2020 was rough.
But despite the global pandemic, some great stuff happened in Yu-Gi-Oh! And now that we're at the start of a new year, I want to share some of my personal hopes and dreams for the game in 2021.
Here's what I want to see from Yu-Gi-Oh over the next twelve months.
The secondary market's been a bit different in 2019 and 2020, and a new focus on the collector's market in recent releases is one of the biggest reasons. We started seeing rising demand for rare printings and big 1st Editions in 2018, when stuff like Ghost Rares, Ultimate Rares, and iconic foils from the first few boosters really started to grow. Someone at Konami clearly noticed; with so much interest in old cards, 2019 saw the release of new cards that hardcore collectors would want to chase, starting with Starlight Rares.
Fastforward to now, and Starlight Rares have totally changed the way we look at big, quarterly sets. Now, every core booster could have a winning lottery ticket worth hundreds of dollars, leading lots of players, collectors, and teams who buy by the case, to feel more secure in their investments.
The entire design of those core set products has changed: for years it felt like Konami didn't have anyway to boost sales but to spike the rarity of the most competitive cards in a release, but now they're making clear strides to appeal to other customers. That's meant some stunningly powerful, highly anticipated cards were more accessible than we'd guessed. Parallel eXceed is the first thing to jump out at me; everybody thought it would get bumped to Secret Rare, so we were all pleasantly surprised when it arrived as a common.
Collector's Rares were another form of outreach to the collector demographic; the secondary market ate them up when they arrived in Toon Chaos, instantly making it the fastest-selling release the game's ever seen. And even with Genesis Impact so undervalued right now, the Collector's Rares are still doing well and seem destined to climb in value in the new year.
It was long believed by a lot of people that Yu-Gi-Oh sales lived and died by demand created by players, but by spreading everything around and creating more stuff for different types of Yugi-enthusiasts, we've seen more balanced releases that are a bit easier on player wallets, and way more exciting to open. More of that, please.
While we're at it, 2020 really leaned into alternate art cards too, as well as variant cards appearing in the same release. We got our first big taste of that this year in Structure Deck: Shaddoll Showdown, where alt art versions of El Shaddoll Winda and El Shaddoll Construct added a little more interest to a deck that was already competitive. With a positive response to that, we proceeded to see more alt arts in Structure Deck: Spirit Charmers, and a ton of alt arts and variants in Maximum Gold.
And to the surprise of some, those cards made a splash every single time; the new Spirit Charmer variants only appeared one per Structure, so players had to either buy multiple copies to collect them all, or buy them on the secondary market. All four were among the best-selling cards of the week when Spirit Charmers dropped.
Meanwhile the split of cards like Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring and Sky Striker Ace - Kagari in Maximum Gold managed to add more interest to the release, without making those cards any scarcer than they would've been otherwise; cards printed with variants in Maximum Gold basically just "split" the same number of spots on a printing sheet as a single card without a variant, so as a collector there was more to hunt, but players who just wanted the cards to build decks with - who didn't care which versio they played - weren't impacted.
Last up on the collector front, can we get more awesome surprise releases?! Battles of Legend: Armageddon was already lined up to be a pretty solid release with reprints like Chaos Emperor, the Dragon of Armageddon, Invocation, and Trishula, the Dragon of Icy Imprisonment, as well as new cards like the Numeron Calling. But when news broke that Number 39: Utopia (Astral) was in the set, and even better Ten Thousand Dragon, duelists across the globe just lost it. The idea that you could crack a $1200+ card from a single pack was a massive first in Yu-Gi-Oh, and it turned a reasonably good release into a huge hit.
Then two months later you see the same thing happen, on an even grander scale: nobody was talking about Legendary Duelists: Rage of Ra. It had very little to offer serious players, arguably even less for collectors, and the kind of hype required to reach old school nostalgic duelists - arguably the target audience for the set to begin with - didn't exist.
…But you throw a little Ghost Rare The Winged Dragon of Ra (Ghost Rare) in there? And suddenly the hype train's chugging along in overdrive. One premium addition turned Rage of Ra from a shelf turd into yet another hit. And again, nobody had a bad word to say about it. Nobody's forcing you to own three copies of The Winged Dragon of Ra (Ghost Rare) to win tournaments; it's just this boondoggle for collectors, and a nice nod to Yu-Gi-Oh's roots, that happened to make Rage of Ra vastly more appealing to, well, just about everybody.
The powers that be got creative this year, and the result was some of the most memorable surprises Yu-Gi-Oh's ever seen. Heck, you could put the decision to reprint Effect Veiler (Starlight Rare) and D.D. Crow (Starlight Rare) as Starlight Rares in the same bucket - lots of players were shocked to see Veiler in a core set, and it debuted at a whopping $475. Today, its Market Price is up to $560 while it regularly commands as much as $700.
I feel like we're just scratching the surface. I hope 2021 sees more crazy stuff appearing in packs, unadvertised and creating value that wouldn't exist otherwise.
While we're talking about the value of sets, 2020 saw what seemed to be a shift in reprint policies. For a few years there, the only place to get cards you missed was the secondary market. That or you had to wait for cards to come back in a reprint release like a Battles of Legend or an annual Mega-Tin. Reprint products are great, especially since they often print cards in different rarities or make them more affordable, often at the same time. But instead of relying solely on reprint products, how about… reprinting actual products?
That perspective seemed to be driving at least a few decisions from R&D this year, as we finally saw a fresh printing of 2017's Dinosmasher's Fury Structure Deck. Cards like Souleating Oviraptor and Ultimate Conductor Tyranno have been in the competitive discussion since the deck dropped over two and a half years ago, and that's made it one of, if not the, best-selling Structure Deck ever. Those cards got really expensive over time, at least by Structure Deck standards, and the Structure itself was selling for $30+ at its peak. There were times in the last two years where Souleating Oviraptor nearly broke the $15 mark, supplies were so short.
But the Structure Deck got reprinted earlier this year, instantly bringing all of those cards back down to reasonable prices; Souleating Oviraptor and Ultimate Conductor Tyranno both have Market Prices well under $2 now, making Dino decks accessible to casuals and budget players once again.
We saw a similar move with Toon Chaos, which sold out in literally record time, both because it was awesome, and possibly due to some rumored production issues that might've kept some orders from being filled at the distributor level. We'll never really know if the set's 1st Edition did suffer printing issues, though it seems very possible, given the new foil technology used for Collector's Rares and the shuffling around that all major TCG companies have had to do in the wake of COVID, closing printing facilities left and right. But what we do know, is that the unlimited printing of Toon Chaos was a hit too, and it helped keep the set in circulation.
I hope those reprints were commercially successful and supportable for the future, because I'd really like to see another option to get sold out sets in the hands of players in the future. With more and more finance bros getting into the TCG market, keeping the game playable is a bigger concern now, than perhaps ever before.
For all I know about Yu-Gi-Oh, I'm not sure why new themes are drip-fed to us over several sets. It almost always creates one of two responses: players either see a new theme as unplayable, don't respect it until new cards arrive in future sets, and then pay a premium on secondary for the older cards; or they just never try those themes in the first place, ever, and the theme goes nowhere.
Neither of those scenarios is good. And it's especially common for World Premiere themes that debut in the TCG, appended to the back end of core sets.
The exception is Phantom Rage with its slew of Myutant cards, a theme that didn't come together to be a big competitive pick yet, but that we at least got to play right out of the gates. We can speculate as to why Rise of the Duelist was loaded with OCG imports and Phantom Rage got a double dose of World Premieres, but whatever the answer is, it's probably some flavor of COVID. That said, I hope we see more themes - World Premiere or otherwise - debuting in bigger clumps so we can actually play stuff at close to full power when it drops. Maybe there are analytics saying the agonizing wait for new cards to become good somehow helps sales? But if there are numbers to support that, nobody's discussed them with me.
Myutants were cool. Please introduce more themes in the same way?
You might've missed it, but a couple months ago the above card was given away to 300 people in a challenge posed by the official Yu-Gi-Oh TCG social media accounts: show a picture of your remote duel set-up and earn the chance to win a Blue Secret Rare version of United We Stand that's now worth thousands of dollars.
Since then we've seen another challenge awarding a Blue Secret Rare Guardian Angel Joan, which is sure to be similar in value. Both giveaways generated a lot of buzz and goodwill amongst the players who were alert enough to know they were happening, and while they didn't make Konami any money directly, they sure were awesome for anybody who won a rare, once-in-a-lifetime promo card. Every single copy of these cards that gets delivered is a magic moment for a duelfan, and a big PR win for the Yu-Gi-Oh brand.
It's super-cool, and Yu-Gi-Oh needs more super-cool stuff.
Speaking of free super-cool stuff, the Lost Art promotion's been a hit since it started, helping OTS locations generate sales and rewarding players for patronizing their local game stores. Everybody wins when there's a Lost Art promotion going on, and the worst thing you can say about it is that the program's so popular the cards disappear from most stores in an instant.
Not only is the Lost Art series cool, and not only is giving the cards away with relatively small in-store purchases awesome, the series really shifted context in 2020. Both of the Konami offices with a hand in the game's TCG distribution moved pretty fast to drop an extended run of Lost Art promos on OTS stores as soon as possible when the pandemic's impact became apparent - and it was a strong signal that when it comes time to put up or shut up, the people at Konami really care about the stores and the players who've built communities around them.
So on one hand? Yeah, I want more Lost Arts. On the other hand, I hope we'll see more specialized support for stores in general, as vaccines are distributed and the pandemic slowly subsides. I feel pretty good that Konami's going to make it happen.
I wrote an entire article on this just a few days ago, but mannnnn, I really hope we get to see Neuron do more stuff in 2021. The companion app dropped this summer and instantly became a part of everyday dueling life for droves of players, and if in-person events become a safe possibility in 2021, the doors may be wide open for new additions to the platform.
…Or, maybe all the people working on Neuron are furloughed. I don't know. That's a pandemic for you. But in an ideal world, I'd love to see this thing that hit the ground running just keep continuing to grow.
Ask any player what they hate the most about the game, and one of the biggest answers is going to be short printing; the practice of placing fewer copies of certain cards on a printing sheet, so that it becomes tougher to pull than other cards at the same rarity.
To be clear, some short printing will almost always happen: printing sheets have a limited amount of space, and sometimes that means certain cards appear say, eight times while others appear nine times. That's not what we're talking about. Instead, we're talking about what appears to be intentional scarcity applied to sought-after cards to generate more demand for product, a practice that's tough to pin down, but which seemed to be much less common in at least the back half of 2020.
Personally just looking at numbers from about three dozen case breaks of Maximum Gold, it seems really obvious that the only significant short prints are cards like Blue-Eyes White Dragon and Dark Magician. That's fine in the eyes of most fans, because those are collector's cards that only benefit from scarcity; not powerful tournament cards that players feel like they need to have to keep up. A lot of the bad blood amongst the playerbase is due to short prints and how they've been handled over the years, and putting that to rest seems like a good thing.
Remote Duels are weird. There's no way around that and I'm not gonna be like, "Yeah, this is normal and totally ideal." The Yu-Gi-Oh TCG as we know it doesn't have a sanctioned online platform, for a lot of reasons, many of which I could guess at but won't. Hurling crackpot theories from a place of imperfect information just doesn't seem like a good use of my time?
So Remote Dueling is what we've got, and I've got to say, what it's missing in precedent and polish it's making up for with sheer moxie, on behalf of both Konami and the players. When this all kicked off it raised a ton of questions. How big can you even make a remote duel event? The answer is "surprisingly big," as Remote Duel Extravaganzas start to break their entry caps. Won't everybody just cheat? Somehow, against all odds, no! It turns out no matter how much smack we talk online, most of us are decent human beings that play Yu-Gi-Oh because we genuinely enjoy it.
I don't really know how this "One Weird Way To Play Yu-Gi-Oh" actually became a success, but the reality is that remote duels are growing every month, and we're fast approaching a Remote Duel Invitational with a real qualifying system. The OP team (Organized Play) over at Konami's been killing it for years; I've worked with a lot of those ladies and gentlemen, some of them for over a decade, and none of them are slouches. But the fact that they created a viable system to support remote duels is amazing to me.
The result? Not only are remote duels a way for players to play real Yu-Gi-Oh and compete for real prizes during a pandemic, but for some duelists, it's their first chance to play in an ATTACK OF THE GIANT CARD!! event, or to compete against hundreds of other players at a higher level. I don't know what the value is of extending organized play to people who can't travel to tournaments, but for competitors in remote areas, or who can't drive, or who have personal challenges that mean they can't go to events for whatever reason, Remote Duels have been huge.
And I hope in one form or another, that kind of accessibility continues to be a part of Yu-Gi-Oh. In 2021, sure, but beyond the inevitable end of the global pandemic, too.