Staples have come a long way, from Mystical Space Typhoon in Legend of Blue Eyes, to Lightning Storm in Ignition Assault, and beyond.
Let's start where it all began, in 2002, with the release of Legend of Blue Eyes White Dragon. The first set in the game's history also introduced several of its most powerful cards. We saw the game's most powerful draw card ever, Pot of Greed, which was played in all decks for as long as it remained legal—which was not very long. We saw some very powerful removal spells, which remained extremely relevant for the most part of the game's history: Dark Hole, Raigeki, and Mystical Space Typhoon. These cards were and still are played extensively, with certain Sky Striker lists running MST as recently as 2019.
It's in their simplicity that these cards find their usefulness, basic effects with a wide range of applications in almost every matchup. After all, what card in the last twenty years does what Raigeki does but better? The early days of Yu-Gi-Oh! were ripe with experimentation, and it is in this lack of a concept of balance where a lot of the game's most powerful cards were born, such as Graceful Charity, Magical Scientist, or Confiscation.
After the Duel Monsters era gave way to GX, though, we could see a noticeable change in Konami's direction with staples. We saw a great decrease in cards that could be considered staples, with extremely few outliers in stuff like Brain Control, Cyber Dragon, or Macro Cosmos. This was clearly made in an attempt to correct for the absolute insanity that were early generic cards. The decision to put out less powerful cards, however, ended up hurting this generation's lasting impact. When you think about "old good cards," you barely think of cards that came out during this era. Making the whole thing rather blurry, sets meld together with very few cards that stand out on their own.
This "fear of success" would give birth to cheap substitutes of powerful staples, especially for those that landed on the Forbidden and Limited List, for example Radiant Mirror Force or Mystical Wind Typhoon. This remained the card designers' philosophy until 5Ds came along and we finally got new powerful staples again.
All in all, this Synchro era of the game brought us dozens upon dozens of extremely useful cards. Some had niche but still powerful applications across several different decks, like Book of Eclipse or Black Garden. Some were absolute staples that would be relevant for years to come, like Fiendish Chain, Vanity's Emptiness, or Droll & Lock Bird. Looking through these set's card selection really puts into perspective the sheer amount of experimentation the game was going through after the stretch of low-powered card releases during the GX era. It also foreshadowed how the game would be shaped going forward.
Another innovation 5Ds brought to the game came in the form of hand traps. While these monsters that did little on the field but had powerful effects from your hand were already a thing in the form of D.D. Crow and even Honest and Kuriboh, these were very few cards with limited utility. But 2010's Duelist Revolution brought us Effect Veiler, a card that still sees wide play to this day and has defined card design ever since. We would later meet a certain annoying bug that also changed the game quite a bit, but hand traps are a whole other topic I don't want to get into in this article.
What we also saw was the first appearance of what has become the norm ever since: extra deck staple cards. Up to this point, the extra deck had been reserved for specific strategies, mainly because of the limitations inherent in fusion summoning. Metamorphosis targets accounted for a few outliers during the time it was legal, but even in those situations, the decks that ran it were still built in a specific way to allow for that fusion enabler. This is something that did not remain isolated to extra decks at the time either, as lots of decks were "built" around these staples, giving rise to strategies such as "hand control," exploiting the unfair hand-loop cards of early Yu-Gi-Oh! like The Forceful Sentry or Delinquent Duo, but I digress.
During 5Ds we saw the birth of cards like Stardust Dragon or Goyo Guardian. At the extremely low requirement of running a couple tuners in your deck, they gave really powerful plays to basically every strategy. Later years would see the rise of xyz monsters, which built on this card design principle with the infamous rank four toolbox: powerful generic rank four monsters such as Diamond Dire Wolf, Number 101: Silent Honor ARK, or Evilswarm Exciton Knight. In modern day Yu-Gi-Oh! we still see these kinds of staple extra deck monsters, but turned up to eleven. It is almost unthinkable not to include a Knightmare Phoenix or an Accesscode Talker in basically any deck you build. This is because they take the principles laid out by the early generic synchros and greatly improve upon them: ease of access, versatility, and power.
Power is precisely what I want to talk about next. Ignoring the cards that were obviously too powerful either for their time or just overall (Heavy Storm, Harpie's Feather Duster, Snatch Steal, et cetera) most removal in early Yu-Gi-Oh! was quite tame. Mystical Space Typhoon was the formula upon which back row hate options have been built ever since. It's a simple one-for-one trade on a quick play spell, but this sheer efficiency landed it a solid spot on the Limited list for over five years. Nowadays, cards like Twin Twisters and Cosmic Cyclone, which see tons more play than MST are the norm, but they did not see the light of day until over fourteen years after MST's release. It's no secret that generic back row removal was at a premium for a good chunk of the game's history. It only really saw a resurgence in the past few years, with cards like the aforementioned Twisters and Cyclone, and other stuff like Lightning Storm or even Hey, Trunade!.
Something I've really felt staples help achieve is to even the playing field between going first and second. For the vast majority of the game's history going first has been strictly better—especially back when for some reason Konami thought it appropriate to allow the first turn player to draw a sixth card. Being able to establish a board before your opponent has any chance to even play a card is huge, but these staple cards that work against every strategy imaginable and in every deck conceivable manage to keep players going second in the game. Cards like Heavy Storm, Giant Trunade, Mind Control, et cetera act as ropes of life, able to bring you back into the game right after your opponent normal summons Banisher of the Radiance and sets five.
Back to the topic of history, 5Ds was not the only era that brought us new toys to add to all our decks. No other age of the game pushed staples as much as the Link VRAINS era did. In just its second set we already got an extremely dominant extra deck menace in Borreload Dragon and an absolute blowout card in Evenly Matched. Later sets added not only the absurdly powerful Knightmares, but stuff like Saryuja Skull Dread, Ghost Belle & Haunted Mansion, Called by the Grave, Red Reboot, Dinowrestler Pankratops, Borrelsword Dragon, and a long, long et cetera.
Link VRAINS absolutely powercrept most staple cards that had been seeing play before, forever changing the game. Really, it is hard to think of an era that saw the release of so many busted cards other than the original Duel Monsters era. Do I mean to say that Topologic Gumblar Dragon is literally Delinquent Duo? In a sense, yes. The factual truth is that we've been facing a flood of generically good cards that either cover niches that were not covered before or that weren't covered properly. They really went all out with the quantity of these staples, which have since become a regular sight in basically every deck.
Where does this leave us now? Well, Konami keep releasing these sorts of cards nonstop. We saw Rise of the Duelist be packed with stuff like Ice Dragon's Prison and Forbidden Droplet, and more recently we witnessed Divine Arsenal AA-ZEUS - Sky Thunder and Pot of Prosperity hit the scene. This pushing of generically good cards seems to be here to stay.
In the end, is this good for the game's health? Probably not, honestly. These cards, while obviously good against every deck, hit less competitive or rogue strategies even harder. An opponent's Evenly Matched may hurt when you're playing Sky Strikers, but I'm pretty sure you will never recover from that with your Dinomist control deck. Still, it will never not be fun activating Cosmic Cyclone after having resolved Evenly Matched, so it's definitely a trade-off.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.