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Jae Kim: Theory and Practice
JK14: Hammering out the Forbidden List,
a Framework

February 5, 2009

A conversation recently with a very intelligent player, Pharaoh Atem (who incidentally handles all of the set files and translations for Yu-Gi-Oh Virtual Desktop, and moderates DuelistGroundz), created a number of unintended consequences.


I tend to treat conversations with solid thinkers as bolts of inspiration; some of my most closely-held theories of the game came during heated debates with playing philosophers such as Evan Vargas, Hugo Adame, Dale Bellido, Lazaro Bellido, and Matt Peddle.


He alerted me to a forum on Pojo.com where people talk about ideal Ban/Forbidden lists. I went to the forums to post and contribute, and learned quite a bit from players that stretched the gamut from inexperienced but sharp theorist to casual local stores player (with terrible spelling and grammar). Comparing their perspectives to the top Yu-Gi-Oh players in the game, and to my own framework for theorizing about the game, has inspired me to take a crack at the ideal Forbidden list.


I realize, almost immediately, that in terms of changing the game this is a fruitless endeavor. But I hope insight into the way I rationalize the key points of the game helps all of you become better and sharper players and thinkers. I may be wrong, but I like to think I use solid logic to reach most of my conclusions.


Let's begin. I am throwing out every assumption I ever made of the game, other than the principles that drive deck creation from high level tournament players.


A Side Note: Thoughts on the 3-0 Format


Pharaoh Atem came up with an interesting concept back in the day called 3-0. This means you either leave a card unrestricted because it's balanced, or ban it entirely. No such ideas of limiting a card to 1 (meaning it's broken), because such cards should be banned anyways. The only cards allowed to stay at 1 in this type of format are cards that abuse themselves with multiple copies (Two Green Baboons, Two Night Assailant, Stratos searching Stratos).


I agree with this principle up to a point. I believe cards should never be semi-limited. The line between allowing 1 copy, or 2, or 3 copies versus 2 is far too thin for anyone to rationally expect. And since removing all restrictions period is far too momentous to expect the designers to lend an ear to, I will be going with the same 1/2/3 format (even though I don't believe in semi-limiting a card).


Before We Begin, The Philosophies that Drive Top Level Players


Let's analyze the top cookie-cutter decks from the dawn of competitive Yu-Gi-Oh (the first Shonen Jumps). I'm not going to go into individual card choices, or explosiveness, but rather basic game mechanics.


The first top level cookie-cutter deck was Scapegoat control. This deck featured multiple copies of Scapegoat with multiple copies of Metamorphosis. Scapegoat created 4 tokens at the cost of one card

(-1). Metamorphosis created a Thousand-Eyes Restrict at the cost of another card (-1). Thousand Eyes would then absorb an opponent's monster, costing them the card (+1). It would require monster removal to destroy, leading to an overall exchange of two cards for two cards with 3 sheep token remaining. Thousand Eyes Restrict drove the format.


This analysis, however, ignores the fact that oftentimes the opponent invested quite a bit to the board. In these cases, Thousand Eyes Restrict would either absorb multiple monsters or absorb a monster like Jinzo, skewing the trades even more in the Restrict player's favor.


Around this time, young Evan Vargas inadvertently stumbled upon a very advantageous combination. It involved Soul Exchange + Thestalos the Firestorm Monarch. The trade would involve a Soul Exchange for the opponent's monster, then Thestalos for a card in hand, leaving a 2400 Monarch on the field. At this primitive stage in the game's development, everyone focused on the Soul Exchange part rather than the Monarch part. Also, at the very same tournament, wizened grizzly Mike Rosenberg (we miss you!) inadvertently stumbled upon another very advantageous combination. His deck focused on the interaction between Tsukuyomi and a flip effect monster such as Mask of Darkness.


Once Scapegoat was restricted and the deck's win conditions were banned, the next evolution of the game involved Spirit Reaper backed by lots of monster removal. Here, the trade would often involve something like Cyber Dragon (a strong body on the field) plus Spirit Reaper (indestructible by battle). Cyber Dragon would swing into a monster like D.D Assailant, then Spirit Reaper would attack for a card in hand (+1). Later, Reaper would have to be destroyed by something like Sakuretsu Armor (1 for 1). Spirit Reaper drove the format.


Along this path, people realized flip monsters leading into either a Tsukuyomi reset or a Monarch summon was incredibly powerful. So “Flip Flop Control” was born. Players would open with a set flip effect such as Dekoichi, then set a defensive trap. If the opponent was unable to handle this, a Tsukuyomi was summoned the next turn to reset the flip effect. So Dekoichi, for example, when defended by traps, gained a +1 on the draw (canceling itself out), then dealt 1400 a turn until it was removed. Dekoichi and Monarchs drove the format.


Finally, the culmination of all of these epiphanies resulted in the most powerful CC ever created up to this point, close to unbeatable by tier 2 and anti-meta decks. Chaos Return had a three-pronged setup for completely decimating the opponent. It retained the advantage of Dekoichi into a Monarch (which happened to be Zaborg), but had a far better mid to late game because of Chaos Sorcerer (let's ignore Return). Sorcerer would summon, removing the opponent's monster. With 2300 attack, it became very difficult to destroy. Chaos Sorcerer drove the format.


Once the ban hammer dropped on Chaos Sorcerer, players adapted by creating disgustingly fast combinations based around Card Trooper. T-Heroes, Trooper Duplication, and other such strategies revolved around this card. It was a 400 attack Machine that could send 3 cards to the graveyard to boost to 1900, pushing monsters off the field. When destroyed by any condition, it would net a card. This let players fearlessly summon it as an instant self-replacing monster. A Machine Duplication would turn one into three, capable of doing 5700 damage while gaining a card's worth of advantage. Card Trooper proved to be a problem card.


Also around this time, the Perfect Circle archetype became (along with Gadgets) the living embodiment of my floater theory. Perfect Circle was entirely based around summoning repeated floaters for Raiza the Storm Monarch and Light and Darkness Dragon.


When Dark Armed Dragon came out, the game got the most powerful floater in the history of the game. Judgment Dragon was a bit less powerful, but still incredible. The advent of synchros brought Colossal Fighter, which is undestroyable by battle in this current game. So here we have a list:


Thousand Eyes Restrict, Spirit Reaper, Dekoichi, Monarchs, Chaos Sorcerer, Card Trooper, Dark Armed Dragon, Judgment Dragon.


What do all of these cards have in common? They are all floaters (no matter their attack score). This means they generate at least one card's worth of advantage (to pay for themselves), while still retaining a body on the field. Each of these cards, at bare minimum, pay for themselves and then require destruction.


Thousand Eyes absorbs a monster (1 for 1) while being undestroyable by battle.

Spirit Reaper removes a card from hand (1 for 1) while being undestroyable by battle.

Dekoichi flips to draw a card (1 for 1) and stays unless destroyed by battle.

Monarchs are summoned to get 1 card or 2 and then stay, virtuably undestroyable in battle (back then).

Chaos Sorcerer is summoned to remove a monster (1 for 1) and is virtually undestroyable.

Card Trooper deals 1900 damage a turn while drawing a card when destroyed.

Dark Armed Dragon removes a card to destroy some while being nearly undestroyable by battle.

Judgment Dragon destroys a card(s) while being nearly undestroyable by battle.


Here it's been proven time and time again that the concept of the floater drives every top tier deck. This would be more than fine if decks could counter with alternate strategies. However, many times the cookie-cutter becomes dominant because your own floaters are the only way to stop theirs.


Examples: Your TER or BLS is the only way to kill their TER without losing advantage.

Your Smashing Ground + Reaper, Chaos Sorcerer, or Monarch summon is the only way to neutralize their Reaper.

Your Monarch summon is the only way to kill their Monarch. Alternatively, you can summon Sorcerer.

Your Dark Armed Dragon is sometimes the only way to kill their DaD or Judgment Dragon without losing advantage (Synchros can, as well, but this is a new mechanic).


The reason the cookie-cutter deck has always been so popular is that the chains it creates make unwinnable combinations for the opponent. I am going to give the opponent a baseline, balanced hand in each of these scenarios to illustrate the power of the floater. Let's assume this example case has:


D.D Assailant, Sakuretsu Armor, Smashing Ground, Dust Tornado, and Reinforcement of the Army. This is a relatively balanced, good hand no? And Warrior Toolbox has always been a good deck. Let's see what happens:


VS Ideal Scapegoat Control: DDA is summoned and swings into set Scapegoat. The player then sets Sakuretsu Armor. The Scapegoat player uses Metamorphosis on a Sheep token, absorbing D.D Assailant while retaining 5 cards in hand. It attacks, the hero uses Sakuretsu Armor. It is now 5 cards in opposing player's hand + rock solid defenses versus four for the hero (after a draw).


VS Spirit Reaper: DDA is summoned vs a set monster and reveals Reaper. The player then sets Sakuretsu Armor. The opponent plays Smashing Ground and Mystical Space Typhoon. Reaper hits, removing Dust Tornado from hand. It is now Spirit Reaper and four in hand versus hero's Rota, Smashing Ground, and draw.


VS Dekoichi: DDA is summoned versus a T-set. It attacks into Sakuretsu Armor. The player then sets Sakuretsu Armor and passes. The Dekoichi player attacks for 1400 and sets a spell/trap card and another monster. Player Rotas for a DDWL and is Bottomlessed. Or he can set it. Next turn Dekoichi player will tribute for Zaborg.


The point is that strong floaters make cookie-cutter strategies far too powerful. The goal of my list is to remove easy access to floaters, while leaving cards with similar power levels unmolested. First, rather than assume every card on the current list is there for a reason, we have to address base game mechanics and decide which ones should be allowed, and which ones should be contraband.


Back with more in my next article.


Jae Kim is a creative contributor to Pojo.com. You may contact him (every e-mail will be answered) at JAELOVE@gmail.com. He can also be found contributing to the Message Boards and the Card of the Day.




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