In the 20 years I've played the game of Yu-Gi-Oh, I've definitely heard the term "Emergency Banlist" thrown around way too much.
It's actually kind of a common thing in TCGs: once a piece of terminology permeates the culture, it gets hijacked and people who didn't fully understand the original definition can win up using it to refer to something totally different from the original thing it described! In Yu-Gi-Oh there are lots of examples: terms like "floater," "archetype," "engine," and "inherent summons" get misused all the time.
In fact "inherent summon" is one of the most egregious offenders here, because the proper definition covers all types of Special Summons where the Special Summon doesn't specifically start a chain. That includesa game mechanics, a monster's summoning condition, or summon effect. Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning, Quickdraw Synchron, and Cyber Dragon are all inherent summons, by the way, but no one really groups them together.
Also the term is officially "Built-In Special Summon", which I'm fairly certain only like, twelve people are aware of.
ANYWAY! Today I'm talking about a few very specific updates to the Forbidden & Limited List; a very small pool of changes in Yu-Gi-Oh's nearly two decades of history. Modern players are absolutely spoiled with the quick and concise F&L Lists we have today, custom-tailored for the TCG version of Yu-Gi-Oh. But it's been a long and bumpy road to get to where we are.
Dating back to the dawn of the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG, Upper Deck and Konami originally had agreements around distribution, delegation, and competitive play that involved less hands-on work for Konami. As new sets were introduced, cards like Pot of Greed, Snatch Steal, and Premature Burial were quickly deemed too powerful to be played at 3-per-deck in tournaments, but people that didn't play competitively often weren't in the know about Limited cards. Eventually when the World Championship came around in 2004 more structure was applied, and the following cards were deemed Forbidden for competition:
The World Championship's always had a unique format, with a list of cards that were Forbidden from play that usually sought to remove anything from play that wasn't officially distributed in any one of the territories a player might be representing. In some respects, that sort of set the precedent for banning cards throughout the year on an official Forbidden & Limited List, a process that started in August 2004 but didn't go into effect until October of that year. Initially, the F&L List was subject only to a regular twice-yearly change.
Now in 2021, it's a whole different story. This is a truncated summary, but let's just say it's a good thing we're living in a time where Konami had consistent and complete control over separate TCG and OCG F&L Lists, with regular updates to help the competitive scene grow and be healthy.
October 2004 marked the first time we'd actually see cards Forbidden from general tournament play, and the cards on this worldwide list were consistent across the OCG and TCG. Two separate games that were often very different, played in equally different environments, with very different card pools, were both subject to the same restrictions.
Then… Cyber-Stein happened. Cyber-Stein debuted as a Shonen Jump Championship Prize Card in 2004, the Championship circuit that preceded our now-current Yu-Gi-Oh! Championship Series. But 2005's Dark Beginnings 2 included Cyber-Stein as a regular Rare that pretty much anyone could afford, and suddenly the card exploded in popularity. Cyber-Stein started to appear in so many decks, it was rivaling the likes of Pot of Greed as a must-have for every strategy.
I know that seem crazy to imagine, but yeah, the Cyber-Stein OTK that made the card famous quickly devolved from a dedicated strategy, to a "just in case I can get to this, it's a free win" kind of deal.
And when I say Cyber-Stein was suddenly Forbidden, I mean that in every sense of the word. Less than a week before Christmas, Cyber-Stein got the banhammer. And in a time when everyone didn't have a computer in their pocket masquerading as a telephone, that news was slower to travel than you might expect. People showed up to their local tournaments on December 23rd and December 24th with Cyber-Stein still in their deck, unaware of the change that had happened literally just hours before.
While other F&L Lists may come as a surprise, nothing truly compares to what was eventually recognized as the original emergency banlist. It's hard to beat the uniquely unsettling feeling of showing up to a tournament, only to discover a card you've been playing with for over a year is no longer allowed.
While it's not as astounding as the Cyber-Stein move, the Adjusted List in 2016 was a surprise to everyone. The infamous and terribly named Pepe deck, which mixed Performapal and Performage monsters, was utterly soul-crushing at the time. The deck was so overpowered, playing it felt like Yu-Gi-Oh with cheat codes.
That said, its rise to power was so quick and the deck was so new that people didn't have a chance to get too offended over it before Konami hit us with an announcement that Pepe would lose Performage Plushfire, Performage Damage Juggler, and Tellarknight Ptolemaeus, and with them, its crown as the reigning dominant deck in the format.
The formal update to the Forbidden & Limited List was scheduled to drop months in the future, but for the Yu-Gi-Oh! Championship Series, Regional Qualifiers, and basically everything outside of locals, the Adjusted List hit competitive Yu-Gi-Oh a few days into February and deemed the marriage of Performapal and Performage an unholy union and a mistake, excising it from competition.
Performapal Skullcrobat Joker, Performapal Monkeyboard, and Luster Pendulum, the Dracoslayer were all Limited under the Adjusted List as well, driving the stake even further into Pepe's heart. And while these changes were officially optional for local level events, it seemed like most Official Tournament Stores adopted the new restrictions anyways, due to player demand. While the idea of scheduled changes to the official F&L List was technically maintained, most players came to view the new List as just the same thing; the entire label of "Adjusted List" became sort of an afterthought or an asterisk.
For competitive play, there was very little daylight filling the gap between an Adjusted Forbidden & Limited List and a regular one. It wasn't quite on the level of the surprise that killed Cyber-Stein and saved Christmas, but it was a much-needed response to a sudden burst of power creep; one where a single strategy seemed to redefine just how powerful a deck could be.
The whole Adjusted List thing worked, too. Performapals went from a Tier 0 monstrosity to something people actually had a chance at beating. The official F&L List that debuted in April 2016 fixed other problems as well, and officially incorporated the Adjusted List changes.
Let's jump around a bit. If you took a Yugi-time machine back to early 2008, you might drive some duelists to tears: it was the heyday of Dark Armed Dragon Return from the Different Dimension, a deck that almost felt insulting to lose to. Dimension Fusion and Return from the Different Dimension were one side of the coin, while the infamous Dark Armed Dragon was the other. It's a uniquely horrible feeling when your opponent's backup plan is arguably just as powerful as their original plan, and that was the situation if you were up against the top meta deck of the era.
Lots of DAD Return matchups felt like your entirely silent, completely polite opponent, was just staring you in the eye and saying, "Congrats on stopping Dark Armed Dragon, but you're still gonna lose anyways."
Keep in mind, the emergency ban of Cyber-Stein was still fresh on everyone's minds, happening less than 18 months prior. I remember literally every card that was being thrown around when people talked about the alleged emergency banlist they insisted was coming. Players were so high strung from losing to Dark Armed Dragon that some guy at your locals might lose to Mokey Mokey and cry out that Human-Wave Tactics needed to be Forbidden ASAP.
Dark Magician of Chaos, Dark Armed Dragon, Dark Grepher… virtually every card the Dark Armed Return deck played was rumored to be on a surprise list, and oh boy, it was coming next week, I swear! "My uncle who works at Upper Deck told me so," and so on, and so on. An updated list did finally arrive in May, after what felt like eons spent dealing with Dark Armed Return, but it sure took its sweet time. In the end, Dimension Fusion was Forbidden, Return from a Different Dimension was Limited, and Allure of Darkness was Semi-Limited for good measure.
Because these changes weren't officially scheduled, at a time when the powers-that-be made strict guidelines for banlist frequency, it was an emergency banlist if only unofficially. Everyone knew that something would happen to curb the horrors of competitive Yu-Gi-Oh in the first half of 2008, and the May updates did tip the scales ever so slightly toward a more balanced situation.
Up until 2013, it was standard to have just two measly updates to the Advanced Format each year. Konami now changes the F&L List about every three months, but that's not a hard and fast rule. Sometimes, problems become evident very quickly and need to be rectified just as fast.
After the F&L update in September 2017, Konami specifically declared that the next banlist would come no sooner than November 2017, something they hadn't really said in past announcements. When November rolled around and a new list appeared, there was speculation it was an impromptu decision.
Keep in mind, the September list was released nearly three months prior, and with that update came the addendum that a new list would appear… "sometime after November 1st 2017." With SPYRALs running rampant in competition, the November list brought a wave of restrictions with Blackwing - Gofu the Vague Shadow, Set Rotation, SPYRAL GEAR - Drone, and SPYRAL Quik-Fix all Limited.
If you didn't play competitively in that time, be thankful! Not only was tournament Yu-Gi-Oh a bore to watch in the SPYRAL era, it was borderline unbelievable that a handful of simple cards could wreak so much havoc. I don't want to be all tinfoil hat about it, but with such powerful cards Link Summoning so efficiently, it's almost as if the November changes were a contingency plan Konami knew it would need, after letting Links run wild in their first few outings.
Imagine someone who's allergic to peanut butter scooping globs of it into their mouth with one hand, while holding their EPI-Pen ready in the other. We'll never really know if this was truly an authentic emergency, or something more self-inflicted. But we do know everybody was happy when the problem got corrected.
Instances like the November 2017 list might come across as manufactured emergencies, but there are also lists that feel quite the opposite - emergency bans masquerading as normal, everyday activity. They don't carry quite the urgency of the Cyber-Stein banning, but they serve as swift corrections to a problem that was unforeseen by the previous banlist.
In theory, banlists are supposed to clean up the issues of the past format. But sometimes the previous bannings were so ineffective, that we wind needing another one as quickly as possible and it (thankfully) happens to coincide with a scheduled change.
The January 2019 and June 2017 lists both fit the bill. In 2019, we had a period of about a month where there was no Firewall Dragon, and it seemed as if harmony had been restored. But surprise! Fairy Tail - Snow, Grinder Golem, Number 42: Galaxy Tomahawk, Number 86: Heroic Champion - Rhongomyniad, Topologic Gumblar Dragon, and Soul Charge were all big problems, too. Players just shifted to the next most broken strategy they could abuse.
And while those strategies didn't have the exact same problems as Firewall Dragon pre-, it's not like Soul Charge was bad in December 2018 and suddenly became a good card in January 2019. The June 2017 banlist wasn't much better. About five weeks after the March 2017 banlist went into effect, Konami announced another one for June.
Nothing instills player confidence in a new format, like declaring a list of grievances early in its run. So while neither the June 2017 list nor the January 2019 list come across directly as emergency measures, the facades wore thin at first glance.
Finally, there's this weird category of cards that technically weren't touched by a dire, pressing hit on the Forbidden & Limited List, but the way the card's release happened to intersect with planned changes is too funny not to mention. Example?
Considering how few official tournaments were played in that handful of hours, I'm not sure how much of a problem this Neo-Spacian Grand Mole really was. If someone told me every card would be unlimited for twelve hours next Wednesday, it would just be a blip on my radar, if anything.
At the time, Neo-Spacian Grand Mole did deserve to be Limited. It was a repeatable threat to Synchro Monsters, and when the game was much slower, that would've meant a slow death for many players.
But now? Not so much. That said, I'm less concerned with why it was hit, and more the silly circumstances that led to its unique nerf at the hands of the format change.
While Neo-Spacian Grand Mole had virtually no time to shine, the updated list coinciding with the release of Strike of Neos was innocent enough because they happened simultaneously. That wasn't the case for Sixth Sense. Konami's R&D division even joked on their official blog about the confusing addition, and subsequent change of Sixth Sense on the F&L list!
I suppose hitting a card before it even exists doesn't strictly count as an emergency ban per se, but it's certainly unique, and we've never seen anything like it since.
The September 2013 Forbidden & Limited List was surprising because it departed from the OCG's list to create two distinct formats for virtually the first time. It was also iconic because it reshaped the format on an unprecedented level. Restricting the Baby Dragon Rulers and Spellbook of Judgement was shocking too, since they'd only been around for a few weeks.
And after all those groundbreaking things transpired, we saw Sixth Sense - a card that hadn't been printed yet - appear on the list before its actual release date. Since nobody could get the card before it was banned, it technically went from being unplayable to even more unplayable, with the only change being whether or not you could physically hold it at the time.
Less confusing terminology on the official F&L List would have cleared that up.
Sixth Sense had existed in the OCG for roughly a decade by the time it came out here; it took until October 2013's Legendary Collection 4: Joey's World. And yes, the card absolutely needed to be dealt with, as even a mere one copy was overwhelmingly powerful. But it felt so odd to see a card Limited when you couldn't play it anyways.
Temple of the Kings and Makyura the Destructor have similar histories, both being Forbidden before their first TCG printings, at a time when the TCG was beholden to the OCG's restrictions. But those preemptive hits aren't as funny to me as Sixth Sixth. There's a redundant element when you're banning cards not yet printed, but having a card allowed for tournament play but not in legal circulation, and then in legal circulation but not allowed for use, is uniquely weird.
There's certainly drama around many of the changes to the Forbidden & Limited List each iteration, but some lists certainly cause more hubbub than others. In fact, some changes have been the most mundane and least surprising, but managed to cause the most uproar. Let me know your thoughts on the wild and crazy banlists throughout the years.
Just remember: beat your opponents before they beat you.