Final Countdown was unleashed on the dueling world pretty early on in the game's history. It was included as a common in Dark Crisis, which not only included the absolute trainwrecks Guardians and Archfiends, but also some competitive cards such as Vampire Lord, D.D. Warrior Lady and Sakuretsu Armor.
Since then, Final Countdown has had a total of three reprints; Dark Revelation Volume 1 was an incredible reprint set in 2005, Champion Pack Volume 1 was available as a tournament prize in 2006, and a new run of Dark Crisis was printed in 2007. The absolute injustice? Countdown was never printed at a higher rarity than common.
Countdown is pretty unique since it is one of the few cards to interact with turn count. After paying a quarter of your starting lifepoints, Final Countdown will count the end of every turn (both yours and your opponents), and you automatically win the game if you are alive after twenty turns. This style of alternate win condition was different from the Exodia or Destiny Board ones because Countdown is a lingering effect that cannot be answered by back row removal or hand destruction cards.
Early Yu-Gi-Oh! had a surprising abundance of cards that prevented the opponent from battling. At the time of its release, Waboku and Thunder of Ruler had already been available to players, with Waboku being an absolute staple at the start of the game's history and seeing side deck play to avoid getting blown out by Chaos Emperor Dragon followed up by Yata-Garasu. In the same set as Countdown, the card Frozen Soul seems to be visually referencing our newest win condition, and its activation condition is turned online thanks to Countdown's cost. A bit later on, Threatening Roar added to the collection of combat delaying cards.
These single-use trap cards were great because they can be chained to backrow removal. There were several continuous stall cards like Messenger of Peace and Gravity Bind available, but they don't stop all of the opponent's monsters and are taken care of with removal. Backrow removal was readily available at the time of Final Countdown's release in the form of Heavy Storm, Harpie's Feather Duster, Mystical Space Typhoon, Breaker the Magical Warrior, and multiple copies of Dust Tornado. That doesn't mean these continuous cards don't see any play. Even if they held the opponent off for just one turn, they had already proven their value in terms of card advantage, and any turns beyond that were a bonus! Messenger of Peace even saw some fringe play in Dino Rabbit format, since it could blank battle phases, and turn off whenever you wanted.
Several types of monsters could complement this strategy. Beefy defenders such as Soul Tiger would not see play in a modern-day version of 2003 Final Countdown but would be a menace for young duelists trying to beat the twenty-turn clock back in the day. Recruiting monsters, monsters that can replace themselves when destroyed, could see play in this type of deck. Nimble Momonga didn't only ward off three attacks on its own, the 3,000 life points it let you gain represented one or two attacks worth of damage as well! Spirit Reaper was a card that sometimes caused problems in "normal" decks, prompting the opponent to require very specific removal cards.
Despite having plenty of tools available, it seems that duelists back in the day were not massive fans of piloting the deck. Despite going over a couple hundred tournament reports from 2004, I could not find any Final Countdown decks doing well. With the gift of hindsight, I think that this is largely because of three reasons: playing burn cards in non-burn decks, or just playing burn decks, was something that happened way more in 2004–2005 than in actual modern-day reconstructions of the format, which are nearly impossible to deal with for the deck unless they played specific outs to burn strategies like Solemn Wishes. Secondly, some of the decklists that I was able to find had a lot of non-Final Countdown-related cards in it, claiming that beatdown was a backup plan for when things went south. Lastly, the whole stalling tactic might not have appealed to the most competitive of players, which led to a lack of great minds collaborating to make the deck strong.
Fast forward a few years, to spring 2012. Santiago Vera managed to take his national championship in Argentina by storm, piloting Final Countdown! He did so by streamlining the deck and making use of some cards that had come out in the 2010-2012 era.
Battle Fader and Swift Scarecrow were two hand traps that could stop the opponent's battle phase from the hand! Fader does so by special summoning itself, and Scarecrow by discarding it. Despite it not being in some of the decklists I found for this period, I vividly remember Zero Gardna seeing play as well, although that one was a bit more susceptible to cards like Book of Moon. These monsters, along with full playsets of the one-turn stall traps mentioned previously, allowed Santiago to hold the opponent off.
He managed to add some speed to his deck by playing a full playset of Upstart Goblin, but also the more modern card Pot of Duality, Gold Sarcophagus (easily available due to a cheap reprint in 2010) and the incredible new card One Day of Peace, which replaced itself as well as letting you live an extra turn. I remember how this was one of the best cards of the deck, especially when being held for the late game. The last trap card Santiago played three copies of was Hope for Escape, a card that lets you draw a card for every 2,000 life points worth of deficit between your and your opponent's life points after paying 1,000 life points. That means that it would let you draw two cards after activating Final Countdown and Upstart Goblin, similar to Reckless Greed but without the drawbacks.
To round bring the deck to 40, he played a Sangan, which before its erratum could grab either of the hand traps, which you could then activate on the next attack, Metaion, the Timelord to clear problematic boards, Rainbow Life to pitch a spare copy of a dead card to force the opponent to stop attacking, and Pyro Clock of Destiny, which shortens Countdown's timer by one turn.
|Santiago Vera, 1st at Nationals Argentina 2012|
A short while later, Tyler Tabman tweaked the deck a bit and took a top cut spot at YCS Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, claiming the deck was a great meta call against Chaos Dragons and Heroes, with a select few rogue matchups that could cause big problems.
In 2013, the deck lost two of its big consistency cards on the Forbidden & Limited list. Losing Gold Sarcophagus was a minor setback, but losing One Day of Peace was a bit more devastating. Eventually, Final Countdown itself got limited in January 2014, despite being past its peak of popularity at that point, and "popularity" is a pretty loose term; it barely ever took up more than one top cut spot, if it even did that, but I guess that Konami thought the deck was unpleasant to have around. Sadly, this meant that the "classic era" of Final Countdown had come to an end.
Dark Neostorm in 2019 brought a new field spell that would cause some, let's say, mixed responses. Mystic Mine allows players to lock their opponents out of attacks or monster effects, simply by having fewer monsters on the field. The main caveat is that Mystic Mine un-activates itself when during the end phase both players control the same amount of monsters. The deck was initially played with a) a lot of ways to protect Mine such as Field Barrier, Dark Bribe and Solemn Judgment, and b) a plethora of burn cards, the most important one being Wave-Motion Cannon. (People were dishing out €25–30 for the common ones at nationals—wild!)
After the deck got refined a bit, the burn cards got trimmed until only the Cannon was left. Some brilliant minds then decided that, despite taking just a bit longer to resolve than Wave-Motion Cannon, Final Countdown's specialty of not being able to be stopped once it started counting, made it interesting enough to include a copy in the deck. Although this build of the deck is a lot less intense and interactive to pilot than the original Final Countdown decks, it is probably the best way to still resolve this blast from the past. One of the most iconic players to pilot this fiend of a deck was Jeff Leonard, who despite playing exactly this strategy won over the hearts of many due to his cheer charisma and positive attitude.
|Jeff Leonard, Top 16 Pro Play Tour Orlando 2019|
As you can see, at this point Metaverse was already limited, and Card of Demise would soon follow. Goddess Skuld's Oracle is an excellent way to prevent your opponent from ever drawing an out to your board, and to further add insult to injury you can just use Prohibition to eliminate the cards you see your opponent topdecking on the next turn.
The newest addition is Cauldron of the Old Man, a card similar to Wave-Motion Cannon that gets to over 8,000 life points worth of damage by turn seven of being on the field. Silent Wobby has also replaced D.D. Guide as the way to make Mystic Mine "live" on the first turn of the game, since just activating it and passing would lead Mine to destroy itself.
While I will agree that Final Countdown might be slightly less interactive to play against than the average combo deck nowadays, it is safe to say the card has left a certain mark on the game's history. People with a decade worth of dueling experience will no doubt have encountered a Countdown deck at some point during their career, and have some "good" story to tell about how the match went. Do you have one for me, or were you "that guy" at your locals who played this deck?
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