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Death of the Staples
We've always defined a staple as a card that virtually every deck must use. Staples were ubiquitous during the first few years of Yu-Gi-Oh, but their role has diminished over the years. Staples have largely died and aren't used nearly much any more.
This is because of a combination of three changes to the game.
1. Overpowered cards (like Pot of Greed and Graceful Charity) have been banned. This went on during the Chaos era and GX era (04-06) where over a dozen powerful staples were banned in the same year.
2. Archetypes have created their own staples (like Six Samurai United and Black Whirlwind) that better suit their deck type than basic, but generic, powerful cards.
3. Power creep has created equal or better options to cards that we have formerly called staples. For example, "Mirror Force" went from a trap card all decks must use to a card that's one of the many great options you could use.
Heavy Storm and Monster Reborn used to be staples before they were banned last year. Many people today consider Mystical Space Typhoon (MST) a staple, but that's just about it. In 2003-2005, decks had like 15-25 staples. Think about that. Half to two-thirds of a lot of decks consisted of the same exact games. Then, years after that, we had like 5 to 10 staples at any given time. Now, we're down to almost none.
A Brief History
The earlier sets had lots of staples. This is because the game was new and it needed building blocks. By creating support cards for specific themes, there may have been too many variables to manage at once, so cards that any deck could have made sense to make.
Set 1: Legend of Blue-Eyes: Swords of Revealing Light, Raigeki, Monster Reborn, Dark Hole, and Pot of Greed
Set 2: Metal Raiders: Magician of Faith, Change of Heart, Heavy Storm, Sangan, Witch of the Black Forest and Mirror Force
Set 3: Magic Ruler: Cyber Jar, Mystical Space Typhoon, Confiscation, The Forceful Sentry, Snatch Steal, Delinquent Duo, and Painful Choice
Set 4: Pharaoh's Servant: Imperial Order, Nobleman of Crossout, Call of the Haunted, Premature Burial, and Jinzo.
Shortly after, for the next year onward other staples started coming out: Graceful Charity, Harpie's Feather Duster, Sinister Serpent, Torrential Tribute, Yata-Garasu, Fiber Jar, Ring of Destruction and the like. Almost all tournament-winning decks in 2003-2005 shared the same 20 or so cards cards between them. Sure, wierd decks like Exodia and Last Turn FTK wouldn't use cards like Delinquent Duo, for example, because hand control doesn't satisfy their main automatic-win goal. But they are wierd anomalies, an exception to the general rule.
In a sense, these common cards united us all. It was easy to learn how to play because you know what most cards do. Learning dozens of different cards from different archetypes today takes a better sense of memory, while opening up lots of new options and gameplay mechanics. Still, the game has become harder to learn due to the fact that every deck requires an entirely different rulebook (metaphorically speaking) to operate from.
Staples, in the universal sense that we used to know them, are largely dead. But I would say that there are many cards that play a similar (but different) role as staples.
Cards that the majority of decks use, but not most. For example, Dark Hole and Pot of Duality are versatile cards with widespread application but a player might not want to hurt their field presence with the former or hinder their swarming ability with the latter.
2. Archetype Staples
Cards that specific decks must use. Decks outside of that archetype won't use it. For example, all Madolche decks should use Madolche Chateau but all other deck types shouldn't bother with it.
3. Contextual Staples
Decks that meet certain conditions must use the card. A deck with 5+ DARK monsters, for example, should run Allure of Darkness without question. A deck that is easily capable of summoning LV8 Synchro monsters should use Stardust Dragon.
Spell cards used to be [arguably] the strongest type of cards, but since Synchro's and XYZ's came out, they have taken a backseat to monster effects and monsters that Special Summon themselves or other monsters. Today, for example, we have lots of good spell cards, but none of them particularly stand out as a staple.
Examples. Book of Moon is versatile, but has difficulty netting you a +1. Dark Hole is great for anti-swarm but will disrupt your field presence as well. Mystical Space Typhoon is easy and effective removal, your archetype may have better backrow-hate. Pot of Duality can both be a great draw/search option and a detriment to your Special Summoning. There's no one Spell card that every deck must use, though it's arguable that the above cards could be called "semi-staples" because a lot of decks use them.
Monster staples? Forget about it. I can't think of any. The majority of deck types out there simply only use cards related to their theme and see most other cards as an unwelcome intrusion. There are monsters like Effect Veiler and Maxx "C" that lots of different decks can use, but they are largely a matter of choice. Sangan stopped being a staple after field-presence became more necessary. When Magician of Faith was banned years ago, it was a staple. It was unbanned and now most decks don't use it.
To put it simply, if a monster can't be searched to your hand or special summoned via other cards, it's hard to accomodate. For example, FIRE Beast-Warrior decks have Tenki to search out Wolfbark and Fire Fists, but once-staples like Breaker the Magical Warrior can't be consistently accessed.
As for Trap Cards, that's a really interest situation because we have so many great options that there's no single clear path that a player can go with their trap line-up. You can pick whatever you want, and of course, whatever works best for the deck as each of the great trap cards out their have their own set of pros and cons.
Fiendish Chain negates effects but doesn't remove the threat. Torrential Tribute is fast removal but destroys your monsters too. Solemn Warning stops any monster but with an expensive 2000 LP cost. You can choose Mirror Force for mass removal or Dimension Prison for banishing, but both are often sitting ducks for spell/trap removal. Bottomless Trap Hole doesn't get around weak monsters but takes care of everything else. Compulsory Evacuation Device is good for aggro and XYZ/Synchro hate but often can be a -1. The list goes on, but you get my point. There's no single trap card out there that can be called a staple, especially since some decks even pride themselves on not using trap cards. Royal Decree for them, then.
Where We're At
So basically, the idea of cards that are best for every deck is not really relevant. Instead, it's moreso a matter of what kind of deck you are running. And accordingly, there are cards that you should use.
Are staples dead forever? They'll come and go over the years as the meta changes, for a wealth of different reasons. But they will always have a significantly reduced role.
And this is where we stand. We will probably always have some sort of staple to cling onto. Right now, that card is MST. But there's one thing I'm almost certain of. We'll never be back to most decks using the same 15-20 cards again.
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