If anyone hasn’t checked out the Washington Shonen Jump Championship coverage, I’d suggest that you do so now. The results are very interesting. While Jonathan Labounty won with a deck that many considered to be extinct after the new Advanced format changes, the new decks and strategies that came out of SJC Washington, DC were all very unique. As expected, Crystal Seer and the Apprentice Engine saw play in the most popular version of the Monarch control deck, while the aggressive elements of the format focused on Machine aggro and the new Zombie aggro combo deck, which utilizes the effects of cards like Zombie Master and Card of Safe Return.
One of the more surprising strategies at Washington was the stall burn deck that made it through the Swiss rounds and to the Top 16. Eric Wu and Hugo Adame both piloted similar decks to similar success at the Shonen Jump Championship. The decks were based on locking down the battle phase, whether it was through Level Limit - Area B or simply Mystic Tomato finding more Tomatoes or Dark Mimic LV3. Then the stall deck would sit behind counter-traps and Wave-Motion Cannon until the continuous burn spell reached critical mass and could be tributed off for 3000 damage at the minimum.
Perhaps the most intriguing card choice in this burn deck was a trap that has been long forgotten. Skill Drain, while an incredibly old trap card to focus on, still packs one of the most destructive and complicated effects in the game.
The last time I looked at this card was back in 2005, when Skill Drain’s use was found in negating the effects of Magician of Faith, Tsukuyomi, and Thousand-Eyes Restrict. Now in 2007, the card is seeing play again and can be just as useful as before.
Skill Drain is a complex beast to describe. It has around two pages of rulings specifically dedicated to how it works with various monsters. The gist of the text is that Skill Drain will negate the effects of monsters as long as they remain on the field when the effect attempts to resolve. As such, it negates Monarchs, Breaker the Magical Warrior, and flip effects, to name a few (but not if any of those monsters were somehow removed from the field before their effects tried to resolve, except in the case of Breaker since that monster actually has to resolve his summoning effect just to get a spell counter). It does not negate effects like Exiled Force (it’s off the field when its effect resolves), Mystic Tomato, and other “when this card is destroyed” effects like Apprentice Magician, just to name a few.
So why was Skill Drain such an important card in these stall-burn decks? What is the biggest reason why it was brought back into play in the main deck—and at three copies no less?
The answer is pretty simple actually. Monarchs. Skill Drain isn’t an easy card to run as tech since it also applies to your monsters too, which is why Pulling the Rug is a much more popular tech option against the big 2400 ATK monsters. However, a deck that does not rely on the effects of monsters can easily utilize Skill Drain so that it shuts down effects like Mobius the Frost Monarch without having any serious backlash. The burn decks from this SJC needed some way to protect their spell and trap zone, and since monster-based trap negation and destruction was far more popular than spell-based trap destruction, Skill Drain made it into these decks in the threes. Mobius, Breaker, Raiza the Storm Monarch, and even Jinzo (if Skill Drain was active before it came into play), are all essentially vanilla monsters when staring down the powerful continuous trap.
Jinzo is also perhaps the biggest reason why these players chose to run Skill Drain over any other solution. With Jinzo now legal at two copies per deck instead of one, there’s a much greater chance of running into early-game sequences where Jinzo hits the field before the burn deck can do anything, effectively shutting it down from pulling off any of its powerful stall and counter-trap trickery. Skill Drain is a practical solution to this. The amount of cards in a Monarch deck that Skill Drain essentially turns into blank effects is astounding, and this gives the stall-burn deck an insanely good matchup against a Monarch or Machine deck that can’t get lucky and drop a Jinzo or Mobius before the burn player gets Skill Drain active.
Another interesting advantage in using Skill Drain is that its effectiveness against Monarchs carries over to perhaps the most threatening deck of this SJC, the Zombie aggro combo deck. The Zombie deck can be fast, and even without a field, can explode in a single turn and win the duel easily thanks to the powers of Zombie Master, Il Blud, and Book of Life. Skill Drain once again turns monsters like Zombie Master and Il Blud into blanks. Sure, the Zombie player can use Creature Swap on his or her Pyramid Turtle to a burn player, but with the amount of stall the burn player runs, there’s hardly a guarantee that the Zombie player will be able to even attack. If you were looking for the solution to the proactive threat decks of the format, it appears that Skill Drain has these decks covered, if it can be activated before these monsters make it into play.
Skill Drain even shuts down half the power that Apprentice Magician provides. Against the stall burn strategy, it’s doubtful that you will be able to have the Apprentice destroyed as a result of battle. Even if it was, the monsters that Apprentice Magician can special summon will all be blanks when flip summoned due to Skill Drain. That means Magician of Faith and Crystal Seer are both generic low ATK and low DEF monsters while the powerful continuous trap is active. What about the Destiny Monarch deck? Elemental Hero Stratos isn’t finding anything or destroying spells or traps while Skill Drain is active, and those Monarchs that are being summoned off of Destiny Hero - Malicious are lesser versions of Summoned Skull at best.
Perhaps the only deck that is hardly affected by Skill Drain is Gadgets, which, as shown at this tournament, is still popular. While a majority of their monster-based removal tricks are useless, Gadgets still have access to a few tools that can allow them to break through the burn deck’s defenses. Some Gadget builds run Solemn Judgment to stop crucial stall devices that the stall burn deck is playing, while others simply activate Royal Decree, which shuts down nearly half of the stall burn deck while it’s face up on the field!
It is apparent that the stall burn strategy is a solid contender. It got Adam Corn to the Top 4 of the World Championships, and it allowed solid players like Eric Wu and Hugo Adame to finish in the Top 16 of a Shonen Jump. Thanks to Skill Drain, the deck now has an old negation trick to rely on against the majority of the field right now, giving it a huge edge in most of its matchups. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see more of Skill Drain in the coming months. It is a solid answer to many of the threat decks in the format, so players may try to find other strategies that can effectively utilize this powerful continuous trap.