The Many Different Ways to Play Yu-Gi-Oh!


The vast majority of players stick to Advanced Constructed, and there's nothing wrong with that. Sticking to the competitive metagame alone is enough to keep even the most avid aficionados coming back for more. But there's a whole world out there of other ways to play this game we all know and love.

The Subgame Within the Game: Rogue Strategies

I've personally been playing this game for quite a while, and for a good part of that time I was completely oblivious to the actual high-tier aspect of the game. At my first locals, which closed down almost a decade ago, most other attendees were just like me: people in their mid-teens who wanted to spend their Wednesday afternoon or entire Sunday at a table just messing around with whatever cards they had. Even as I grew to understand the game properly, I stuck to rogue strategies on a budget.

Players in their mid-twenties or older who started playing relatively recently probably did so with a fairly competitive mindset and a desire to do well. It's unlikely that they have been showing up to locals in Eternal Format with a Wetlands-based Frog deck packing a full playset of Froggy Forcefield like I did back when Dark Armed Dragon was all the rage. There's a good chance that you are among the people who never gave objectively "bad" rogue decks a chance.

wetlands Froggy Forcefield
POV: you're sixteen years old and can't afford Mirror Force

Are there any reasons you should? While I wouldn't call it a mandatory stop on your Yu-Gi-Oh! journey, I do think building and playing unconventional rogue decks can be great fun, especially if you have a few friends who are willing to play rogue-tier decks of about the same power level at the same locals as well. Locals are such a cool stomping ground for goofing around, because they usually tend to be a bit more casual, and feature a very low-risk, low-reward kind of setup. Recently I played at locals where two buddies decided to have a bit of a competition to see which table 500 deck would get the better results, between Morphtronics and Karakuri. Spoiler alert: Morphtronics actually went 3-1. No one knows why.

morphtronic celfon Morphtronic Smartfon
Dial S for synchro

Other Official Formats

Over the course of the years, Konami has made several attempts to offer something that was not just "Advanced Constructed." The counterpart to Advanced Constructed is Traditional, where every forbidden card is limited. With the exception of a public event at the UK Nationals where a giant Pot of Greed was up for grabs, the main and possibly only place to play some physical Tradtitional format was as public events at a YCS. However, you could usually count attendance at those public events on your fingers, especially if you have three hands. Throughout the years Traditional format has really gotten out of hand. Back in the day the appeal of the format lay in being able to play some powerful single cards, but currently unlocking the most broken cards just leads to gargantuan combo lines that make you fully realize why the cards got forbidden in the first place.

Magical Scientist last will painful choice
Miss them?

Currently the most "popular" official alternative format is Speed Duel, but because I've already written about it so many times, I'll keep it short in this paragraph. Speed Duel is a very limited format with a card pool of about 500 cards. It includes skill cards and some minor adjustments to the turn structure and field layout. It features plenty of old cards with a high nostalgia level and games are a careful exchange of resources. There's plenty of different strategies in the format, such as unironically using Perfectly Ultimate Great Moth as a boss monster, "Monarch" variants based on single-tribute monsters, Union decks featuring XYZ-Dragon Cannon, Magnet Warriors, Relinquished, or Skull Servants … Even if you're not planning to get into competitive Speed Duels, there's a good chance you'll enjoy just getting a few decks for some casual games, especially since they are dirt cheap.

fury of thunder It's no Monster, it's a God! hieratic chant
The Battle City Box added tons of new cards

We've seen some other brave attempts at alternative formats that were officially supported. Beta was a special format that looked to slow down the game drastically by only allowing players to summon three monsters per turn: one normal summon, one special summon from the extra deck, and one other special summon. While the intention wasn't bad, it didn't really catch on, and the last official Beta format event was in 2017. This doesn't mean you can't give it a try with your regular dueling partners!

Around the same time period the "Generation Duel" was held, with a handful of different card pools to choose from. Each card pool was based on one of the summoning mechanics, releasing all of the broken support cards for their respective mechanic from the Forbidden & Limited List while also banning the other mechanics. Then there was the "classic" pool, which gave you access to a lot of generic forbidden cards in exchange for playing almost exclusively normal monsters. Generation Duels was never supported in Europe, so I never played it myself, but reviews of the format were fairly mixed and the events soon discontinued.

Back to the Roots

Many of us vividly remember the game being portrayed as epic battles in the Yu-Gi-Oh! animated series. One way of recreating this feeling is building character decks. Most of the people I ever met who had their own character decks also had their own rules for building them. So even though I believe mine to be "correct," if you're ever going to construct such decks, you can be as deliberate as you want to be with them. In fact, my only rule for deck building in this format is the following;

  • You can only play cards used by one character throughout the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime.

Some of the variations I've heard of include cards from the manga series as well or allow cards directly supporting the character's main archetypes. The main reason I'm not a fan of that last one is: if I wanted to play Dark Magician versus Blue-Eyes, I would simply go ahead and play that matchup in Advanced Constructed. Plus, it's really difficult to draw a line if your rule set is so vague.

I certainly haven't built decks for all of the characters from the series, but I did have more than a handful way back, and got tons of mileage out of them. The card pools are actually fairly balanced among the main characters. Even Joey Wheeler's deck is surprisingly competent. An absolute highlight is being able to use cards that you loved as a kid but that are either way past their prime or never saw competitive viability. If there is any interest in me explaining the format a bit more and sharing some deck ideas, don't hesitate to let me know in the comments!

scapegoat jinzo
Joey was basically playing Goat Control, including Premature Burial and Bottomless Trap Hole as well

Recreating Historical Formats

If you're an avid reader of my articles, you'll have come across some of my articles about older formats. In the past year and a half, where online Yu-Gi-Oh! became something a lot of friend groups had to resort to, retro formats actually saw a spike in popularity. I can guarantee you that physically playing old formats is a great way to spend your time as well, and bar some exceptions such as Dimension Fusion for Goat Control and Maxx "C" you can purchase a large portion of decks played throughout this game's history for less money than what you'd pay for a single copy of Accesscode Talker.

In the past two decades we've had a lot of great formats to explore, way more than just sticking to Goat Format. Going all the way back from Critter Format to the Eternal Format of 2019, there are a few formats that I can personally recommend. I could probably write an entire article about each of them, but for now I'll just stick to a short two-sentence summary:

  • 2003 Chaos Yata: Decks have a ton of sacky forbidden cards in it, but those cards are all relatively fair within the confines of the format. Card advantage is often just a hindsight, seeing as a single turn can completely change the flow of the duel due to the devastating powers of Chaos Emperor Dragon - Envoy of the End or hitting the opponent's Dark Magician of Chaos with Monster Reborn.

  • Late 2005 Reaper: This format features a lot of things that are great about Goat Control but without some of the things that let Goat grow a bit stale after a while. It's very control-based and recently blew up in popularity on YouTube. As the name suggests, Spirit Reaper is a prevalent card.

  • March 2010 Edison: While its original run lasted only a few weeks before The Shining Darkness brought a lot of unpleasantly powerful decks into the format, it has always had a pretty positive reputation. The format feels like a perfect summary of the first half of the 5D's era, with plenty of opportunities to go for game-winning synchro summons.

  • Late 2012: With the strongest decks of the time period (Wind-Up, Inzektor, and Dino Rabbit) taking minor hits on the September Forbidden & Limited List, there is a lot of room for variety and innovation in the format. It already has a lot of great xyz monsters, and despite the format's ceiling being quite a bit higher than the years prior to it, the games often go into a bit of slow back-and-forth.

spirit reaper Blackwing - Shura the Blue Flame
There's something for everyone

Of course, not everyone will get a lot of enjoyment out of playing old formats, but I've seen people go back to some very recent formats as well for a variety of different reasons. Some people really enjoyed working out the best way to go about Fusion Substitute Zoodiac or unleashing the full potential of Block Dragon Adamancipator.

The Wild West of Custom Formats

Just like how most people play Uno, it is actually a possibility to completely discard any existing rules about deck building and just come up with your own rules. For example, my colleague Thomas Rose wrote about Squirrel Format a while back. In this format, players are bound to a set 40-card list, and after having toyed around with the format a bit I can definitely recommend it.

That is one way of orchestrating your own custom format, but there are definitely others, such as format modding. Years back people experimented with adding newer cards to Goat Format, and idea that unfortunately never took off, but it's certainly something you could try as well. A few friends of mine love playing 2012 and allow some newer support cards for older decks into the format as well, such as Evo-Singularity, while banning a few cards they found to be an issue.

wattsquirrel Evo-Singularity
The limits of this game are the limits of your imagination

Rather than starting from an existing card pool and adding or removing cards, you could just start from scratch. One way of doing that is building a cube, a collection of cards from which players then draft their decks like they would with Battle Packs. Cubing is yet another subject I could dedicate an entire article to, seeing how it lets you use an even different skill set and has a lot of room for customization.

You can also create a card pool, and instead of using it as a cube, use it as a list of allowed cards for a format. Formats like this could have anywhere from 100 to 1,000 cards or as many as you want, but you'd have to keep in mind that you'll want the format to remain somewhat balanced, and it could be easy to overlook interactions if your card pool goes into four digits. Even if that happens, nothing would prevent you from removing cards again. The biggest necessity here would be to have a friend group willing to play your format. You can build the best Yu-Gi-Oh! format there is, but if you can't convince anyone to play it, it will always be highly irrelevant. A friend of mine created a few formats and the one that I play his events in is a pretty good representation of how I like my Yu-Gi-Oh! games to look. Again, that's an idea that would warrant its very own article.

I Really Need to Wrap This Up

So many different types of people enjoy this game made from thousands of different cards, and there are so many ways to play it too. That is a good thing, as we don't all enjoy the same aspects of the game, and certainly not all of us play solely in the hopes of getting a seat at the World Championship one day. At the end of the day, it's all about having a good time with your friends, and finding a (new or old) way to ensure that, even if it strays from the norm, is indeed a joy. Which deviations have you experimented with in the past? Feel free to let me know, and maybe you can inspire others as well!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.


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pithecius(19.07.2021 23:41)

That March 2012 format is so fun to play. Was nice to see it featured!
We have created our own cube with like 25+ different decks build.

Our current changes to make it more fun/fair for us.

*Wind up-hunter

*Skill Drain
*Inzektor Hornet
*Macro Cosmos


*The Agent of Mystery - Earth

*Evo-Singularity (at 3)
*Unpossessed (at 3)
*Scrap Factory (at 3)

georgeStr(19.07.2021 15:06)

This article made me realise how many years i have been playing this game :)
So many amazing formats all these years and still more comming in the future. This game is moving so fast now, but these past formats must never be forgotten!!!

Kathy98(16.07.2021 09:44)

After Liks were introduced the game evolved to such an extend that it's barely recognizible anymore. I still gave it a try but it just never got better. Now we just sometimes play cube draft with friends and some 2014, goat is not fun because it evolved to turbo mode.
I remember Battle packs being introduced in 2012 but it was relesaed in such an awkward moment where the current meta at that time was still rather slow and why I think it didn't pick up more. It's really a shame because I believe they therefore decided to discontinue it for good.
This Spped duel and Rush duel nonsense I absolutely don't like and will never play even if I got the cards delivered to my doorstep for free.

So unless we get Battle pack 4 I think I'm just out of the competitive scene for good and will just continue to play with friedns. What I also miss is something like MTG Arena but for Yu-gi-oh, because again, Duel Links is hot garbage.

ThDragonColossus(15.07.2021 22:55)

Meanwhile my friend playing myutant flower cardian eldlich shaddoll orcust 50 cards…

Calista(15.07.2021 19:57)

Alternative formats are great! Some that I personally enjoy are Edison, Squirrel and HAT, as well as various limited formats.
A note about Beta format: One of the reasons it was so poorly received was that Konami introduced it at a time where full power True Draco existed, which was already one of the best strategies and Beta format just kind of took away everything else. Competing with Master Peace off the back of one or two special summons isn't really feasable after all.

RyanAtlus(15.07.2021 22:01)

Calista; true, I remember Kozmo also being a hassle to deal with.

StrifeAlone(15.07.2021 15:01)

That was actually a very wholesome one. I get a bit annoyed by the constant "mimimi your deck is worth nothing it´s not meta" talk, so this is very refreshing! I LOVE building Fun2Play Decks or whole decks that revolve around a couple of cards which I think are just neat.

NOtarnicola(15.07.2021 17:45)