What is a tier list, anyway? This is a concept that has been misunderstood throughout competitive communties worldwide, and yet these lists are one of the most hotly contested and debated things in any competitive game. This post will aim to address what a tier list is, how applicable it is to WS, and how much a list like this means for you as a player. Please read at least some of this. The actual tier/tear list will come soon, I promise.
A tier list is a (loosely) hierarchical grading of individual units, based on their likelihood to triumph in standard competition under unbiased circumstances. Contrary to what some might state, they absolutely exist, and any claims to the contrary are poorly-thought-out arguments that tier lists take into account by definition. Tier lists are as dynamic as the games they seek to represent, and any change in metagame will bring with it a shift in tiering. There are still fixed elements, which means these tier shifts are rarely drastic, but for the most part, any objectively accurate tier list will be objectively inaccurate and outdated with the next patch, update or set release.
A tier list for WS is not a list of decks from objective best to objective worst. It is not just a measure of what has won the most. Most importantly, it is certainly not a hierarchy that can be used to determine individual matchups. These are measures that tier lists happen to resemble, but none of these descriptions covers by themselves what a tier list aims to represent. It is a reflection of the metagame, as well as a general spread of series based on the utilities they have available. The glaring issue here is that a metagame is usually determined with the assumption its players are playing to win. WS isn’t a game like that, so high representation will sometimes mask a deck’s mediocrity by sheer numbers alone. This is why I am talking theory, rather than pulling results. You could probably read this article as a ‘What to play for Regionals/Nationals’ article.
Tier lists are generally decided by matchups and math. In this game, matchups rarely go beyond 60:40, if that. Every time I use the word ‘matchup’ from henceforth, it will be out of habit, not because the word matchup carries significant authority.
Tiers are mostly theory for a game like WS. There are obvious exceptions, especially when one particular deck soars above the rest, but this is true for the most part. The difference between S tier and B tier in WS is smaller than the divide between Tier 1 and Tier 2 in most other competitive games. When there are this many miniscule variables, you can’t really do much except separate decks into ‘good choices’, ‘average choices’ and ‘bad choices’. This is simply because, with some measure of skill and a couple helpings of luck, the better player will generally triumph, regardless of mediocre techs or costly gimmicks. More to the point, the most well-refined tier lists generally require two things.
- Static competitive material – an unchanging game. WS is a trading card game with an enormous number of Neo-Standard ‘units’, or sets. If a new set comes out, it will generally be good, given the way TCGs are run, and will therefore shake up most tier lists. There will be examples of this later on, but the point is that the format changes regularly, to the point where whole lists become outdated rapidly.
- Significant samples of tournament results data. Results matter, and need to be at least taken into account. It doesn’t matter how good a deck is in theory, if it fails to push out results, it cannot be widely considered top tier. Formats in WS change so frequently that we will never have the luxury of significant tournament data. Even the results of prestigious tournaments cannot substitute for a large sample of data. One Worlds win does not mean Dog Days is one of the best sets in the game, especially since it’s been a year after that Worlds win.
So, what does this mean for the average WS player? Well, firstly, WS is not usually a game where you can pay to win. Buying top tier does not mean you become a top tier player. Essentially, the lower the series placing, the more expertise you need to capably build and pilot that deck in a competent meta. Low-placed decks win, but they do not win nearly as often, and any win by these decks should be taken as a remarkable player’s skill or luck, rather than the deck being a super-secret anti-meta tech.
This list is primarily theory-related, and will quite possibly be biased to the point where it is completely useless, and mostly just clickbait. And you know what? I don’t care, and nor should you. Take it seriously. Find flaws. I invite salt. I invite fury. I invite any form of constructive discussion.
This is just another way of getting people to think about WS as a competitive game, work out how to game their local meta, and get a good idea of what wins, and why. This is how competitive communities progress – discussion and controversy. The list presented below is not strictly hierarchical (though it is somewhat ordered), aside from the tier designations, and the relevant decks under consideration will be mentioned (in shorthand). Brief explanations of each placing will be given, because I believe in allowing people call my bullshit out (please do so, if you feel it is warranted).
Tiers will be from S to C, split as I see fit. Unlike with the previous articles, I am not providing hotlinks to every card I mention, because a) I want people to explore sets for themselves, and b) I’m lazy.
To be an S tier deck, the absolute requirement is control of the game. The deck needs to give a sense of safety in situations where other decks feel despair, and it needs to frequently make informed opponents feel they need significant luck to win. It needs to excel at every important element of the metagame, Vol. and it needs to have few (if any) poor matchups against other similarly powerful decks, or the tools to deal with said matchups easily. They define the meta, and can often be modified to warp the meta further.
Every S tier is different. Lists revolve around their S tiers, and decks that can comfortably fight these decks find themselves moving up. Conversely, decks that fall to these (often the previous S tiers) suffer a slight fall from grace.
Nisekoi – RB, YRB, GRB
This set is clearly the best set in the game at the moment. It isn’t so much better that it deserves its own tier, but it is without a doubt the best straight-up play. Very rarely does a set boast such absurd specifications on paper. In addition to having (unpictured) a myriad of powerful Level 1 options (any single one of which many sets would love to have), almost every single card played from Level 2 onwards is a cantrip on a body. What’s more, it boasts the most ridiculous Level 3 finisher printed in a long while. It has a decent Level 0 game, enough synergistic handfixing to make any set exasperated, and has plenty of utilities and options to help get going, keep going, and finish strong. If you build the deck properly, you will have a way to stay in the game in almost every situation, which is something that counts for a LOT in WS. What’s more, if the meta is geared to fight Nisekoi, it can fight back with build modifications, and the frustrating thing is that it does not lose out significantly. Every single person who wants to play in a sanctioned format needs to ask themselves whether their deck can handle Nisekoi. It is the elephant in the room, and you’d best have either another elephant, or an elephant gun to deal with it.
Little Busters! – YGB, YGR, Twins
Having received a veritable cornucopia of powerhouse cards in its two recent Extra Packs, Little Busters is a set that will not be going away anytime soon. Not only does it boast the most counterplay of any set in the game (anti-runner, anti-salvage, anti-heal, anti-damage, anti-front attack, etc) but it has exceptionally powerful advantage engines (1-cost clock-1 to +2? FAIR!) and more accessible finishers than pretty much any set in the game (this actually includes Nisekoi). It has advance summoned field swappers, free bonus stockcharging, passable field presence via clock encore and a huge amount of utility Level 0s, easily rivaling the likes of DC and Persona. Because of this, it has one of the best matchups against NK of any set, including the NK mirror. The fact that all of this still isn’t enough to stop Nisekoi from just rolling over you is a testament to that deck’s ridiculous finishing power, but if any deck gives you a fighting chance against them, this’ll be one of them. On the flip side, Little Busters requires you to pull from many different colours to account for a lot of its otherwise-bad matchups, and can occasionally be inconsistent, or else force you to play a suboptimal gameplan. Regardless, it is definitely a fierce contender, and you should expect to see it taking some tops soon.
Kantai Collection – YG, YGR
I’m not sure this deck belongs here, to be honest. While it was certainly worthy of S tier status before the restriction, the restrictions given to it force it to tone down one or more elements of its game. Currently, I believe Junyou to be the least viable choice of three, while Inazuma and Musashi both compete quite viably for your restriction choice. The main power of KanColle is its ability to stymie any deck that uses gates as an advantage engine, such as Rewrite and Raildex. This, in combination with their own advantage engines, creates a disparity in choices, eventually forcing an unprepared opponent to field poor matchups in order to keep damage up. The primary reason this is here is because it has a relatively good matchup against the stock-standard Nisekoi list. Even ignoring Hatsukaze’s ability to stop mindless gates and Marika 1/0 retrieval, the Compass counter is a very potent tool to stop Marika from going absolutely berserk, and unlike Little Busters or Da Capo, the cheap cost of the event means you have a more realistic chance of multiple Compass plays per game. While it has some poor matchups, it is still a very viable deck, and is an extremely solid choice for the forseeable future.
S Tier is the easiest tier to define. Everything below that is often a matter of approximation. A+ decks need to have good matchups against at least some other decks in the High/Top tier region, need to be relatively consistent in terms of pulling off their gameplan, and preferably dominate in at least one area of the game. While A+ and A tier can mostly be mashed together as far as power goes, A+ decks are distinct from A decks in that they are more versatile and can be easily teched to fight the metagame.
Right now, any A tier deck that isn’t particularly reliant on battle phase salvage to generate signficant advantage can be considered a cut above the rest. Good field presence also does well against a lot of the antimeta shenanigans, so that earns a gold star too right now.
Love Live – YRB primarily, also YGR
I strongly considered listing this as S tier, given that it has a solid matchup vs everything else in top tier. I feel that warrants a high placement. Still, I merely see this as a slightly upgraded SAO, which I don’t think deserves to be called S tier. It’s probably the most solid ‘traditional’ deck in the metagame at the moment, if we discount Nisekoi. In addition to having a significant power barrier (which is a great boon against every deck listed above) and Level 1 bombs to help it win the midgame, it’s also mostly costless, or if it is costed (1/1 clock encore Umi), it will more than likely stay around for ages at no additional stock cost, even if it is reversed. This gives it the exceptionally valuable ability to snowball. In addition to that, it can ignore the anti-salvage gimmick that LB and KC boast by virtue of the Umi brainstormer and aforementioned power-based field presence. It even has efficient answers to the Level 3 advance summons in the 1/0 antichange counter and 2/1 Umi or 2/2 Eri, as well as its own advance summon of Level 3 Maki, all of which are easily searchable. It’s the other ‘fair’ deck that manages to keep up in a prohibitory meta, and has more win-more potential than either KC or LB. However, it bullies traditional decks a lot less effectively than either of the above, and its matchups with the rest of A tier are therefore a lot more shaky, so you can think of this as being on the borderline of S and A+.
Sword Art Online – YRB, YGB, YR
As much as people love to hate this set, it’s very strong. There are a lot of ways to build it, but over time yellow has emerged as the staple at both Level 1 and Level 3. A select cast of used goods (this means Asuna) take the frontrunner spots in most decks, backed up by the formidable Kirito support. It actually has a lot of versatile yellow options at Level 1, which it can change depending on matchup. This is made relevant by the fact there are multiple search cards and a Level 1 searching climax combo to fall back on (though it is not entirely necessary). None of this is greatly affected by the antisalvage gimmicks, either. It also boasts a relatively good finishing game, with much-appreciated soul manipulation on attack, courtesy of the healing Asuna. Its primary weakness is that it does not excel greatly in any given category and doesn’t really have any tricky gimmicks, aside from being quite sizeable on defence. However, a skilled player with a well-built deck can turn more or less any starting hand into what they want out of the series, and I don’t see it getting weaker any time soon.
Da Capo – Newspaper RB, Magic GRB/YRG, Seitokai YRB, the list goes on
I put this here partly due to raw potential, and partly due to the fact it can effectively tech against most things. Da Capo has more tools than most any series, with the possible exception of Persona, but also has some downright oppressive effects and excellent gimmicks. As well as possessing antidamage, antichange, multiple field presence options, opponent deck manipulation, zone manipulation on par with Nisekoi and plenty of traditional compression power. It tends to do very well in trio cups, where antisalvage and antiheal aren’t as prevalent, and can still make waves in the appropriate meta, especially if you take advantage of powerful effects like the 3/2 Himeno clock summon (hands down the best clock summon in the game) and 1/0 Aoi command refresh. The new booster also delivered them two good brainstorms and an effective Time Machine Miku clone, which is an excellent way to generate advantage and stock without resorting to gates and salvages. It does have a few drawbacks. Trait reliance means it rarely gets to do absolutely everything really well, and it doesn’t have very efficient finishers in any deck, barring Charles (who is quite stock-intensive AND requires a climax combo – don’t mention Royalty, please). Additionally, some of its strongest effects are heal-based, which is obviously not the flavour of the month. All in all, an incredibly solid cardpool that lends itself to a very strong series, and a contender in any meta, given an appropriately skilled deckbuilder.
And yes, that was a joke about its cardpool.
A Tier decks have a lot going for them. Given a bit of luck (and maybe some matchup dependency), they can go toe to toe with any deck in tiers above them. Generally boast one or more of good advantage engines, strong field presence, remarkable consistency, and/or reasonable finishing power.
Strong decks of olde inhabit A-tier, along with some contenders whose main gameplans are less affected by the meta shift than most. Here, that mostly means sustainable Level 1 changes or +1 Level effects, or else a strong advantage engine that makes trades totally fine, and often advantageous for you.
Rewrite – YR, YGR
Still a powerhouse set. While it was significantly weakened by its restriction, it didn’t exactly fall off the map. It just went from degenerate to slightly less dominant. Antisalvage gimmicks hurt the deck, given its lategame hand assembly was partially through battle phase salvage, but the primary goal of putting 2-soul fatties on board and keeping them there forever is still all there, and beats up on unprepared decks just as well as it used to. Even better, Nisekoi has no such antisalvage, so an 8 gate build will likely run into a lot of decks that don’t really interfere with it. Rewrite still has its 13k base heal, which is a significant hassle for Nisekoi and other decks to get over (though it is hardly impossible). Additionally, the 1/1 Shizuru counter remains one of the best character counters in the game, and should be viewed as a significant strength for the series. While it is a fiercely powerful deck, antisalvage makes one of its primary advantage engines very, very sad, and really limits the extent to which the deck can take over the game in those matchups. Still a very strong deck, and definitely a contender.
Index/Railgun – RG, YGR
How the mighty have fallen. Or so I would say, if Railgun wasn’t still able to take names and crack skulls with no issue. It matches most decks in terms of power and can trade fields quite effectively, thanks to 1k supports and a combination of efficient bonds and superpowered vanillas. It still has an excellent Level 0 game, with a runner and a fantastic 1-cost plussing searcher. It can create fields as big as any deck’s without much issue, and even has an overlooked +level support to help deal with the threat of bombs. Misakuro is as efficient as ever, and 4k counters/good level supports are nothing but a plus in today’s age of Marika. The old 8 gate build is obviously still strong, but it doesn’t quite hold up, given that gates are falling out of favour. However, Railgun is hardly short on discard outlets at any point in the game, meaning it is one of the decks that can put bar triggers plusses to excellent use, and it even has good climax combos with these bars. Still a very strong deck, even with antisalvage flooding the meta.
Project Diva F
Project Diva (more commonly known as just ‘Miku’) got a pretty significant boost from the new booster, gaining effects that other decks wish they had, as well as some things to actually set it apart from the rest of the field. Kinda. A bit. Not enormously. Miku’s main problem was that it previously relied on a very hit-and-miss climax combo at Level 1 to maintain any advantage, and that failing to cancel after using this combo (it leaves your field partially empty) can put you at a severe deficit. The new booster not only gave it decent Brainstorm and searching effects, but multiple finishers with no climax reliance and a Level 1 game that didn’t require you to bet the farm. What’s more, it gained a nut play surpassing more or less any in WS – the ability to pull a 7k clock encore onto the field, turn 1. This isn’t really the focus – the fact that it even got a 7k clock encore (as well as a Level 1 bomb) should be more prominent in any Miku player’s eyes. If you were to sum it up, Miku gained the ability to more or less play like Love Live, but with less powerful finishing effects and a bit more stock usage.
Milky Holmes – GRB, fourcolour
An incredibly powerful deck that has more tech room than pretty much any deck in the game. It sets up a very menacing field at Level 1 with the featured Cordelia and the 1/0 Sheryl from the first booster, which will generally be 7.5k on offence and probably the same on defence. Why is it also the same on defence? Milky Holmes is the only series with a 1/0 3k character counter, which is simply absurd and allows for some nonsensical stockbuilding. What’s more is that it also has access to a PR +1 Level support, which takes bombs at least partially out of the equation (very, very strong play in the current meta). Very few decks can even attempt to beat over what will likely be 10.5k 1/0s, and just as few have the means to make even somewhat favourable trades. And let’s not talk about its Level 3, where it has one of the best on-reverse burners in the game (easily rivalling Misakuro). It even has a great double-plus bonder and some decent handfixing. As to why it isn’t wrecking everything? Sometimes, things just don’t go perfectly. A lot of the deck’s advantage used to come from gates, which aren’t the best idea nowadays. Additionally, failing to keep your Cordelias or Sheryl Level 1s from dying will result in a meager hand and field, which can definitely spell trouble. It also doesn’t quite have the finishing power to rival decks like NK or KC, so it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Still, this is a very oppressive deck with plenty going for it and more tech room than you can shake a pillar of salt at.
Vividred Operation – GRB
This deck honestly confuses me. It has excellent potential on paper, a very solid and consistent engine, and has all of the good stuff that decks like Rewrite and Genei boast, including good field presence, great consistency, acceptable finishers and tech like Level 1 bombs and an ‘antidamage’ counter (gives battling opponent +5 soul because reasons). In fact, it’s arguably more resilient than either of those because it has better counters. And yet, something about the deck just seems like it’s not quite there. The Vivid Blue change is theoretically super solid, yet there are title cup lists floating around that don’t use her at all, instead running 1/1 Encore vanillas and the Level 2 TD change. In fact, I don’t recall a list with Vivid Blue in recent memory at all, which is simply quite odd. The deck has what it takes to kick names and take asses. I stand by it being very solid.
Zero no Tsukaima – YR with 3/2 Yellow choice
Its restriction list is barely relevant. Being kind of mediocre in the current meta, however, is quite relevant, and a bit sad. It still boasts one of the strongest Level 2 games, with an easily advance-summoned heal that made its Level 2 game equivalent to most decks’ endgame. Its Level 3s will come down at probably 2.1, healing and sitting there as 10k+ on offence, and 11k+ on defence. Demands an answer, else you be ground down by repeated 2-soul beats. Prior to that, it runs either climax-based salvage advantage or power-based Level 1 field advantage on defence, neither of which is particularly strong at the moment due to antisalvage and Level 1 bombs. Somewhat reliant on gates and very reliant on repeating heals to stay at Level 2 as long as it can, given it has mediocre burst finishing power. Can create solid and difficult-to-fight fields, even if the benefit of healing is removed, and shouldn’t be counted out completely, especially against decks outside the top tier.
Persona – YRB, GRB
Persona has gained a few incredibly powerful tools that push it from being a somewhat confusing toolbox to a legitimate contender. The first is a Level 1 bomb… but not just any Level 1 bomb. This Level 1 bomb sends your opponent’s cards to memory. Sending a clock or hand encore Level 1 to memory, especially a costed one, is a devastating blow, especially if that deck was reliant on those cards to see them through Level 1. This happens to be the case with many good decks, which exchanged traditional gate-based advantage for clock encore. This alone is something most decks will be very, very frightened of. Couple that with a plethora of advantage engines and suddenly-viable finisher Level 3s, and you have the beginnings of a very threatening deck that could quite well take the meta unprepared. But that’s not all. Oh no, not even slightly. Persona is renowned for being a bit of a toolbox deck, which has become increasingly evident with an overlooked common in the new set. Theo is essentially Birthing Pod, pulling value from cards that you’ve tapped for effects and turning them into more cards for you. This is sustained nicely by your own oversize clock encore, which can be turned into a Takitsubo effect by that same Theo. The deck has always been bursting with effects, but now it has an excellent way to search them out and make use of them. An appropriately clued-in player with a good grasp of the meta can take this deck and make it sing.
Probably one of the least appreciated sets in WS. All the aneem watchers gravitate towards bad stuff like SAO and KLK, and ignore fun shows like Shin-chan. Regardless, the set’s strong enough to smack bitches sideways and show everyone who’s boss. As well as arguably the best Level 0 game out there, the set boasts climax combos that give solid field presence, including that of a 2/1 clock encore at Level 1. It has a Level 1 bomb, good bond engines to overspec costless, and a very good finisher. It’s a bit short on hand, but it has plenty of bonds to help with that, as well as a 2/1 cycling event to help you get the most out of your pre-refresh waiting room. If you’re ok doling out $35 per Level 3 Shin, you’ll find a very vicious deck that won’t disappoint.
Daybreak Illusion – RB, GRB
Underrepresented deck with a bunch of cool tricks and ways to take on the meta. As well as having a great combination of sustainability and consistency, it is simply a super solid deck all-around. It stays just ahead of its opponent in terms of field, says a straight-up no to Level 1 bombs with the 0/0 Akari bond, and answers larger Level 1 threats with bombs of its own. It is perfectly functional at Level 2 onwards as well, and can throw event-based damage at you with a combination of scrying Level 0s you’d probably play anyway and the boxtopper PR burn event. It has relatively strong Level 3s and a pseudo-compression engine inbuilt to one of its heals. Other builds are viable too, including one that advance summons a Level 2 for beatdown purposes (less consistent, but arguably more rewarding). While this deck remains relatively low-key and unplayed, that’s all the more reason for someone to pick it up and show everyone the bundle of fun it’s concealing.
I’m sick of writing so I’ll just list out the rest of the tiers and cover them later.
Log Horizon, Shana, Phantom, Angel Beats, Madoka, Devil Survivor 2
Lucky Star, Disgaea, Nanoha, Prisma Ilya, Fate, Gargantia, Guilty Crown, Dog Days, Kill la Kill, Symphogear, Sora Kake/Mai-Hime, Fairy Tail*, Sengoku Basara, iDOLM@STER, Monogatari
Accel World, King of Fighters, Robotics;Notes, Haruhi, Evangelion Rebuild*, PSYCHO-PASS, Wooser
Milky Holmes 1 TD, CLANNAD, Katanagatari*, Black Rock Shooter, MELTY BLOOD**, Nichijou, Macross F, Shining Force EXA*, Rewrite TD,
Your waifu, Gigant Shooter Tsukasa, CANAAN, MELTY BLOOD
* The placement of asterisk’d sets may be very wrong, simply due to the author having less exposure to said sets than that of non-asterisk’d sets.
**This is where a set is placed if you have average luck. However, all sets with this designation give the player calamitously bad luck by default, so this placement cannot be taken seriously.
Once again, all this means is that you need a lot more confidence to play a lower tier deck. Either be confident that you are the best player in the field, or be confident about something in that set which breaks your meta. Sets all the way down to B are generally very viable choices with options to fight most other decks. The well-educated player who respects his meta’s competence will generally gravitate towards the higher end of the tier list, but that isn’t necessarily because his other decks are bad.
Again, the difference between S tier and B tier in WS is smaller than the divide between Tier 1 and Tier 2 in most other competitive games. C tier kinda sucks, though.