Yu-Gi-Oh! History: The Decks That Dominated 2012


Sometimes, all you need to hear is a year to be reminded of a certain Yu-Gi-Oh! format. 2019 is "the eternal format," 2005 is Goats, 2014 is either HAT format or DUEA format, depending on who you ask. But what does the 2012 format look like? Let's take a trip down memory lane.

From Humble Beginnings

Many players who have been playing for a long time fondly remember the Synchro era, with decks like Plant Synchro, T.G. Agents, and Six Samurai being dominant near the end of it. This era of the game ended when Photon Shockwave hit the shelves, and the Xyz train that Generation Force had slowly set in motion began to accelerate.

Not only did Xyz monsters gain a lot of strong new members, the Synchro strategy steadily lost a lot of powerful cards on the forbidden & limited card lists. This, along with changes in how turn player priority functions, is relevant background information to keep in mind!

Dino Rabbit

Photon Shockwave introduced the Evol archetype. This archetype was thematically based around the idea of evolution, with the low-level monsters being Reptiles, the level 4 monsters being Dinosaurs and the Xyz monsters being Dragons. This might not be entirely scientifically accurate, some sources would say. The Evol archetype was not very impressive in terms of gameplay, but its boss monsters surely were.

evolzar laggia evolzar dolkka
This is what evolution could have looked like if the meteor never struck

Evolzar Laggia and Evolzar Dolkka boasted powerful negation effects, something not all decks had easy access to back in the day. Evols would have a hard time bringing these monsters out on the first turn of the duel, but thanks to another card that was introduced in the same set, the deck known as Dino Rabbit came to be.

kabazauls rescue rabbit sabersaurus
Hope you like vanilla

Rescue Rabbit is a cute little monster that can banish itself to summon two normal monsters with the same name from your deck. Since the Evolzars required any two Dinosaurs, its prime targets would be Kabazauls and Sabersaurus. Many players chose to stick to just those two, but some others would include Jurrac Guaiba as well. Whenever I see a Forbidden Lance I am reminded of it being used in the damage step to let Guaiba run something over.

An elephant in the room that we'll need to address is Tour Guide From the Underworld. This card was a common inclusion in a lot of different decks in 2012, and its easy to see why. The card can immediately facilitate a rank 3 Xyz summon, and there were plenty of good ones right from the bat. Wind-Up Zenmaines was obviously going to be amazing in the slow format that was 2012. But Leviair the Sea Dragon was especially relevant to the Dino Rabbit deck, seeing as it would let you bring back a banished Rabbit to rinse and repeat your "combo."

The rest of a typical Dino Rabbit decklist were usually just "good cards" from the time. Not being built around an archetype gave Dino Rabbit plenty of room to run all the powerful staples. Nizar Sarhan's first place build from YCS Dallas in April 2012 is an excellent example of what the deck looked like.


Originally introduced in the first set of the ZeXal series, Wind-Ups were based on the idea of effects that can be used once while they're face-up on the field. If Lunalight ever taught the player base anything, it should be that "soft once per turn" effects will eventually be abused. While they did have access to Wind-Up Magician and Wind-Up Factory immediately, at the time of their release Wind-Up was a very casual control-like deck. Photon Shockwave introduced some more important pieces to the strategy in the form of Wind-Up Hunter and Wind-Up Rabbit, but it would take one more set of support to become a fully-fledged meta contender.

wind-up magician wind-up hunter
The early Wind-Ups weren't bad, but the deck's strategy lacked coherence

Finally, at the start of 2012, the deck would receive a massive boost in Order of Chaos. Wind-Up Carrier Zenmaity and Wind-Up Rat had made the strategy viable in the OCG, but the TCG world premiere card Wind-Up Shark is what really got the gears grinding. The combination of Magician and Shark might be one of the most notorious in this game's history.

Shark's in-hand effect would let you trigger the Magician that you normal summoned to summon another Magician from the deck. On the field, Shark could crank down to level 3, triggering the second Magician to summon Hunter. Hunter would tribute a Magician to discard one of the opponent's cards. You could then use Hunter and Shark to summon Zenmaity to bring out a Rat from your deck, which could then bring back Hunter. Hunter tributes Zenmaity for another discard, after which it gets combined with Rat for another Zenmaity, which brings out another Rat, which brings back Zenmaity … Rinse and repeat! In total, this combo could eliminate four cards from the opponent's hand.

wind-up rat Wind-Up Carrier Zenmaity wind-up shark
This deck existing boosted the popularity of early hand traps Maxx "C", Effect Veiler, and D.D. Crow

An iconic example of the early Wind-Up hand loop decks is Barrett Keys's Top 8 decklist from YCS Guadalajara. As you can see, it is also running the popular Tour Guide package, which lets you access the rank 3 Xyz pool, including Zenmaity.

When the full hand loop combo was taken care of by a forbidden & limited list in September, Wind-Ups found ways to adapt to a new strategy. Thanks to Number 16: Shock Master as a new boss monster, you were able to shut down one of the three card types for a turn. Photon Papilloperative allowed players to switch a Rat that they summoned using Magician to attack mode and use its effect. Due to innovations like this one, the Wind-Up strategy actually made it out of the year 2012 retaining a pretty high meta relevance.


The third of the big three decks that dominated the 2012 metagame was Inzektor. This Kamen Rider-inspired archetype worked by equipping other members to themselves, while also being able to activate effects when they lost their equipped card. Most of the monsters also had effects they could activate while equipped. Their first wave of support immediately brought in almost all of the cards needed to make the deck fully functional, quite unlike Wind-Ups.

Inzektor Dragonfly and Inzektor Centipede both tutor another Inzektor monster when they lose their equipped card; Dragonfly brings it to the field and Centipede adds it to the hand. Inzektor Hornet is the most infamous equippable Inzektor. While it is equipped, you can send it to the graveyard to destroy a card on the field. This means that a pairing of Dragonfly and Hornet can destroy two cards, since Dragonfly allows you to summon a Centipede from the deck after resolving Hornet.

inzektor dragonfly inzektor hornet inzektor centipede
Insects in the metagame? Sure, why not?

Inzektor Giga-Mantis would often serve as an extra extender. The card can be equipped to an Inzektor you control from your hand, and while it doesn't send itself to the graveyard, it does allow you to special summon a fallen Inzektor when it does eventually leave the spell & trap zone. This is very similar to their main spell card, Inzektor Sword - Zektkaliber. Other notable members of the archetype were Inzektor Hopper, another easy way to trigger your Dragonfly, and Inzektor Ladybug. Ladybug was a bit later to the party but did allow the deck to access the rank 4 and 5 Xyz pool.

While decks such as Max Van Nijverseel's YCS Toulouse list did enjoy destroying the opponent's cards, they also did not mind going first too much. Bringing out a Wind-Up Zenmaines and setting a few traps on the first turn was a very valid opening play. Even just foregoing the special summons to play a Pot of Duality and setting up plays for turn three was definitely something Inzektors could do.

But That Can't Be All, Right?

While Dino Rabbit, Wind-Up, and Inzektor dominated a large chunk of 2012's competitive metagame, there were plenty of other decks that were relevant and could take top spots. In fact, they could even win events! Michael Balan shocked the world when he won YCS Long Beach with Dark World! This strategy had been brought back to life in a structure deck in late 2011, and Grapha, Dragon Lord of Dark World plus pals could definitely stand up to the threats.

The most impressive part here is that YCS Long Beach was actually the biggest TCG tournament ever, with over 4,000 players competing. The rest of the Top 8 also held some surprises, such as anti-meta Beasts featuring Photon Sabre Tiger and Mystic Piper Chaos, with other decks such as HERO Beat and Chain Burn also sneaking into the Top 16.

Grapha, Dragon Lord of Dark World photon sabre tiger mystic piper
A good day for rogue decks

Just a few weeks later, Peter Gross did something similar, but with a different structure deck. He managed to win YCS Toulouse with Chaos Dragons, a new deck that combined the power of the chaos dragons Lightpulsar Dragon and Darkflare Dragon with a Lightsworn engine to turbo through his deck, quickly finding access to Red-Eyes Darkness Metal Dragon thanks to the newly released Eclipse Wyvern. Toulouse was less diverse than Long Beach had been, with the big three decks taking up about 25 of the 32 spots of the top cut.

lightpulsar dragon eclipse wyvern darkflare dragon
Peter showed the world what three copies of a structure deck could do

Or, if you were feeling particularly dapper, you could always win your national championship with Final Countdown. The deck basically took the Inzektor and Chaos Dragon matchups for free, so why not?

final countdown
While you were reading this article, twenty turns have passed

Despite Twenty Turns, the World Didn't End

While the world did not end, the 2012 "eternal format" eventually did. The end of 2012 brought Mermail to the table, and early 2013 saw the advent of Fire Fists and Evilswarm. These new decks, along with hits on further forbidden & limited lists pushed the big decks from 2012 out of the format. No matter how good a deck or how good a format is, it will eventually have to make room for a change of pace, but that does not mean it can't be fun to take a look back at what once was.

… except of course, if you're Tour Guide From the Underworld and still see play nearly a decade after your release. Keep touring!

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


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GTMCD(10.10.2020 21:06)

Good old times .. Chaos Dragon made me won several tournaments it was awesome!

Delrue(09.10.2020 08:33)(Edited: 09.10.2020 08:34)

Good article bro! This was the format eight before pends got released. I actually quit then and started again in mr4

albertoxax69(08.10.2020 00:38)

I really enjoyed this article. I really miss those times :(