2015 has certainly been a busy year in the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG. If you stop to think about what the game looked like in January and compare it to what it looks like now, you'll probably be surprised by how much things have changed. As this is the last day of 2015, it seems appropriate to look back on the year as a whole, examine the highlights, and consider what the future might bring.

This week on Black and White: we reminisce on the last twelve months of Yu-Gi-Oh.

First Quarter
At the start of the year, the competitive scene was made up of a post-Duelist Alliance field of Satellarknights, Shaddolls, Burning Abyss, Yang Zing and Qliphorts. The decks you saw from 2014's World Championship Qualifiers – Hand/Artifact/Traptrix, Sylvans, Geargia, Bujins, Fire Fist, and so on – saw almost no play by the time Duelist Alliance and The New Challengers were released.

The first new product of the year, Secrets of Eternity, saw new support for Qliphorts, primarily Qliphort Stealth Qliphort Monolith, new weapons for the Burning Abyss deck, the most popular of which was Farfa, Malebranche of the Burning Abyss, and the introduction of Infernoids. We also saw the technical introduction of Nekroz and Ritual Beasts in Secrets of Eternity, but what you saw in that set would better be described as support for a core we didn't actually have yet.

Those cards would come out in the second release of the year, The Secret Forces, which included almost everything you could want in a Nekroz or Ritual Beast deck, as well as direct support in the form of the rest of the monsters, spells, traps for those themes and reprints of cards that directly support the strategies – stuff like Djinn Ritual monsters, Manju of the Ten Thousand Hands, and a whole bunch of cards you could run in a Nekroz or Ritual Beast deck but many chose to pass on. (To this day, I'm convinced that a Ritual Beast player who opened with Soul Absorption and an Ulti-Cannahawk combo would start gaining Life Points to the point where they just couldn't lose.)

Second Quarter
The competitive debut of Nekroz turned the game on its head. The deck's speed and consistency forced everyone to re-evaluate entire strategies as Nekroz could wipe out your Life Points in a single turn. At full power, Nekroz could Summon monsters like Nekroz of Trishula which emulated the power of the then-Forbidden Trishula, Dragon of the Ice Barrier, while also taking advantage of the once-overlooked Djinn, Releaser of Rituals. The Level 3 fiend used to be an incentive to play fringe Ritual strategies, but the introduction of Nekroz as super-powerful Rituals that completely mitigate the risks of the Ritual mechanic made Releaser a format-shaping card, forcing players to run otherwise sub-optimal tech specifically to escape Releaser's ability, which would bring the game to a screeching halt otherwise.

#####CARDID= 16890 #####

With Nekroz established as the deck to beat, the 150th YCS in Columbus Ohio saw a lot of players try to answer the challenge with a wide variety of decks: Qliphorts, Yang Zings, Shaddolls, Satellarknights, Burning Abyss, Ritual Beasts and a slew of rogue picks. But at the end of the day, it was Nekroz that ended up on top. It would be another two months before we could reach the culmination of the year's efforts in the Yugiverse, the World Championship Qualifiers.

The 2015 North American WCQ saw quite an upset as Nekroz, while well represented in the tournament as a whole, failed to dominate the Top 8 as many expected it to. In fact, the finals came down to a Burning Abyss mirror match!

Third Quarter
The post-Worlds environment brought us everything from Clash of Rebellions, which gave us a slew of new cards, the most notable being Kozmos. Looking at TCGplayer's price history for Luster Pendulum, the Dracoslayer, the card was generally overlooked and ignored upon debut. That, of course, changed part way into November for obvious reasons. (Remember, kids, pick up cards when they're cheap; better to round out a collection "just in case" instead of paying an arm and a leg after a card's already been hyped.) Other themes made their debut in Clash of Rebellions as well, namely Igknights and Aromages, but their representation at the Regional and YCS level has been limited.

The first-ever Ultimate Duelist Series Invitational also took place after Worlds, which introduced players to a new variety of prizes including exclusive pins, high-quality lanyards, cloth Game Mats for the Top 8 and a pro wrestling-quality championship title belt for first place! As this was the first-ever tournament of its kind and required qualification, turnout was comparatively low for such a high-level event, but with UDS Qualifiers running at YCS Public Events and Official Tournament Stores, players have been racking up their points to cash in at a future UDS Invitational. (Invitationals happen twice a year, and the next one's on February 20-21 in Los Angeles.)

YCS Toronto saw the return of Burning Abyss to the Top Cut, with Nekroz still seeing play all over the event, even with the Forbidden and Limited list cutting out a number of key cards from the deck including the format-warping Djinn, Releaser of Rituals and the versatile Lavaval Chain. The removal of Nekroz of Brionac and two Shurit, Strategist of the Nekroz due to changes on the F&L List allowed Nekroz duelists to add tech picks to their deck. Many added the Performage engine as another way to Xyz Summon key Rank 4's.

Fourth Quarter
Just over a month later, YCS Dallas brought more diversity to the North American YCS scene with a range of decks peppering the Top 32; stuff like Nekroz variants, Burning Abyss, and other strategies bolstered by supporting themes like Traptrix, Performages and the more recent Heroic Challenger – Thousand Blades and Heroic Challenger – Assault Halberd engine. First place ultimately went to Infernoids, going undefeated and giving the deck its first YCS victory.

This event also saw PSY-Frames get its first glimpse of the spotlight, landing a single top in the main event, but also winning the ATTACK OF THE GIANT CARD!! Public Event, turning some heads and attracting attention that didn't exist previously.

#####CARDID= 19167 #####

But then Dimension of Chaos dropped just before YCS San Jose and the game swerved once again, unleashing Kozmo Dark Destroyer and giving a huge boost to a deck that was already holding its own. Kozmos became the most dominant strategy of the weekend, sweeping the Top 4 and taking at least eight total spots in the Top 32. Even with the YCS taking place just before a Forbidden & Limited List update which would tone down Tellarknights and effectively remove Nekroz, Qliphorts, Shaddolls and Ritual Beasts from the competitive scene, the effects were already being felt as all of those decks saw way less play in San Jose than they'd seen in previous tournaments.

And even though there hasn't been a YCS in North America since San Jose, the shape of competition has already shifted again with the release of the Master of Pendulum Structure Deck, creating the Magician Pendulum strategy that offered a huge boost in speed, efficiency and utility compared to previous versions of the Performage Pendulum deck. Also noticable was the reduced demand for Kozmos despite its previous dominating performance. Check TCGplayer's price history on certain key cards for Kozmos; they've been in steady decline since Master of Pendulum released.

Into 2016
What we know about Breakers of Shadow is already nuts. We already know the set contains Cyber Dragon Infinity, a reuseable effect negator that attaches your opponent's monsters as Xyz Material; Neptabyss, the Atlantean Prince, which will breathe new life into a years-old Atlantean Mermail deck; and Traptrix Rafflesia, an Xyz Monster that allows Normal Traps with "Hole" in their name to be used straight from the deck.

We also know that Breakers of Shadow will be the first quarterly core booster release that will use an updated product configuration which will increase the frequency of Super, Ultra and Secret Rares pulled, but eliminates Ultimate and Ghost Rares from core boosters. More accessible cards means an easier time for collectors and players to assemble sets and make a wide range of decks without breaking the bank. Removing barriers to entry is always positive for the game.

The end of January will bring the Emperor of Darkness Structure Deck, powering up Monarch decks with a new Tribute monster in Erebus the Underworld Monarch and new support cards for the Monarch theme.

What lies beyond for premiere tournaments? YCS Atlanta is slated for February 6-7 and will be the first high-level event in North America using November's F&L list, with Breakers of Shadow, Master of Pendulum and Emperor of Darkness all legal for play. Whatever metagames you're familiar with right now, they won't survive to see Atlanta.

And as mentioned before, the next UDS Invitational will be in Los Angeles on February 20-21. If you think you have enough UDS points, check the leaderboard periodically. If you know you'll have enough points, secure travel as soon as you can.

And looking way past the winter and the spring, the United States will be hosting this year's TCG World Championship! The exact date and location hasn't been announced yet, but if it's accessible to you, definitely make the trip! You can witness the World Championship unfold live and play in Public Events as well! It's an opportunity you don't want to miss.

If you have any questions about tournament policy, game mechanics or card interactions, send over an e-mail (one question per e-mail please!) to askjudgejoe@gmail.com and your question could be answered in a future Court of Appeals!

-Joe Frankino

Joe is a Yu-Gi-Oh! judge and player from Long Island, New York. At a recent local, Joe had four decks in his bag and couldn't decide what to run. A die roll led him to play Red-Eyes. He then Summoned a Meteor B. Dragon during a game. Moral victory.