“I don’t normally play decks like this, but uh, I thought it was too good to pass up. … All you need is Armageddon Knight or Grepher and your opponent has zero life points. What a game.”
– Jeff Jones, YCS Niagara Falls Top 8 Deck Profile
The exasperation behind this statement echoes with defeat. Jones, piloting Danger! Darkworld FTK at Niagara Falls, is one of the now 13 duelists that have taken Top 32 slots with FTK-based decks at the YCS level since the September 2018 list. As the September 2018 format progresses, FTKs are increasingly more significant an issue, frustrating a large chunk of the player base.
“FTKs” or “First Turn Kills” are a specific type of “One Turn Kill” (“OTK”) where a player defeats their opponent without their opponent ever formally playing a single turn. Much to the player base’s dismay, YCS London has proven both the popularity and potency of the strategy, with 10 decks of the top 32 dedicated to a burn-oriented FTK. Though only two YCS events are in the books so far, FTKs appear to be taking off again.
It seems odd that the FTK playstyle would actually be increasing in popularity and in success. TreetopDuelist’s previous article, in fact, explored in depth how FTK decks are generally destined to fail. Why, then, the prevalence now?
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Dark and Dangerous Days
FTK is back with a vengeance thanks to the Danger! Darkworld strategy. To understand why, start with Treetop’s article takeaway:
“…the core strategy [is] not to FTK the opponent. … The next time you design an instant-win combo deck, consider what your back-up strategy is. Try to find a good balance between your combo pieces and back-up plan…”
Danger! Darkworld is a deck that already came with a fully intact backup plan. Grapha, Dragon Lord of Dark World and his Darkworld pals showed immediate compatibility with the Danger! cards as they were announced and released, and both provide a slew of useful effects. Grapha and Danger! Bigfoot! wield huge attack power to conquer large opposing bodies. Danger!? Tsuchinoko?, Danger!? Jackalope?, and Broww, Huntsman of Dark World get bodies on the field to start link plays. Danger! Thunderbird!, Bigfoot, and Grapha all provide on-field destruction. Danger! Nessie! and Snoww, Unlight of Dark World provide search power for the deck. Danger! Chupacabra! provides recursion from the GY. Above all, the Danger! archetype provides the discards that Darkworld needs desperately.
Because of these things, Danger! Darkworld by no means needs to FTK to win. Even without seeing Cannon Soldier, strong main-deck bodies and easy access to even stronger extra-deck monsters makes the deck tough to contend with. Beating them requires out-grinding their resources or OTKing before they get a chance to respond.
Lastly, the Danger! Darkworld deck is very difficult to deal with because no one card counters the deck’s strategy as a whole. Danger! Darkworld thrives off activating effects from the hand, to which counters are slim (e.g., PSY-Framegear Gamma, Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring on the search) or impractical (e.g., the trap card Mind Drain). Ghost Belle & Haunted Mansion has jumped in popularity because of its ability to counter the GY, but even that’s once per turn. Most main decks, then, are ill-equipped to answer Danger! Darkworld decks in Game 1. In the side deck, players have resorted to awkward picks like Hanewata that are only useful against burn FTKs. There’s no Pendulums vs. Anti-Spell Fragrance conundrum: beating Danger! Darkworld requires dedication.
For all of the deck’s advantages, overall representation of the deck at the YCS level is atypical. Take YCS London as an example.
Note that Danger! Darkworld FTK does not even have enough players piloting the deck to merit recognition as its own category when the tournament began. Yet, in the Top 32, Danger! Darkworld FTK took nine slots, the highest deck representation in top cut. How did such a drastic difference in representation happen?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Danger! Darkworld FTK is not a cheap deck to build. Jeff Jones’ build from YCS Niagara Falls comes in around $780 for every card, and further investigation has most builds from YCS London near $750. To be blunt, the deck isn’t accessible to anyone playing on a semblance of a budget. More expensive than Sky Striker, less expensive than Thunder Dragons.
Speaking of Thunder Dragons, why did they have higher representation despite being more expensive? That’s a more complicated answer. It would be remiss to dismiss hype around the Thunder Dragon archetype as a major driving factor. Thunder Dragons gained a massive following as soon as they were announced, and that hype has only increased as they’ve shown to be durable and potent in the competitive scene. Danger! on the other hand, was in a rockier boat.
Danger!, debuting in Cybernetic Horizon, was a high-hype, poor-results archetype. Its meta impacts were minimally felt, and many players slated the deck up as being overhyped. So, going into YCS Niagara Falls, Danger! was far from being the deck on everyone’s mind. A few players, though, kept strong Danger! strategies under wraps leading up to the tournament and took the scene by storm. The Top 32 representation was not high, but the deck made an significant impact.
YCS London, just one week later, became a guessing game for the top slots. The European scene, lacking Summon Sorceress to push Gouki over the edge, has displayed a huge affinity for Sky Striker and Altergeist, so it’s no surprise they had such a high turnout. While Thunder Dragon was the deck on most players’ minds, several players who had already been eyeing the Danger! Darkworld strategy doubled down on the YCS Niagara Falls success and stormed the top tables.
A Format in Question
Now we’re at a point to reflect. The dust has settled from Niagara Falls and London, and the meta is now shaping up to a concerning form. The Yugioh competitive scene now runs a very real risk of total FTK dominance. For most players, very rightly, this is a real point of concern.
The success of FTK strategies in this format – particularly that of the Danger! Darkworld FTK – speaks most as a critique of the format of the whole. It is a resounding statement that the Forbidden/Limited list – the restructuring of the format to promote the game’s advancement – has failed. Numerous players across all levels of competition expressed concern over what would inevitably become an issue: a lack of hard once-per-turn (“OPT”) wording on both Firewall Dragon and the burn-oriented monster effects of Cannon Soldier, Amazoness Archer, and others like them. Instead of addressing this, the September 2018 ban list left all of these cards untouched, only sacrificing A-Assault Core from ABC for helping facilitate a popular OCG FTK similar to the very FTK that is currently dominating top tables.
FTKs are an expression of a fundamental problem with the current direction of the game. They signal carelessness in how a format has been designed. Most importantly, they present the antithesis of a one-on-one game: not one player facing another, but one player facing themselves while the other watches. This does not foster growth for the game, nor does it promote desire for new or veteran players to compete above a casual level. A format dominated by FTKs, ultimately, is a format dominated by isolated play and should not be encouraged.