Return of the Staples
- Marijn van Duivenboden
Yu-Gi-Oh! always has been dominated by strong generic cards. These so-called staples see broad application across all kinds of decks and strategies. Each format has their own, and each new release brings new staples. But nowadays it seems like 50% of any deck are good generic cards.
For a dynamic metagame, a card game must have power creep. This keeps the experience interesting and keeps players involved. However, nobody likes a tier-zero format. A strong deck also needs to be able to be stopped. It's not fun to watch your opponent combo off for ten minutes without being able to do anything at all.
The Holy Trinity
When Yu-Gi-Oh! first arrived on the scene there were no archetypes. All cards were generic and everyone was free to explore the game however they'd like. Soon, though, people noticed the game contained some cards that were significantly better than others. And soon after that, the first banlist dropped. Lets skip ahead to one of the first "fair" formats: Goat format.
Goat format is from the summer of 2005 and is generally agreed upon to be one of the best formats Yu-Gi-Oh! has ever had. It was quite skillful, focused on resource management, and featured slower, more grindy games. Whether you'd agree with the overall assessment or not, it's difficult to argue with the vast amount of people that still play Goat to this day. This is one of the first balanced formats the game has ever seen. This format took place just after the banlist that put every staple either on the banlist or limited them. Chaos Emperor Dragon - Envoy of the End and Yata-Garasu were banned while Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning was at one.
Some other noteworthy cards that were at one were the so-called holy trinity. Graceful Charity, Pot of Greed and Delinquent Duo were all at one in this format. Opening all three in your opening hand, the holy trinity, resulted in an easy win because you had so much advantage over your opponent they simply couldn't win anymore. These three cards were so generic and strong that literally every deck of the era included them. There were no exceptions. These cards are some of the earliest staples Yu-Gi-Oh! has seen.
Staples over the Years
With new sets and master rules coming out the game has evolved over the years. Let's take a look at some staples from back in the day.
Mystical Space Typhoon: This was one of the most generic backrow removal cards for a long time. Quick play made it so that you could use it in your opponent's turn as well. After the ban of Harpie's Feather Duster and Heavy Storm this was one of the only cards that could remove backrow without any compromises. The card saw play up until the release of Cosmic Cyclone, which is essentially just a better card.
Torrential Tribute: This card was limited very early in the game. Being able to blow up your opponent's field and punishing them for playing was extremely strong back in the day. This card saw play in almost every deck for a long time because it was so powerful. A recent banlist put it back at three. This is one of the cards that shows how much the game has changed. From being almost in every deck back in the day to not being played when at three is quite the change.
Maxx "C": More infamous, this card is considered to be the most powerful hand trap in the game. Warping the entire OCG format on its own, it is banned in the TCG for a good reason. At its release in Storm of Ragnarok Maxx "C" wasn't even being played because the game was so slow at that point nobody special summoned more than once or twice per turn, if even at all. After some new releases this card quickly became a three-of in either main or side deck. It was so generic and strong the card eventually was semi-limited, then limited, and then banned. Only to never return to legal play ever again.
Those were some staples from back in the day. When I started playing in 2013, I had all these cards in my deck. And most stayed in my decks over the years. However, none of them are in my decks now.
Triple Tactical Main Deck Cards
Over the last couple of years the staples have gotten … better. They have now also moved out of the main deck and into the extra deck. Cards like Knightmare Phoenix and Knightmare Unicorn are now available for everyone to generically play through your opponent's field. Dark Hole has left the game and was replaced by cards like Evenly Matched. Harpie's Feather Duster is now at one, but why would you play that over Lightning Storm, which is at three?
The power of cards has steadily increased over the years. But it hasn't been more noticeable until now. Only one year ago we saw the release of Nibiru, the Primal Being. This card was invented to counter the combo decks that have been running around for a while. The fact alone that a card like Nibiru, which literally tributes your opponent's entire field, has to exist already shows we're in a different game.
From a card like Fiendish Chain, a three-of €10 common that was played in almost every meta deck to three Forbidden Droplet is quite the jump. Back in the day, a Brotherhood of the Fire Fist - Bear was one of the strongest monsters in the game. Being able to do damage with a Bear meant you could set any Fire Formation from your deck. This resulted in an advantage for the attacking player that would allow them to steamroll toward a win. You had to keep Bear in check and from attacking. Bottomless Trap Hole, Compulsory Evacuation Device, and Torrential Tribute were all at one in the Firefist +1 format and found their way into almost every deck for that reason.
While back then you had one monster do deal with, nowadays you have to face multiple problematic cards. It's become a lot easier to summon several monsters. With many one-card combos in the game, you also have room for more cards that can potentially stop your opponent. Between hand traps and powerful spells and traps, your options are nearly unlimited. Deck building is extremely difficult now because not only do you have to get your deck working, you need tools to stop your opponent as well.
Whatever your playstyle is, Yu-Gi-Oh! provides you with plenty of options. Multiple control decks, multiple combo decks. Do you want to go first? Blind second? There are plenty of tools. What do you need to stop your opponent? All the options are there. Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring, Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit, Forbidden Droplet, Dark Ruler No More, Infinite Impermanence, the possibilities are endless.
A format with many ways to combo comes with many generic cards that help you to combo. And it's only fair to be stopped just as easily as you can combo. It's difficult to compare the game to back in the day because it has evolved so much. It is almost like the game has been re-released with each master rule. Whether you like it or not, this trend will continue. Phantom Rage just released and we now have Alpha, the Master of Beasts and Divine Arsenal AA-ZEUS - Sky Thunder — cards similar to Compulsory Evacuation Device and Evilswarm Exciton Knight. One might say: virtually the same cards but different. Maybe the game hasn't changed that much, after all. The same cards just do different things. Everything old is new again.
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