History of the Synchro Mechanic
- Ryan Atlus
Synchro monsters were the first new card type to be added to the extra deck, originally named fusion deck. Although some players were skeptical of them at first and hesitant to try them out, they quickly became a staple in competitive Yu-Gi-Oh! In this article we'll have a look at the mechanic's lifespan.
Long Ago and Far Away
Imagine playing Yu-Gi-Oh! without an extra deck. For a long time, using cards from outside your main deck was quite a niche thing to do. After all, conducting a fusion summon meant that you'd be using up multiple cards to summon one monster, which meant that you would instantly fall behind in terms of card advantage. The currently forbidden Metamorphosis opened up the fusion deck, as any Goat Control player will be able to tell you, but after the T-Hero strategy abused the card in 2007, the card got the axe.
Briefly after that, the contact fusion mechanic was popularized by the Gladiator Beast fusion monsters. By sending a specific monster along with the other fusion materials from your field to the graveyard, you could bring out the matching fusion monster. The popularity of this strategy was probably what inspired the creation of a new card type.
On Your Marks, Get Set, Synchro Summon!
When it was decided that combining Otomo's Akira manga with Horowitz's Power of Five series to create the best Yu-Gi-Oh! animated series to date, it gave birth to a new game mechanic. While Yu-Gi-Oh! GX decided to further explore the fusion mechanic that was a bit underused in the original series, Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's went ahead and focused on synchro summons. In the very first episode it is explained that by using a tuner monster and non-tuner monsters, you could bring out a synchro monster whose level matched those monster levels' sum. The first synchro monsters to hit the TCG did so in Starter Deck 2008, namely Junk Warrior, Gaia Knight, the Force of Earth, and Colossal Fighter.
Just a few weeks later, the warriors would no longer hold a monopoly over this new game mechanic. Duelist Genesis dropped and introduced a whole lot of new synchro monsters to play with. Thought Ruler Archfiend, Magical Android, and Goyo Guardian became highly sought-after synchro monsters. Stardust Dragon and Red Dragon Archfiend got reprints as Collectible Tins 2008 Wave 1 promo cards, making these popular monsters easy to obtain.
What really got the ball rolling in this set was not just the great synchro monsters. In order to summon these you need a tuner monster, after all! Duelist Genesis brought a card to the world that has been relevant for over a decade: Emergency Teleport allowed you to summon any psychic monster of level three or lower from your deck. Thanks to the level two and three psychic tuners Krebons and Psychic Commander, any deck could splash this engine and easily start bringing out the white cards. One deck that took particularly well to this idea was the Dark Armed Dragon-based strategy. Thanks to this lightning-fast way of putting multiple Dark monsters in your graveyard, it was easy to make your big boss monster live immediately.
A Swift Expansion
After the initial wave of great tuner and synchro monsters, they just kept getting better. Crossroads of Chaos, the next set after Duelist Genesis brought even more splashable cards to help players synchro summon with ease. Rose, Warrior of Revenge was the first generic level-four tuner and Plaguespreader Zombie fit perfectly into the Tele-DAD strategy, while also being useful in Lightsworn, which was one of the best decks of that time period. Black Rose Dragon was the chase card from the set, although it was quickly reprinted as a tin promo as well. Even now, the original prints are pretty popular among collectors, so if you happen to have a Ghost Rare copy lying around, you can call yourself lucky!
Near the end of the first year of synchro monsters going live, we got a special little set called Hidden Arsenal 1, which was a collection of cards that were made available in arcade-style machines over in Japan. The cards represented a story about the war between a bunch of tribes. With this set, we'd get access to a bunch of powerful synchro monsters like Ally of Justice Catastor, Brionac, Dragon of the Ice Barrier, and Mist Wurm. All three of these provided removal in some way, and everyone was scrambling to pick up this trio of powerful boss monsters.
While it was great fun to put synchro monsters into your already existing deck, it would not take long before archetypes specifically based around their very own synchro monsters hit the playing field. Some of the early examples include Blackwings and X-Saber. These decks were inherently able to bring out multiple monsters on the first turn, which would have already been quite powerful on its own in earlier Yu-Gi-Oh! Thanks to a nice spread between tuner and non-tuner monsters within those archetypes, those small monsters could unify into big powerful monsters, and synchro-based decks would begin an arms race to see who could bring out the biggest, most dangerous monsters in the most efficient way.
This did not mean that "good stuff synchro" fell completely out of favor. One of the most prominent decks that was not entirely archetype-based was Cat Synchro, which relied on Rescue Cat to bring out X-Saber Airbellum. That could then lead to summoning the terrifying Dark Strike Fighter, which back in the day could also be used in main phase two, and was not once per turn! Zombies were another fine example, thanks to the crazy interactions between Brionac, Card of Safe Return, and Plaguespreader Zombie.
While synchro-centric decks were popular, other decks that did not entirely rely on this mechanic remained relevant as well, although they would often tech in a tuner or two to dip into that territory. We see this, for example, in the top cut decklists from SJC Edison, which was the last Shonen Jump Championship. Decks like Machina Gadget or Lightsworn had access to synchro monsters via to generic tuners like Blackwing - Gale the Whirlwind. On the other side of the spectrum, we see decks like Flamvell Synchro or Quickdraw Dandywarrior making good use of in-theme tuners.
Peak and Decline
While the release of The Shing Darkness ended the Edison format, Plant-based synchro decks would remain in style. Powerful tuners like Spore and Glow-Up Bulb along with fierce synchro monsters like Trishula, Dragon of the Ice Barrier and Drill Warrior made sure that Yusei Fudo–style decks would stay relevant. The end game of this deck was probably the most iconic of the synchro era, and decklists like Billy Brake's YCS Toronto–winning list are still a pleasant memory for me and a lot of my friends who played this type of deck.
|Billy Brake – YCS Toronto – 1st place|
|Main Deck||Extra Deck||Side Deck|
You'll notice that there's actually multiple colors in Billy's extra deck. This event was held in late 2011, and Xyz monsters were starting to take over. For a good while it actually appeared as if the two card types would be living in symbiosis, but synchro strategies were weakened by both the September 2011 and March 2012 Forbidden & Limited Lists. This was presumably done to further push Xyz monsters, which were the chief point of attention in the Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal series. Even within this series, nobody still uses synchro monsters.
Throughout the next years, synchro monsters would still occasionally pop up. For example, in the Dragon Ruler deck it was easy to search out some of their Dragon tuners such as Debris Dragon or Flamvell Guard. The normal summon wasn't essential to the deck's strategy, so Dragon Ruler players used that as a way to get their tuners on board and then go for plays involving Ancient Fairy Dragon or Crimson Blader. But to say Dragon Ruler was a typical synchro deck would be a bold statement.
During this Zexal era, synchro monsters did continue to see occasional play, but decks completely focused on it were few and far between. Many of the decks that came out during this time period did not have any tuners, and throwing some generic tuners into any deck was an outdated idea by this time.
Slow and Steady Revival
With Duelist Alliance and the pendulum mechanic came a breath of fresh air, and the idea that older mechanics should remain supported. Fusion got Shaddoll, and Xyz got Satellarknights and Burning Abyss. Synchro did get the shortest end of the stick. While Yang Zing was an interesting theme that could definitely do well at local and regional level, the power creep that started in this set was just too steep for the deck based on Baxia to keep up. The strategy did see some extra waves of support such as Yazi, Evil of the Yang Zing, but synchro monsters were definitely not mainstream.
But maybe being at the centerpoint of the meta was not exactly what could be expected of the synchro mechanic anymore? The other summoning mechanics had to share attention as well. Qliphort was the chief representative of the pendulum mechanic, just like Nekroz represented Rituals for the first time since … Demise OTK? More and more strategies did gain access to powerful synchro cards such as Ignister Prominence, the Blasting Dracoslayer. When the Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc-V series eventually featured an arc dedicated to the legacy of 5D's, many characters were seen bolstering new ace monsters with a white boarder, such as Nirvana High Paladin, Crystal Wing Synchro Dragon, and Hot Red Dragon Archfiend Bane.
While it was very pleasant that it started to look like all the summoning mechanics could be represented in the format to some degree, the introduction of a new master rule and link monsters once again changed the color composition of the extra deck. Again, we saw the same happen as during the Arc-V period. Initially the newest summoning method was favored, but over time, the older summoning mechanics were thrown a bone as well.
Where Are Synchro Monsters Today?
While I don't believe this mechanic will ever be as popular as it once was, I like to believe synchro monsters are very well represented in the current format. Combo decks relying on Crystron Halqifibrax naturally make use of synchro monsters such as Martial Metal Marcher. Dragon Link decks employ synchro monsters like Herald of the Arc Light and Borreload Savage Dragon as negations on their end board, and the revived Infernoble Knight strategy relies on those as well, besides their in-theme Infernoble Knight Emperor Charles. Even the latest set contains the Virtual World archetype, which plays synchro monsters such as Virtual World Kyubi - Shenshen.
If you're learning how to play Yu-Gi-Oh!, or teaching someone, this game mechanic is one you'll need to know about, as opposed to slightly more obscure ones that are not commonly played in the format, like pendulum summoning or ritual summoning. The mechanic is still relevant today, and every time we send a tuner and a non-tuner to the graveyard, many of us are reminded of how we normal summoned that Junk Synchron many years ago.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.