"Let's see... I have room for one more trap. I have to decide between Royal Decree, Judgment of Anubis, and a Starter Deck common card. I choose Waboku!"
Trap cards play a critical role in today's metagame. Traps are your most effective means of providing defense, as well as maintaining field control during your opponent's turn. Although some spell cards, such as Scapegoat and Swords of Revealing Light, help in this area, traps generally make or break your ability to survive your opponent's turn. If you have too few, then you get hammered during your opponent's turn too often. If you have too many, your deck will run too slowly and be too defensive since you must set them one turn before they can be activated.
So how many traps are the top players using, and which ones? We have had three months of Regional tournaments across the country. I have analyzed over 150 of the top decks, and the trap lineups for winning decks are very consistent.
The range for top Regional decks is from four to twelve traps. However, the majority (78 percent) use either six or seven traps. A few theme decks, such as Gravekeeper, or Control decks break the mold of what traps are in the lineup. This article will focus on what is hot for the majority of tournament winning decks.
The Highs and Lows of Traps
The Pharaoh's Servant set gave us two of the best traps, Call of the Haunted and Imperial Order. However, it also gave us the great trap negator, Jinzo. When Jinzo was first released, trap usage declined quickly. By the summer of 2003, we had the addition of two powerful traps: Magic Cylinder and Torrential Tribute, both released in Labyrinth of Nightmare. However, it was not unusual to see only three or four traps in winning decks last year. We saw a slight increase in the trap count for Control decks that used Drop Off by the time of the World Championship
In an interesting twist of the metagame, trap usage has gone up for two reasons. First, monster removal has become easier, and therefore Jinzo is less of a threat. Second, spell and trap negation/removal has increased. The impact of the last one may not be obvious. It is typical to face an opponent in serious competition that has Jinzo, Breaker the Magical Warrior, Heavy Storm, Harpie's Feather Duster, and three Mystical Space Typhoons. If you have a similar lineup plus more traps, the likelihood that you get to use a trap goes up substantially. Therefore, top players have added more trap cards than they used in the past to compensate for more negation/removal in the metagame.
The Big Six
You can love the list or hate it, but these are the traps used by the overwhelming majority of top duelists:
Call of the Haunted
Ring of Destruction
Only Waboku and Torrential Tribute are unrestricted. Therefore, a seven-trap lineup usually includes either two Wabokus or two Torrential Tributes. Some top duelist run as many as three Wabokus or three Torrential Tributes, usually dropping Ring of Destruction to make room. Even though Invasion of Chaos has impacted the typical monster lineup substantially, the trap lineup has basically remained the same.
Here's the basic scoop on each of the big six:
Imperial Order is a card most of us take for granted. I believe every top deck had Imperial Order in it. It can be used as a one turn negation of the opponent's spell cards with no cost, or it can foil the opponent's best laid plans if left on the field at the cost of a meager 700 life points per standby phase. Although it is rarely on the field more than one turn in serious competition, its versatility makes it a truly amazing card.
Call of the Haunted
Call of the Haunted is another amazing card that is taken for granted. Although it is always a good thing to revive one of your monsters, its true power is unleashed in response to an opponent's play. For example, you can chain it to your opponent's Monster Reborn if your opponent targets a monster in your graveyard to "steal" the monster, causing the effect of your opponent's Monster Reborn to disappear; revive a monster in response to an attack and trigger a replay; or chain it to your opponent's trap removal card and target your Jinzo (Jinzo remains on the field), Sangan, or Witch of the Black Forest (free search) in the graveyard.
Ring of Destruction
Debated as to its top tier status, Ring of Destruction is used more as a "kill" card by top duelists. Basically, you activate it at the end of your opponent's draw phase to finish the duel if your opponent's life points are low enough. Of course, it is a useful face up monster removal card as well with both players feeling life point pain.
Waboku is seeing more play these days, yet its effect still is misunderstood by some duelists. It really is a simple card once you have the basics down.
A monster can be destroyed by battle or by effect. When two monsters battle, a monster lives or dies—there is no "wounded" in this game. How much battle damage does it take to destroy a monster? Simple—if it is attack position, the monster's ATK.
For example, if a 1400 ATK monster attacks an attack position 1900 ATK monster, the 1400 ATK monster does 1400 points of battle damage—not enough to destroy it—and the 1900 ATK monster "heals" immediately. The 1900 ATK monster does 1900 points of battle damage. However, the 1400 ATK monster is destroyed because it takes exactly 1400 points of battle damage to destroy it. The excess battle damage (500 in this example) beyond what is necessary to destroy the monster hits the controller's life points, which is sometimes called overflow damage.
Waboku just takes the amount of battle damage to you and your monsters to 0 for that turn. If you understand that statement and the meaning of battle damage, you can determine what happens with Waboku in almost any situation.
Waboku is a great combination card that allows you to set up for your next turn by protecting all your monsters from battle damage for one turn. It can also be used offensively, since you can activate Waboku and attack a monster of equal strength to your monster. Your monster will survive, and your opponent's monster will be destroyed.
The fact that it has an unconditional activation—meaning that you can activate it anytime you can legally play a trap—makes it really versatile. However, it is usually a horrible card to draw if you are top decking since it does nothing but stall for one turn, giving your opponent an extra draw in the process.
I remember debates over this card a year ago as to whether or not it was even tournament worthy. Well, the top duelists have proven it to be effective. Even those players that are lucky enough to have a Royal Decree might put in Waboku or the next card instead.
Torrential Tribute is an excellent field control card. It's a very simple card—your opponent summons, and all monsters are destroyed. However, it can be used strategically when you normal summon to clear the field, and then you can special summon a monster for the win (or in the opposite order as well). It even has an advantage over Mirror Force in that it can be activated in response to the summoning of Breaker the Magical Warrior to destroy Breaker before it gets its counter placed. The downside is that Torrential Tribute has conditional activation—a summon must occur before you can activate it.
Torrential Tribute will be useless if your opponent has enough monsters already on the field for the win and does not summon. It is also easily removed by spell/trap removal cards early in the opponent's turn before a monster is summoned. Of course, it destroys your monsters as well, which is both a plus or a minus depending on the deck type.
Mirror Force has set the standard for trap field control. If a monster attacks you, all your opponent's attack position monsters are vaporized. There's not much more to say about it. It's simply a great card. Of course, it suffers the same limitation as Torrential Tribute in that its activation is conditional.
The Best of the Rest
I know some readers will be disappointed to see their favorite trap in this section (or not at all). I am sure I'll get some "colorful" emails about why cards such as Magic Cylinder are better than Waboku. Personally, I think Interdimensional Matter Transporter is a great card in the current Chaos environment, but it has not seen substantial play yet either. Skill Drain has made a splash on the tournament scene, but has failed to really make a dent yet in the top tier.
Here are a few other excellent cards that appear occasionally in top decks:
Magic Cylinder: Great effect, but many players shy away from it since it is inflicts damage only and does nothing to promote field advantage. Regardless, it is clearly the seventh most used trap because it can end the game under the right circumstances.
Magic Drain: A "no cost to you" effect that forces your opponent to discard a spell card. It definitely helps you maintain hand advantage and has increased in popularity over the last month.
Judgment of Anubis: A "great in theory" card. You do not usually get the monster destruction effect in practice, since top players usually activate spell cards before summoning. It is also reduces hand advantage for you as well since you must discard to get its spell negation effect. Some people like it, though, and it is one of the best counter traps.
This article is about the traps that have been played in recent premier tournaments by the best of the best players. I hope it either confirms your approach or helps you rethink your trap lineup to improve your deck. I also encourage creativity and hope that you can use this article to evaluate other trap cards to make an even better winning lineup!
Please feel free to email me if you have questions, comments, or rants about anything in this or any other article in the Living the Metagame series at DBrent@Metagame.com.