By far the most popular type of deck in the 2019 World Championships of the TCG, for both the children’s bracket as well as the adults bracket, was a deck archetype called Salamangreat. There was relatively little variation in the ways the decks were built, and most of the tournament was mirror matches between this deck and itself, with a few players running cards explicitly to try and help themselves if they found themselves in mostly mirror matches.

Over this past weekend, Konami invited me out to the Yu-Gi-Oh 2019 World Championships, and as a result I spent several days watching mostly Salamangreat mirror matches. Having soaked in as much as possible about the archetype, I wanted to take some time to talk about what makes the deck type so interesting to watch for someone relatively new to modern Yu-Gi-Oh.

Firstly, it’s important to note that the success of this Salamangreat deck at the world championships doesn’t necessarily spell success for the deck at tournaments to come in the future. A new ban list has been issued for Yu-Gi-Oh, and it limits the numbers of key Salamangreat cards considerably in an attempt to lessen its dominance of the meta. While this change to the ban list came a few weeks before the world championships, judges ruled to allow the old ban list to stand, so that the world’s best players were not forced to remake their decks in just two weeks, with little time to properly test. I will be talking about the strengths of this deck as it stood during the World Championships, rather than based on its current standing.

Salamangreat Decks have been really popular competitively in the run up to the World Championships for a few key reasons, one of which is money.

Salamangreat decks are more affordable than most championship level decks, as many of their core cards come from an easily found starter deck, Soulburner. This deck contains cards we will get to later such as Salamangreat Gazelle, Salamangreat Spinny, Salamangreat Foxy, Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring, and Salamangreat Sanctuary. Basically, many of the core cards to start building this deck and playing its core gameplay loop are easily accessible. It’s a really affordable deck type if you’d like to try out competitive play.

The deck is also super consistent, thanks to having numerous ways to kick off its core gameplay loop, has a bunch of ways to recover and reuse its best cards, and generates a lot of card advantage (meaning you get access to more cards than you played to access them). In particular, the ability to recycle cards is vital, and may be what allows this deck to survive changes to limit numbers in the new ban list.

Salamangreat Gazelle allows players to send one Salamangreat card other than itself from the deck to the graveyard when it is summoned, which when paired with the deck’s great ability to recover its own cards from the grave essentially means summoning the Gazelle allows you to search the deck for any card you might need in the moment. It’s a very versatile deck searcher. Additionally, Gazelle can be special summoned from your hand if a different Salamangreat monster is destroyed, meaning that a destroyed monster can trigger not only a free Gazelle summon, but a free deck search to the grave.

Salamangreat Spinny is able to recover itself pretty easily from the graveyard, basically by being in the grave while you own another Salamangreat monster on the field. You can see how this works well with Gazelle, as Gazelle could send Spinny from the deck to the grave, then Spinny could summon itself to the field. Spinny does get banished from the game when it leaves the field if summoned this way, but it’s an easy way to get some field advantage if needed. Additionally, as both Gazelle and Spinny are Link 3 monsters, they offer the ability to chain from these into a rank 3 XYZ, or a Link 2 monster. It’s a lot of strong options right off the bat. We will get to the wealth of monsters this pair can be turned into later.

The ease with which you can special summon these monsters, as well as their ability to search each other, be recovered, and set up your extra deck summon types is at the core of the deck’s success. If you can get a Gazelle, or anything that can get you a Gazelle, you can kick off the core of this deck’s loop and set up the extra deck monsters to come later.

Salamangreat Foxy, when normal summoned, allows players to add to their hand a Salamangreat card from the top three cards on the deck. It helps search those vital early cards in the combo, and gets you more cards to work with, which is nothing but a positive. Foxy can also be easily brought back from the grave by discarding a Salamangreat card, while a face up magic or trap is on the field. It’s one of several cards in the deck that increase your odds of finding the cards needed to kick off the deck’s loop. Also, remember that many Salamangreat cards can come back from the grave, so if you for example discard a Spinny, it’ll pop right onto the field for free, once again setting you up for a Link or XYZ summon.

Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring is not technically a Salamangreat card, but as a level 3 fire monster it acts as one in most situations you would need it to. It can be discarded from your hand to negate adding cards from the deck to the hand, special summoning from the deck, or sending cards from the deck to the grave. This is really useful for shutting down your opponent’s Salamangreat deck in a mirror match. There’s a few other cards like this worth considering, but they’re not low level fire monsters, so we will tackle those at the end.

Watch 🔴Yu-Gi-Oh! World Championship 2019 – Berlin – Day 2 from OfficialYuGiOhChannel on www.twitch.tvSalamangreat Mirage Stallion is a level 3 XYZ monster, and by getting rid of one of its materials you can special summon a Salamangreat monster from the deck in defense position. This allows you to search and summon the materials needed to kick off many of these chains for the deck, such as your Gazelle. It prevents you using non fire monster effects for the rest of the turn, but it’s a fully fire deck so what do we care? Also, if it’s used as a Link material, we can force a monster on the field back to the hand, helping clear the field for your heavy hitters later in the game. Remember this, because there is a huge hitting monster we wwant to use this to set up.

Salamangreat Balelynx is a Link 1 monster, easily summoned, but core to what makes this deck work. When summoned, it allows you to search for a Salamangreat Sanctuary in your deck. When in the graveyard, you can banish Balelynx to prevent one of your cards being destroyed. It’s cheap to access, searches the deck, and protects you from damage afterwards.

Salamangreat Sanctuary is the deck’s field spell, and has some really nice effects. It allows you to Link summon your Link monsters, by using a Link monster of the same name as the whole cost of the Link monster. This may sound pointless, why get rid of a monster for an identical monster? Well, several of the Salamangreat Link monsters have special effects if Link summoned this way.

Salamangreat Sunlight Wolf is a Link 2 monster, and if anything is summoned to a zone it points to, we can return a fire monster from degraveyard to hand, super useful for recycling cards like the Gazelle. You can’t play cards of that name for the rest of the turn, but they’re at least back in your in hand options for future turns. Additionally, once per turn, if you special summoned Sunlight Wolf using itself using that field spell, it can recycle Salamangreat spells and traps to your hand.

Salamangreat Heatleo is another Link 2 monster, and this one is a slightly heavier hitter. As well as having 2300 attack, when it is summoned you can return a spell or trap card on the opponent’s side of the field back into their deck, clearing the back row to make attacking safer. Additionally, if it was summoned using a copy of itself with our field spell, once per turn you can change the attack of a face up monster to that of a card in the graveyard. Considering you’ll have at least one Heatleo in your grave, this means you can turn another monster up to 2300 attack, which helps us prep for the deck’s end game.

Salamangreat Violet Chimera is a fusion monster, and the reason that we need Heatleo’s effect so much. Made by fusing a Salamangreat monster and a Link monster, it not only starts off with 2800 attack, but gains half the combined attack of the monsters used to summon it until the end of its first turn. If you fuse a Heatleo and something you gave the strength of another Heatleo, this monster could come out onto the field with 5100 attack points.

Additionally, and this is the wild part, once per battle if we’re up against a monster whose original attack points are different from its current attack points, Violet Chimera can double its attack points during damage calculation. Plan things right, and you can end up with a 10,200 attack monster. So long as you back that up with spells and traps to stop the opponent stopping your attack, that’s a game winner by itself. It’s worth considering the possibility of deliberately altering an enemy monster’s attack in some way to make this work. You could deliberately strengthen an enemy monster just to get that massive boost yourself.

Oh, and if you use a Violet Chimera as material for another Violet Chimera, anything it attacks will have zero attack points during damage calculation. If you can get that to hit an attack position monster, it’s a direct path to their life points.

Salamangreat Circle helps search the deck for more Salamangreat cards or protect your Salamangreat cards from card effects temporarily. Will of the Salamangreat allows for special summons of Salamangreats from your hand or grave, further recycling the combo. If you get rid of this continuous spell card, along with a link monster like heatleo, you can special summon monsters from the grave up to the Link number, meaning you could get essentially a triple Monster Reborn for the archetype.

Fusion of Fire is super similar to Super Polymerisation, except focused on the Salamangreat archetype. It’s a Salamangreat card, able to be searched by all the above search cards, and allows for fusions using your hand, field, and opponent’s field. In a mirror match, like most of the ones seen in the 2019 World Championships, this essentially allows you to bypass the costs of your fusion when summoning Violet Chimera.

Salamangreat Rage is a trap which allows players to destroy cards on their opponent’s side of the field, either one usually, or up to a Link rating if there is a Link monster that was summoned using itself. Again, if you Link Summon a Heatleo using a Heatleo this card could wipe three of your opponent’s cards at once.

Lastly, Salamangreat Roar is a counter trap, which allows us to negate and destroy a card when it’s effect is activated, if we have a Salamangreat Link monster on the field. It can get itself out the grave and onto the field once if you Link summon a Salamangreat, but much like Spinny it gets banished next time it leaves the field.

Beyond those explicitly Salamangreat cards, there are a few specific cards which we saw show up in the finals match of the World Championships, which are worth discussing in some depth too. Kokai Kosaka, who won the World Champion title for 2019 using a Salamangreat deck, really benefited from running multiple instances of the card Mind Control, many of you may remember from back in the day when the game first released.

Mind Control allows you to take control of an opponent’s monster until the end of the turn, but it cannot attack or be tributed, which used to be a very strong restriction. However, in modern Yu-Gi-Oh, the number of other uses for a stolen monster are pretty high. They can still be used as synchro material, fusion material, and other non tribute based summon types. In the finals, this was used to great effect to use up enemy monsters for Kosaka’s own benefit.

Other useful hand traps to consider include Fantastical Dragon Phantazmay, which can be special summoned when your opponent summons a Link monster. When summoned this way you get to draw cards equal to the number of Link monsters they have out +1, then shuffle one fewer card back into the deck. You gain an extra card, and get to pick how to refresh your hand, which is solid. Additionally, while out, you can discard a card to negate targeted card effects once per turn.

Lastly there’s the hand trap Effect Veiler, which can be discarded to negate the effects of an opponent monster for one turn, to help break through their wall or slow down their loop.

Lastly, a great extra deck pick we saw in Salamandrake mirror matches was Abyss Dweller, a four star XYZ monster, which can detach one of its materials to prevent effects activating in the grave for a turn. This is a great option in the extra deck to work with, as it shuts down much of a mirror Salamandrake deck’s ability to recover cards, which it relies on pretty heavily. Particularly going forwards, with the new ban list that limits the numbers of many of the above cards, recycling from the grave will be vital, and this is a great way to shut that down.

While there’s certainly a little more to the way this deck format works, and variations to be had, this is the core of what made the deck so impressive to watch at the world championships. With no reliance on pendulum summons, the deck has great synergy, with loads of one or two card starts that can kick off its combo, great ways to search and recycle cards, a lot of advantage generation, and the ability to build up a monster strong enough it can take the game in a single attack if played right. It’s a fast paced, affordable (ish) competitive deck format, and one that is a really good pick for a player wanting to jump into more modern Yu-Gi-Oh. It has such a clear pathway to its end goal that even a relative beginner should be able to see how the deck builds to its end point, and follow it pretty well. It’s one of the easier modern competitive deck loops to remember, and one I’m personally interested in playing around with after watching its performance at the 2019 World Championships. At the very least, I want to pick up that starter deck and play around with it.