The first time the world got to meet the Gadget monsters was in the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga's chapter 339, released in February 2004. In this chapter, Yugi is facing the Pharaoh with a deck he built himself, and the early game features these cards being played in conjunction with Ties of the Brethren. In the manga, Red Gadget, Green Gadget, and Yellow Gadget had no effects, but when the cards were released in May of that year, the Gadgets received their signature searching abilities.
Whenever the Gadgets are summoned, they can add a specific other Gadget from the deck to the hand; Red searches Yellow, Yellow searches Green, and Green searches Red. You can visually see this represented on the cards' artworks: each Gadget searches for the Gadget that has the same color as their eye(s), and each Gadget is searched by the one that has the same color as their background.
Unfortunately, it's fairly difficult to look up Japanese Gadget decklists from an era when the internet had yet to connect Japan with the rest of the world the way it does today, so I'm not an expert on the earliest appearances of these guys. Their earliest appearance in the TCG is in 2007, which is a cool coincidence since 2007 also happened to be a year where machine cards were dominating the top tables with cards like Overload Fusion and Card Trooper.
Shonen Jump Championship Orlando in January 2007 was the place where the Gadgets made their competitive debut, taking two out of the top eight seats. John Brewer's list is simple, yet elegant. It combines the Gadgets with many monsters that were competitive semi-staples at the time, like Breaker the Magical Warrior and Cyber Dragon and combined this with some clever anti-meta picks like Banisher of the Radiance and Kycoo the Ghost Destroyer. The lineup of non-monsters he chose to play looked like what most decks played: a bunch of cards that enable one-for-one trades like Sakuretsu Armor and Smashing Ground, with plenty of good stuff cards that were on the Limited List and the sweet in-theme inclusion of Limiter Removal.
The core strategy was simple: your spells and traps would trade evenly with your opponents while the Gadget monsters kept filling your hand. A normal summon that searches another normal summon may not sound impressive today, but in 2007, it was a marvel. Pace-wise, the game was relatively slow from the introduction of the Forbidden List up to the end of 2007, which allowed grindy decks like Gadgets to thrive.
And thrive they did. One of the more popular versions of the deck was "Fifth Gadgets," and would play 45 cards of which 9 were Gadgets. Going a bit over the 40-card minimum allowed players to run full playsets of the Gadget monsters without them clumping together in your hand. In a 40-card deck, you'd be drawing exactly one Gadget 40% of the time, and two or more 40% of the time as well! As counterintuitive as it may sound, playing 45 cards allows you to open exactly one Gadget 42% of the time, and decreases your odds of drawing two or more to 34%. (But I'm really bad at math, so feel free to leave a comment showing me where I made a mistake – keep in mind that turn one had a draw phase back then.)
The Gadget strategy incorporated more monsters from the GX anime into their ranks, namely Hydrogeddon and Drillroid. Drillroid was great for punishing opponents who refuse to attack into your Widespread Ruin or Mirror Force, and Hydrogeddon worked well in combination with damage step cards such as Shrink and Rush Recklessly. The latter two worked particularly well when players started shifting from a trap-heavy build to a build incorporating Royal Decree. Thanks to this innovation, Dexter Dalit was able to win the National Championship in Canada.
However, going trapless was not the only variant that saw success. At SJC Minneapolis Gadgets took a spot in the top cut thanks to a big suite of traps tailored to beat Destiny Heroes and Monarchs, the big decks of the time. Maindecked copies of Pulling the Rug tackled both of these decks, as well as the mirror match.
When Dario Longo represented Team Europe at the World Championship of 2007 in Columbus, Ohio, he chose to pilot Gadgets. The reigning World Champion chose to go for a trap variant, packing a full playset of Trap Dustshoot, plenty of other strong earth monsters in the form of Exiled Force, D.D. Assailant, and Neo-Spacian Grand Mole. Unfortunately, he was defeated in the top eight of the event.
In a very strange turn of events, all the Gadgets were semi-limited on the September 2007 Forbidden & Limited List. This inspired "Ninth Gadgets." Again, there's some math behind that! six out of 40 cards have you open with exactly one Gadget 43% of the time and two or more Gadgets 21% of the time. 6 out of 45 maintains the first number (dropping slightly to 42%) but pushes that second number down to 17%. Purely looking at the numbers, this makes Ninth superior over Fifth in the early game, but Ninth had the disadvantage of not being able to grind as long, as you were limited to fewer total Gadgets.
Luckily, the Gadgets were eventually released from semi-limited captivity, and the Gadget community was all set up to spend the rest of their existing time bickering about whether six or nine is the correct number. They spent what little time they had left bringing innovations to the strategy, such as combining Gadgets with Monarchs. As I mentioned before, the game sped up significantly around the end of 2007, which led to the inclusion of the anti-meta card Royal Oppression. Gadgets could easily function under this floodgate, and monster removal spells and traps could help the player get rid of anything bigger than 1400. It's almost as if Bottomless Trap Hole was made for this exact purpose.
Speaking of anti-meta picks, 2008 would see the introduction of powerful monsters that were both a friend and foe to our little Gadget friends. Doomcaliber Knight and Thunder King Rai-Oh actively block you from profiting off the Gadgets' searching effects but thrive well under a well-filed back row, and remove themselves off the field as a part of their effect. These support cards were great and helped the deck see some moderate success as a rogue contender throughout the following years, but in early 2010, Gadgets would meet their closest allies.
February 2010 saw the release of the Machina Mayhem Structure Deck, which introduced the Machina archetype from the Yu-Gi-Oh! R manga. Commander Covington and its troops were not the spotlight of the deck, instead of making space for three new contenders.
Machina Gearframe and Machina Peacekeeper are both Union monsters. That means that while they are on the field they can equip themselves to another machine, and when that machine would be destroyed, the Unions are destroyed instead. They both allow the player to search their deck; Gearframe searches any Machina when he is normal summoned, and Peacekeeper adds a Union whenever he is destroyed.
The cover card of the structure deck was the big star of the show: Machina Fortress! This boss monster summons itself from the graveyard by discarding eight levels worth of machine monsters, which can include itself. Since it's a level seven, that means pitching any other machine alongside it will do. The deck even played a searchable Machina Force purely to discard it for Fortress. Once it's on the field, whenever it's targeted by a monster's effect, you take a peek at your opponent's hand a discard a card from it. This was a nice bonus since the format had monsters like Blackwing - Gale the Whirlwind and Gravekeeper's Descendant running around. To top it all off, whenever Machina Fortress is destroyed by battle and sent to the graveyard, you get to destroy a card on the field.
One of the ways to build Machina Gadgets back then used a card that had come out in late 2009: Solidarity. This card increases the attack stat of all monsters of a type on the field by 800 as long as you only have monsters of that type in the graveyard. Not only does this turn Machina Fortress into a massive behemoth, but your Gadgets suddenly become beatsticks with over 2000 ATK!
Not everyone was on board with the "pure machine" approach. At SJC Edison in 2010, the highest-ranked Gadget player was Renaldo Lainez, who unfortunately lost the finals running Doomcaliber Gadgets. He opted to bypass the Machina engine to play a handful of strong generic monsters like Gorz the Emissary of Darkness and Tragoedia. He even threw in a copy of Plaguespreader Zombie to access Synchros like Goyo Guardian and Brionac, Dragon of the Ice Barrier.
Xyz monsters were introduced to the game right before the 2011 World Championship. I remember attending the event in full Jack Atlus cosplay, playing in public events with my own Machina Gadget deck. Being relatively new to the deck, I was running cards like Geartown and Ancient Gear Gadjiltron Dragon. One of the players who was a fair bit better than I was, was Phanupak Kongjaroen, who took fourth place at the event, incorporating Number 39: Utopia in his extra deck. Both the Gadgets and Machina Gearframe were level four, so at any time you had two of them on the board, you could summon this iconic card.
Generation Force, released right before the World Championship but not yet legal for that event, brought the first few expansions to the rank four pool. Wind-Up Zenmaister is just as strong as Utopia but can synergize with the rest of the deck due to sharing its type and attribute, and Steelswarm Roach gave the deck a powerful tool to combat the meta consisting of decks like Plant Synchro, Agents, and Six Samurai. The Gadget deck also received a new tool to start making use of the new type of monsters in the form of Kagetokage, who can summon himself from the hand whenever you summon a level four monster. It was superior to the already existing Goblindbergh, which makes the Gadgets miss the opportunity to activate their effects, and prevents Gearframe from activating its effect.
Another way of getting multiple monsters on the board was Ultimate Offering, a card that was printed in the very first starter decks. This continuous trap card lets a player normal summon multiple times per turn in exchange for 500 life points. Usually, the number of times you could do this was limited by your hand size rather than your life total, but since Gadgets search each other, you could fill up your board with your multi-colored friends. This used to be done to generate one huge attack, even if 5 Gadgets end up slightly short of the 8000 points of damage you're looking for. But now, a single Gadget and some life points to spend could become a board of four rank fours. Eventually, when more decks with self-searching monsters saw competitive success, Ultimate Offering would be confined to the Forbidden List, and while it could come back without making too much of an impact, it will probably stay right where it is. Double Summon saw some play as well, granting the player one extra normal summon that turn.
Return of the Duelist introduced the Geargia archetype, a series of monsters who want to become Gadgets when they grow up. Their boss monster, Gear Gigant X (not a "Geargia" monster, you see?), instantly became a linchpin in the Gadget deck as well. This monster can be summoned by overlaying two level-four machines, and lets you add any level four or lower machine to your hand by detaching a material. This meant that a single Gadget, throughout a few turns, could let you unlock your Machina engine as well. Unfortunately, Kagetokage is not a machine; it's a reptile!
In early 2013, Tin Goldfish was released, which was almost exactly what Gadget players had been waiting for. Whenever Tin Goldfish is summoned, he brings out a level four machine from your hand, period. It has no extra effect that would make the Gadgets miss the timing like Goblindbergh does. The fact that Gearframe still can't activate here was a small downside we gladly accepted. Due to Goldfish's machine typing, Gear Gigant X could be brought out on the first turn, and search out another copy of Goldfish or a Gearframe.
Since the machines had copied the reptiles, the reptiles struck back by copying the machines, and King of the Feral Imps came out in Lord of the Tachyon Galaxy, mid-2013. This card was effectively a generic Gear Gigant X that could search out Kagetokage. Now that I've dropped that set's name, some of the older players' heads might have started filling up with the sounds of sirens and crying children, because this set included the Dragon Rulers. This deck, along with Spellbooks powered by Spellbook of Judgment would wipe out nearly every meta and rogue deck for a couple of months. Did this surge in power level remove Gadgets from the competitive metagame permanently, after months of the deck boosting its viability through innovation? The rest of this deck's history will be unveiled in part two, coming soon!
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