Card Advantage Part Three: The Problem with Summons

At its heart, Yu-Gi-Oh is a game that is all about using little monsters to summon bigger, cooler monsters. The problem with this is that these types of summons are inherently negative in terms of card advantage. Combining two monsters into one is a -1, and so on.

For this reason, for a huge portion of the game’s history, Extra Deck summons were just not a part of the game on a competitive level–unless they were cheated onto the field by Magical Scientist, Cyber-Stein, and Metamorphosis, all of which ignored summoning conditions. As the game evolved, Konami began to give these monsters advantage-generating effects that neutralized or even exceeded the cost of the summon. Suddenly, summoning from the Extra Deck wasn’t just a possibility, but a really good play.

Let’s take a look at some monsters that “fix” their summoning methods by generating enough advantage to break even–or actually gain card advantage.

Xyz Summoning

The majority of Xyz Monsters require two materials for summon, meaning that right away you are dealing with a -1. The obvious exception to that rule is the Zoodiac archetype, which we looked at in the first article. Requiring only 1 material to summon, the Zoodiac monsters like Zoodiac Broadbull, Zoodiac Chakanine, and Zoodiac Drident all have effects that generate a +1, and with the free nature of their summon those +1s add up to huge advantage.

From the very beginning, Xyz Monsters were given effects that made their summon worthwhile. Generation Force, the set that introduced the mechanic in 2011, contained numerous examples. Leviair the Sea Dragon summoned a monster from the banished zone, Steelswarm Roach could negate an opponent’s Synchro Summon for a +2; and Tiras, Keeper of Genesis and Adreus, Keeper of Armageddon could destroy the opponent’s cards once per turn. Tiras had the added bonus of self-protection, meaning that its summon was a safe investment. All of these monsters at least paid for their summoning cost with one resolution of their effect, and if they could stick around to resolve their effects again the advantage would start to accumulate. All of these cards saw significant play in the early formats of the Zexal era.

In more recent years, cards like Evilswarm Exciton Knight gave even more advantage to the player who summoned it, robbing the opponent of an entire field of cards.

In the first article, I talked briefly about Stellarknight Delteros, an Xyz Monster that requires 3 materials for summon. This type of Xyz Monster is rare to see in a competitive setting because of the stiff cost of summon: 3 monsters for 1, a -2. In decks that can gain advantage while quickly summoning materials, however, cards like Delteros can really shine. Examining the Star Seraph combo, we determined that summoning Delteros that way generated a staggering +4, thanks to the drawing, searching, and destruction effects of Star Seraph Scepter & Star Seraph Sovereignty, as well as Delteros’s own destruction effect. Even without the Seraphs, in a dedicated Satellarknight deck, a combo like Satellarknight Vega + Satellarknight Altair + Satellarknight Deneb can make a Delteros summon worthwhile (this example is a +1 after Delteros’s destruction effect resolves).

Almost every Xyz Monster that has seen competitive play has been able to at least break even through use of their effects. Notable exceptions include powerful control effects like Abyss Dweller and combo starters like Lavalval ChainDante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss, which are meant to set up later +1s.

Synchro Summoning

Similar to Xyz Summoning, Synchro Monsters typically require a two for one trade. Successful Synchro strategies have always augmented this loss through Tuners and non-Tuners that provide extra monsters to be used as Synchro fodder. Mezuki and Destiny HERO – Malicious were essential to the Zombie Synchro and Tele-DAD strategies, respectively, because of the +1s generated by their grave effects. Plant Synchro used Debris Dragon to retrieve monsters from the Graveyard and Reborn Tengu, which floated into another copy of itself when used as a Synchro material. Junk-Doppel used effectively the same methods with Junk Synchron and Doppelwarrior. All of these cards made the Synchro Summon effectively a +0, and when Synchro Monsters ruled the roost, summoning Stardust Dragon, Black Rose Dragon, or Brionac, Dragon of the Ice Barrier at a +0 or better led to big things.

Due to Xyz Monsters being just generally more accessible, Synchro toolbox decks are few and far between. Successful Synchro strategies today need a combination of renewable resources and powerful on-summon effects to win out against better Xyz toolboxes. One huge example is the Yang Zing archetype. Let me show you one sequence that shows how much advantage can be generated off of a Synchro strategy that both plusses on summon and provides free monsters to use for future summons.

  1. Summon Denglong, First of the Yang Zing using Chiwen, Light of the Yang Zing and Suanni, Fire of the Yang Zing. (-1, overall -1)
  2. Denglong effect on summon. Add Bi’an, Earth of the Yang Zing from deck to hand. (+1, +0) [Already you have broken even on Denglong’s summon.]
  3. Normal Summon Bi’an. Synchro Summon Baxia, Brightness of the Yang Zing using Denglong and Bi’an. (-1, -1)
  4. Chain Link 2: Denglong effect to Special Summon Jiaotu, Darkness of the Yang Zing from the deck. Chain Link 1: Baxia effect to shuffle two of the opponent’s cards back into the deck. Chain resolves. (+3, +2). [Baxia by itself is a +1 on summon thanks to its spinning effect. Coupled with Denglong’s floating ability, the Yang Zing player now has a big advantage.]
  5. Baxia effect to destroy Jiaotu and Special Summon Suanni from the Graveyard. (+0, +2)
  6. Chain Link 2: Chiwen effect in grave to Special Summon itself. Chain Link 1: Jiaotu effect to Special Summon a Bi’an from deck. Chain resolves. (+2, +4)

Pre-Master Rule 4, the Yang Zing player now has two key options: take a -1 by summoning Hi-Speedroid Chanbara and push for a one-turn kill (9200 damage) or move to the opponent’s turn. The Yang Zing monsters’ Quick-Synchro effects will allow the player to summon another Denglong using Chiwen and Suanni (-1), search for a Yang Zing card (+1), summon Baxia using Bi’an and Denglong (-1), float into another Yang Zing from deck and shuffle back two more of the opponent’s cards (+3) for an overall +2. Added to the advantage generated the turn before, the Yang Zing player is now sitting at a healthy +6. When they are allowed to pop off, Yang Zings can really break the Synchro mechanic.

Post-Master Rule 4, uh…let’s just say the Yang Zing player already had a Decode Talker on field when all this started, okay?

Fusion Summoning

This summoning mechanic was always a tricky one in card advantage terms, because, at its most basic, a Fusion Summon consumes 3 cards to summon 1 monster–which had better be a darn good monster for that kind of steep cost. An early solution allowed for fusing from the Graveyard with cards like Dragon’s Mirror, Overload Fusion and Miracle Fusion. Using already-consumed resources for the Fusion Summon makes the summon a +0, since we’ve already established that cards in the Graveyard do not directly count for card advantage (see the second article of this series for more details).

Another early solution was Contact Fusion, pioneered by the Gladiator Beast archetype. This summoning method didn’t use Polymerization, meaning that the monster was summoned at a -1 instead of a -2. One of these Fusions, Gladiator Beast Gyzarus, destroyed two cards on summon, making his summon a +1. The Gladiator Beast Fusion monsters could then tag themselves out at the end of the Battle Phase to summon two monsters for a +1, so the player would break even no matter which Fusion they went into. Furthermore, when summoned by one of these tag-out effects, many of the main deck monsters could activate effects that provided a +1 on summon: see Gladiator Beast Darius and Gladiator Beast Bestiari for example. Gladiator Beasts were a dominant force in the metagame for many years off the strength of these interactions, proving that the Fusion mechanic could keep up with the newer, more generic Synchro mechanic when given advantage-generating effects.

Fusing from the deck has been another mechanic that has allowed Fusion strategies to compete. The Shaddoll archetype is the perfect example. Not only did Shaddoll Fusion allow the Shaddoll player to break even on a Fusion Summon by sending the materials from the deck to the Graveyard, but those materials had +1 effects that were triggered by the summon (Shaddoll Beast & Shaddoll Hedgehog for example), AND the Fusion Monsters floated by retrieving a Shaddoll Spell or Trap from grave when they left the field, AND the best Fusion, El Shaddoll Construct, triggered MORE +1 effects with its on-summon effect! Sweet Christmas!

When you throw the Performages into the mix, as was standard in post- Clash of Rebellions builds, a single Shaddoll Fusion resolution could trigger a litany of +1s that ensured the Shaddoll player would have card advantage over the opponent for a while. It was almost impossible for a Shaddoll player to go minus when Fusion Summoning.

One final, more recent example: Invoked.

The Invoked Field Spell, Magical Meltdown, and the key monster, Aleister the Invoker, are both +1s, meaning that if the Invoked player starts their play with the Field Spell searching Aleister, they are already at +2. Because of the way the Fusion Spell, Invocation, works, consuming the Aleister as part of a Xyz, Synchro, or Link Summon or using Wonder Wand to send Aleister to the Graveyard and draw is preferable to leaving it on the field. Let’s take a look at an ideal Invoked play.

  1. Activate Magical Meltdown. Add Aleister the Invoker from deck to hand. (+1, overall +1)
  2. Normal Summon Aleister the Invoker. Activate effect to add Invocation from deck to hand. (+1, +2)
  3. Equip Wonder Wand to Aleister. Send both cards to the Graveyard to draw two cards. (+0, +2)
  4. Activate Invocation. Fuse Aleister with a Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit in either player’s Graveyard, banishing both monsters to summon Invoked Mechaba. (+0, +2)
  5. Activate Invocation’s Graveyard effect to shuffle it back into the deck and return Aleister to hand (+1, +3).

As long as Invocation is using Graveyard resources to fuse, the fusion summon will always be a +1 once Invocation returns Aleister to hand. Even if the Invoked player has no choice but to use an Aleister on the field to fuse, they are breaking even on the summon. Based on these strengths, Invoked will undoubtedly continue to be a popular engine for months to come.

Ritual Summoning

Okay, so this isn’t an Extra Deck summoning method, but Rituals are relevant enough for Dimensional Barrier to include in its oppressive effect, so let’s take a look.

Ritual Summoning suffers from many of the same problems as Fusion Summoning. Requiring a spell to summon means that, even if you tribute just one monster for the summon, you are still taking a -2. Even worse, Ritual Monsters are Main Deck cards, so you aren’t even getting an extra resource out of the deal like you do with Extra Deck summons. Traditionally requiring a specific Ritual Spell and Ritual Monster to summon meant that this summoning method, despite being the second oldest in the game, didn’t see widespread play until 2015 with the Nekroz archetype.

Successful Ritual strategies play around these drawbacks by using generic Ritual Spells that utilize tributes from the deck, Graveyard, and even Extra Deck. In Nekroz decks, Nekroz Kaleidoscope could tribute Herald of the Arc Light from the Extra Deck to Ritual Summon Nekroz of Unicore at a -1. Then, Herald’s effect triggers, adding a Ritual Spell or Monster from deck to hand, evening out the summon. Using Nekroz Mirror to summon Nekroz of Trishula with tributes from the Graveyard, a Nekroz player could find themselves going +1 when Trishula’s effect resolves, ripping a card from the opponent’s hand and field, while also disrupting their Graveyard. Both Ritual Spells were good for a future +1 thanks to their grave effects. Nekroz also brought unparalleled searchability to the table, solving all of its summoning mechanic’s problems and dominating the metagame for most of 2015.

More recently, we saw Cyber Angel-Herald of Perfection strategies emerge that allowed players to plus off of Ritual Summoning, while also searching the powerful Star Seraph draw combo for extra advantage. This strategy would not have been possible without the added search power of Ritual Sanctuary and Pre-Preparation of Rites. With these two cards, though, the deck was impressively consistent at making the following play:

  1. Activate Dawn of the Herald to summon Herald of Perfection, tributing Cyber Angel Benten from hand. (-2, overall -2)
  2. Chain Link 2: Dawn of the Herald’s effect to add Benten back to hand from grave. Chain Link 1: Benten effect to search for a LIGHT Fairy-type monster–the missing piece of the Star Seraph combo. (+2, +0)
  3. Star Seraph combo. If going first, summon Evilswarm Ouroboros and use his discard from hand effect to gain a +2 while drawing 3 cards (+2, +2). If going second, and assuming the opponent has cards on field to destroy, summon Stellarknight Delteros to gain a +4 while drawing 3 cards (+4, +4)

Since the Herald strategy requires cards in hand, specifically Fairy-type monsters, to function, the draws gained by this sequence are extra important, hopefully providing Herald with enough discard fodder to negate the opponent’s entire next turn. The enabler for this combo is largely Pre-Preparation of Rites, which is a straight +1 while searching the specific Ritual Spell and monster needed. While this strategy only saw brief play in the TCG, it was a surprisingly consistent and powerful deck thanks to the card interactions that enabled the player to recover advantage lost during the Ritual Summon.

Concluding Thoughts

Even Tribute Summoning has drawbacks, but dating back as far as 2004 these problems have been solved by monsters like Zaborg the Thunder Monarch (+0) and Mobius the Frost Monarch (+1). More recently, we saw the terrifying power of the Tier 1 Monarch deck, which could gain huge advantage while Tribute Summoning due to +1s like the grave effects of Pantheism of the Monarchs and The Prime Monarch, as well as the Special Summoning effects of Edea the Heavenly Squire and Eidos the Underworld Squire.

Links are still a mechanic in its infancy, and it will be interesting to see how Konami will solve the summoning costs of the mechanic. Already, Ningirsu the World Chalice Warrior offers up to three draws on summon, potentially a +1 or better. The entire World Chalice archetype seems designed to retain advantage while repeatedly Link Summoning, giving us an exciting preview of the future of Links.

While Extra Deck monsters will always be used to achieve greater field control due to their versatile and powerful effects, the best ones will always be the ones that can be summoned as close to free as possible. Gaining advantage is certainly possible, too, as we’ve seen in this article. Isn’t that just icing on the cake?



Tampa area duelist.

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