To understand the full impact of Duelist Alliance, we first have to look at the meta before the set released. The year 2013 had been largely terrorized by the Dragon Rulers, which finally received the nail in the proverbial coffin on the January 2014 Forbidden & Limited List, which limited all of the Dragon Rulers, as well as forbidding Dragon Ravine, Return from the Different Dimension, and Sixth Sense.
This power vacuum led to the return of many old decks that saw play before the introduction of the Dragon Rulers, as well as a few decks that were pushed out of the meta before they ever had a chance to shine. Two big names were Geargia and Mermail, but other strategies like Bujin, Evilswarm, and Infernity were worth consideration as well.
Dragons of Legend and Primal Origin were the two big releases in the first half of 2014. While Dragons of Legend gave us cards like Kuribandit, Mathematician, Fire Hand, Ice Hand, and Wiretap, Primal Origin introduced the Artifact archetype. These monsters can be set as if they were Traps, and special summon themselves if they are destroyed during the opponent's turn. They all have effects that trigger when they are special summoned; the combination of Artifact Sanctum and Artifact Moralltach was one duelists of the time really liked to capitalize on. Throw some Traptrix cards into the mix, and you'll have built one of the most bizarre Frankenstein strategies to ever reign the top tables; the Hand Artifact Traptrix Deck, affectionally known as HAT.
Despite being so popular, HAT was not always the most popular deck in terms of numbers. At the European Championship of that year, the first-ever official event to be live-streamed, Geargia was the most popular deck going into day 2. In the top 32, all kinds of decks were represented, including all the ones I mentioned so far and some others, like Sylvan, Spellbook, Madolche, and Lightsworn, the latter playing some of the new cards from the Realm of Light Structure Deck, which released briefly before the event. On the July 2014 Forbidden & Limited List, the most noteworthy change was a limitation on Geargiagear, but it seemed like the format was an incredibly diverse one, with plenty of decks being able to make it to the gold medal of events at the time.
At the 2014 World Championship, where Infernity defeated HAT in the finals, attendees could play Sneak Peeks of the new set as a public event. Duelist Alliance was going to be a big set for multiple reasons. It was the first core set to include Pendulum monsters after their introduction in the Starter Deck that year, as well as featuring cards that were used in the first few episodes of the Arc-V anime. There was also some good news for people who, unlike me, weren't interested in starting a collection of literally 1,000 copies of Performapal Hip Hippo. Duelist Alliance contained several new decks with varying playability, each of them focusing on a different summoning mechanic. The Yang Zing strategy was based on synchro summons, the Tellarknights were great for xyz summoning, and Shaddolls employed the fusion mechanic. As a bonus, the set included a TCG World Premiere archetype called Burning Abyss. You might have heard of it since it's been almost continuously viable for the past seven years.
Other more fringe cards in the set were the Lightsworn support card Felis, Lightsworn Archer, the Superheavy Samurai deck, which relies on not playing any spells or traps but took like five sets to finally have the card base capable of making the deck playable. There was also the surprisingly nifty Artifact Lancea, the first-ever Deskbot card, a surprisingly good Batteryman in the form of Batteryman 9-Volt, and more support for the Battleguard archetype. It even brought us The Monarchs Stormforth, and someone will get mad if I don't mention the Melodious deck or the U.A. cards.
The set even held some hidden gems for the future, with Resonance Insect seeing play in the Beetrooper deck and Raiza the Mega Monarch getting plenty of hype for the upcoming Flundereeze deck.
Usually when I write texts about upcoming sets, I have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find things to talk about, but as you can see, Duelist Alliance was filled to the brim with cards that had some utility.
Keeping in mind what the format was before Duelist Alliance hit stores, it is not hard to see why decks like Shaddoll and Burning Abyss did so well. Let's start with Shaddolls. Shaddoll Fusion is an incredibly powerful card. Activating it while the opponent has an extra deck monster on board means that the player will be able to trigger either two Shaddoll monsters' effects, or just one and use El Shaddoll Construct to send the second Shaddoll. Seeing as many existing decks were based on toolboxing their extra deck throughout the game and chose to go for an extra deck monster right off the bat, this gave Shaddoll players ample opportunity to use this spell to its fullest potential. In the mirror match, players would often get rid of their own El Shaddoll Construct by tribute setting Shaddoll Beast, which also allowed them to trigger Construct's second effect as well.
Early on, the deck relied on Mathematician to get the ball rolling, which would let them draw an additional card as well. One popular target for Mathematician to play alongside that was Felis, which could let them access Black Rose Dragon, or serve as the Light material for construct. Speaking of this, many players opted to run an Artifact package as well. Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning and Super Polymerization were played as bomb cards to push for lethal.
Burning Abyss was the king of grinding resources back in the day. Their first wave of main deck monsters consisted of Cir, Scarm, and Graff. These cards interacted well with each other, as well as with Dante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss. Much like Shaddoll, Burning Abyss often used Mathematician to get their plays started, but the big haymaker was Tour Guide From the Underworld. Besides that, Burning Abyss in its early days played a massive trap lineup, many of them discarding cards as cost, like Phoenix Wing Wind Blast or Karma Cut.
Since Burning Abyss monsters are free summons, they could be paired up with Majesty's Fiend or Vanity's Fiend to immediately gain a lot of advantage by locking the opponent out of certain plays. One of the most annoying cards for these slow and grindy builds was Supply Squad, which players could trigger almost every turn including their own, and the card advantage train will keep rolling.
While events before Duelist Alliance had a pretty good spread of different decks in the top cut, the first YCS after it had a slightly more homogenous top cut. At YCS London 2014, the Top 32 featured twenty Shaddoll Decks, eight Burning Abyss, three Satellarknight, and a single Evilswarm player. YCS Toronto, held in September, only had those first three decks. Duelist Alliance had forced a pretty hard reset on the game, forcing out almost all of the decks that came before it, and would set a precedent for everything that came after it. For this reason, I always like to imagine the summer of 2014 as the start of "modern Yu-Gi-Oh!" The tempo of the game changed a lot thanks to this set, and every new deck would have to be able to keep up with it. For the months after Duelist Alliance, several strong new decks like Qliphort and Nekroz joined the metagame, making for some very interesting power balances. But I'll save that for another time.
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