to main deck three copies of Shadow-Imprisoning Mirror. When Levitin ran Gadgets at Shonen Jump Championship Durham last year he made the same tech call, but it was before its time — Levitin didn’t put forth a successful showing. But three months later everything has changed, and with cards like Darklord Zerato, Dark Magician of Chaos, and of course the dreaded Dark Armed Dragon running wild all over this weekend’s metagame, Levitin looks poised to destroy the number one deck to beat. If he can keep monsters on the table, that is.
One thing Levitin’s build does share with McNeely’s is the Texan duelist’s lack of Gladiator Beast’s Battle Manica, a card that arguably took Vargas and Cheruvelil to greater success than McNeely achieved. The extra card slot gave Levitin room for his own version of central theme support: a lone copy of (wait for it), Ojama Trio.
“The deck can have problems facing a single big monster,” explained Levitin when I asked him about his use of the newly-Limited trap card. “If someone has just one thing out, like Dark Magician of Chaos, then I can flip Ojama Trio and attack an Ojama Token. Then I can bring out Murmillo and get rid of the problem.” It’s a pretty cool idea that can set up big plays with Gladiator Beast Secutor, too, making it far easier to both unlock Heraklinos and to access the effects that this deck is based around. It’s something that I don’t think players are going to see coming, and it’s going to make a big difference in the weekend’s metagame.
Book of Moon also makes it easier to attack, while Trap Dustshoot keeps big threats out of the way and achieves the same purpose. It’s important to note that for all of his innovative choices, Levitin has made one more, big gamble: he’s not playing Cold Wave. That will leave his Gladiator Beasts weak to defensive removal and might cause him problems if removal cards make more of a comeback. For now though, Levitin’s intent is quite clear: he’s betting that with all the emphasis on speedy wins, he just won’t have to deal with many defensive cards. If he’s right, he’ll do well. If the metagame here bucks that trend though, well, Levitin might be writing feature matches with us tomorrow morning.
Paul Levitin is packing one of the highest risk, highest reward strategies here this weekend, and with so many metagame calls made in a single deck it’ll be interesting to see how things pan out. A lot of players are running Dark Armed Dragon this weekend strictly because “there’s so much on the line.” Where others saw unnecessary risk, Levitin saw opportunity to innovate. He’s made a huge, educated gamble, and it may earn him a copy of every single Shonen Jump Championship prize card here this weekend.