Marcel Burri - Card Strategies – “A look Into The Past – Part 8: Gladiators in the Darkness"

Marcel Burri – Card Strategies – “A look Into The Past – Part 8: Gladiators in the Darkness”

In the last article we saw the crystallization of few very strong decks which overall pretty much dominated the meta. First there was the reign of the monarchs. Later on the Destiny Heroes were pushed by a lot and provided a new tribute base for monarchs as well as a strong stand-alone, more beatdown, oriented deck. Then at the end of the format more and more machines were used, most notable besides the already well known Cyber Dragon were Card Trooper and Cyber Phoenix.


We’ll continue our journey with still tons of monarchs around, but new decks would appear on the screen and their reign should slowly come to an end. We would also see the first big impacts of the multiple TCG only which were released from TAEV onwards. The meta between the OCG and TCG would drift apart more than ever before. Il Blud or Allure of Darkness were cards that didn’t exist in the OCG before and players adapted their decks accordingly including those powerful cards. The decks in the TCG therefore were kind of different compared to the ones in Japan when the same set was released.


So let’s have a look at the September 2007 Banned List and how the meta changed afterwards.


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The happenings in the World of Yu-Gi-Oh


Phantom Darkness included something that was very unique up to this point: Very strong and very relevant TCG Onlies! That means that those cards would affect players a lot in their deck building process and decks could look drastically different from those in the OCG after the release of Phantom Darkness. Of course I’m talking mostly about Darklord Zerato and Allure of Darkness at this point. But obviously Lonefire Blossom was a resident sleeper also and its time would definitely come as well.


The set size would now also stabilize a bit: After TAEV with 90 cards and GLAS with 95 cards (For some weird reason GLAS included a total of 15 Secret Rares which should remain a unique thing) regular booster sets now included 100 cards. Besides the 10 TCG Only cards sets would also include 10 OCG Only cards which usually were promo cards that were exclusively before for the OCG. On top of that the Rarity distribution changed again: The set now included 10 Secret Rare, 10 Ultra Rare and 12 Super Rare cards. Ultimate Rare versions only existed for the Ultra Rare versions of the cards, their overall number was therefore drastically decreased. Probably this set also marked the start of very, very expensive cards (I’m sure that can be discussed, Secret Rare cards like Jinzo or Gemini Elf from the earliest sets were also very expensive, not to speak about Tournament Pack cards like Mechanical Chaser or Morphing Jar). It’s more about if you look about the impact of the cards in the meta and the absolute need to have them in your deck to be competitive.


This was most obvious and extreme when a certain very strong card had a “rarity upgrade” from Konami compared to its Japanese original. Maybe the most extreme example of this was Dark Armed Dragon. While it was only a Rare in Japan it was Secret Rare in the TCG. Because you usually needed 3 for your deck (which was undoubtedly the strongest deck in that format) the price for a single copy was a lot more than 100 euros/dollars. The original Dark Armed Return variants were therefore in Germany ironically also called “Schwarzgeld” which is the German word for black money.

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The Banned List was pretty rustic this time to try and deal with a lot of the problematic cards: Some of the strongest and most unfair cards were banned away. Card Trooper didn’t make the cut and was limited, mostly because its abuse potential with Machine Duplication which could have increased a lot more with the release of Cyber Valley later in this format. Some strong stand-alone cards like Snipe Hunter, Brain Control or Trap Dustshoot were also limited. Finally also Destiny Hero – Malicious was weakened due to its semi-limitation. With all the DARK support coming up the decision was surely very reasonable. Of course there were also a lot of strange cards on the list which probably doesn’t make too much sense like Fissure or Disk Commander which were limited or the Gadgets which all were semi-limited. The cards weren’t commonly used more than once/twice anyway.


At the start of the meta there were still a lot of Monarch decks around, probably more than at the end of the last format. Some of them used the D-Hero engine and some didn’t. The D-Hero Beatdown deck without (or with very few) monarch was erased by the Banned List, the ban of Metamorphosis and limitation of Card Trooper were really crucial and the gap was filled with monarchs. A new archtype that arose were the Zombies which got a huge push in TAEV with the release of Zombie Master and Il Blud. And even if they took a lot of spots in the tops the deck had to wait for its climax when Phillip Anthony won the 3rd SJC this season in Durham.


On September 18 Dark Bribe was released. This is a card you would probably smile about today as it’s not used anymore. But the card was actually super strong back then as S/T removal was rare and countering them, even for a minus 1, was totally worth it if your opponent couldn’t play afterwards. Skill Drain Burn or Macro decks were carried a lot by this card (together with Solemn Judgment of course) and the burn deck could even score a SJC win in Chicago.


On November 6 Light and Darkness Dragon was released and it should lead the Perfect Circle deck to new brilliance. Not only was Light and Darkness Dragon a very strong card on its own to disable your opponent’s plays, when it was destroyed it also had a reborn effect which could be abused with cards like Destiny Hero – Disk Commander. Even if the deck was no super dominating it claimed 2 SJC titles this season.


In December Dimensional Prison was released which especially delighted all the Gadget players but let’s come right to the hammer this season: On January 26 Phantom Darkness was released with all its powerful cards such as Dark Armed Dragon, Allure of Darkness, Darklord Zerato, Armageddon Knight, Cyber Valley, Prometheus, King of the Shadows and many more. The DARK based decks should immediately take over and were clearly considered the Tier 1 deck for the remaining format. The standard deck to go was Dark Armed Return, optionally with or without D-Heroes. Allure of Darkness was an insanely good card in this deck. It would allow you to play a lot of actually pretty situational cards which you didn’t want to keep in your hand like Dark Magician of Chaos or Darklord Zerato. You could just banish them and bring them back with Dimension Fusion and Return/Escape from the different Dimension. With Dark Armed Dragon(s) that could easily special summoned from your hand it was not that difficult to just OTK your opponent very fast.


There were even faster but also a bit less consistent decks around: Cyber Valley Turbo (CVT) abused the 3 Reasoning’s and 3 Monster Gates at most to load up its Graveyard as fast as possible. Cyber Valleys, Dark Magician of Chaos and Dimension Fusion would provide a very strong draw and recycling engine: Even if you milled your Magical Explosions you needed to win the game, you could just put them back on the top of your deck with Cyber Valleys 3rd effect and then draw them afterwards. The minimum setup you would have to get in the end to OTK your opponent in his very first draw phase would just be to have at least 20 Spell cards in your Graveyard, 2 Magical Explosions on the field and an empty hand. The other deck that could rudimentary be seen already was the new empowered version of DDT, DADDT. The 2 additional letters indicates the inclusion of Dark Armed Dragon in this deck as well to increase its OTK and destruction power. We’ll come back to this deck in the second part as it would be refined more and see more success then.


The very ironic thing about all this is the winning deck of the one SJC after the release of Phantom Darkness: Samurais! Only a single Samurai deck topped during the whole season, also it directly claimed a win which was on top of that in the Dark Armed era where probably everyone would have expected to see a Dark Armed variant coming out in top. It’s difficult to find a good explanation for this. One thing for sure was that the Dark Armed Return decks weren’t too refined yet and could be improved more in the future. A lot of lists just went for brute power and probably disregarded consistency a bit too much. That fact made it easier to beat the deck. Second the Samurai deck with a good draw is very fast. With all the potential special summons of Cyber Dragon, Grandmaster, Shien and Reasoning the deck could even make OTKs. And last we shouldn’t underestimate the power of Great Shogun Shien in this format: The Dark Armed Return decks relied quite a bit on Spell cards to get their game going and set up everything to make their power plays. With Shien in play they could only use a single S/T per turn which could often just not be enough. What would you do with a hand of Destiny Draw and 2 Allure of Darkness for example when you could only use any of those? It was also hard to set up your Graveyard this was with 3 DARK monsters to summon Dark Armed Dragon. The last thing that is worth mentioning about Moore’s list is the inclusion of 3 copies of Solemn Judgment. This would be something that would become way more popular in the future: In some months Solemn Judgment would be mostly considered a staple that would be played as a 3-off in almost every deck. A decade later the card should still be banned and people would look at it as one of the best Trap cards in the game, as it could counter almost everything and it was never a dead draw because you could always pay half your life points. So in a way he was some kind of pioneer there.

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1st Place, Louie Raimondo, SJC Chicago 2007, Skill Drain Burn

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Top 8, Miguel Albarran, SJC Chicago 2007, Volcanic Monarch

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1st Place, Phillip Anthony, SJC Durham 2007, Zombies

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1st Place, Fili Luna, SJC San Mateo 2007, Perfect Circle LaDDImage 10


Top 4, Hugo Adame, SJC San Mateo 2007, Macro Monarchs/Beatdown

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1st Place, Mario Konrath, Pharaoh Tour Final Dortmund 2007, Baboon Burn

(Note: The deck isn’t included in the statistics above because there is no information about all the other decks in the tops. Also keep in mind that back then Baboon worked differently as today: It could also be special summoned during the Damage Step, which justified the reason to play this deck at all. That means you could summon it e.g. when your Giant Rat was destroyed in battle.)

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Top 16, Hugo Adame SJC Orlando 2008, Macro Heroes

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1st Place, Jonathan Moore, SJC Houston 2008, Samurai

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2nd Place, Adam Corn, SJC Houston 2008, Dark Armed Return

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Top 4, Cedric Sequerra, SJC Houston 2008, Dark Armed Return

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Top 8, James Reed, SJC Houston 2008, Cyber Valley Turbo (CVT) / Magical Explosion OTK

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The happenings in the World of Yu-Gi-Oh


We already saw emergency Bans and Limitations made between formats before. But usually if people think back and talk about Emergency Bans they always refer to the Emergency Ban List that took effect on May 9.


Another big thing to mention was the release of the first Gold Series on April 2. Finally Crush Card Virus got its long desired reprint. (Almost) Everyone was happy that they now could easily afford this powerful card. At least that’s what they were thinking as it turned out a bit different. Konami decided to make it a Short Print card that was very hard to pull. That still meant the card was much more affordable than before but you still had to be lucky to pull it or be willing to pay 200+ dollars/euros to get one. However, the card was now seen a lot more than before and got a fix component of the meta.


In the middle of Europe’s national season Konami made this dramatic step which would actually change the meta quite a bit. This was really hard for some countries National Championships: Some players had less than a week to adapt to this new situation and change their deck accordingly. People that were testing for weeks already got completely screwed over and had to start from scratch in a very short period of time. That actually made a lot of people very angry even if the List itself surely was a good thing for the game at this point.


It’s just speculation as Konami never gave one’s view about this, but I assume the reason for this measure was mainly the DMoC Recall FTK which became more and more popular that time. For a FTK deck this deck was outstandingly consistent thanks to all the draw power which was provided with Allure of Darkness and Cyber Valleys. The detailed discussion about the percentages how often you could FTK your opponent (assuming he didn’t have an answer, e.g. D.D. Crow) was never really finished, you heard different opinions about it. But I’d say the FTK rate was around 75-80% which is just amazing. Of course the cards were somehow also problematic in other decks but at least those decks allowed the players some kind of interaction which was totally not the case for the Recall FTK.


Later in the format another big thing happened which shouldn’t be relevant yet this season: On August 5 the first Tuner and Synchro monsters were introduced in the Starter Deck: Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s.


But it wasn’t “just” a new mechanic which was introduced in the game, this also brought some overall ruling changes with it which were very relevant:

  • The Main Deck can now contain a maximum of 60 cards (previously unlimited).
  • The Extra Deck (previously called Fusion Deck) can contain 0-15 cards (previously unlimited).
  • The Side Deck can now contain between 0-15 cards. It no longer has to be exactly one or the other.
  • “Multi-Trigger” Effect Monsters are now called “Quick Effects”. There are no ruling changes going along with that but it should just help to identify and clarify such kind of effects.




The list for this period didn’t look to impactful overall. Breaker, Magician of Faith and Call of the Haunted were banned, nothing that would hit any deck too hard. Raiza was limited which seems reasonable as it was the best monarch right now. There were some surprising semi-limitations again which seem kind of unnecessary as the cards were usually not run as 3-offs anyway, but why not. And a lot of cards were unlimited such as the Gadgets which were just semi-limited previously.


The most interesting part was probably the discharge of Monster Reborn. I’m not sure if this was the best idea with all the DARK support that was just released and cards like Disk Commander and Dark Magician of Chaos running around. We should see some funny scenarios where a Monster Reborn would be used to first summon back 2 copies of DMoC and afterwards still revive Disk Commander as well. From now on the “golden rule” usually was to not just dump your DMoC if you couldn’t reborn it yourself immediately. But sometimes you couldn’t avoid that, e.g. if your reborn cards were countered or you were forced to discard it for a Dark Grepher or Trade-In to continue your plays.


So let’s see which decks were most successful at the big events. Right off the bat there was the 50th SJC in Costa Mesa which of course became the biggest SJC ever with 1056 participants. It wasn’t a big surprise when Lazaro Bellido went all the way through with his Dark Armed Return. This should stay the deck to beat for the upcoming events. More interesting may be the DADDT deck from Kris Perovic that finished in 2nd place. The deck was relying on a lot of similar cards like the standard Return decks such as Dark Armed Dragon, Dark Magician of Chaos and Dimension Fusion. But as every DDT version it also included 3 Reasoning and 3 Monster Gate to increase the number of special summons and speed of the deck a lot.


Of course there were some other decks around that could sneak in the tops here and there but never before there was such a one-sided meta. Paul Levitin took full advantage of this fact at SJC Minneapolis. In a meta where you could just expect to be paired against Dark Armed Return or at least something similar every single round he build some kind of Gladiator Beast Anti deck that mainly focused on summoning Gladiator Beast Heraklinos and back it up with Shadow-Imprisoning Mirror. That field was basically unbeatable for the DARK players as they could neither kill Heraklinos with its 3000 ATK nor destroy the Mirror because it was protected by the Gladiator boss monster. Just keep in mind: Gladiator Beast Gyzarus wasn’t released yet, so the power level of the deck itself was just multiple times lower.


This was also the last event with the first released Banned List. For the next SJC in Nashville the Emergency list already took effect and players would have to adapt to the new situation. So did that mean DARK decks could be beaten this event? No. Not even close actually. Only 2 Monarch decks made the top cut in Nashville besides 14 variants of Dark Armed Return. Jason Holloway won this event with his interesting approach of using Light and Darkness Dragon to fill the gap the Emergency Banned List had left (Side note: Light of Destruction was of course not legal yet for this SJC).


But after May 7 everything should change dramatically: Light of Destruction was released and with it the reign of Dark Armed Dragon took an abrupt end! The last 5 SJCs as well as the US Nationals and the European Championship were all won by Gladiator Beasts. Gladiator Beast Gyzarus in combination with the recently released Elemental Hero Prisma were just exactly the tools Gladiator Beasts needed to take over. The destruction power of Gyzarus followed by the potential board control threat of Heraklinos was just too much for Dark Armed Return to handle.


At least one thing was better now: There was a little more room for other decks to shine as well as Gladiator Beasts were a bit easier to beat in certain cases. For example Lightsworns and the newly invented Oppression Monarch were actually pretty ok in dealing with Gladiator Beasts. I’d assume this is also a reason why a lot of the top ranked GB players decided to include Crush Card Virus in their decks. They usually only had around 3-4 monsters they could even tribute for the Virus and which weren’t accessible that easy. But the potential auto-win was worth it all the time to include this potential death draw in your deck. In general it was incredible how often times the same people topped over and over again. And it was also interesting to see how strong Crush Card Virus was back then. Remember: The card hadn’t a mass release yet, it was only available as a SJC price card and therefore of course still extremely expensive. But having this card in the deck apparently overall increased the win rate of the deck quite a lot: Most of the decks that made the Top 16 cut included the one copy of the virus you were allowed to play. So if we look back at that format from today’s perspective it appears a bit like “pay-2-win” which of course gives it a bit of a bad taste.


Still some other decks also topped during this period. Even if Dark Armed Return was beaten it was not dead yet. Some players remained true to the deck and still had success, such as Cesar Gonzalez who never abandoned it. But the deck had changed quite a bit after the Emergency Ban and the rise of the Gladiators. With only 1 Return left the name Dark Armed Return was probably also a bit misleading, some players even decided to cut it completely.

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2nd Place, Kris Perovic, SJC Costa Mesa 2008, Dark Armed Diamond Dude Turbo (DADDT)

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Top 8 Place, Paul McCann, SJC Columbus 2008, Dark Magician of Chaos Recall FTK

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1st Place, Paul Levitin, SJC Minneapolis 2008, Gladiator Beasts (Pre LODT/Gyzarus)

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1st Place, Jason Holloway, SJC Nashville 2008, Dark Armed (Return) + LaDD

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1st Place, Steven Harris, SJC St. Louis 2008, Gladiator Beasts


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Top 16, Dale Bellido, SJC St. Louis 2008, Lightsworn


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Top 4, Adam Corn, SJC Philadelphia 2008, Oppression Monarchs

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1st Place, Robert Ackerman, SJC Indianapolis 2008, Gladiator Beasts

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Top 8, Cesar Gonzalez, SJC Indianapolis 2008, Dark Armed Return

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World Championship 2008


Like in the previous year it was pretty difficult to find exact information about the World Championship because there was no real coverage (at least not for the TCG). Luckily there are at least some few videos on YouTube about the event. Back in 2008 it was still possible for players to film inside the location so some impressions can be saved for the future.


The tournament took part in the Tempodrom in Berlin on August 8/9. 23 players were qualified. In the end Kazuki Mutsuoka emerged victorious with his Gladiator Beast deck. Gladiator Beasts were also the most popular archtype played this weekend, 6 players brought it to the tournament. But there was quite a bit of diversity, other decks that were played that weekend were Lightsworns, Gravekeeper Burn, Skill Drain Cosmos, Monarchs, Dark Armed variants and Machines.


If you have a look at the deck lists you will probably notice that they look very different to the lists we saw winning the SJCs. The simple reason is, that like every year the card pool for worlds had to be adapted. Usually that meant the Japanese players couldn’t bring a lot of their cards because they were not released in the TCG yet. But after the introduction of TCG Onlies this also worked the other way around. Test Tiger for example was TCG exclusive when the World Championship took part and therefore it was not legal for the event. It’s not like suddenly everybody agreed it was a bad card and nobody played it for that reason.

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Winner and Runner-Up Decklists

1st Place Kazuki Mutsuoka (Japan)

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2nd Place Robert Ackerman (USA)

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3rd Place Takeru Norihama (Japan)


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Top 8 Chris Gehring (New Zealand)

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So that’s it for today. We saw how Dark Armed Dragon and his crew took over the meta until they had to line up in the Arena and were challenged and displaced by the Gladiator Beasts. But their reign shouldn’t be over. With the release of the first Synchro Monsters they should empower again and claim back their throne to rule for at least another Banned List period.



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